Some new things in the Queensbridge-Ravenswood area

It has been one and a half years since the last post on this blog. And for some reason, according to stats, people still visit this blog. Now would be a good time to make note of some new and potentially new things in the Queensbridge-Ravenswood area.

Vordonia

Quietly, Alma Realty’s 404 unit, double-tower building between the waterfront and Vernon Boulevard, has apparently opened and now has residents moving in. The site, formerly called Alma Towers, is now called the Vordonia Towers, ostensibly after a small Greek village, with a logo reminiscent of “Pointy Haired Boss” from the Dilbert cartoons. The Vordonia Towers took about seven years to complete since construction began in fall 2014, or more than twice the average time it takes to build a residential building in New York City. Astoria-based Alma bought the property in 2001, so we’re talking about a 20 year epic here.

So, what will it mean for the Ravenswood area? We can say that more than 400 residents will be added to our little, gritty, quiet corner of LIC/Astoria. Current listed rents range from $2,676 to $3,025 for one bedroom apartments. That’s average for Astoria, according to RentHop, but probably higher than average and the median for this corner of it, even among private rental buildings alone. By comparison, I pay $680 in rent with two roommates in a three bedroom, less than a third of what these people will be paying, and I live one block away (in a 95 year-old building). Common logic is a sudden rise in average incomes and rents induces a ripple effect in the neighborhood. Fortunately, I think it’s hardly noticeable that Vordonia has opened. My roommate doesn’t believe me.

For sure, there will be population growth. The influx from Vordonia alone, might mean more people on the Q103/102, walking down 36th, 35th and Vernon avenues to the subways, getting coffee at Flor de Azalea or Château le Woof, using the Citibikes, going to Rainey and Socrates parks, etc. They won’t use the 9th Street Laundromat because they’ll have washers and driers, according to these cheesy promotional videos by real estate company, Compass’s “Irizarry Team.” One video is especially…. let’s say, avant-garde?: a woman looks out her window, drinks from a mug on her balcony, rides a stair master in slow-mo (as we see from below and behind), meditates, and in an epic sequence, struts up Vernon Boulevard in a black jacket and shades, returns to her apartment where candles are already lit, removes her bag and her coat revealing her crop top situation, then sits carefully down to look out the window again. Her window apparently does not face Big Allis.

The videos attempt to sell the towers by selling Astoria: its parks (Astoria Park, not Rainey or Socrates for some reason), shopping (aerial of Costco’s parking lot) and diverse cuisine. But the Vordonia Towers are barely in Astoria. I say this directly to the new and prospective Vordonia tenants: This area is sort of Astoria, or “South Astoria.” There is a distinct difference in ambience and geography from Astoria proper. In fact, I should change the name of this blog to “Not Astoria.” This neighborhood, from south of the Queensborough Bridge to Broadway, was actually historically called Ravenswood, which along with present Dutch Kills was the 19th Century third ward of Long Island City. Most of the neighborhood’s population lives in the Queensbridge and Ravenswood houses. That’s why I’m calling it Queensbridge-Ravenswood. There are delis and takeout spots but not many restaurants per se over here. (Queensview is part of it too, but that community is especially close to Broadway.) This is a largely industrial area, abundant with light manufacturing and warehouses. As Vordonia residents, you will live across the street from a drug and alcohol rehab and a vape store, and directly next to the largest power plant in New York City, the Ravenswood Generator/Big Allis, which periodically lets out huge plumes of steam from its side – recently, a misguided social media post got everyone thinking there was an explosion – and the air can smell odd nearby. In fact they call this asthma ally. By the way, if you take a picture or video of the plant from the sidewalk, a security guard might drive up to you in a truck and possibly harass you. From Vordonia, it’s a 20 minute walk/hike/trek to the main strips of restaurants and bars on Broadway or 36th Avenue. Also, this is the corner of Astoria but it’s also the corner of Long Island City. Why do real estate people seem so often to know the least about places they market? Why only mention the neighborhood to the north, not the neighborhood to the south, when the property being discussed is on the border of both? LIC has stuff too. Besides food, this whole area has a plethora of art institutions and cultural events. Vordonians will find a museum and an arts park with cultural programming less than two blocks up the street. Let’s not ignore or erase where we actually are.

35-01 Vernon Boulevard

Agayev Holding plans to replace 35-01 Vernon Boulevard with a nine-story residential and commercial building.

Half a block south of the Alma thing, on the corner of 35th Avenue and Vernon, is a two story, wide, brick building with a bold marble doorframe. The building, according to City Planning’s Zola map, was built in 1931. The site’s 1995 Certificate of Occupancy listed it as a factory, office and warehouse. New York YIMBY reports obscure developer Agayev Holding is seeking to build a nine story, mixed use property on the site. YIMBY says the proposal involves 107 residential units, 27 of which would be below market-rate. The vision for this building also involves retail and light manufacturing, which I suppose means there’s a practical anticipation of what would be demanded of a building in this context. Both Vordonia and this thing are part of a series of large, new waterfront residential structures that have been cropping up along the lower Astoria and Ravenswood-East River waterfront, along with Vernon Tower and the 500+ unit Astoria West fortress with its bougie rooftop pool, north of Broadway.

