Sunnyside Gardens, Queens
Sunnyside Gardens Historic District
A typical brick row house along 39th Avenue.
|Location||Roughly bounded by Queens Blvd., 43rd and 52nd Sts. Barnett and Skillman Aves., New York, New York|
|Area||53 acres (21.4 ha)|
|Architectural style||Colonial Revival, Art Deco|
|NRHP Reference #||
|Added to NRHP||September 7, 1984|
Sunnyside Gardens is a community within Sunnyside, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. The area was first development in the United States patterned the ideas garden city movement initiated in England in the first decades of the twentieth century by Ebenezeer Howard and Raymond Unwin, specifically Hampstead Garden Suburb and Letchworth Garden City. Covering 77 acres between Queens Boulevard and the Sunnyside Railroad Yards, Sunnyside Gardens was constructed between 1924 to 1928 by the City Housing Corporation, founded by developer Alexander Bing, and architects Clarence Stein and Henry Wright. The project grew out of discussions in the early 1920s about housing and planning; Lewis Mumford was a leading participant.
Sunnyside Gardens includes one-, two-, and three-family homes, and a few apartment buildings, all made of Hudson brick (it was inexpensive, durable, and available). Each private residence has a small front garden facing the street and a private garden in the rear. The rental units in the two- and three-family houses enjoy private terraces overlooking the gardens. There are two configurations: the courtyard condition and the mews condition; at the edges of the community some homes simply line the street, with a common walkway running the length of the row. Homes in the courtyard blocks enclose an inner courtyard that was designated a common, landscaped but not used for recreation. Each homeowner actually owned, and paid taxes on, the part of the common in the block and lot, even if it was not used. The mews houses face a common front court and back on alleys; each mews house also has a private rear yard. This model allowed for denser residential development, while also providing ample open/green-space amenities. Clarence Stein and Henry Wright served as the primary architects and planners for this development (Frederick L. Ackerman designed some of the mews houses), and the landscape architect was Marjorie Sewell Cautley. As an amenity for the residents, the City Housing Corporation reserved lots on the northern edge of the development abutting the railroad yards for a private park. This is one of only two private parks in the city, the other being Gramercy Park.
In the early years of the Great Depression, nearly 60 percent of the residents lost their homes to foreclosure. Those difficult years saw organized resistance by residents who forcefully resisted efforts by city marshalls to evict families. The character of Sunnyside Gardens was protected by 40-year easements which protected the integrity of the courtyards and common walkways and controlled changes to the exterior of every property, extending to even paint color. Those covenants lapsed in the mid-1960s, and some homeowners rushed to claim their property, erecting fences into the middle of some courtyards. In response, in 1974 the Department of City Planning designated Sunnyside Gardens a special planned community preservation district, together with Fresh Meadows, Parkchester, and the Harlem River Houses. With that designation came rules protecting the inner courts and landscaping, and prohibiting driveways and curbcuts, rear sheds, and additions.
The Sunnyside Gardens Historic District is a national historic district that includes 66 contributing buildings and 12 contributing sites. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
In 2003, a grassroots movement started to request designation as a New York City Historic District, in response to lack of protection for the historic character of the homes in the neighborhood. The campaign was surprisingly contentious and garnered publicity in major news outlets, including WNYC and the New York Times. On April 17, 2007, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing on the neighborhood; 60 residents and advocates, including Fiona Lowenstein, a descendant of Henry Wright spoke in favor of landmark designation while 25 people spoke against. According to the New York Times, Sunnyside Gardens is a “Pocket of Queens Brimming with History and Now Resentment”. This was documented on New York Public Radio in a segment called "Cloud Over Sunnyside?". On June 26, 2007, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the community.
Before designation there was consideralbe illegal or simply inappropriate work done on houses. Since designation, there has been a noticeable drop in work done without Department of Buildings permits, and many homeowners have restored their properties under the standards set by the Landmarks Commission. One project converting a two-family house into a single-family residence was awarded an award by the New York State chapter of the AIA. Gradually the district is returning to its original character.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- Kroessler, Jeffrey A., Building Queens: the urbanization of New York's largest borough. Ph.D. dissertation, CUNY Graduate School, 1991.
- "Sunnyside" on Forgotten NY Neighborhoods
- Vitullo-Martin, Julia (2005-07-07). "A Pioneering Queens Garden Community Flourishes Anew". New York Sun. Retrieved 2010-01-17.
- Merrill Hesch (August 1984). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Sunnyside Gardens Historic District". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-01-16. See also: "Accompanying 24 photos".
- Barry, Ellen (2007-07-05). "A Pocket of Queens Brimming With History, and Now Resentment". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-17.
- Cloud over Sunnyside? (WNYC FM 93.9/AM 820; The Brian Lehrer Show, March 7, 2007)
- A Fact Sheet for Residents from the NYC Department of City Planning, Queens Office dated June 2002
- Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce - History
- WNET Channel 13 profile of Sunnyside Gardens
- July 23, 2003 Article about Landmarks Meeting
- Sunnyside Post, news site that covers events in Sunnyside and Sunnyside Gardens
- Queens Buzz Sunnyside Queens cultural web magazine