According to SteveMorse.org, a census website, a street in Queens could sometimes change its name every few blocks as it passed through several small communities and neighborhoods. But throughout first couple of decades in the 20th century, New York City’s boroughs gradually adopted a street numbering system that was first introduced by Philadelphia.
As late as the 1950s, though, some developers featured historic street names in their building prospectuses. In recent times, some locals find the numbered system more perplexing, despite the vision of urban planners to simplify a commuter’s navigation.
In 1906, the first street to undergo development in the newly named Forest Hills was Roman Avenue between Queens Boulevard and Austin Street. Developer Cord Meyer appointed Benjamin Dreisler to design an assemblage of 10 Neo-Renaissance style rowhouses, which housed the neighborhood’s first electrician, plumber, and carpenter.
Today, it is known as 72nd Avenue, but the only reminder of Roman Avenue lies in Forest Hills Gardens. Established in 1909 as America’s earliest planned garden community, it is the only section of Forest Hills which preserves its full extent of authentic street names.
South of Austin Street and leading to Metropolitan Avenue are alphabetized street names such as Burns and Clyde to Nansen and Olcott, which remain intact. Traveling west along Queens Boulevard, street names included Atom Street (75th Avenue) and DeKoven (72nd Road) to Pilgrim (67th Drive) and Zuni (63rd Drive).
Intersecting avenues included Colonial Avenue (110th Street) and Seminole Avenue (112th Street). One could speculate how street names were derived. Some imply the state of the land and farming practices. For example, 66th Road was known as Sample Street, 67th Road was Quality Street, and 70th Road was Harvest Street.
No firm erected and named more buildings after their accompanying street names than Cord Meyer Development Company. North of Queens Boulevard, forest Hills has apartment houses such as The Kelvin, named after Kelvin Street (now 69th Road), and The Livingston after Livingston Street (now 69th Avenue).
South of Queens Boulevard on Austin Street, one of the earliest apartment houses was The Portsmouth, which Cord Meyer developed at the intersection of Portsmouth Place. The historic name has been abandoned, and is now referred to as 72-22 Austin Street.
It was not until 2005 that history would repeat itself. Cord Meyer revisited this tradition while building The Windsor on 71st Road, which paid homage to the long-forgotten Windsor Place.
Main thoroughfares of Forest Hills are a different story. Their names were largely retained, and include Austin Street, Ascan Avenue, Yellowstone Boulevard, Metropolitan Avenue, and Continental Avenue (south of Queens Boulevard).
Ascan Avenue pays tribute to Ascan Backus, whose homestead was on the northeast corner of 69th Road and Queens Boulevard. He began acquiring parcels of farmland in 1829 and was referred to as “The King Farmer of Long Island.” Austin Street was named after developer Austin Corbin, who was also a 19th century Long Island Railroad president.
Streets are co-named periodically, as in the case of Ascan Avenue and Austin Street being designated “Geraldine Ferraro Way.” Co-naming streets with original names and dedicating historic markers would be an educational and nostalgic undertaking.