In 1939, when the WPA Guide to New York Citywas first published, South Queens, and particularly the area around what would become Rochdale Village, had little to recommend the visitor.
"Springfield, Laurelton and Rosedale, at the southeastern extremity of the borough, are undistinguished products of the Queens building boom of the 1920s," the WPA Guide reads, without elaboration.
The neighborhood's lone tourist attraction was the now-defunct Jamaica Race Track, which opened in 1903. The 1959 renovation of the Aqueduct Racetrack in nearby South Ozone Park obsolesced the former, which was demolished to make way for a new housing cooperative—what would be the world's largest until the completion of Co-op City in 1971.
Rochdale Village was, from the get-go, a vision of utopia. Developed under the auspices of the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program, the cooperative was built to provide affordable housing for low- and middle-income families. The name—pronounced ROTCH-dale—derives from the eponymous English town whose guild of weavers drew up what became known as the Rochdale principles: open membership, democratic control, political and religious neutrality, and so forth.
The brainchild of—who else—Robert Moses, the complex, designed by cooperative housing pioneer Herman Jessor, drew its inspiration from the Le Corbusier "city-within-a-city" paradigm. Although antithetical to the urban planning models proposed by Jane Jacobs, who apotheosized sidewalks, stoops, and streets, Jessor's design is impressive in size and scope. Five circles of four buildings—20 total—rise majestically from an outlying neighborhood of row houses, earning the development the sobriquet "The Jewel of Jamaica." In addition to the 5,860 residential units, Rochdale Village's 120 acres boast two public schools, a police station, a library, two malls and its own power plant. Transportation is also convenient: JFK Airport is a short cab ride away, and the Locust Manor station on the Long Island Railroad is within walking distance.