Kew Gardens (LIRR station)
The Kew Gardens station and the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge as seen from the eastbound platform.
|Location||Austin Street & Lefferts Boulevard
Kew Gardens, New York
|Owned by||Long Island Rail Road|
|Platforms||2 side platforms|
|Connections||MTA Bus: Q10, Q37|
|Rebuilt||September 8, 1910|
|Electrified||June 23, 1910
750 V (DC) third rail
|Previous names||Maple Grove (1879–1910)
Kew Gardens is a station on the Main Line of the Long Island Rail Road in Kew Gardens, Queens, near Austin Street and Lefferts Boulevard. The station is located in the City Terminal Zone, part of LIRR fare zone 1. It contains four tracks and two side platforms for the outermost tracks.
The Kew Gardens station was built on the site of a station named Hopedale, which operated from 1875 to 1884 and served the Maple Grove Cemetery nearby. Another station named Maple Grove was built even closer to the cemetery in 1879, and it closed in 1909, replaced by the current Kew Gardens Station. The station was the site of the Kew Gardens train crash on November 22, 1950, which killed 78 people and injured 363 others in the worst crash in the LIRR's history.
One of the Kew Gardens station's unique features is the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge, which has one story commercial buildings on both sides for local businesses. The stores were built over the tracks in 1930.
The first station in the vicinity of the current Kew Gardens station was known as Hopedale, and was located opposite Hopedale Hall on Union Turnpike to the west of Queens Boulevard. The station was established in July 1875 to serve the newly opened Maple Grove Cemetery.:165 The station building, whose construction was funded by the people of Richmond Hill and Whitepot (modern-day Forest Hills), was built in October 1875. Trains started stopping here on November 15, 1875, and the station was first listed on the timetable of May 1877:186 which showed three daily trains going west and one daily train going east. In March 1879, all new rails were laid from Hopedale to Jamaica.:155
This station was used by passengers going to the nearby Maple Grove Cemetery, until the Maple Grove station, which was only .25 miles (0.40 km) away from the cemetery, opened. Due to the opening of the Maple Grove station and the planned construction of a second track, the station was closed by August 28, 1884, and its building was purchased by John Burdett, relocated, and converted into a private residence.
Maple Grove Station
In order to better serve Maple Grove Cemetery, a new station was opened at Maple Grove, near the cemetery's western entrance. It opened at some point in 1879, but it has been disputed whether it opened in May or on December 6. The flag stop, with low-level platforms, was opened in order to provide better access to Maple Grove Cemetery, and was located in back of where the Mowbray and Kew Gardens Plaza Apartments are located today. The eastbound platform had a station building which was designed by James Ware.:60 To the west of the station, there was a grade crossing with Lefferts Avenue.
In 1882, Austin Corbin took over the Long Island Rail Road, and closed the Main Line. The station was abandoned in June 1882 and the rails were removed. The tracks were relaid, and on October 25, 1882, the Main Line between Winfield Junction and Jamaica was reopened for freight. Service resumed in 1884 with one daily train in each direction. In 1886, the station was moved 40 feet to provide space for a lawn and flowerbed.:11 After Hopedale station closed in 1884, this was the only station on the Main Line between Elmhurst and Jamaica, and as of 1897, the line was mostly used for freight, with the exception of some passenger service during commuting hours. Originally, this was a single-tracked line, but it was double-tracked by 1902. As part of the construction of the Maple Grove Cut-Off, the station was removed in 1909, and replaced by Kew station in 1910.
Maple Grove Cut-Off
In order to provide fast service along the Main Line for the opening of the Pennsylvania Railroad's East River Tunnels in 1910, the Long Island Rail Road undertook the construction of the Maple Grove Cut-Off for $500,000. The Cut-Off shortened the Main Line by 328 feet, and sped up service with the construction of a new straightened four-track route that had low grade. The Cut-Off branched off of the original line just west of Ascan Avenue in Forest Hills and continued to 84th Drive in Kew Gardens. The original line ran straight from Winfield to within a few feet of Queens Boulevard at Lefferts Avenue (now Boulevard) and then curved sharply southeast around the southern edge of Maple Grove Cemetery, slowing service.:40 The Cut-Off eliminated several grade crossings along the Main Line.
