Flushing Meadows–Corona Park

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For the film named Flushing Meadows, see Flushing Meadows (film).
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park
Flushing Meadows Corona Park.jpg
View of the New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere in July 2006.
Type Public park
Location Queens, NY
United States
Coordinates 40°44′45″N 73°50′41″W / 40.74583°N 73.84472°W / 40.74583; -73.84472
Area 897 acres (363 ha)
Created 1939
Operated by Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy
Status Open all year

Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, often referred to as Flushing Meadows Park, or simply Flushing Meadows, is a public park in New York City. Located in the borough of Queens, it is between I-678 (Van Wyck Expressway) and the Grand Central Parkway and stretches from Flushing Bay, at the southern edge of LaGuardia Airport, to Union Turnpike. It contains the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the current venue for the US Open tennis tournament; Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets baseball team; the New York Hall of Science; the Queens Museum of Art; the Queens Theatre in the Park; the Queens Zoo; and the New York State Pavilion. It formerly contained Shea Stadium, demolished in 2009.

The fourth largest public park in New York City, it was created as the site of the 1939/1940 New York World's Fair and also hosted the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair. It was long believed to be 1,255 acres (508 ha) in size, but a survey concluded in 2013 found its actual size to be 897 acres (363 ha) when accounting for major roads and other exclusions within the park's perimeter.[1] This does not take into account a disputed claim, which entails that the neighborhood of Willets Point, at the north edge of the park, is part of the park.[2]

It is owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and maintained by the Flushing Meadows–Corona Park Conservancy, a private non-profit. The park is at the eastern edge of the area encompassed by Queens Community Board 4.[3]


The name "Flushing" is a corruption of the port town of Vlissingen in the Netherlands. By the 19th Century, the name became associated with "a cleansing by rushing water".[4]


Early years[edit]

During at least three glacial periods, including the Wisconsin glaciation around 20,000 years ago, ice sheets advanced south across North America carving moraines, valleys, and hills. In particular, bays and estuaries were formed along the north shore of Long Island. What is now Flushing Meadows Park was formed as a terminal moraine during the glaciation, consisting of sand, gravel, clay and boulders.[5][6][7] The site became a glacial lake, and then a salt marsh after the ice melted.[6] Into the 19th Century, the site continued to consist of wetlands straddling Flushing River.[5] Species inhabiting the site included waterfowl and fiddler crab, with fish using water pools for spawning.[6]

The area was first settled by Algonquian Native Americans of Long Island (referred to erroneously as "Mantinecocks").[8][9] They consisted of the "Canarsee" and "Rockaway" Lenape groups,[6] which inhabited costal wetlands across Queens and Brooklyn.[9][10] Beginning in 1640, Dutch settlers moved into the area, establishing the Town of Newtown to the west of the site (which would become Elmhurst, Corona, and other areas in western Queens), and the Town of Flushing to the east.[8] The area became known as the Corona Meadows.[6] By 1666, the Native American population had been displaced from the Flushing Meadow site by European settlers, although a deed reserved the right to hunt on the land for the Native Americans.[6] Several wealthy landowners began building farmhouses on the site in the mid-to-late 17th Century.[6] The meadows provided numerous natural resources for settlers, including timber, water, fertile soil, and grass and hay for grazing domestic animals.[6] During the American Revolution, a farmhouse on the site of the modern World's Fair Marina was used as a headquarters for British forces.[11]

By the 1800s, primitive roads were established crossing the meadows, running along what are now Northern Boulevard and the Long Island Expressway.[6] Several railroads were also laid through the site, including lines of the Flushing and North Side Railroad (today's LIRR Port Washington Branch and the defunct Whitestone Branch).[6] Shortly after the American Civil War, the meadows became a waterfront resort due to its natural beauty, while affluent New Yorkers constructed homes in the area.[8] British saloon-keeper Harry Hill would build the Flushing Bay Hotel and Pavilion on the future marina site.[11]

Filling and use as a dumping ground[edit]

