The area probably most recognized by New Yorkers today as the heart of
industrial Long Island City, Hunters Point has been defined by transportation
over the years. From trains and ferries to bridges and tunnels, the neighborhood
has long been a connection to Manhattan for Long Island at its location
at the East River and Newtown Creek.
Hunters Point had originally been purchased by he second minister of
the Dutch Reformed Church in New Amsterdam, Dominie Everardus Bogardus.
The point of land jutting out into the East River just north of Newtown
Creek was known as Dorninie's Hook. When the British came, in 1664, it
became a part of the Town of Newtown and later passed into the hands of
the family of a British sea captain, George Hunter. In 1825 the name of
the estate was changed to Hunters Point.
An 1891 map showing the Hunters Point section of Long Island City.
The dignified residential section of Long Island City was built on land
that belonged to the Van Alst family for nearly two hundred years, until
the trustees of Union College purchased the property in 1861. The transition
from a rural to an urban community began that year as the Long Island
Railroad was forced by local protest to move its principal terminus from
Atlantic Ave to Hunters Point. The area began to change as inns and taverns
opened to accommodate the commuters.
The tunnels and bridges now crossing the river were still a long way
in the future, so travelers from Manhattan had to disembark from the 34th
Street Ferry at Hunters Point and transfer to the railroad. Just as the
development of Brooklyn Heights dates from the opening of the Fulton Street
Ferry and that of Cobble Hill from the inauguration of the South Ferry
at Atlantic Avenue, so the development of Hunters Point dates from the
opening of the 34th Street Ferry.
A prosperous community soon grew up, as inns, taverns and other amenities
were opened to accommodate the commuters. This led to the urbanization
of the area and to the construction in the 1870s of the distinguished
groups of houses that made it such a fine residential neighborhood.
In 1870 the land was acquired by Spencer B. Root and John P. Rust,
developers who built many of the surviving houses. Completed between 1871
and 1890, the forty-seven houses exhibit diverse architectural styles
including the Italianate, French Second Empire, and Neo-Grec. A large
number of the original stoops, lintels, pediments, and other architectural
details are intact.
P.S. 1 circa 1915. Today the building houses an art museum.
In 1870 Hunters Point joined with the village of Astoria, along with
Ravenswood and Steinway to form Long Island City. Hunters Point served
as the location for several of the new city's municipal landmarks such
as the Long Island City courthouse and Public School 1, which today houses
a famous art museum.
After the area was developed, the houses were occupied first by old
American families, then by people of Irish descent. The most notable of
these was the last mayor of Long Island City 'Battle-Axe' Gleason, who
had earned his name when he headed adirect-action delegation that chopped
down a fence erected by the Long Island Railroad and resented by the local
citizenry. Gleason lived on Twelfth Street (now 45th Avenue) during the
1880s. When the elevated trains were extended to Long Island City early
in the twentieth century, its noise caused many of the older families
to move away. During the Depression, houses in the district were converted
to multifamily dwellings, as most remain today.
Bridge, with its trains roaring overhead, opened in 1909. While this
improvement greatly facilitated communication between Manhattan and Queens
and led to the intense industrial development of Long Island City, it
struck a death blow to what had been a quiet residential area. The houses
on 45th Avenue were converted into the multifamily dwellings that they
Completing construction of the Queensboro Bridge over Hunters Point
Subsequent subway and vehicular tunnels literally and figuratively still
further undermined Hunters Point. The mainstream of traffic and progress
pushed over and under Hunters Point into the rapidly growing central and
eastern portions of the borough. It is to this accident of technological
geography that the city owes the survival of these handsome houses in
their tree-shaded setting.
Today Hunters Point is undergoing yet another transformation. The Queens
West initiative to build up the neighborhood's waterfront across from
Midtown has already completed Phase 2 of its plan with two high-rise residential
towers completed. Further phases will bring additional residential building
along with office real estate.
The one block on 45th Avenue between 21st and 23rd Streets in Hunters
Point is probably the most complete and best-preserved example of the
Italianate rowhouses that at one time dominated block after block of Manhattan
and Brooklyn. Most of these houses were built in the early 1870s for well-to-do
families by two developers, Spencer Root and John Rust.
It is ironical that the high-stooped Italianate style that is now generically
referred to as 'brownstone' should have its outstanding
surviving exemplars built of something called Westchester stone-a considerably
harder material than the flaky brown sandstone that was so much more widely
used. This is perhaps why ten houses in the Hunters Point Historic District
-- five on the north side of 45th Avenue (Nos. 21-21 through 21-29) and
five across the way (Nos. 21-12 through 21-20) -remain in almost perfect
The Hunters Point Historical District also contains examples of
nineteenth-century architectural styles, including French Second Empire
houses with mansard roofs, some neo-Grec and even some small Queen Anne
houses. But it is its late Italianate rows that give the district its