BY DOMENICK RAFTER
For most people who aren’t from Queens, Kew Gardens Hills is just another extension of Flushing. In fact, maybe people who live there identify their community as “Flushing.”
But Kew Gardens Hills is definitely different from what we know of Flushing,. It is much less densely population, is far less congested and an overall more suburban feel.
Defined by the two-story garden apartment developments that make up the majority of the neighborhood’s housing stock, Kew Gardens Hills is a mostly Jewish community, home a large population of Orthodox Jewish – according to some, the largest in Queens. The neighborhood’s Jewish majority makes it home to many important synagogues and Jewish centers.
Mount Hebron Cemetery on the neighborhood’s northwest corner is one of the biggest Jewish cemeteries in Queens, and is the final resting place for many popular early 20th Century Yiddish entertainers. Oscar-winning singer and actress Barbra Streisand owns a plot in the cemetery.
True to it’s name, the neighborhood sits on high ground, just northeast of its name-sake neighborhood. In colonial times, part of the neighborhood belonged to New York Founding Father Francis Lewis – the land that makes up the northern part of Kew Gardens Hills was part of his estate.
Over time, the community became a summer resort, with land on former estates being sold off and becoming country clubs. One such country club, Arrowbrook, was where Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia would spend his summers.
On the south end of the neighborhood are were some of the oldest – and largest – homes. Many of the mansions that face Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows Corona Park can be seen from cars on the Van Wyck Expressway. Main Street, the neighborhood’s main commercial strip, is well known for its kosher food stores and clothing shops, as well as the Main Street Cinema and the Queens County Savings Bank building, with its cupola that can be seen rising above the tree line from adjacent neighborhoods.
Today Kew Gardens Hills plays host to Queens College, the borough’s signature CUNY campus, John Bowne High School and CUNY’s Law School. It’s also where you can get lox ice cream, from world-famous Max & Minas, which is so well known for its eccentric ice cream flavors that it’s actually the subject of a question in Trivial Pursuit.
An interesting fact is that Kew Gardens Hills is one of the few neighborhoods to have had subway service, and those lost it. In 1939, a spur of the NYC subway was built connecting the Queens Boulevard Line to the World’s Fair Grounds, where a station was constructed near the present-day interchange of the Horace Harding and Van Wyck expressway. The line was demolished when the Van Wyck was constructed in the 1950s.