A century ago, Queens was growing by leaps and bounds and exploding with brand new infrastructure, a spate of investment and building which was spurred on and started by the immense success of the 1909 Queensboro Bridge. The subways began to snake out from the great bridge in the 1920s, and expansions of the system continued right through the Depression era of the 1930s.
The IND Crosstown Line, which they called the GG back then (its was renamed the “G” in 1985), came to LIC’s 21st street/Van Alst, Court Square, and Queens Plaza stations on the 19th of August in 1933. Unfortunately, due to damage inflicted upon the tracks by Hurricane Sandy related flooding, there is no opportunity to visit these stations and tip a glass on their 81st birthday – currently – as MTA employees are working on repairing and upgrading the tracks, switches, signals and God knows what else there is down there. The Shuttle Bus just ain’t the same, I’m afraid, but it is appreciated.
I say this every time that the Mister rings his bells: Mrs. Softee is lonely during the torrid nights of a New York summer, wondering for whom her man plays his song. Mister Softee is no damn good, and she’s sure of it.
Pictured above is a proper “Mister Softee” truck, found on its rounds in Astoria one night, doing exactly what he told the Mrs. that he’d be up to. The mister’s wearing his proper “trade dress” and nothing is as it shouldn’t be (except that I was walking the dog and didn’t have a penny on me, so I couldn’t buy a vanilla cone with sprinkles. Frankly, the dog was more upset than me about this, but there you go.)
Of late, however, something strange has been going on in Queens – someone has been impersonating the Mister.
There will be dancing in the streets. Many, many streets…bars, cemeteries, gardens, historic houses, malls, parks, nonprofits, restaurants, stoops and triangles, too. On June 21st (aka the longest day of the year), Make Music New York will host a Summer Solstice festival consisting of more than 1,000 free concerts throughout the five boroughs. From 10 am to 10 pm, musicians of all persuasions — hip hop to opera, jazz to punk, high school bands to pop stars — will do their things. Queens, of course, will be in the center of the action. For example, South African artist Toya DeLazy will perform her unique blend of hip hop, jazz and electronica at LIC Landing (52-10 Center Boulevard, Long Island City) at 1 pm. Meanwhile from noon to 4 pm, the Queens Council on the Arts (37-11 35th Avenue, Astoria) will present Reggae artist Desmond followed by Instrumental Jazz Fusion by Mind Open. Six hours of music and dance are scheduled at the Spaceworks LIC Block Party (33-02 Skillman Avenue, LIC). All told, Astoria, Corona, Elmhurst, Glendale, Jackson Heights, Jamaica, LIC, Ridgewood and Sunnyside will host events.
You’ll go for the dancing, costumes and energy, but you’ll stay for the conversation and food. Then, you’ll come back because it’s a great night out. Green Space is a “new dance resource” which provides an affordable and welcoming environment for rehearsals, classes, and performance opportunities. To fulfill this mission, the 1,800-square-foot Long Island City studio hosts periodical Fertile Ground New Works Showcases that have become prized spots for emerging and established artists. Some of these artists also participate in Take Root, a monthly curated series during which dancers show their pieces and get audience feedback. This Friday and Saturday, Take Root features choreographer-performer-video artist Lisa Parra and her piece, About Ana, an investigation into the relationship between language and movement and the transformations that occur within dialogues. In this work, female dancers engage one other, and words and movement form ensuing dialogue. The fun continues on Sunday with Fertile Ground, a non-curated show with five or six choreographers, followed by a discussion moderated by artistic director Valerie Green with wine and cheese.
Details: Take Root with Lisa Parra, Green Space, 37-24 24th Street, LIC, June 6th & June 7th, 8 pm, $15.
Bonus details: Fertile Ground, Green Space, 37-24 24th Street, LIC, June 8th, 7 pm, $10.
