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Motor Parkway

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, October 9, 2002

FIRST MOTOR PARKWAY JOINS REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES

On Sunday, October 6, 100 New Yorkers gathered in Cunningham Park to celebrate the first motor parkway in the world. Nicknamed the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, this early 20th century roadway, which was one of the first concrete roads in the nation and the first highway to use bridges and overpasses, was just placed in the National and New York Registers of Historic Places.

William K. Vanderbilt, grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, built the 48-mile road in 1908 to make travel between his two homes easier and quicker. No direct road existed at the time between Fresh Meadows, Queens, and Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island. Vanderbilt was able to “zip” along at 25 to 30 mph.

This road operated as a public toll road from around 1914 until the late 1930’s when it was decommissioned. Eventually city and state thoroughfares were constructed and there was no use for the Long Island Motor Parkway, as it was officially known. Marc Haken, president of the Friends of Cunningham Park, calls it “the Adam of all parkways.”

A few years ago, the Friends of Cunningham Park, acting as advocates for the park, applied for a $4,000 grant through the New York State Council On the Arts to enable the Friends to hire someone to oversee the application process to the New York and National Registers of Historic Places.

Most of the motor parkway became part of local roads in Queens and Long Island. Fortunately, one section is intact and begins at 199th Street, running through both Cunningham Park and Alley Pond Park

The Friends of Cunningham Park were awarded a grant from New York State for $4,000 and were able to hire Andrew Dokart. With the help of a matching grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Mr. Dokart completed the application for Historic Place status one year later.

On Sunday, supporters gathered to celebrate the awarding of the Vanderbilt Parkway on the New York and the National Registers of Historic Places. Those in attendance were Bernadette Castro, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Anthony D. Weiner, Congressman; Mark Weprin, Assemblyman; David Weprin, Council Member; and Richard Murphy, Queens Parks Commissioner. Also in attendance were Phil Sparacio, Deputy Chief of Operations for Queens and Tom Panzone, Outreach Coordinator for Partnership for Parks.

According to Marc Haken, president of the Friends of Cunningham Park, “we just had a wonderful event.” A hundred people turned up and heard from the distinguished guests and were entertained by antique automobiles lined up along the parkway, recalling the days of the motor parkway’s day. A trolley, on loan from Flushing Meadows- Corona Park, took people up and down the motor parkway with historian Robert Miller on board to speak of the parkway’s interesting history.

Held on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the event was a tremendous success. The next step in the story of the Vanderbilt Parkway is submitting it for New York City Landmark status. Good luck, Friends of Cunningham Park.

THIRTEEN YEARS AGO IN THE PLANT
(Wednesday, October 18, 1989)

QUEENS PROMENADE NAMED FOR A WOMAN WHO LOVED HER LAKE

When Mandigo Tshaka was a young boy in the 1940s, he used to steal away to Oakland Lake in Alley Pond Park in Queens, stand by its serene shoreline and try out his singing voice with snapping turtles, fish and quacking ducks as his only audience.

On Monday, Tshaka’s rich baritone once again echoed across the 12-acre lake in northeastern Queens as he sang an old Negro spiritual, “Steal Away to Jesus,” at the dedication of a promenade in honor of Gertrude Waldeyer, his teacher at Bayside High School, and later a fellow environmental activist.

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.”

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)

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