Walking Queens  by Adrienne Onofri

Walking Queens Guide Book

by Adrienne Onofri (Wilderness Press)
Walking Queens  by Adrienne Onofri
Take a journey of discovery in New York City?s largest borough with Walking Queens. Native New Yorker and expert guide Adrienne Onofri has designed 30 tours that point you to distinctive architecture, ethnic enclaves, historical landmarks, cultural venues, celebrity residences, and natural scenery including woodlands, salt marshes, lakes, coves, and oceanfront. These walks reveal forgotten moments in Queens history, show off its meticulously planned garden communities, present stunning views, and immerse you in the sights, scents, and sounds of a melting pot. With a population that speaks at least 150 different languages, Queens has been heralded as the most multicultural place on Earth. It also offers an amazing variety of things to see and do. Check out a burgeoning art scene, explore remnants of a 19th-century factory town, bird-watch in a national wildlife refuge, or learn about world history that was made in Queens.

© 2014 Adrienne Onofri/Wilderness Press. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Walking Queens" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 30.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 30.

Alley Pond Park, the second-largest park in Queens, is an unusual specimen. First of all, there’s its shape: 655 noncontiguous acres approximating an alley—with a couple of nooks off to one side—that extends about 2 miles south from Little Neck Bay. Highways and local roads slice through it, and parts of it are in Bayside, others in Douglaston. Despite all this, Alley Pond Park is an ecological wonderland, with salt marshes, glacial ponds, and forests within its borders. And it’s an outstanding specimen of Queens’ geologic history. Hills and boulders in the park are a product of the terminal moraine, the accumulation of rock and sand left behind by receding glaciers 20,000 or so years ago. Chunks of glacial ice made depressions in the land that today are ponds. Alley Pond Park is also a specimen of conservation. Much has been done over the last few decades to rehabilitate land suffering due to neglect or development and to protect natural habitats that were being destroyed. Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC), where this walk begins, has been a linchpin of the conservation efforts since the 1970s.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 3
Only Athens, it’s been said, has more Greeks than Astoria. For many years, and to many people, that was Astoria’s No. 1 identity, although Mediterranean would be more accurate because it’s also had a lot of Italians and Croatians. Since the 1990s, Astoria has become more of a polyglot, with a significant influx of Bangladeshis, Egyptians, and Brazilians among other nationalities. Characterizing Astoria these days, however, you might bypass ethnicity altogether and refer to hipsters, artists, or some other term conjuring trendy and creative people. On this route, you will see the influence of the diverse populations who have called Astoria home over the years, going all the way back to founder Stephen Halsey and his neighbors. Halsey, who bought land in the area after admiring it from the ferry on his commute between Flushing and Manhattan, had the village of Astoria incorporated in 1839. He named it after John Jacob Astor, just like the town in Oregon that Halsey’s brother John had founded on a fur-trading expedition financed by Astor (the multimillionaire never went to either Astoria).
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 4
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In 2000 Time Out New York wrote of Astoria, “Residents love the fact that their neighborhood is not, and probably never will be, trendy or gentrified.” And that held true for another 10 years. Now, however, it’s the coolest part of Queens. Whether it stems from a Williamsburg spillover or just a belated appreciation, Astoria has become the locus of buzz-generating developments in real estate, arts and culture, and dining. Its longstanding cultural institutions as well as newer art galleries are on this walk. You’ll also pass by some trendsetting food and drink establishments, and you’ll see how other players—from hoteliers to landscape designers— have been making an impact on this historic, multicultural neighborhood.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 2.8
Bayside contains everything from a glacial pond to a college campus to a suburban-style mall, but it’s thought of primarily as a residential neighborhood—and a highly desirable one at that. It encompasses at least half a dozen subdivisions and smaller communities. This walk, for instance, begins in Bellcourt, which was developed from the last parcel of Abraham Bell’s farm to be sold off by his descendants. It concludes in exclusive Bayside Gables, to which automobile access is controlled by gate. Throughout Bayside, homes from a century ago stand side by side with McMansions of a much more recent vintage. Its history goes back to colonial times, when it was settled as an eastern offshoot of Flushing. In the 1930s and ’40s, a sixlane highway was laid between the neighborhood and its namesake bay. Fortunately, the Cross Island Pkwy. has a few pedestrian overpasses, and one of them ushers you to a wonderful shorefront trail. Between that segment and traipsing through two parks, this route has plenty of off-street walking.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 4.2
