On December 18, 1933, Queens Borough President George U. Harvey turned the first shovel of dirt in the ground-breaking ceremony for the 11.64-acre Boulevard Gardens housing complex. It was built east of Bowery Bay Road, on what had been part of the Rapelye farm during the Revolutionary War. The land was then the Purdy farm into the nineteenth century, followed by the Banta farm into the twentieth century. Right before the housing was built, the land was still a truck farm. The complex borders 31st Avenue on the south, 30th Avenue on the north, and 57th Street on the east. Hobart Street, formerly Bowery Bay Road, and 54th Street are on the west.
Original first floor plan for each building
Dick-Meyer Corporation was making plans for the Boulevard Gardens apartment complex in the mid-1920s when it was developing private houses on nearby land north of Broadway. Architect Theodore T. Englehardt and consultant Adolph M. Dick of Adolph M. Dick Associates worked with Dick-Meyer Corporation to create the plan for Boulevard Gardens. The housing was designed for 960 apartments and consists of 10 six-story buildings, which occupy only 23 percent of the plot and allow for abundant light and air. A playground and landscaped grounds occupy the remainder of the land. Georgian Colonial architecture is evident at the main entrance on 31st Avenue east of 54th Street and throughout the complex.
A historical brochure for the apartment complex
New deal administration housing projects
In the 1930s, before the New Deal Administration financed municipal building authorities, it financed private developers. Boulevard Gardens was among the first housing projects of the New Deal Administration and became a success story of public financial aid to a private developer. The project cost approximately $3,700,000, and its federal government loan was $3,210,000. Boulevard Gardens Housing Corporation was set up to operate Boulevard Gardens and pay back the loan, with interest at four percent, over a period of approximately 25 years. The firm, as a limited-dividend corporation, was restricted to earnings of not more than six percent. In 1987, when many apartments were significantly renovated, tenants were offered conversion to cooperative apartments.
OCCUPANCY of Boulevard gardens
Occupancy of Boulevard Gardens housing began in July 1935, with a monthly rent of $11 per room. In October 1935, its population represented 120 occupations and totaled 2,548 residents, including 470 children. A type of community living, which was considered an experiment at the time, was introduced at Boulevard Gardens when it opened. Tenants were to be an integral part of all community affairs, and the success of the experiment depended upon the harmonious cooperation of all residents in the ten buildings. Tenants representing each building formed the Boulevard Gardens Tenants' Association (BGTA) in the fall of 1935. Membership was voluntary, and annual family dues were $3. BGTA began its first year with a membership of more than 500 families. The association became the core of all social, educational, and athletic activities within the complex. It was provided with fully equipped clubrooms, playrooms for children, a playground, and an assembly room that seated 300. On the seven acres of land fronting the building on 30th Avenue, members of BGTA laid out a baseball field and built a backstop and bleachers. To help in organizing the activities, a recreational director was hired. News of activities and other happenings in the Boulevard Gardens community appeared in The Boulevard Gardens Beacon, which began publication on October 26, 1935, as a four-page weekly, price at two cents.
Historical text excerpted with permission from Catherine Gregory, author of
Woodside, Queens County, New York: A historical perspective, 1652-1994