Astoria Park Performance Space Is Gift To Queens, City
For more than 30 years the Olympic size pool in Astoria Park, the only one of its size in Queens, has had an appendage that detracted from its overall beauty and usefulness. At the south end of the well maintained and well used swimming pool, three high diving boards reach into the sky over Astoria Park, in sad testament to the dilapidated diving pool below. Where athletes once trained for two Olympic games, stagnant water ferments at the bottom, graffiti lines the sides and detritus is scattered around the terrace at its top.
Thanks to a $1 million grant from Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., the long neglected piece of urban wasteland that is the Astoria Park Pool diving pool is about to get a new lease on life as a performance space. Concrete will be poured into the diving pool, debris and some existing small diving boards removed, seating areas created, flooring installed, a new perimeter concrete walkway built and a tent canopy to provide shade at the bleachers erected—and all that just the start of the improvements. The landmarked three-board high diving platform will be restored. Another $2 million provided by Vallone will go for renovations to the Astoria Park pool bathing pavilion rooftop and the pool terrace, where Vallone has said he would one day like to see a café concession.
The performance space will have as its backdrop one of the most striking views in New York City, as well as Queens. “Nestled between the Hell Gate and Triborough Bridges with a view of the East River and the skyline at sunset–[the performance space] will evoke the theaters of ancient Greece and Rome and will be truly majestic,” Vallone was quoted in a release. We agree. Aeschylus, Euripides, Plautus and Terence and their colleagues and successors would feel right at home in this space. From the sound of it, Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) Executive Director Taryn Sacramone already has plans for the space, which will, if Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski’s predictions are accurate, see its first production in 2013. Other theater groups, schools and community organizations from throughout Queens are invited to use the space as well, and so they should. Astoria Park facilities are intended to be used by all residents of the borough of Queens, and those of other boroughs. The park space is easily reached by public transportation and has considerable parking space on surrounding streets. The neighborhood offers any number of places to dine before and after a performance. An outdoor performance space in a conveniently accessible public park with any number of amenities in the surrounding community is a perfect match.
Aside from the fact that some works simply cannot be performed in any venue other than that with a proscenium, the only other drawback to the diving pool as a performance space is the weather in New York City. However, the summer season is long and inclement weather unlikely to affect many of the scheduled performances, especially since Vallone’s plans include a tent canopy for the bleachers. In short, we find nothing wrong and very much right with this idea.
Vallone’s budgetary allocations that will see another $2 million put toward renovations to the Astoria Park pool bathing pavilion rooftop and the pool terrace, including a café constitute another wonderful development for Astoria Park. The main pool was planned to hold 3,000 people; its underwater lighting, considered a “revolutionary development in recreation”, encouraged night swimming. Flanking the pool, bleachers stand atop both the Art Deco, 6,200-swimmer capacity bathing pavilion and the water filtration house. Mild aesthetic changes such as new cement, lights, pumps, pipes, electric lines, filters, showers and improved chlorination and security systems further enhanced the pool in 1997.
The pool’s popularity extends far beyond Western Queens. Encomiums to it are to be found at a number of online sites, many of them submitted by residents of other boroughs as well as those of non-Western Queens neighborhoods. The performance space in the former diving pool will add to their number many times over.
The renovations that will make over the Astoria Park diving pool into a performance space are a lasting gift to the park, the borough and the city. We hail the foresight and drive on the part of Vallone and Lewandowski. Their vision will become a gift to us all that will keep on giving for many years to come.