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History of Jackson Heights - A Garden City

Development and Early History of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York

The post-Colonial history of Jackson Heights begins with its development from farmland and duck ponds in the early 20th century. Beginning in 1909, Edward A. MacDougall's Queensboro Corporation and his architects founded and planned, built or allowed to be built, and then controlled Jackson Heights for over 1/3-century. It is the nation's first and largest planned cooperative and garden apartment community. It remains the largest community ever built under one developer's control in New York City.

Jackson Heights was cross-influenced by several movements: New York housing reform at the close of the 19th century and the British Garden City Movement at the dawn of the 20th century. It was further influenced by urban housing innovations in Europe generally, and in Charlottenburg, Germany specifically.

One hundred years ago, architects and planners worldwide looked for new models to solve the problems of density, decency, and new demands of modernity. A new century introduced new materials and technologies. Volcanically rising expectations of newly college-educated, managerial, professional, and artistic classes overflowed. A swelling middle class was pressing for, and able to afford, better. Old approaches could not meet new demands. Jackson Heights was a new solution.

Its antecedent is the 1903 garden city of Letchworth, England, built to the idealized vision of Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928). Jackson Heights was designed as a model higher density garden city. It was marketed to the newly ascending professional, managerial and artistic classes. Residential, commercial, educational, greenery and transportation infrastructures were cohesively integrated for them.

Design and creativity standards in Jackson Heights influenced its architects, who employed similar approaches elsewhere. What sets the work here apart, is the consistency of standards throughout 80 city blocks, rather than in isolated projects.

Timeline - History of Jackson Heights

Prior to 1900. The area of mostly farms was known as the Trains Meadow section of Newtown (which was later called Elmhurst).

1900-1910. The decade preceding the opening of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909 was fraught with land speculation. The Queensboro Corporation, headed by Edward Archibald MacDougall, became the prime buyer of land in the area, and named it Jackson Heights.

1911. First buildings in Jackson Heights.

1914. Laurel Court completed, first apartment building in Jackson Heights. At four stories it was the tallest residential building in Queens.

1917. Roosevelt Avenue elevated subway completed, connecting Jackson Heights to Grand Central Station.

1917. First garden apartments built by Queensboro Corporation. Later renamed the Greystones.

1919. Queensboro Corporation announces construction of Linden Court, the first co-op development and the first to surround a private park.

1920s. Golden era of Jackson Heights garden co-ops. Hampton Gardens, The Chateau, and the The Towers, among others, were completed.

1930s. During the Depression, construction of block-long co-op developments slowed dramatically, and the Queensboro Corporation broadened development, focusing on more single-family and end-of-block "courtyard" style multi-family dwellings. In 1938 Dunnolly Gardens replaced the original Jackson Heights golf course.

1940s and 1950s. Post-war construction boomed. New construction of higher-density housing often prevailed over the garden co-op ideal.

1960s. Jackson Heights begins to attact new immigrants coming from around the world broadening its diversity.

1970s. New York City experiences an economic crisis, felt throughout Jackson Heigghts.

1980s. As the economy improves, conversion of rental buildings to co-ops and condos booms.

1993. Jackson Heights Historic District recognized by New York City. New York State and federal governments create the Jackson Heights State and National Register districts.

2000s. Jackson Heights begins to attract much re-newed attention for its quality-of-life and unique architectural details, much as it did in the 1920s and 1930s.

Parts of this page are courtesy and copyright (c) of Jeffrey A. Saunders, reprinted with permission from The Jackson Heights Garden City Trail, published by The Jackson Heights Garden City Society, Inc.