QUEENS — Jamaica is in the midst of widespread change and a guided tour along its main artery next week will highlight both the neighborhood’s rich history and its recent transformation, organizers said.
The “On and Off Jamaica Avenue” tour, led by a historian, Jack Eichenbaum, will show how after decades of redevelopment, Downtown Jamaica has become a vibrant and dynamic area.
Eichenbaum, who is the Queens Borough Historian, will also point out Jamaica’s Art Deco buildings and 19th century churches, and discuss how local Business Improvement Districts have galvanized commercial activity in the neighborhood.
The walk will began at the entrance to the AirTrain station, which has boosted the neighborhood’s identity as a transportation hub. Jamaica also boasts a Long Island Rail Road station, numerous buses and three subway lines.
Today, Eichenbaum said, the neighborhood is “an important transportation center, but it used to have just one train.”
The J train, Eichenbaum said, was extended to Jamaica in 1919 and had elevated tracks. But even though the train transported people in and out of Jamaica, it also brought noise, dirt and took away the light, Eichenbaum said.
The elevated tracks were torn down in the early 1970s. In the 1980s, new underground stations were opened.
The neighborhood is also a vibrant shopping center, Eichenbaum said, even though in the 1970s Jamaica lost three department stores — Macy’s, Gertz and Mays.
But a new department store may be coming to the area soon.
The country’s first supermarket, King Kullen, opened in Jamaica in 1930 on 172nd Street and Jamaica Avenue, Eichenbaum said. The store offered affordable prices, a parking lot and shopping carts. The original store is no longer there, but King Kullen, which expanded into a chain of grocery stores, currently has 42 locations around Long Island, according to the store’s website.
Those participating in the tour will learn about Jamaica’s historic buildings, including an armory on Archer Avenue and 168 Street, the former First Reformed Dutch Church of Jamaica at Jamaica Avenue and 153rd Street which was recently transformed into the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, and they will tour the Valencia Theatre which was turned into a church.
They will also see more modern buildings in the neighborhood, including Moda, a luxury apartment building offering Manhattan-like amenities on Parsons Boulevard, just north of Jamaica Avenue. The building, which has a 24/7 concierge, two roof-top decks, a gym and a lounge with free Wi-Fi, contains the façade of an old building that has once been the main library in Queens and later housed a Family court.
The tour will take place on Wednesday, May 22, between 6-8 p.m. It costs $15. Those interested should meet outside the entrance to the AirTrain station (the southern end of the upper level of the LIRR Jamaica station). The walking tour will cover 1.5-miles. No reservations needed. To learn more about tours organized by Jack Eichenbaum, go here.