Thursday, October 4, 2007

Goodbye to Rosie, the Queen of Corona

Corona, Queens, is a neighborhood forever reinventing itself. It was first settled in 1655 when it was little more than farmland and forest. Today it is a bustling, multi-ethnic part of Queens, the sounds of Spanish and the smell of tacos frequently filling the air.

Originally considered part of Newtown, Long Island, Corona grew steadily during the 1800s. The Flushing Railroad, built in 1853, brought more people to the area. The National Race Course operated in Corona between 1854 and 1869, until it was sold at auction in 1874 to make room for the expansion of the railroad track.

Real estate developer Thomas Waite Howard coined the name Corona in 1870 when he called the neighborhood “the crown of Queens County.” By 1900, Corona was made up of immigrants from England, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Scandinavia.

Corona grew from 2,500 residents in 1898 to 40,000 in the early 1900s. In 1917, the elevated subway line was installed along Roosevelt Avenue, bringing much greater mobility to the area. The Corona Meadows were filled in, and would later be known as Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs.

The Lefrak housing development was built in the mid-1960s for working and middle-class families. The twenty-building, 40-acre complex houses over 14,000 people. The area was traditionally home to a large Jewish community, although the area has come to house many African Americans as well as immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Although Corona had a large Italian population until the 1980s, it has since decreased, and a greater number of Hispanics have moved into the neighborhood. Today, Corona is home to many Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians, Colombians, and other South American groups, as well as Asian Americans, African Americans, and a few remaining Italian Americans. As of 2000, two-thirds of Corona’s population of 85,730 was Hispanic.

A walk around Corona reveals many of the area’s trends: over-development and not enough supporting infrastructure. While several parks throughout the neighborhood are well tended, they contrast markedly with many residential areas, particularly those that lie off the main thoroughfares. There is scarcely a block lacking some sign of construction or development. Single-family homes are being replaced by larger buildings meant to house more families, as housing prices increase, according to District Manager Richard Italiano.

Another community concern, perhaps reflecting population growth and the rapid turnover of residents, is litter. It lines gutters, yards, and sidewalks. Trashcans are hard to find. Lawns are frequently untended, giving the neighborhood a haggard look. The 110th Precinct Chief, Deputy Inspector Thomas Pilkington, said the turnover rate for many Corona residents is roughly 3-4 years before they move out of the neighborhood. Investment in the area’s appearance may therefore not be a priority for some resident. At a recent Community Board 4 meeting, most of the board members, who are older community residents, voiced concern about the widespread presence of graffiti in the neighborhood.

The northern part of Corona is very predominantly Latino. Most shop owners presuppose knowledge of Spanish, and it is by far the language heard most frequently on the street. As one approaches Lefrak City in the southwest corner of Corona, however, there is a greater African-American and Eastern European presence, including many Russians.

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