Astoria

Long Island City

LIC sits against the 59th Street Bridge, Newtown Creek and the rail lines. The little triangle consists of upscale residences, old tenement buildings, Silvercup Studios, myriad taxi garages and a vibrant warehouse area feeding a variety of business concerns. You can see Roosevelt Island and the FDR Memorial from its waterfront.

This area is in such a state of transition that it’s very difficult to define. I guess the theme is “change”. Recently a neighborhood of immigrants, LIC still hugs Astoria – a neighborhood so diverse that my school’s religion class takes an annual field trip there to be able to visit a Hindu temple, a mosque, a Greek Orthadox church, a Buddhist temple and a Jewish temple all in the course of a few hours, with time to spare for lunch at a Chinese buffet. But in its very recent history LIC has become the next stop for the Millenial spread from Brooklyn. And the addition of several towering condo buildings and the development of the waterfront signal the financial success of those just a few years advanced in the quest for the great American dream. The death of 5Pointz was a blow to the community and signaled a changing demographic. So while there still exists some of the character of a more typical middle class neighborhood in the boroughs, that seems to be diminishing quickly as prosperity spreads.

Let’s check back in in about ten years and see who can recognize the neighborhood.

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Roosevelt Island

I used to come here fairly frequently when we lived on 59th Street in Manhattan near the bridge. It’s changed a great deal in the last 30 years. There’s a beautiful church that used to stand in a field but is now tightly surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings. The Smallpox hospital at the south end of the island was once a prime destination for urban explorers. Now it stands, nearly demolished, embraced by a chain link fence. It’s future is uncertain. At the very far south end of the island is the new Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, a truly stunning memorial/green space with spectacular views down the length and width of the East River.

Roosevelt Island sits in the East River between Manhattan and Astoria, Queens. You can get there by a bridge from Queens, or the subway. You can also get there by tram. Tram? This is a truly unique feature of this spot.

The island is within spitting distance of either shore, but it has a character all its own.

There’s a tame, suburban quality to the vibe of the place, lots of tourists. There was a film crew lunching between takes at the top of the island when we stopped by to look at the lighthouse. That’s a story in itself – it stands near the former “lunatic asylum” and a resident of said institution apparently built a sea wall to connect Roosevelt Island to a tiny island off its northernmost shore sometime in the 19th century. He claimed responsibility for the lighthouse as well.

The island is rich with history, as are many of the islands that form the archipelago that is our city. Well worth a visit.

Astoria: The Welling Court Mural Project

This project began around 2008 when an ad hoc committee of local artists formed to spruce up the neighborhood. A mix of residential and industrial, this corner of Astoria is an eclectic array of auto-body shops, single family homes, low-rise apartment buildings and the occasional hipster bistro. Sprinkled among the multiple murals are a number of cars in need of repair. This adds to the surreal nature of the neighborhood and stands as a reminder that, underneath the scratched surface of the vibrant street art, a culture of gritty labor-based commerce remains to support the community

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We explored the neighborhood on a cloudy day – the light slipped away as the afternoon wore on. I’ll be back in the spring; there’s a lot to see here.