Aerial view of the Corona Ash Dumps, circa the early 1920s

Around 1907, contractor Michael Degnon, whose firm constructed the Williamsburg Bridge, the Cape Cod Canal, and the Steinway subway tunnel (used by today's 7 <7> trains),[6][7] purchased large tracts of marsh near Flushing Creek. At the time, the land was considered "all but worthless".[5][6][4][12] Degnon envisioned using the site to create a large industrial port around Flushing Bay, similar to a terminal he developed in Long Island City.[6][4][12] By 1911, Degnon had created a plan along with the United States Department of War and the Queens Topographical Bureau. The plan envisioned widening Flushing River and creating docks for ships, with numerous factories and freight facilities. Meanwhile, the residential areas of Corona were expected to become the primary residence for factory workers.[7][13]

To create the port, beginning in 1910 Degnon proceeded to fill the land using household coal refuse ashes and street sweepings from Brooklyn. Degnon set up two companies of his own, one of which was contracted with the New York City Department of Sanitation. He also contracted the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company, owned by a member of the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. Residential ash was collected via trolleys of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, and loaded onto freight trains which traveled via the Long Island Rail Road branches, or other trolleys, which hauled the refuse to Corona.[5][6][7][4][11][12] The operations was referred to as a city-wide refuse "conveyor belt", while the trains were nicknamed the "Talcum Powder Express" because they often ran uncovered and deposited soot onto the surroundings.[6][4] The northern end of the site was filled via now-conventional means, using dirt pumped from Flushing Bay which was being dredged to a lower depth. Material from the bay was extracted by an offshore hydraulic machine, and funneled through a 1,500-foot (460 m) pipe across Northern Boulevard, before being deposited onto the wetlands.[6][7][12] The filling for the north meadow was complete in 1916.[12]

The prospect of creating a port was halted in 1917 by material restrictions caused by World War I, and a lack of federal support for the project. Industrial activities in the borough were fulfilled by existing terminals in Long Island City, Maspeth, Flushing, and College Point.[6][7][4][12] Dumping of ash into the meadows continued, however, fueled by the increased use of garbage incinerators in the city.[4] The area became known as the Corona Dump or Corona Ash Dumps.[4][12] During nearly 30 years of filling, around 50 million cubic yards of ash and waste were dumped onto the meadows site,[12] with one particular mound of ash rising 90 feet (27 m) high and called "Mount Corona".[5][4][14] Other mounds rose 40–50 feet (12–15 m) high.[15]

The dumps drew the ire of local residents, due to strong odors and being deemed unsightly, along with increasing rat infestations in the local neighborhoods.[5][6][4][16] Much of the "street sweepings" collected consisted of horse manure from horse-drawn carriages. In addition, many residents simply threw out normal garbage along with the coal ashes.[6][7] The meadows were also considered one of the worst breeding grounds for mosquitoes in the city.[4][17] The dump was famously characterized as "a valley of ashes" in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald meanwhile described the Flushing River, now polluted from the dumps, as "a small foul river".[5][6][14] The dumps and garbage trains were accused of facilitating a Polio outbreak in Corona in 1916.[7] The Brooklyn Ash Removal Company was brought to court by local residents in 1923 for "violation of the sanitary code" due to the smoke emitted from the dumps.[18][19] As a minor concession, the company opened the Corona Park Golf and Country Club in 1931, on a tract near Nassau Boulevard (today's Long Island Expressway).[6][14][20]

Park planning and World's Fairs[edit]

New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses first conceived the idea of developing a large park in Flushing Meadow in the 1920s. At the time, he envisioned the site to become a "true 'Central Park'", especially with much of city population moving to Queens and Long Island due to urban sprawl.[12][21][22] In 1929, representatives from surrounding communities created a plan to turn the ash dump into a recreational complex, and presented them to Queens Borough President George U. Harvey.[23] In 1930, Moses released plans for numerous parks and highways in the city. This included the Grand Central Parkway, the construction of which would require taking land from the ash dumps. One of the provisional projects listed was a Flushing River Park, along with a "Flushing River Parkway".[4][24] The Brooklyn Ash Removal Company's contract with the city expired in 1933, and the city took over the company's assets and operations in 1934.[25][26][27][28] The Brooklyn Ash property occupied around 300 acres of the 1000 acre site; the remainder of the meadows still contained natural wildlife. It was frequented by fur trappers, local residents collecting firewood and growing vegetables, and later squattors during the Great Depression.[4] Areas of the dumps were also used for growing vegetables, with the soil fertilized by the garbage and manure.[7]

