Catching the last days and weeks of warm weather before fall and winter start, I decided to take some urban hikes —
A brief visit to see the huge high rises that went up so incredibly quickly on the Hunter’s Point waterfront inspired me to explore further along the Long Island City shoreline. I chose Vernon Boulevard as my pathway.
Vernon Boulevard runs North/South and basically parallels the Manhattan east side waterfront, from the East 40s to the 80s. It passes through industrial and residential neighborhoods both, running through Long Island City and Astoria, has spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, goes directly under the Queensboro bridge, has a Victorian-era architectural surprise in store, and includes several art venues, too.
The fact that it parallels the waterfront was a big draw for me — There are several parks along the Queens waterfront (some were created as far back as the 1930s) that actually make the water more accessible to people here than large sections of Manhattan have been (at least until recently, with the improvements along the west side waterfront).
The boulevard begins near the approach to the Queens Midtown Tunnel — I didn’t start my walk there, but instead at 44th Drive, a bit above Hunter’s Point, where there’s a nice little village of shops and restaurants along Vernon Boulevard.
Except for that brief stretch in Hunter’s Point, it’s a very car-centric street, as is much of Queens. Cars and trucks pretty much rule the road. A bike path was added recently, though.
Vernon Boulevard takes on a more industrial character around where I picked it up, the kind of industrial activity that you don’t see much in Manhattan anymore, with food cart storage businesses, taxi and limo garages, brick yards, lumber yards and manufacturing — It’s weird to see a small junkyard or lumber yard possessed of a spectacular Manhattan view, but there are many here. A lot of the streets intersecting Vernon sight along a view of the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and others.
One of the taxi shops I saw, Taxidepot, has a film props department, renting out classic cars like a checker cab I spotted parked out front.
Just before you reach the Intersection of Queens Plaza, there’s a a castle-like Victorian era brick building, a ghostly mirage from the late 19th century. It’s the last remaining structure from a terracotta tile manufacturing business that went bankrupt in 1928 –The New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works. One source I looked at said that the building was the showroom and offices of the company. The building was used for a variety of purposes after 1928, but has stood empty since the 1960s. Amazingly, it survived, achieving landmark status in 1982. The New York Times told its story in 1987.
As you stand directly under the bridge and look away from the water, you’ll see the Silvercup Studio sign. I saw it and the bridge silhouetted against the bright sky.
As you continue North, Queensbridge Park is to your left, with baseball diamonds facing the bridge and views of the UN building and midtown. It was quiet and empty on the Friday afternoon that I visited, but I thought of all those center fielders who played there over the years, and the views of midtown they had.
Away from the bridge, closer to the side walk, is a structure looking like a mid-century modernist home (with its louvers and smooth concrete) in need of some TLC. Actually, though, it’s a ventilating tower for the subway tunnel that goes under the river.
Arriving at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria… The park, opened in 1986, has a scruffy, DIY look that I find to be very appealing. It’s a people’s park/community garden, world’s away in look and attitude from the Gantry Plaza Park several block’ down the waterfront in Hunters Point, that, while nice, is almost a front yard for the luxury condos nearby.
One piece at Socrates Sculpture Park that I enjoyed in particular was simply a set of aluminum-framed sliding doors you’d find in a Walmart store. Instead of opening into a retail cornucopia, though, they stood silent, closed — we could only look through the glass toward the buildings of Manhattan and the other sculptures in the park.
The perimeter of the park is surrounded by a short wall made up of stones and masonry gathered from building discards (I spotted a piece of brownstone in there). Interspersed among the stones were several with large, single letters (a “D,” an “F,” etc.) carved in them. It’s a cool discovery finding those letters.
There are more waterfront parks along Vernon Boulevard that I hadn’t even heard of — Rainey Park, Hallets Cove…
As I walked, in at least two places I saw signs that said “Walk New York” adorned with an illustration of a dress shoe stepping sprightly along, together with listings of different arts venues and their distance in fractions of miles from the spot where the sign was. Couldn’t find out anything about who or when they were placed there, unfortunately.
Well, regardless who placed them, Vernon Boulevard does make a good path for an urban hike.