I have rarely visited South East Queens. I was there a lot more when I lived in Bay Ridge as I could cycle almost straight east and end up there. I would run myself to see how fast I could do a round trip from Bay Ridge to, say, Laurelton or Rosedale, and sometimes Valley Stream. Since Brooklyn shares Long Island with Queens, it was much easier for me to get to Queens from Brooklyn. I rarely cycled to Manhattan, as it involved the Brooklyn Bridge. Roebling’s masterpiece is currently hardly shared between idle tourists and bicycle racers, but in the 1970s and 1980s it was central, and as simplicity and freedom from danger have always been my credo , I can count on two hands, to this day, the number of times I have cycled the Brooklyn Bridge.
Visitors unfamiliar with South East Queens will find a vast oasis of greenery at Baisley Pond Park, which sits on uneven terrain between Foch, Sutphin, Rockaway and Baisley Boulevard. The park’s 110 acres offer baseball, softball and cricket fields in its southern extension between Rockaway Blvd. and the Belt Parkway, children’s play areas, catch-and-release fishing in its large peaceful pond and numerous benches.
On one of the playgrounds is what appears to be an elephant carved up to the shoulders in a pit of tar. This is a reference to a prehistoric era find that city engineers made here in the early 1850s, when they barred three streams to build a reservoir that would help supply the city with water. from Brooklyn.
Baisley Pond, 1909. I have added modern street names. A number of place names in South Queens refer to water pipes: North and South Conduit Aves., Aqueduct Raceway, etc. The names refer to an old aqueduct that the city of Brooklyn built in what is now Highland Park called Ridgewood Reservoir, which was decommissioned in the 1960s as a water source, but was once the main water source for the city. The aqueduct ran between the now demolished waterworks in Freeport and the Ridgewood Reservoir.
Today’s Baisley Pond, named after a mid-19th century farming family on whose land the pond was created, first appeared in the 1850s. When engineers Brooklyn civilians dredged the pond to make it deeper after it was created, remains were found of an American juggernaut including five molars and a bone fragment, which were sent decades later to the American Museum of natural History. Huge, shaggy elephant-like creatures frequented South Queens until 10,000 years ago. The reasons for their disappearance are still debated, but probably have something to do with climate change and the appearance in the region of the world’s most feared hunter, Man.
In 1909, when the map was produced, real estate developments such as Jamaica Park began to appear. As the global grid of streets has coalesced, developments have become less exclusive and have been integrated into the entire neighborhood. This real estate development intensified after the end of the two world wars.
Bullfrogs frequent the pond, along with snapping and red-eared turtles, dragonflies, and a full range of shorebirds, including web-footed friends like geese, ducks and swans as well as blackbirds, cormorants, herons, egrets, doves, mockingbirds, robins, starlings, warblers, cardinals and the usual pigeons and sparrows.
The South Queens neighborhood of St. Albans was mostly farmland until the 1890s, when a small community began to take shape around Farmers and Linden Boulevard. The city was named by its first 100 inhabitants in honor of Britain’s first Christian martyr. The area was home to the St. Albans golf course from 1915 to the Depression; sports luminaries such as Babe Ruth perfected their shots there. The former golf course is now the extended care center for the St. Albans Veterans Administration and Roy Wilkins Park.
Roy Wilkins Park sits on a property that was once occupied by the St. Albans Naval Hospital. After the hospital closed in 1974, the US government awarded the 100-acre site to the Veterans Administration, which built a veterans extended care center on the eastern end of the property and ceded the western half. to New York City in 1977 for use as a park. It remained largely underdeveloped until 1982, when $ 3.3 million was allocated for its redevelopment. One of the hospital buildings was renovated and reopened as the Roy Wilkins Family Center in 1986, which includes an Olympic-sized swimming pool equipped to accommodate the disabled, sanitary blocks, a playground, tables picnic area, tennis, basketball and handball courts, baseball fields and a jogging track. The facility also hosts a summer day camp for 300 children, after-school programs, a counseling center, and a variety of community events.
Roy Wilkins (1901-1981) was a journalist and civil rights activist born in Missouri and raised in Minnesota. After a passage with the Kansas City Call, he joined the NAACP in 1931 and served as the organization’s president from 1955 to 1977, promoting voter registration, fair housing laws and pay equity.
The Black Spectrum Theater in Roy Wilkins Park was founded in 1970 by playwright, director and filmmaker Carl Clay. Black Spectrum produces cinematographic, theatrical and video works examining issues of concern to African-American and Caribbean-American audiences. The 425-seat theater was built in a former officers’ club. The theater holds an annual gala; previous winners have been the late husband and wife actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles.
In addition, Roy Wilkins Park features a huge vegetable garden tended by locals and an African-American Hall of Fame honoring individuals such as the United Nations Under Secretary of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ralph Bunche, and the first black woman elected to the House of Representatives, Shirley Chisholm.
In southern Jamaica and St. Albans, Foch Boulevard replaces 117th Avenue from Rockaway Boulevard. at Merrick Blvd., with a small chunk for two blocks between Montauk St. and Everett Pl. The only notable Foch I know of is Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), the commander of the Allied forces in the later stages of WWI . Foch Blvd. appears on maps as early as the 1920s (it was formerly the name of Linden Blvd. from Farmers Blvd. on the Nassau County line); he may be named after the general, but his connection to Queens is unclear at best.
The mural on the north side of Linden Boulevard. at St. Albans Station Long Island RR is one of Queens’ treasures and represents the great local sportsmen, jazz and pop who have made their home in St. Albans and nearby Addisleigh Park, including boxer Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson, Brooklyn Dodgers Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson, jazz greats Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Illinois Jacquet, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Milt Hinton, John Coltrane and Fats Waller, as well as R & B / soul giants Brook Benton and James Brown.
Southern Queens’ rise as a mecca for jazz musicians began in 1923 when Clarence Williams, a successful musician and entrepreneur from Plaquemine, Louisiana, purchased a house and eight lots at 171-37 108th Ave .. Anticipating With the growing popularity of jazz in the north, Williams moved first to Chicago in 1920, then to New York with his wife, singer Eva Taylor, in 1923. Desiring open spaces reminiscent of his upbringing in the Louisiana Delta, Williams takes up residence in Queens. He would be the first in a long line of jazz musicians to come to South Queens. The area, named Addisleigh Park, was officially developed from 1926 with several blocks of Tudor-style houses.
When I first met Linden Blvd. in St. Albans on bike rides from Brooklyn, and I first saw it on maps in the 1960s, I was slightly amazed. The west end of the street is at Flatbush Ave., and it was originally called Linden Ave. for a few blocks and so named for the many lime trees in Flatbush when the avenue was laid out. Over time, Linden Blvd. gradually spread further and further east. In the early 1920s, Kings Highway was revived as a multi-lane juggernaut and a highway in eastern New York called Vienna Ave. received the same treatment and was renamed East End of Linden Blvd. at a time. Linden Blvd. is transferred to Conduit Blvd. then into the Belt Parkway several miles east of Kings Highway. Then various routes in East Queens such as Central Aves. were renamed Linden Blvd. in advance of a great plan to connect all Linden Blvd. in Queens and Brooklyn that never materialized because depression and war kicked in.
—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning Forgotten NY website and author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten queens (Arcadia, 2013)