High speed internet service, as offered by one of America’s most hated companies, goes down in Astoria on a fairly regular basis. Stop by any taverna or saloon and mention the name of a certain corporate giant which has enjoyed a de facto monopoly over cable internet and TV in NYC, and you will be greeted by a litany of curses and witness people spitting.
Given the international “flava” of Astoria, some of these utterings are actual curses invoking for and asking for the intervention of supernatural entities. It’s not just one company at fault here, although they are really, really bad at what they do – a lot of it can be chalked up to observably bad wiring.
You’ll notice this sort of horrid utility pole clutter all over western Queens. A hodge podge of wires leading to and from building to pole. In many ways, its reminiscent of the sort of historical photos you see of lower Manhattan at the beginning of the 20th century, when telegraph wires were strung across intersections. If you’re on the phone with a provider of high speed internet access, this mess is probably the reason why.
Everywhere you look, sagging utility poles carry a staggering amount of wiring. This is cable TV, electrical, and telephone wire which has accumulated over the years and a lot of it isn’t connected to anything anymore. It creates a visual nightmare, clutters up the street scape, and reveals the dream of turning Western Queens into a “tech corridor” as something of a joke. Think Google or Facebook want to plug into this?
Jack Eichenbaum grew up in Bayside in the 1950s. He left for academic and vocational reasons in 1963, and when he returned from completing his doctorate in urban geography in 1976, he found a completely different borough. The mostly white, working class neighborhoods of his youth had transformed into multi-ethnic enclaves, creating the world’s most diverse county. Fascinated, he started giving walking tours of his beloved hometown in the 1980s, and in 2010, Eichenbaum was designated the official historian of Queens, as per the borough president’s office. The former city assessor has five upcoming tours, which are famous for the amount of local trivia he shares and the great restaurants he hits afterwards with participants. For more information, please see below.
Willets Point, Sunday, May 25th, 4 pm: East of Citi Field is a sewerless, hardscrabble area of auto junkyards and related businesses that has twice beaten back recent attempts at redevelopment. But since it’s located between the world famous baseball stadium and booming Flushing, public and private interests are again trying to transform Willets Point. Eichenbaum will walk from central Flushing to the area, while discussing political, economic and ecological issues and explaining why “Willets Point” is a misnomer. $20.
The World of the 7 Train, Saturday, May 31st, 10 am: Eichenbaum calls this full-day program his “signature tour,” although it’s actually a series of six walks (Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing) and connecting rides. He focuses on the 7 train’s influence on surrounding neighborhoods. Lunch is in Flushing. Pre-register via firstname.lastname@example.org.
On and Off Jamaica Avenue, Sunday, June 8th, 10 am: After decades of dedication, redesign, and redevelopment, Downtown Jamaica is undergoing a renaissance as the borough’s major transportation center. Eichenbaum promises historic buildings, commercial activity, culture, and a surprise ending. $20.
More Space and New Arrangements in Western Queens, Sunday, August 3rd, 10 am: During the first third of the 20th century, Western Queens nurtured developments where traditional open space/building area relationships were altered to create new urban architecture. Sunnyside Gardens and the Jackson Heights Historic District anchor this tour, which includes Phipps Garden Apartments, various Matthews Flats, the Metropolitan Life houses, and early truck-oriented industrial buildings.
There aren’t all that many places in Western Queens, let alone Long Island City, where you can actually spot a patch of ground that is “As God made it.” One of them can be found at 12th Street’s intersection with 43rd Street, right at the border of the Hunters Point and Ravenswood sections. There’s a glacial erratic, basically a giant boulder left behind by the glaciers which formed Long Island in the first place, protruding from the street there.
Past observation has reveled it to be a favored spot for skateboarding and mountain biking aficionados, who use it as a sort of ramp. When I was down there last week, it was being used for parking. To be fair, the rock does protrude out of a private parking lot, so there you go.
While I was impressed with the way that the pickup truck was posed, looking almost like something that Detroit would favor for an advertisement, it was actually the giant rock that had drawn me here. A glacial erratic is a giant hunk of rock deposited in place either by the melting of or the motive power of a glacier.