The land for the right-of-way to the west of Lefferts Avenue was acquired from the Cord Meyer Development Corporation, while the land to the east was purchased from Alrick Man, the founder of Richmond Hill. While he had to sell the property of the Richmond Hill Golf Club and 25 acres of estate, he still owned a lot of the land in Richmond Hill, and therefore, financially benefitted from the move. Since the golf course was going to be cut in half by the railroad, Man closed the course in 1906, and decided to sell the course and turn it into a residential community.:165 Crystal Lake, which was in the path of the cut-off, was drained.:39
The Maple Grove station was moved from its location 500 feet south of Kew Gardens Road (old Newtown Avenue) to a spot 600 feet south farther down Lefferts Avenue to a new site north of the tracks and on the west side of Lefferts Avenue, closer to the built-up portion of Richmond Hill. Man built streets through the property of the old golf club, and built elegant homes close to the new railroad station, creating what is known as Kew Gardens today. Limited construction began on the cut-off in November 1908, with real work beginning in March 1909. The plans were modified in 1909 to add bridges at Penelope Avenue and Ascan Avenue. The grading of the right-of-way and the laying of track was completed by September 1909.
Kew Gardens Station
On September 8, 1910, the new Kew station opened along with the introduction of electric service to Penn Station using the Maple Grove cut-off.:26 The old station building for Maple Grove was moved approximately 600 feet south alongside and perpendicular to the tracks for use as a real estate office of developers of Kew, but was razed a short time later. The new station, and the development accompanying, prior to its opening, was referred to as North Richmond Hill, but was named Kew after residents petitioned for the change. Soon after, in 1912, the station was renamed Kew Gardens. This name was chosen as it was the name of an adjacent town to Richmond Hill, England, which was the ancestral home of Alrick Man.:41
On December 19, 1928, the New York State Transit Commission ordered the LIRR to increase service at Kew Gardens and to lengthen the westbound platform to eleven cars. The platform was lengthened in 1929.:16, 57 At some point, the eastbound platform was lengthened.
The Kew Gardens station has the unfortunate distinction of being the site of the worst accident in Long Island Rail Road history, as well as the worst in New York state history. On November 22, 1950, a collision between two Long Island Rail Road commuter trains killed 79 people and injured hundreds. This occurred nine months after a collision at Rockville Centre station on February 17, 1950, that resulted in the deaths of 32 people, and serious injury of 158 people. A far more notorious historical aspect is the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, which occurred near this station and Genovese had parked her car at its parking lot before her murder.
In November 1963, the LIRR announced a plan to shorten the platforms at Forest Hills and Kew Gardens by 300 feet. The railroad's justification was that ridership at the stations was low, and did not warrant repairing the crumbling concrete. These sections of platforms had been installed in about 1929 to allow the stations to accommodate full-length trains. This move was opposed by civic groups, and resulted in an investigation by the Public Service Commission. However, the platform extensions were removed in 1965 or 1966. Prior to their removal, the platforms extended to the 82nd Avenue overpass. A staircase from each platform allowed passengers to enter and leave the station from its western end. The eastbound platform used to have a waiting room, but it was removed in the late 1970s.:42
As part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)'s Capital Program for 2010–2014, it was proposed that the platforms at Kew Gardens would be lengthened from being four-cars long to allow additional train cars to board. The platform extensions would reduce dwell time at the station while allowing for more efficient operations between Jamaica and Penn Station. $4.5 million was allocated for the project, but the money was reallocated to other projects.:58, 186
Lefferts Boulevard Bridge
In order to pass over the Long Island Rail Road, at the eastern end of the Kew Gardens station, Lefferts Boulevard passes over on an 180-foot long bridge, which is lined on both sides with commercial bridges. The bridge was built in 1910, and the stores on either side of the bridge, which were located on their own bridges, were constructed in the early 1930s. The bridges that hold the stores in place actually run through their roofs, with the stores hanging from the bridge. The bridge upon which Lefferts Boulevard passes over is owned by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) while the other two bridges are owned by the LIRR and are leased to a master tenant which leases out the buildings to local businesses. The building facade for the stores on the western side of the bridge is in the neo-Tudor design while the facade for the stores on the eastern side is in the Art Deco style. The bridge has been called Ponte Vecchio, which means "old bridge" in Italian, which refers to the bridge in Florence, which has stores on either side of it.:121–122 The Bridge is the heart of the community of Kew Gardens, and its residents have attributed it to the charm of the neighborhood. It is the only bridge in New York City, and likely in the United States that has stores on either side of it, and therefore many Kew Gardens residents have pushed for its designation as a landmark on the National Registry of Historical Places to protect it from development.
