Kew Gardens in Queens seems to be just another urban neighborhood when you emerge from the Union Turnpike subway station. For instance, there is the long stretch of Queens Boulevard that is always busy with traffic. Lining the boulevard are Queens Borough Hall, where the office of the borough president is located, and the Queens Criminal Court building. Near the subway station, home of the E and F lines, are shops and large buildings.
But when you get away from that commercial part of the neighborhood, Kew Gardens actually feels like a suburb or a village within an urban environment. Beautiful and elegant single-family homes coexist with a number of co-ops and condos. The tree-lined streets are generally quiet and populated by folks of different ethnic groups. The cozy intimacy of Kew Gardens is evident when you walk into Lefferts Boulevard where the some of the small shops and eateries evoke a mom-and-pop feel. And underneath some of those shops is the Long Island Rail Road.
“It’s not a suburban neighborhood, it’s a city neighborhood,” says architectural historian and resident Barry Lewis, who wrote the book “Kew Gardens: Urban Village in the Big City.” “But on the other hand, it has the open space, the greenery, the feeling that you have a space to breathe when you come home.”
Geographically, Kew Gardens is surrounded by Forest Hill Park and the Jackie Robinson Parkway on one side, and the 65-acre Maple Grove Cemetery on the other. On the Queens Library website, the origins of the neighborhood can be traced to developer Albon Man, who founded neighboring Richmond Hill as a planned garden community in the late 1860s; in the 1890s, the Richmond Hill Golf Course was created.
In the 1900s, the Pennsylvania Railroad bought out the Long Island Rail Road and a new electrified main line was being introduced, says Lewis. “They wanted a more direct line to Jamaica and they wanted to go right through the Richmond Hill Golf Course, so [the descendents of Albon Man] say, ‘Well, okay, cut through our golf course as long as you give us a station. If you give us a station, we’re gonna build a new planned community and we’re gonna call it Kew Gardens.”