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Jamaica Avenue El: 1944

Jamaica Avenue El: 1944

Nov. 5, 1944. "Jamaica Avenue, Queens, New York. Carl A. Vollmer, City Planning Commission, clients." The intersection with 165th Street. Large-format acetate negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.


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165th & Jamaica

That's a very familiar location - 165th St & Jamaica Ave, looking northeast. The Loew's theater is the Valencia, the fanciest of about 5 movie houses in downtown Jamaica. It had only a narrow frontage on Jamaica Ave, and a long corridor back to the theater. You can see the upper part of the theater above the "Loans" sign. Inside, it had stars and clouds projected on the ceiling, looking like you were outdoors, and all around there were Spanish-looking building facades. I believe it belongs to a school now.

Just out of the picture to the right, on the southeast corner was a building that had a lunch room on the ground floor, the BMT turnstiles on the 2nd floor, the crew room on the 3rd and the interlocking tower on to top. This was the west end of the 168th St station, which was the end of the line. The structure was built to have 3 through tracks, and would have hand outside platforms if the line were extended further, but since this was the terminal, they built a wooden center platform on the steel for the middle track.

In 1944, streetcars of the Jamaica Ave and Metropolitan Ave lines still ran here, ending a couple of blocks further east at 168th St. (in 1903, the el train ran on the street tracks, for 8 months).

Both the el and the streetcars are gone now.

The Q-44 bus from the Bronx makes a left turn here, coming from behind the camera and going up 165 St, to stop at the end of the block, in front of the Long Island Bus Terminal where all the routes of the North Shore's (and now the TA Queens Bus Division) Jamaica district stopped. the Q44, as a Flushing-based route did not go in to the terminal, but terminated in front of it.

89-71 165 Street, Jamaica, NY, 11432

I believe the photo is of Jamaica Avenue near 165th Street. The first business that I was ever personally involved in was a storefront at the above address. It was Uneeda Home Appliances, the firm that my brother and his brother-in-law were involved in. We opened the the Jamaica store in, I'm guessing now, 1962. There was a Macy's store at the corner of 165th Street and Highland Avenue and that was the anchor retail operation in the neighborhood. The ethnic make up of the area was changing and we accommodated it as best we could. The area, at one point became unsafe, our business suffered and we had to close. I am in Palm Desert, California for the winter. I believe somewhere in my NYC home I have a picture of the storefront, taken by an itinerant photographer and I'll try to find and post in when I get home sometime in April.

Jamaica The Station Not the Nation

There is a lot of history in that area. Jamaica was one of the original Dutch settlements in New York (nee Amsterdam), settled in the 1600's. Not far from where this picture was taken is where the British flanked General Washington's troops by surprise early in the Revolutionary War. There is an east-west ridge about a half mile or so north of, and parallel to Jamaica Avenue. British scouts, allegedly aided by a Tory sympathizer, found a pass to the east of Washington's main body of troops that was undefended (because the small number of Continentals assigned to guard it were sleeping/drunk/AWOL/bribed, depending on which anecdote you believe). The British quietly flooded through the pass and caught Washington off-guard. Washington beat a miraculous retreat (first of many miraculous retreats he pulled off during the war) from what is now Queens County (part of present-day NYC), across Maspeth Creek (first in the serious of miraculous water crossings Washington pulled off: East River, Hudson (then called "North") River, and of course the famous Delaware River crossing) into what is now Brooklyn (also part of present-day NYC). IIRC, between the retreats from Queens to Brooklyn, and then Brooklyn to Turtle Bay, Manhattan (present-day site of the United Nations), the largest set piece battle of the war was fought right there in Brooklyn (called the Battle of Long Island IIRC). Whodathunkit?

Just a few blocks west of the photo is Jamaica Station, the main hub of the Long Island Rail Road. Due south a few miles is JFK Airport, of which Shorpy has featured several recent photos when it was still called Idlewild.

Loew’s Valencia movie palace

Scouting New York just did a wonderful post about it:

Everything is still there

Well, not the el, but all the visible buildings (with some cosmetic changes) seem to still be there:

View Larger Map

An unfortunate history

As the 1970's began Jamaica Avenue was the center of a thriving shopping and commercial district. Although the merchants had done well for themselves catering to a largely working-class clientele, they had ambitions of attracting more upscale shoppers. For that to happen, they believed that the unsightly old elevated line had to go, and brought considerable pressure upon the Transit Authority to have it demolished.

Officials with the city and the Transit Authority warned the merchants that the Archer Avenue subway, the Jamaica Avenue El's replacement, would not be ready for many years. They pointed out that most of the people who patronized the Jamaica Avenue stores used the El, and without convenient transit might go elsewhere.

The merchants were adamant, and the Transit Authority finally gave into their demands and demolished the El in 1977. The merchants were right, as this definitely improved Jamaica Avenue's appearance and made it look much more upscale. Unfortunately, in the 11 years that Jamaica Avenue was left without transit access, most of the shoppers indeed had gone elsewhere, and many of the area's merchants had gone out of business - including, in a bit of cosmic justice, most of those that had lobbied the strongest for the El's premature destruction.

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