In 1991, the MTA drafted plans to build a twelve-story condominium and parking lot on top of the Kew Gardens station, which is only 100 feet from the bridge, but withdrew them after local civic leaders fought the plan, which could have threatened the bridge. In June 1991, the NYCDOT began a $2.9 million project to rebuild the concrete surface of the bridge and to replace its steel girders and deck beams. The project was scheduled to be completed in 15 months. Due to construction, sidewalks were narrowed, parking was abolished, and traffic was slowed with the roadway narrowed to two lanes. As a result, business declined at the stores on either side of the bridge, with nine of the thirteen stores on the bridge closing, even as rents were halved. However, from October 1991 to January 1992 work stopped due to a design error, which made the new girders an inch too high. Completion was then delayed by three months. In 1992, the MTA ended the lease of the company that had managed the stores on the bridge since 1981 citing the company's refusal to make repairs which allowed the stores to deteriorate. The agency, for the next 14 months, rented stores, at a discounted rate, every month, as it was looking for a buyer to make repairs. The MTA didn't pay for the repairs as it had more "pressing repairs" which needed to be done to keep the subway system running.
The bridge was threatened again in May 2017, when the MTA announced to the owners of the businesses on the bridge that the their stores would be torn down once the management company's lease expired in 2020 in order to rebuild the bridge which runs from Austin Street to Grenfell Street. If the bridge is rebuilt, it is unclear what would replace the existing businesses. The bridge is in such bad condition that in spring 2017, a hole opened up in the storage room of the Thyme Natural Market. In response, the Save Kew Gardens Coalition was created in order to convince the MTA not to tear down the bridge. The coalition is made up of local civic groups such as the Kew Gardens Civic Association, the Kew Gardens Improvement Association and the Friends of Maple Grove Cemetery. In July, in response to strong community opposition and pushback from City Council Member Karen Koslowitz and others, MTA officials changed their stance, opening up to possible ideas about how to repair the bridge decks, which are 80 years old and decaying, while keeping the businesses in place. Mayor Bill deBlasio, when asked, said that he was against its demolition, and sent DOT engineers to visit the site. Also in July, three engineers, one from the NYCDOT, one from the MTA, and a retired engineer, Al Brand, determined that is might be feasible to install an additional concrete slab, which would be 12 to 14 inches wide, underneath the bridge. This alternative is being considered by the MTA, but it is unclear whether this would provide enough clearance for LIRR trains passing underneath. The MTA announced that an engineering feasibility study, which would be funded by Koslowitz, would be conducted, but it is unclear how much it will cost and who will conduct it. Koslowitz had hoped to use $1 million to fund it, but because it is capital money, it can only be used for construction. Instead, she started looking for funding from the city and state. On November 14, 2017, Queens Community Board 9 unanimously backed a resolution asking the MTA not to tear down the bridge.
Platforms and tracks
|3||■ Main Line||toward Penn Station (Forest Hills)|
|1||■ Main Line||no stop|
|2||■ Main Line||no stop|
|4||■ Main Line||toward Long Island (Jamaica)|
This station has two high-level side platforms each four cars long; generally, the first four cars of a train in either direction will receive and discharge passengers at this station. The north platform next to Track 3 is generally used by westbound or Manhattan-bound trains. The south platform next to Track 4 is generally used by eastbound or outbound trains. Most LIRR trains that pass through the station do not stop. The Main Line has four tracks; the two middle tracks not next to either platform, are used by express trains.
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