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Bayswater’s identity is, of course, important to those who have lived here, but many outsiders do not know it as a place discrete from Far Rockaway. In the 1870s William Trist Bailey, a British-born mogul, created a community named Bayswater, where those of Bailey’s social stratum would have their summer estates. Bayswater introduced foxhunting and yacht clubs to the Rockaways. Bailey built a hotel, but Bayswater was designed primarily for individual homes, and it stayed noncommercial while the Far Rockaway area began to fill with hotels and other businesses catering to vacationers. Eventually, as Rockaway opened up to the middle and working classes and as transportation improved and farther-flung locales were developed, Bayswater was usurped by destinations like the Hamptons. But it managed to elude the worst of the urban decay that overtook the Rockaways, and zoning laws kept out huge apartment complexes like those that went up in nearby Edgemere, Arverne, and Far Rockaway. The mansions that remain from Bayswater’s heyday are not its only well-kept secret: There’s also a state nature preserve.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 3.5
New York City is an archipelago, and its better-known smaller islands—Liberty and Roosevelt, for example—are those dotted around Manhattan. The islands in Jamaica Bay, the estuary separating the Rockaway Peninsula from “mainland” Queens, are situated not only far from midtown but even fairly remotely from central Queens. Only one is inhabited by humans and accessible by any form of transport besides boat. Its real name is Big Egg Marsh, but it’s called Broad Channel, the name of the residential community on the southern part of the island. No more than a quarter mile wide at most points, Broad Channel is one of New York’s unlikeliest neighborhoods, where some homes are reached by footbridge, many have docks instead of backyards, and the commercial district comprises a few blocks of mom-and-pop businesses. North of the Broad Channel neighborhood, more than half the island is occupied by the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, another unlikely New York City locale. Upward of 325 bird species have been spotted in Jamaica Bay, and birding is a prime draw for the refuge.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 3
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St. Paul’s College had virtually no impact on College Point aside from inspiring its name. The seminary existed for only about 15 years, and its buildings were eventually demolished. If College Point’s name were to reflect the biggest influence in its development, it would probably be called Poppenhusen—as in Conrad Poppenhusen, the German-born industrialist who ran a rubber-goods factory there in the 19th century and gave the town a bank, a church, a railroad, paved streets, schools, and housing where his employees lived. College Point has had other identities besides Poppenhusen’s factory town, among them a German American stronghold (Freie Presse was a locally published newspaper) and recreational hot spot. Thanks to its waterfront location, College Point was a popular destination for day trips and weekend getaways, offering accommodations from bathhouses to full-fledged resorts for all types of fun seekers, who enjoyed beer gardens, picnic parks, beaches, and sporting grounds. Today, a city park takes full advantage of College Point’s perch on the north shore of Queens.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 2.7
How did Corona become the crown jewel of Queens? Well, it isn’t. Some say proud residents who thought it was a crown jewel proposed the name. Others say it came from Italian immigrants who moved in when the area was being developed by a company named Crown—Corona in Italian. Regardless of how the name originated, the neighborhood did deserve its own identity, as it had been called just West Flushing previously. Corona was served by the Long Island Rail Road until 1964, but the transit connection that made the biggest difference in its growth was the subway, which was extended to Corona via the elevated line now known as the 7 in 1917. Once predominantly Italian and Jewish, Corona today has the largest Latino population in the borough and has been represented in the State Assembly by Francisco Moya, the first Ecuadoran American ever elected to public office. This is the Corona that Paul Simon sings of (“Rosie, the queen of Corona”) in “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 2.5
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Before there was Douglas Manor, there was the Douglas manor, a lush 175-acre family estate that New York’s social elite visited for yachting, polo, and R&R. In 1906 Rickert-Finlay developers bought the land and created Douglas Manor, the earliest of Queens’ 20th-century planned communities. As designed by Rickert-Finlay, Douglas Manor’s roads follow the natural curves and slopes of the land, all houses are situated within a mile of the train station, and the waterfront is communally owned and maintained by the homeowners’ association. Of Douglas Manor’s many spectacular homes, none are more enviably positioned than those on Shore Rd., with their unimpeded views of the boat-filled harbor and Throgs Neck Bridge. Now a landmarked district, Douglas Manor is the focal point of this walk, but it includes other historic and scenic gems of Douglaston and Little Neck, the two neighborhoods on the Little Neck peninsula. At the end, you are but a sixth of a mile from the Nassau County line—and you’ll understand why this is known as the gold coast of Queens.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 4.3
Reflecting on recent census figures, a local newspaper columnist wrote that Americans should look to Elmhurst for “what their future holds.” The same thing could have been said in 1776. While many then living in Queens were loyal to their British homeland during the American Revolution, Elmhurst was a Patriot stronghold. And here we are, almost 250 years later, with the tenor in Elmhurst again expected to prevail nationwide. The newspaper columnist was referring to Elmhurst’s status as a melting pot with a white minority, which is predicted for the overall US population within a few decades. The many houses of worship along this walk highlight not only Elmhurst’s prodigious diversity but its long history too. Elmhurst grew out of one of the first European settlements in Queens, which was named Middleburg upon its founding in 1652 and rechristened Newtown in the 1680s. It kept that name until real estate developers began molding the rural village into a contemporary residential neighborhood in the late 1800s.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 3.2