Large erratics consisting of slabs of bedrock that have been lifted and transported by glacier ice to subsequently be stranded above thin glacial or fluvioglacial deposits are referred to as glacial floes, rafts (schollen) or erratic megablocks. Erratic megablocks have typical length to thickness ratios on the order of 100 to 1. These megablocks may be found partially exposed or completely buried by till and are clearly allochthonus, since they overlay glacial till. Megablocks can be so large that they are mistaken for bedrock until underlying glacial or fluvial sediments are identified by drilling or excavation.
The striations in the rock were created by the glacier itself, and my understanding (I am no geologist) is that the substance of the thing is Gneiss. Apparently, the East River coastline of LIC is underlain by large deposits of this material, which is what makes building the tall structures in Hunters Point possible. Current scientific opinion seems to be leaning toward there having been several glaciers, rather than a single monolithic one, credited with scattering these large boulders and carving up the archipelago of islands which we know as New York City.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.
In 2001, Pawel Althamer built a tree house in the heart of urban Warsaw. That same year, he interrupted a lecture he was giving and led the audience on a walk through the streets of the Polish capital. At the end, he informed that some of the passersby were hired actors who had orchestrated the experience. Althamer likes to combine visual experience with active participation from his observers. This sculptor and performance artist (video, installation, action) also likes to play with relocation of context. Currently, he is re-assembling his monumental, mixed-media piece Queen Mother of Reality at Socrates Sculpture Park. The larger-than-life figure is dedicated to — and inspired by — Queen Mother Delois Blakely, a U.S. Ambassador of Goodwill to Africa, whom Mayor Rudolph Giuliani swore in as “Community Mayor of Harlem” in 1995. The figure is supposed to bring attention to the Blakely’s pet cause: New York City’s displaced and homeless population. It will be at the Long Island City public space through August 3rd, but there will be an opening on May 11, featuring art workshops presented by the Minor Miracles Foundation and an experimental social project, Nails Across America, by artist Breanne Trammell. More Queen Mother-related programming is being planned for the summer.
Details: Queen Mother of Reality, Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, LIC, currently on view, but officially on display May 11th through August 3rd, free. Opening party on May 11th, 2 pm to 6 pm.
The other night, while hunting around the web for something new and interesting, I came across a 1914 edition of “The Automobile, a Journal of Automobile Progress and Construction” over at Google Books. Discussion of the exploding automotive manufacturing industry in Long Island City was offered, a century ago, in this article by J. Edward Schipper. Presumptively, the historic photographs are his as well.
It should also be mentioned that I have an annoying habit of assigning nicknames to neighborhoods, and “The Carridor” is a term entirely of my own fancy. Nobody else calls it that, most just use Northern Boulevard.
Several times I’ve used the term “Carridor” for the section of Northern Boulevard that snakes out from under the elevated subways of Queens Plaza. Largely forgotten, this industrial corridor once hosted a concentration of automobile factories and service centers at the very dawn of the industry. Packard and Brewster, Standard, and Ford were all here, in Queens.
There will be movies from around the world — and around the corner. On March 4th, the fourth annual Queens World Film Festival will kick off a six-day moving image rampage of everything from feature films to shorts. Attendees can check out a dazzling selection of foreign flicks from such exotic ports of call as Belgium, Iran, India, Spain, Kosovo, Switzerland and Vietnam and enjoy the work of 18 borough-based auteurs. Like-minded films will be blocked together and will roll at Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image, The Secret Theatre and Nesva Hotel in Long Island City and PS 69 in Jackson Heights. The fun starts with an opening night party featuring the world premiere of the director’s cut of the of 2014 Academy Award-nominated documentary The Act of Killing. Directed by English-born Joshua Oppenheimer, the movie portrays his country’s national guilt potentially exhumed by a love of movies.