BY TRONE DOWD
Laurelton is indicative of the kind of beauty you can only find in Queens. In name alone, Laurelton carries a kind of regality reflected in the neighborhood’s architecture, green space and mostly African American residency. While New York City as a whole has the sort of beauty you’d have to see through the grit in order to truly appreciate, Laurelton is gorgeous both visually and historically.
The neighborhood was founded by former state Sen. William H. Reynolds at the turn of the 20th century. Named after the vibrant plant life in the area, Laurelton was the next project for the senator who would later go on to settle what is now Long Beach in Long Island. Single family homes were built as Jewish, Irish, Italian and German families began to move in, much like the other Southeast Queens neighborhoods around it. Homes were built beautifully to giving the neighborhood it’s upscale feel that it still retains today. As Laurelton grew in popularity, more homes were built to keep up with the demand.
By the 1960’s however, the population shifted. Laurelton, which had built up a reputation of being a great middle class neighborhood for nearly half a century, began to attract the then growing middle class of working African-Americans looking to settle down and raise a family as well. Not happy with the trend, a large portion of the residents that lived there for years left in favor of areas affluent blacks were not moving to. The neighborhood, became a thriving one of note as it was now a mostly black neighborhood. Mirroring the trends Laurelton saw in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, minorities from Caribbean countries like Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana and Haiti began to move into thriving neighborhood during the 1980’s, making up most of the population that lives there today.
Of the major roads in Laurelton (which include Brookville Boulevard, Francis Lewis Boulevard, Merrick Boulevard and Springfield Boulevard), commercial development began forming along Merrick Boulevard. Referred to as the “Laurelton Mile,” the strip plays its part as the commercial center for Laurelton, an alternative to making a trip to the commercialized Jamaica Avenue. The strip consists mostly of small, local family businesses that have been trucking along for years.
The neighborhood has been self sustaining for decades thanks to the community’s close knit nature. There have been multiple initiatives done by local civic groups to help assist and of the neighborhoods shortcomings. For example, the Queens Library Laurelton Branch quickly filled the gap of after school and extracurricular programs when parents noticed that their children didn’t have those luxuries locally. When the expansive 105th Precinct became a bit of an obstacle for law enforcement to navigate in a timely matter, local stores agrees to enact a “Safe Haven” initiative which would allow residents who feel unsafe to wait inside of stores until law enforcement arrives. All of these aspects are why Laurelton is a bit of a model neighborhood.
Laurelton remains beautiful over the years thanks to the tremendous pride the community takes in their neighborhood. Thanks to groups like the Laurelton Beautification Club starting in 2011 and the Laurelton Garden Club before it, Laurelton has reminded a sight to behold, staying true to the origin of its name.
Located in the “transportation desert” of deep Southeast Queens, Laurelton does have a Long Island Railroad stop. The LIRR makes it easier to get to the more industrialized and easy to access parts of the borough and city.