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There was a time when people couldn’t wait to get to Far Rockaway, whether they were the well-to-do summering there around the late 1800s or, in later decades, working-class families who stayed in bungalows. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since Far Rockaway was an alluring destination. Similar to Coney Island in Brooklyn, this once-fashionable resort that became a beach for all people suffered a terrible decline after World War II, with the construction of massive housing projects probably the most glaring culprit. But NYC’s renaissance and an even more recent renewed appreciation of the Rockaways in particular have reversed the slide. Preserving the remaining bungalows has been one driving force in the ongoing renewal of Far Rockaway—which today is a typically Queens polyglot that includes people of African American, Jewish, Latino, and West Indian heritage. This is the largest, most urbanized, and most historic community on the Rockaway Peninsula.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 3.5
Within a single block of Bowne St. in Flushing are a synagogue, a Sikh temple, a Chinese Christian church, and a mandir, a Hindu house of worship. And why shouldn’t there be? Flushing is, after all, the birthplace of religious freedom in America. One hundred and thirty years before the US Constitution was written, 30 of the village’s most esteemed residents signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a 1657 letter to colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant opposing his religious intolerance. “Let every man stand and fall to his own master,” they wrote, articulating a sentiment that would be codified in the First Amendment. John Bowne’s house, where the document was composed, still stands, one of several exceptionally historic sights to be found amid the multicultural mélange of downtown Flushing. Known today as one of— very possibly the largest of—New York City’s Chinatowns, Flushing has many Koreans and Indians too. More than two-thirds of the neighborhood’s population is Asian, yet that’s still just one facet of its far-reaching heritage.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 4.8
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Sure, it possesses one of the more unfortunate place-names around, but Flushing Meadows has plenty of positive distinctions to make up for that. Flushing Meadows Corona Park, as it’s known in full, has hosted two world’s fairs. It’s where the first papal Mass in the United States was celebrated, and where the United Nations General Assembly convened before UN permanent headquarters was completed. It’s the venue for a Grand Slam tennis tournament and has been home field for both World Series and Super Bowl champions. It contains two museums and surpasses Manhattan’s Central Park (and any other park in Queens) in size, offering nearly 900 acres of greenery and recreational options ranging from ice skating to miniature golf to model airplane flying. And the site’s been immortalized in pop culture from The Great Gatsby to the Beastie Boys to Iron Man 2. This walk takes you all around Flushing Meadows, exploring world’s fair relics both well known and hidden away, and concludes in Corona Heights, the neighborhood bordering the park to the west.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 5
Forest Hills started out as many Queens neighborhoods did: A developer buys up farmland, renames the area, and builds homes and infrastructure. It didn’t end up like most neighborhoods, however. The developer sold part of the land, and a community was created, Forest Hills Gardens, that’s one of the most desirable places to live in New York City. Inspired by England’s garden city movement and modeled on its traditional villages, Forest Hills Gardens was designed with village greens, a central square, rich foliage, and beautiful houses. Even outside of the Gardens, Forest Hills boasts many nice houses and apartments as well as other advantages, such as a lively commercial district and express subway service. The first developer in Forest Hills was Cord Meyer, a company still headquartered on Queens Blvd., which laid out streets, set up utilities, and built hundreds of houses in what had been a township of six farms called Whitepot. “The Cord Meyer section” of Forest Hills generally applies to north of Queens Blvd. You go through just a bit of it at the beginning of this walk.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 3.4
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On the north shore of Queens, the land forms small peninsulas between bays of the East River. LaGuardia Airport sits on the westernmost of these peninsulas; Fort Totten is on one farther east, between Little Bay and Little Neck Bay. This decommissioned Army base has been converted into a city park, complete with outdoor swimming pool. The fort was designed in the 1850s, the pre-rifling age, and would never be involved in combat because rifled artillery started to become the norm during the Civil War soon after it was built. (Robert E. Lee had a hand in designing the fort when he was an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers prior to the war.) Its battery wasn’t even completed once test shots fired at it proved it could not hold up to rifled attacks. You see the battery and other historic structures while roaming the grounds of Fort Totten. This walk then takes you through a shoreside park en route to Beechhurst, a residential neighborhood that many consider part of Whitestone.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 3.5