In 1935, the site, now planned as "Flushing Meadow Park", was selected for what would become the 1939 World's Fair.[29] The plans were drafted by Parks Department landscape architect Gilmore David Clarke, designed in Beaux-Arts style.[30] Work on the World's Fair site began on June 16, 1936.[15] The project primarily involved leveling the ash mounds, with the leftover material used to fill other areas of the meadow. Two sites were excavated to create Meadow and Willow Lake. The project was a 24-hour-a-day job, with 450 workers operating on three daily shifts.[4][14][15][31][32] Workers had to combat the effects of high tide, and dust storms created by the ash.[4] The work significantly changed the topography of the meadows, differing from that created by glaciation.[4] Thousands of trees were transplanted to the fair site in order to create a natural landscape.[4] Meanwhile, thousands of 100-foot (30 m) Douglas fir timbers were driven into the ground to create the foundations for fair structures.[4]

Faced with having to dispose of the mountains of ashes, Moses strategically incorporated a significant portion of the refuse into the bases of the Van Wyck Expressway running along the eastern side of the park, the nearby Interboro Parkway (now Jackie Robinson Parkway), and the Long Island Expressway that divides the park into north and south halves. The Grand Central Parkway separates a western lobe from the main part of the northern half, while the east-west Jewel Avenue bisects the southern half.

The success of the Flushing Meadows site as a garbage dump-turned-park led Moses and the city to develop other wetlands in the city into parks via short-term refuse landfilling. This process was used to create Marine Park and Spring Creek Park in Brooklyn. This was also the original plan for the Fresh Kills and Edgemere landfills, which remained open past their expected tenure and became large and long-term municipal waste sites.[4][33] The Fresh Kills site is currently being developed into Freshkills Park.[4]

Following the closure of the Fair in 1940, the site was supposed to be cleared in order to develop and open Flushing Meadows as a city park. The onset of World War II, however, delayed the project.[5][34][35] The profits from the World's Fair were supposed to pay for the development of the park, but in spite of its success the fair turned a financial loss.[30] In the mean time, some of the buildings from the 1939 Fair were used for the first temporary headquarters of the United Nations from 1946 until it moved in 1951 to its permanent headquarters in Manhattan. The former New York City building was used for the UN General Assembly during that time.[5][12][36][37] This building was later refurbished for the 1964 Fair as the New York City Pavilion, featuring the Panorama of the City of New York, an enormous scale model of the entire city.[38] It is one of two buildings that survive from the 1939-40 Fair, and the only one that remains in its original location.[5] (The other is the Belgium exhibition building, disassembled and moved to the campus of Virginia Union University in 1941.) It is now the home of the Queens Museum of Art, which still houses, and occasionally updates, the Panorama. The remainder of the park, meanwhile, had fallen into disrepair, with wild animals moving back into the area.[36]

The Flushing Meadows site was selected in 1959 for the 1964 World's Fair.[12] Gilmore D. Clarke was retained to tailor the original 1939 park layout for the new fair.[30] As part of the project, the Flushing River was diverted into culverts.[5] Three structures were retained from the 1939 Fair, while several new structures were created, including the Unisphere, Shea Stadium, and the New York Hall of Science.[5] The Unisphere, built as the theme symbol for the 1964/1965 World's Fair, has since become the main sculptural feature of the park.[5][30] It stands on the site occupied by the Perisphere during the earlier Fair.[30] In early 1964, the New York City Council added "Corona" to the park's name, so that the park was named "Flushing Meadows-Corona Park", in preparation for that year's World's Fair. Councilman Edward Sadowsky explained that this was intended to correct an injustice: "The people of Corona have long lived in the aroma of a junkyard or a dump named for their community. Now, when there is something beautiful to be seen, there is no mention of the name Corona."[39] Following the fair, most of the remaining $11.6 million from the fair funds, as well as money from Moses' Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, were used to rehabilitate the site into a true park.[12][21][30] Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was transferred from the World's Fair Corporation back to the Parks Department, and opened on June 3, 1967.[22] Although the park was completed, it was not the grand park Moses had originally envisioned.[21]

Post-World's Fairs[edit]

One of the sculptures at the park - "Free Form" by Jose De Rivera, cast in 1964.
Another sculpture - "Freedom of the Human Spirit" by Marshall Fredericks, cast ca. 1964.

