Astoria, Queens A Mixture of Diversity and Culture

Astoria, Queens

 Astoria is a neighborhood in the northwestern corner of Queens that is as  diverse as the immigrants that settled there from places as far away as Greece,  Italy, Ireland, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.  

 A Famous Ancestry

 Originally named Hallet’s Cove after its first landowner William Hallet settled there in 1659 with his  wife Elizabeth Fones, New Yorkers can probably figure out that Astoria was  renamed after John Jacob Astor, then the richest man in America with a net  worth of over $40 million. Astor was asked by founding father and fellow fur  trader Stephen Halsey to invest $2,000 in the neighborhood in return for naming  the area after him. He only invested $500, but the name stayed nonetheless, as  a bitter battle over naming the village was finally won by Astor's supporters  and friends.  

 Beginning in the early 19th century, affluent New Yorkers constructed large  residences around 12th and 14th streets, an area that became known as Astoria  Village (now Old Astoria). This area was a noted recreational destination and  resort for Manhattan's wealthy elite. From Astor's summer home in Hell Gate,  Manhattan—on what is now East 87th Street near York Avenue—he could see across the East River to the new Long Island village named in his  honor. Astor, however, never actually set foot in Astoria.  

 Later History

 Astoria was first settled by the Dutch and Germans in the 17th century. Many  Irish settled in the area during the waves of Irish immigration into New York  City during the 19th and early 20th centuries. During the second half of the  19th century, economic and commercial growth also brought increased immigration  from German settlers, mostly furniture and cabinet makers.  

 One such settler was Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, patriarch of the Steinway  family who founded the worldwide piano company Steinway & Sons in 1853. Afterwards, the Steinways built a sawmill and a foundry, as well  as a streetcar line. The family eventually established Steinway Village for  their workers, a company town that provided school instruction in German as  well as English.  

 In 1870, Astoria and several other surrounding villages, including Steinway,  were incorporated into Long Island City. Long Island City remained an  independent municipality until it was incorporated into New York City in 1898.  The area's farms were turned into housing tracts and street grids to  accommodate the growing number of residents.  

 Italians were the next significant immigrants in Astoria. Numerous Italian  restaurants, delis, bakeries and pizza shops are found throughout Astoria,  particularly in the popular Ditmars Boulevard area.  

 The 1960s saw a large number of ethnic Greeks from Greece, and Cyprus, giving  Astoria the largest Greek population outside of Greece itself. The Greek  cultural imprint can be seen in the numerous Greek restaurants, bakeries,  tavernas and cafes, as well as several Greek Orthodox churches. While the  population of Greeks in Astoria was 22,579 in 1980, it dropped to 18,127 by  1990 due to decreased immigration and lower birth rates. Many Greek  organizations still exist there.  

 Beginning in the mid-1970s, the neighborhood's Arab population grew from earlier  Lebanese immigrants to include people from Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco.  In the 1990s, Steinway Street between 28th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard saw the  establishment of many Arabic shops, restaurants and cafes.  

 The next wave in Astoria was among South Americans and white European  populations, including many Brazilians, who reside in the 36th Avenue area.  Albanians, Bulgarians, and Bosnians have also shown a rise in numbers.  


 Located in Community Board 1, Astoria is bounded by the East River and is  adjacent to three other Queens neighborhoods: Long Island City, Sunnyside  (bordering at Northern Boulevard), and Woodside (bordering at 50th Street).  There is some debate as to what constitutes the geographic boundaries of  Astoria. The neighborhood was part of Long Island City (LIC) prior to the  latter's incorporation into New York City in 1898, and much of it is still  classified as LIC by the U.S. Postal Service.  

 The area south of Astoria was called Ravenswood, and traditionally, Broadway was  considered the border between the two. Today, however, many residents and  businesses south of Broadway identify themselves as Astorians for convenience  or status, since Long Island City has historically been considered an  industrial area, and Ravenswood is now mostly a low-income neighborhood. Some  of the thoroughfares have lent their names to unofficial terms for the areas  they serve. For instance, the eastern end of Astoria, with Steinway Street as  its main thoroughfare, is sometimes referred to simply as "Steinway," and the  northern end around Ditmars Boulevard is sometimes referred to as “Ditmars.” Many condos have sprung up in Astoria, including ones on the site of the  historic Eagle Electric company warehouse. Relatively new are the Ionian and  the Astoria Windsor. Some of those early antebellum mansions survived too but  Astoria is mostly a hodgepodge of six-family apartment houses and two- and  three-family row houses, built after the bridges, tunnels and elevated trains  of the 20th century put Astoria within easy commute of Manhattan.  

 Filmmaking Plays a Role

 Astoria figures very prominently in early American filmmaking as one of its  initial centers, a heritage preserved today by the American Museum of the  Moving Image and Kaufmann Studios. The neighborhood is often featured in  television and film, either as Astoria or as a setting for another location in  New York City. Here is a sampling of Astoria’s celluloid legacy:  

 • The 1991 movie Queens Logic was filmed all around Astoria and features an  Astoria landmark—The Hell Gate Bridge. One of the screenwriters had roots in Astoria.  

 • The block of 37th Street between Ditmars Boulevard and 23rd Avenue is sometimes  referred to as "the Seinfeld Street." In the Seinfeld television show, this  street is occasionally seen in external establishing shots as the block where  George Costanza's parents live.  

 • The television series Cosby, starring Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad and Madeleine  Kahn was set in Astoria and was filmed there, at the Kaufman Astoria Studios on  35th Avenue.  

 • The 1970s situation comedy All in the Family was set in Astoria, although the  address given for Archie Bunker's home (704 Hauser Street) is fictional.  

 • Two notable Robert De Niro films were filmed on location in Astoria: Goodfellas  and A Bronx Tale. While the latter was set in the Bronx, most of the exterior  scenes were filmed in Astoria and nearby Woodside. Other films shot in Astoria  include Five Corners (1987), starring Jodie Foster, and the 1950s noted civil  defense instructional film Duck and Cover, shot using schoolchildren from P.S.  152.  

 • Serpico (1973) with Al Pacino had several scenes filmed in Astoria. The  elevated train stop at Ditmars Boulevard was the location for a chase scene and  Serpico has a clandestine meeting in Astoria Park under the Hellgate Bridge.  

 • The 1982 film version of Tempest starring John Cassavetes had scenes shot at  the cafes on 23rd Ave off 31st St.  

 • Woody Allen's 2002 film Hollywood Ending had scenes shot in the neighborhood  surrounding the Kaufman Astoria stages.  

 • King Kong (1976) had a scene in Astoria, at Astoria Boulevard and 31st Street,  where the two main characters board the train at the Astoria Boulevard station  on the BMT Astoria Line.  

 • The Accidental Husband (2008), directed by Griffin Dunne; with Uma Thurman,  Colin Firth and Jeffrey Dean Morgan was filmed in Astoria on 33rd Street and  23rd Avenue.  

 A number of notables were either born or resided in Astoria, including Friends  actor David Schwimmer, New York Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford, WNBA  and University of Tennessee woman’s baskeball player Chamique Holdsclaw, Oscar-award winning actor Christopher  Walken, Grammy award winning singer Tony Bennett, late Broadway actress and  singer Ethel Merman, and John Frusciante, guitarist for the Red Hot Chili  Peppers band.   

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