Astoria West hung a banner with Florida-like colors over a rough patch of waterfront.

The proposed structure down at 35th Ave is much more inside the neighborhood historically known as Ravenswood, and would be a significant addition to this immediate neighborhood, not just in numbers of people and a possible gentrification effect, but in retail, of which we have very little here. The whole waterfront is changing. If Big Allis and the IBZ were to go, I’d have to get a better paying job.

Across from Queensbridge, meanwhile, those giant, graffitied, gray buildings are on their way to becoming Urban Yard, apparently a kind of office complex. When I started this blog in early 2018, I had my eye on those structures. I even tried calling the escalator repair business that I believe was there but no one would talk to me. Recently I noticed a tree growing out of a window. Sometimes I suspected squatters lived inside. On the day I moved here in 2015, got a coffee at Hot Bagels and stored some things at Cube Smart (I had fled a situation in the Bronx and had no apartment for a week or two), I felt like I was moving into an area on the figurative “edge of town.” I still feel that way, but I knew those large gray things looked too much like New York in the ’80s or something, and would be redeveloped soon.

I took this picture in summer 2021 when the Amazon warehouse opened on 21st Street.

In the very first blog post for Corner, I mentioned that the Green Apple supermarket unsurprisingly closed, I guess the final spark of inspiration to start this blog! Last summer, an Amazon warehouse opened at that site.

Since the summer of 2020, I wasn’t sure if I’d continue this blog. From the beginning it seemed like a possibly arrogant and annoying thing to do. But I had a kind of respect for hyper-local blogs, and I wanted to do some writing on my surroundings. While in quarantine in 2020, I started a potential blog post, which turned into a bigger project that I’m still researching. I also filmed the city council primary race for the 26th District. I still need to do a final edit on that. Thanks for coming to this site. As always, I never know if I’ll be back.

Where is the Long Island City-Astoria border? (response to LIC talk)

So we’re finally discussing this. On July 8, LIC Talk posted, “Where is the Northern Border of Long Island City?” The blog is right that there is no easy answer. The situation of the ambiguous border has complicated my life since I’ve moved here. 

When I moved here, my apartment on 36th Avenue near 10th Street was listed online as “LIC-Astoria border.” I soon came to find “LIC” signage along the street and as north as Broadway, which LIC Talks insists is the border. My address came up alternately as Long Island City or Astoria in Google Maps. Certain websites listed my neighborhood as Astoria based on my zip code (11106.) My roommates used either name for their mailing address. At that time DNAinfo ran a crowdsourcing piece finding there was little consensus on the south Astoria border. I read a 2008 NYTimes piece placing the Ravenswood Houses in LIC. And I overheard someone by 36th Ave and 21st Street say she was going to Astoria. I read a Gothamist piece referring to the area I lived in as “South Astoria.” At an Astoria writers group at Panera Bread on 35th Avenue, someone said that actually, we were in an area traditionally known as Long Island City, when Broadway was the border. A book in the back of the Noguchi museum referred to the area as LIC. A famous 1980 NYMag piece declared the Queensborough Bridge as the upper Long Island City border. A 2011 NY Daily News piece said Little Brazil, centered on 36th Avenue, is in Astoria, while a 2017 NYTimes piece placed it in “a pocket of Queens.”

By the time I started this blog, I had already concluded that I lived in Long Island City, or a place traditionally known as Long Island City. But I knew that we had moved into an age where much of the area south of Broadway is thought of as Astoria. Also, when I told people I lived in LIC, they would say something about the area being up and coming. I would have to explain I actually live in a part of LIC that you can still call working class, an area with public housing and an immigrant community. I would say I lived within a field of warehouses and small factories. I explained there were few restaurants or bars here. In any case, it wasn’t the “LIC” people tend to think of. And it wasn’t the “Astoria” they think of either.

The problem, it seemed, was rooted in the fact that what traditionally separated LIC from Astoria was not a street, but the clustering of residential pockets with much industrial area in between. That industrial area was long sprinkled with homes and some fully residential strips such as Crescent Avenue as it runs through Dutch Kills. And I lived in a residential pocket within a greater industrial area. Adding to that, is how the upper rim of the Queensbridge Houses on 40th Ave feels like a solid border because it’s followed abruptly by an industrial zone. And as Queensbridge is known to be solidly in LIC, it’s easy for any residential areas north of it to seem like – well, now we’re in Astoria, or something. 

I named this blog Corner of Astoria because it rolled off the tongue well. But I never felt satisfied with that designation. And I possibly never will.