When Hamilton Beach made the news as one of the places hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, it was the first time that many people had heard of the neighborhood. Hamilton Beach lies amid basins and channels of Jamaica Bay, abutting train tracks and John F. Kennedy International Airport. Despite its proximity to all those comings and goings, Hamilton Beach has been relatively untouched by the outside world, i.e., urbanization. Pictures in a 1908 newspaper profile of this “quaint creekside settlement” show scenes that don’t look that much different today. Eventually it became part of Howard Beach, and today many nonresidents are unfamiliar with the distinctions among communities within Howard Beach. This walk visits the two east of Cross Bay Blvd., Hamilton Beach and so-called Old Howard Beach. It’s a route designed primarily to take you into far-off corners of New York City and showcase a lesser-trod stretch of NYC’s waterfront.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 2.4
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Current residents of Jackson Heights benefit from thoughtful urban planning of a century ago. The Queensboro Corporation created Jackson Heights around 1910, taking inspiration from England’s garden city movement. Queensboro president Edward A. MacDougall envisioned an alternative to the typical high-density housing of the day, those dark, cramped tenements with poor ventilation that filled concrete-dominated neighborhoods. In Jackson Heights, residences would be set back from sidewalks, and only half the land in an apartment complex would actually be built on. The results were so-called garden apartments, each complex encompassing a private park for residents. The city has designated Jackson Heights a historic district, which prohibits major exterior alterations or new construction that’s out of character. Thus, the gracious-living ethos on which Jackson Heights was founded still pervades its residential streets. Yet one important thing is different nowadays. The Queensboro Corporation created a restricted community, with an approval process for prospective residents, which kept out nonwhites. Today, however, Jackson Heights is one of the most diverse places in the world, with a large Indian community centered on 74th St. and a Latino majority overall.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 3
George Washington slept here. Really. “A pretty good and decent house,” Washington wrote in his diary about the Jamaica lodgings on his post-Revolution salutatory tour of Long Island in April 1790. The inn where he stayed stood at Jamaica Ave. and Parsons Blvd. until 1906. Though it’s gone, the number of surviving historic structures is impressive, especially considering all the people, construction, and transportation—from horse-drawn carts to the JFK AirTrain—that have come through Jamaica since it was chartered in the 1650s. Incorporated as a village in 1814 and served by the Long Island Rail Road since 1834, Jamaica was selected as county seat of Queens because it was located approximately halfway between the East River (that is, Manhattan) and the Suffolk County line (the eastern boundary of Queens before it was incorporated into NYC in 1898). The large neighborhood extends in all directions beyond the bounds of this walk, which focuses on downtown Jamaica, a bustling district where everyone from a Founding Father of our country to a founding father of hip-hop has left a mark.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 3.8
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A residential park. Nice idea, isn’t it? That’s what the developers of Jamaica Estates had in mind when they began to transform forested highlands north of Jamaica into a residential community in 1907. It would have the natural beauty of a park, but you could live there. To effect the parklike setting, the developers respected the contours of the land: Hills were not leveled, and no rectangular street grid was forced through. Jamaica Estates would have winding roads, like park drives—with British names for extra prestige. The Jamaica Estates Company made beauty and exclusivity priorities for their development rather than maximizing profitability per acre . . . which may have had something to do with the firm going bankrupt after just over a decade in business. It was left to a homeowners’ association to preserve its vision, and while apartment houses were eventually built in Jamaica Estates, much of it has kept to the original plan for high-quality freestanding homes, and the neighborhood remains a leafy Tudor enclave.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 2.1
The word suburb had a different meaning when American cities started growing dramatically in the early 20th century. It used to refer to areas removed geographically from the busy urban center but not necessarily outside the city limits. Walking distance to shops, other homes, and public transit was one of the urban qualities retained for early suburbs; the noise and crowdedness, along with lack of fresh air and greenery, were the urban characteristics they eschewed. Kew Gardens was created as one of these suburbs. Established by attorney Alrick Man in 1910, Kew Gardens got its name from a place in Britain; street names and Tudor half-timbering were also borrowed from the English. Other styles entered the mix to produce an assortment of lovely houses, and despite some undesirable modifications and replacements in recent years, the ideal of attractive suburban living within a half-hour commute of midtown perseveres in Kew Gardens.
New York, NY - Walking - Trail Length: 2.5
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