Book Reveals Kew Gardens' Transformation from Golf Course to Bustling Nabe

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on February 4, 2014 7:17am 

QUEENS — Did you know that Kew Gardens was built on top of a golf course?

Or that the neighborhood's Long Island Rail Road station used to be a lake?

A new book about the history of the neighborhood, scheduled to be published later this month, discusses the area's little-known beginnings and is illustrated with roughly 200 historic photos, some of which have never been published before, the author said.

The book, called "Kew Gardens," was written by local teacher and historian Carl Ballenas and a group of his students in the Aquinas Honor Society of the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates as part of the Images of America series.

In the book, readers will find information about the origins of the neighborhood, which was built as a sister community to nearby Richmond Hill, Ballenas said.

About 30 years after Albon Platt Man, a New York lawyer, founded Richmond Hill in 1868, he decided to build a nine-hole golf course nearby, Ballenas said.

The Richmond Hill Golf Course occupied part of the area between Metropolitan Avenue, Union Turnpike and Kew Gardens Road.

At the time, large portions of the area were too hilly to be developed, Ballenas said, and families from Richmond Hill picnicked on the slopes in addition to hitting the links.

There was also a spring-fed pond, Crystal Lake, where the LIRR station is currently located, Ballenas said. The lake was removed in the early 20th century to make way for the LIRR's main line.

“It wasn’t until 1908 that they had the machinery to develop the land to make it into plots for homes,” Ballenas said.

Eventually, Kew Gardens was developed by Man's son, Alrick, also a lawyer, in 1910.

The book talks about famous residents of the neighborhood, including renowned Russian pianists Josef and Rosina Lhevinne, who lived in a house on 83rd Avenue and are buried at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens.

It also discusses the role of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, established in 1914, members of which fought for many improvements in the area, including the installation of underground wiring instead of electric poles, Ballenas said.

Ballenas and his students previously wrote books about Jamaica Estates and Jamaica.

The book, published by Arcadia Publishing, costs $21.99 and is scheduled to be published on Feb. 24.

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