2010-11-24 / Book Review

Long Island City’s Transformation Is Preserved In New Book


Long Island City,
Greater Astoria Historical Society
with Gary Vollo,
96 pp., paperback;
Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

The borough of Queens has become a popular part of both New York City and the world primarily because of its cultural diversity, abundant parkland, variety of multi-ethnic foods, the New York Mets and the US Open.

Among all of these attributes is the historic tale that ranks as the singular most impressive part of the borough. Its transformation from rural farms and swamps, to becoming the most populated of all New York City boroughs.

During the last 150 years, the geographic landscape of Queens has changed so dramatically that the only evidence of its rural and agricultural past exists in the memories of the rare few left alive to tell the tale and in photographs.

In Long Island City: Then & Now by the Greater Astoria Historical Society and Gary Vollo, such photographs have been put to good use in order to create a visual record of Western Queens’ dramatic metamorphosis.

Contrasted by both historic and contemporary photographs, the new book from Arcadia Publishing allows readers to walk the streets of Long Island City, observing its dynamic changes and growth along with the surrounding neighborhoods of Western Queens including Hunters Point, Blissville, Sunnyside, Sunnyside Gardens, Ravenswood, Dutch Kills, Broadway-Astoria, Old Middletown, The German Settlement, Steinway, Old Astoria Village, Astoria Park and Ditmars.

Readers of the book will undoubtedly marvel at images that include 31st Street shown as a narrow dirt covered road completely exposed without the steel canopy of the elevated roadway that supports the N train. Other astounding photographs include Northern Boulevard, with its serpentine like curves that, we are told, traces the path of an ancient river. Also impressive is the Astoria Boulevard approach to 31st Street. Before the Grand Central Parkway was cut through beneath 31st Street, there was actually a small neighborhood with the several apartment buildings and stores that once stood in the footprints of the now twenty-foot plus drop to the parkway below.

The one great element of Long Island City: Then & Now, is that it avoids repetition by making use of Greater Astoria Historical Society’s vast collection of images. Everything from transportation, farming, famous mansions, and houses of worship and even places of recreation are all examined.

Some of the changes are impressive while others are slightly depressing after one realizes what once existed. For example, Astoria was once known for its beer gardens that provided an outdoor drinking and dining experience where patrons were surrounded by flowers and tall trees. All of that was reduced to industrial and commercial space in the 1920s with the coming of Prohibition.

Long Island City: Then & Now is a perfect, concise record that successfully achieves its goal of making anyone who lives in the area, be it native or newcomer, understand what came before and the incredible sacrifices made by people more than a century ago so that people of future generations could live in a world with modern conveniences.

The book contains 88 pairs of then and now images and is 96 pages in length. It is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and through Arcadia Publishing. For more information, visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.

The now images were taken by Vollo, a native of Astoria. A graduate of Queens College, Vollo has been working with photography for more than 35 years. He has exhibited photographs at numerous galleries and museums including, the Paul Klapper Library, Queens Museum and the Citicorp Building.

He has worked extensively with the traditional forms of photography for many years, and is currently concentrating on the digital possibilities of photography and how this new medium can be infused into the creative process.

Vollo has taught beginning, advanced and digital photography and is currently teaching computer art courses at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY.

The Greater Astoria Historical Society, 35-20 Bway., Long Island City, was chartered in 1985, as a non-profit organization supported by the Long Island City community and dedicated to preserving our past and using it to promote our community’s future. The society conducts field trips, walking tours, slide presentations and guest lectures to schools and the public. For more information, visit www.astorialic.org.

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