Some Secrets of Queens’ Murray Hill

When most New Yorkers think of Murray Hill, they likely think of the area on the east side of Manhattan, just south of the United Nations between 34th and 42nd Street and east of Madison Avenue…and they well might, since its tree-lined streets harbor beautiful brownstones, high rise buildings and townhouses. It is home to prominent professional, political and social clubs, as well as the recently renovated Morgan Library – a must visit for both NYers and visitors alike.

Today, we’ll talk about the “other” Murray Hill, a neighborhood in Queens so secret that it toils in the shadow of its bustling, ambitious older brother Flushing. Like its namesake in Manhattan, it too is home to aged, eclectic and unusual architecture…but sadly, unlike Manhattan’s Murray Hill, its uniqueness is vanishing as we watch. It’s in Queens, after all.

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The brick-faced neo-Gothic St. John’s Episcopal Church is one of southern Murray Hill’s relics; a parish has been here since the very beginnings of the enclave in the the 1890s. In 1920, this building on Sanford Avenue and 149th Place replaced an earlier church that had burned down.

 

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rfoWas Buster Brown from Murray Hill? Why yes, he was, since his “father,” Ohio-born cartoonist/satirist Richard Fenton Outcault (1863-1928), lived in Murray Hill on today’s 147th Street. Buster first appeared in the New York Herald and other Hearst newspapers in 1902, and Buster Brown Shoes were introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, MO, as a division of Brown Shoe, formed in St. Loo in 1878 by George Warren Brown.

R.F., whose earlier character, the Yellow Kid, was the first recurring comic character after his introduction in Hogan’s Alley in the NY World in 1895, stayed with Buster until leaving the Herald in 1906. Hearst sued to keep the Buster Brown name and continued to present the character as drawn by other artists till 1911. Outcault drew Buster until 1921, but he could not use the name.

 

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Bowne Park, between 29th and 32nd Avenues and 155th and 159th Streets, is one of Murray Hill’s two major parks.

It is named in honor of Walter Bowne (1770-1846), who served as a State Senator and as New York City Mayor. Bowne’s summer residence stood on this property until March 1925, when fire destroyed the building, and the land was acquired by the NYC Parks department in June of that year. While Walter Bowne served as mayor before Queens joined NYC in 1898, he is a descendant of Flushing’s John Bowne, who in 1662 was arrested by the administration of Director General Peter Stuyvesant for harboring Quakers and deported him to Holland. Bowne was released in 1664 following a successful appeal of his case. He returned to his home in Flushing while Stuyvesant’s proprietor, the Dutch East India Company, ordered the persecution of Quakers to cease.

The park features a pond that is home to families of turtles and can be as an ice-skating rink (though the consistent freezing temperatures to support and outdoor rink are rare in NYC) and boating area.

 

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Memorial Field of Flushing, bordered by Bayside Avenue, 25th Avenue, 149th Street and a right of way west of 150th Street, is Murray Hill’s other large field of green, and differs from Bowne Park with its playing fields home to local high school teams. Older maps from the early 20th Century show it as Flushing Driving Park; perhaps it was a recreational carriage run.

 

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An Art Moderne memorial to local World War I casualties, dedicated in 1935, is located at the park’s southern end on Bayside Avenue.

Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of Forgotten New York. His book of the same name is also available.