2007-12-26 / Star Journal

LIC Real Estate Market Sizzles In December 1914

The pool at Astoria Park as it appears today. The pool at Astoria Park as it appears today. Get into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you're likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star- Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper's name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal- -The Flushing Journal (1841).

Welcome to December 1914!

Real estate speculation, like history, has a tendency to repeat itself. In 1914, speculation in Long Island City properties was just as hot as it is today. At the start of December, the Long Island Star Journal reported that a public auction took place in Thomson Hill (present-day Sunnyside), where prices for lots were "unusually good despite the real estate market just at present". Amid a "well attended" sale where "spirited" bidding took place, no fewer than 24 lots on Greenpoint and Gosmin Avenues (the latter being 48th street), as well as Carolin Street at the corner with Thomson Hill near the newly erected elevated station, were sold between $1,800 and $2,400.

Subsequently, the Star Journal publicized that Long Island City architect Edward Hahn was commissioned to prepare plans for "one of the most important apartment house developments" yet to be seen in the vicinity. The plans called for the formation of three four-story, 16-family brick apartments, two five-story, 25-family brick apartments, and one five-story brick house for 36 families, all in Astoria. A sum of $200,000 will be invested to bring this all to completion. From a commercial perspective, the Star Journal reported that the Defiance Button Machine Company would build a two-story addition to its factory on East Avenue (11th Street), employing many men in the process. Developer Julius Weiss will invest $76,000 to erect three four-story brick tenements on Thirteenth Avenue (43rd Street), south of Wilson Avenue (25th Avenue). The prevailing mood of optimism wasn't lost on the Star Journal, however, which stated that "real estate men declare that the outlook in Long Island City…is the brightest that it has been in several years".

Realtor James Thomas' experience was typical, having sold a two-family home and plot, measured 50 by 147 feet on the north side of Jamaica Avenue (31st Avenue). He was enterprising enough to sell two lots in the Norwood section of Astoria to a builder who will "improve the plot with a highclass four-story apartment dwelling."

Also in early December, Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) President Theodore Shonts went before the Queens Chamber of Commerce to project that in less than half a year, "shuttle trains will operate through the Steinway tunnel from Jackson Avenue to a point on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan". In fact, the steel to do so was already on order. Shonts also clarified that shuttle service would be provided by trolley cars that are different from the regular service subway cars "so they can be run either singly or in trains". The "tubes" (as nascent tunnels were referred to) were in the process of being re-built "so that trains of ten cars may be operated, if necessary". Shonts also took a moment to express "his great interest" in how Queens was presently being developed "and promised to heartily co-operate with the chamber to the end of that real rapid transit should come to this borough as soon as possible". He also assured the gathering present that he would carefully consider a forthcoming proposal that would extend the Steinway tunnel to Vanderbilt Avenue so a direct connection could be had with Grand Central Station.

Also issuing a statement was Public Service Commissioner Robert Woods who, after a recent trip through the Steinway tunnel, stated that he was "pleased" with the progress of the reconstruction work underway. He was also impressed with the suggestion that the Steinway Tunnel be extended to beyond Hunterspoint Avenue "as soon as possi-ble" to connect with a depot for the Long Island Railroad. Indeed, Queens was on the move!

The day after, Shonts announced a plan presented to the Public Service Commission to provide accommodations for commuters to transfer to subway trains at Grand Central, thus alleviating the need for commuters to surface on 42nd Street. This plan, however, would take up to a year and a half to complete.

Due to a measure of resistance shown by the Astoria Taxpayers and Business-men's Association, the State Canal Board postponed action on a proposed East River barge canal terminal site just north of the Queensboro Bridge for one week. Despite support of then Borough President Maurice Connolly, who felt that the location was more conducive to existing industries, the Queens Chamber of Commerce, "and more than thirty civic organizations" throughout the borough itself, the Astoria group argued that Hallet's Cove ought to be the site of choice. At the time of this Star Journal report, the Canal Board already approved a similar terminal located on the southern shore of Flushing Bay, west of Flushing Creek and on the north side of Jackson Avenue, between Flushing and Corona.

