May 22, 2024, 06:27AM

Streets, the Queens Way

Tried and true alongside odd names line Queens streets.

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Until a few years ago, an unassuming two-story brick building with a porch painted red in West Maspeth held a key to Queens’ past, before the cartographers numbered all the streets in the 1920s to make things less (?) confusing.

Until the 1920s, Queens street names trended toward the tried and true, with presidents, governors, spruces and elms, but further east, in what would be the Juniper Park area, 78th St. was Grieffenberg St., 81st was Thew St., and 84th was Gwydir St. Further east, proposed streets east of Queens Blvd/ in the Forest Hills area that now are a thicket of 60th drives and 62nd roads were mapped in alphabetical order, carrying odd names like Meteor, Nome, Occident, Thupman, Uriu, Yalu and Zuni. The only remnant of this scheme is Jewel Ave., the “J” street in the sequence.

Many of Queens’ subway and el lines have preserved the old names, most of which haven’t been on street maps and signs for over 80 years. The Flushing Line (#7 train) preserves Rawson (33rd), Lowery (40th), Bliss (46th), Lincoln Ave. (52nd) and Fisk Ave. (69th Street); the line’s original last stop in Corona was Alburtis Ave. (104th St.).

The Astoria Line (N, W) was rich in old names before station renovations on the line doomed the old signs: Beebe Ave. (39th Ave.), Washington Ave. (36th Ave.) and Grand Ave. (30th Ave.). The Rockaway Line (A) checks in with Hudson St. (80th St.), Boyd Ave. (88th St.), Oxford Ave. (104th St.), Greenwood Ave. (111th St.).

The Jamaica Line (J) preserves an extra letter in Eldert(s) La.; street signs dropped the “s” decades ago. Even the newer IND lines, built in the 1930s, continue the tradition with 23rd-Ely Ave. and Woodhaven Boulevard-Slattery Plaza subtitling older names. The LIRR also gets into the act. Its Broadway station in Flushing on the Port Washington branch maintains Northern Blvd.’s old moniker, which fell out of favor by the 1920s.

While other boroughs’ former street appellatives can be glimpsed in stone on older buildings, Queens preserves them on its subway and el signs. There’s more affection for the old names in Queens, as there’s a seemingly aboriginal knowledge that a borough full of numbered streets isn’t the natural order.

A couple of well-preserved blue and white signs survived on the corner of the little red house at  46th St. and 54th Rd. and proclaimed it to be the corner of Clifton and Waters Aves. 

Until the 1920s, neighboring east-west streets in West Maspeth, then called Laurel Hill, carried names like Joy, Columbine, Cassell, Halle, Hull, Clinton and Perry Aves., and north-south streets were called Montgomery Ave., Debevoise Ave., Berlin St., Clavin Ave. and Betts Ave. Clinton and Perry survive further east in Maspeth, probably since there they run askew to the street grid.

By 2010, though, the owners sold to Maspeth Environmental, which handles asbestos abatement. House and signs are gone, and very few of West Maspeth’s former single-family dwellings remain from the time I started chronicling this part of Queens in 1998 for Forgotten New York.

—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning website Forgotten NY, and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens (Arcadia, 2013)


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