2010-07-21 / Book Review

Historic Photos of Queens Takes Reader To Bygone Era


Historic Photos of Queens
Text and Captions By Kevin Sean
ISBN: 9781596525733
Turner Publishing Company
216 pages
Price: $39.95

“During a time when Queens is looking ahead and evaluating its future course, many people are asking, How do we treat the past?” Todd Bottorff, publisher of Historic Photos of Queens, notes in his Preface to Kevin Sean O’Donoghue’s eponymously titled collection of nearly 200 photographs gathered from many local and national archives not usually available to the average reader or even history buffs. Historic Photos of Queens treats the past–Queens’ past, specifically–with respect and affection in covering the borough from the late 1800s to the 1970s through photographs from the Queens Borough Public Library, the New York State Library and the Library of Congress in four chapters: A Shrinking County, a Growing Borough (1880s-1899); The Bridge to Unstoppable Progress (1900-1929); Era of the Great Depression (1930-1939), and The World War II and Post World War (1949-1970s).

Queens is home to the Mets, LaGuardia Airport in the north and JFK in the south, and a steady force behind New York City, sheltering its laborers, builders, taxi drivers, teachers, firefighters, police officers, lawyers, businesspeople and people from all other walks of life for more than a century. The borough has been, among other things, a playground for wealthy Manhattanites, a recreation area for pleasure seekers, a highly industrialized pocket of New York City and among the most beautiful residential sections of the metropolis. Historic Photos of Queens provides a glimpse of the landscape that gave rise to the entities that distinguish the borough from its four sisters and make it a unique and special place.

O’Donoghue is partial to photographs of the bridges which, he said, show the beauty of Queens as part of Long Island, but are also significant in linking the borough to Manhattan and to The Bronx. A fourth-generation Queens resident, O’Donoghue lives in Bayside, where he grew up, but is partial to photos showing the changes that have come to Rockaway Beach and the transformation of the North Beach area from a playground for city residents to LaGuardia Airport. The photographs only rarely center on notable figures of their time, but instead show ordinary people doing ordinary things in everyday locations— a delicatessen’s grand opening, a procession of nuns outside a convent, children on playground slides, a family eating dinner. O’Donoghue has chosen to underscore the importance of the borough as a home for the working and middle class strata of society, two groups which make up the true nexus of New York City.

Purists may find some incongruities in the text. The Long Island Rail Road prefers to be known as such, but Historic Photos of Queens consistently refers to it as “Railroad” and Newtown is consistently referred to as “Newton”. Some place names and titles are abbreviated to Queensboro when their true names include Queensborough or Queens Borough. Turner Publishing style sets captions on right-hand pages flush right, which some readers may find disconcerting. Overall, however, Historic Photos of Queens is a welcome addition to the history of the borough and an entertaining glance backward at a bygone era.

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