Connolly argued in favor of having the barge canal terminals in Queens. He noted the borough's recent spike in industry and that, despite the overall cost at a whopping $120,000,000, with Queens' assessed valuation at five percent of the state's overall, the borough would nevertheless receive its "proportionate share" for the terminals' construction.

At the same time, however, the Newtown Local Board of Improvement had just approved more than $500,000 (seen by an impressed Star Journal as "the largest amount") of funds for overall street improvements for "any one section of Long Island City". The relatively underdeveloped, and thus much sought-after, area in question extended from Hoyt to Ditmars Avenues, and from Second Avenue (31st Street) "to the new Astoria Park" - more than 100 acres and eight miles of streets in all. Reading between the lines, however, Ditmars was seen as a vestige of a bygone era, with its large plots of land still in the hands of a few. With the completion of the Second Avenue branch of the dual subway system currently in the works (today the 'N' train), large builders hoped to develop the area by constructing large, modern apartment houses that they hoped would remain as permanent fixtures on the landscape.

Amid all this, a most inexplicable case surfaced right after Thanksgiving, leaving everyone at the Long Island City police court scratching their heads. It concerned the vanishing of a 10-pound turkey. Apparently, the matter was taken very seriously. The Star Journal reported that it piqued the interest of none other than the head of detectives, who confidently went on record stating, "He will search out the man who was fearless enough to steal [Eddie] Johnson's turkey." Yet one could sense the utter frustration of the aggrieved party, an Elmhurst resident: "…it was a peach, too. …We had it all cooked and ready to eat. Then my wife took it and put it out on the back porch. When we went to look for it the next morning, it had disappeared. I'd like to know where it went."

In mid December the Star Journal proudly reported that Long Island City was planning to have "one of the most elaborate" public Christmas displays in all of Gotham. The borough's Lodge of Elks on Nott Avenue (44th Drive) eagerly agreed to host the seasonal celebration, having accepted a tree nearly 50 feet high offered by City Parks Commissioner John Weier. A two-hour concert was scheduled to take place on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. As part of the agreement to bring the tree to Long Island City, the Elks agreed to extend invitations throughout the borough to partake of holiday cheer. (Lest one think that Long Island City was unduly favored over where to locate the tree, a prior proposal surfaced to have it at Queensboro Plaza, but this was rejected due to the rapid transit improvements then taking place. Given Nott Avenue's unusual width that could thus "accommodate a large crowd", it was seen as an ideal spot to hold the festivities.) Mayor Mitchel was asked to light the tree from a remote location, while Santa Claus promised to make his annual appearance.

The entire display was to be something to behold. A dozen smaller lighted trees would surround the main attraction, which according to Elks Board Member Henry Sharkey, "will be most liberally decorated". Elaborate ornamentation (including "vari-colored globes") would permeate the centerpiece tree with- of course- a large star on top. Despite "very brilliant" lighting, the New York and Queens Electric and Power Company engaged in the spirit of the season by agreeing to supply all the electricity the display needed free of charge.

When plans to have the ceremonies were first announced Elks Board Member Sharkey summed the prevailing enthusiasm this way: "This will be one of the greatest Christmas celebrations that Long Island City will have ever had."

That's the way it was in December 1914!

The Greater Astoria Historical Society is open to the public on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. at Quinn's Gallery, 4th Floor, 35-20 Broadway, Long Island City. A new exhibit, "Hunters Point through the eyes of a native son: The photographs of Frank Carrado", opened on Saturday, September 29 at 1 p.m.

The perfect gift for the Astorian in your family is out just in time for the holidays: the latest publication from the Greater Astoria Historical Society library of local histories, Postcard History Series: Long Island City, featuring hundreds of postcards depicting the communities of old Long Island City, Astoria, Ravenswood, Dutch Kills, Hunters Point, Blissville and Sunnyside.

This program is supported in part by funds from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.

For more information, or to order Postcard History Series: Long Island City, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit

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