Since 1978, the US Open tennis tournament has taken place in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. After "Flushing Meadows" became the (secondary) name of the tennis tournament itself, that portion of the park was subsequently named USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Its center court is Arthur Ashe Stadium, and its secondary stadium court is Louis Armstrong Stadium. Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets since 2009, sits at the north end of the park. Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous home, once stood adjacent to the area now hosting Citi Field.

Since the early 1990s, the pavilion's ledges, steps, and fountain grates have been utilized by skateboarders and featured in famous east coast skateboarding videos. In 2010 a skate plaza was built nearby to host the Maloof Money Cup, a skateboarding competition.

By the early 2000s, the park had become the residence of a number of homeless people,[40] who received attention after five abducted, raped, and threatened to kill a woman who had been sitting with her partner at Mets – Willets Point, a nearby subway station.[41]

The $66.3 million Flushing Meadows Natatorium, encompassing an Olympic-sized public indoor pool and an NHL regulation-sized skating rink, opened in 2008. The facility, utilized by schools, leagues and community members of all ages, is the largest recreation complex in any New York City park, at 110,000 square feet (10,000 m2). The complex incorporates features for the physically disabled.[42]


Rental boats are available for rowing and paddleboating on the park's Meadow Lake, which feeds northward into the Flushing River and thence into Flushing Bay. Meadow Lake is the site of rowing activities for non-profit Row New York, with teams practicing on the lake for much of the year.[43] Meadow Lake also hosts the annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York, and teams from New York practice in Meadow Lake during the summer months. The American Small Craft Association[44] (TASCA) also houses a fleet of over a dozen 14.5-foot sloop-rigged sailboats, used for teaching, racing, and recreation by the club's members. Bicycling paths extend around Meadow Lake and connect to the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway. Paths around Willow Lake, the smaller and higher of the two lakes, in a natural wetlands area in the little-used far southern section of the park, are currently closed to the public.[45] The many recreational playing fields and playgrounds in the park are used for activities that reflect the wide ethnic mix of Queens; soccer and cricket are especially popular.[citation needed]

The park is also the home of Queens Theatre in the Park,[46][47] the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Museum of Art, and Terrace on the Park (a banquet and catering facility, the Fair's former helipad).

Closer view of the Unisphere
Queens Theatre in the Park and the World's Fair Pavilion
Shadow of a commercial jetliner crossing the pavilion in 1981.

The New York State Pavilion, constructed as the state's exhibit hall for the 1964 World's Fair, is also a feature of the park. However, no new use for the building was found after the Fair, and the structure sits derelict and decaying.

Other buildings that remained for a while after the Fair's conclusion to see if a new use for them could be found, such as the United States Pavilion, have subsequently been demolished. One such parcel became the site of the Playground for All Children, one of the first playgrounds designed to include handicapped-accessible activities. The design competition for the playground was won by architect Hisham N. Ashkouri; the facility was completed in 1984, and it was refurbished and reopened in 1997.[48]

The Flushing Meadows Carousel operates in the northwestern part of the park.

Major League Soccer established a second team in the New York metropolitan area, New York City FC, and proposed to build a 25,000-seat stadium in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park by 2016.[49] After heavy community opposition, the team changed its plans and currently plays at Yankee Stadium.

This park also contains three MTA maintenance facilities such as the IND Jamaica Yard, IRT Corona Yard, and the Casey Stengel Bus Depot as well as two stations providing subway and train service to serve this park, one for the IRT subway at Mets-Willets Point and the LIRR Station also at Mets-Willets Point.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The "Valley of Ashes" described in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby is a fictional location said to have been inspired by the site of Flushing Meadows–Corona Park when it was still a dump, as well as by nearby Willets Point.[50]
  • In the 1997 movie Men in Black, the saucer-shaped restaurant atop the New York State Pavilion were portrayed as real alien UFOs used as a display to disguise its appearance to the public. Edgar the bug attempts to use one to escape the planet, but not before being shot down by the agents, when it then attempts to climb aboard the second ship but is stopped by Jay, who tricks it into coming back down.
  • In the first season of The Amazing Race, the Unisphere at Flushing Meadows served as the finish line.


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External links[edit]

Entities within the park: