Queens’ Utopia Parkway is more than a Fountains of Wayne album name. Source: Amazon.
Nestled in Queens between Jamaica and Flushing is Utopia, a neat, tree-lined grid that was originally planned as a haven for Jewish immigrants. According to the New York Times, the name Utopia comes from the Utopia Land Company, which purchased 50 acres of farmland in Queens in 1905. The company aimed to provide a less-crowded community for Lower East Side Jewish families. At the time, the land east of 164th Street between near Jamaica and Flushing was open space. The company planned to name the roads in the new community after the Lower East Side streets where its inhabitants used to live, including Essex, Hester and Ludlow.
A map of the early 20th century Utopia that was never built. Source: Forgotten NY.
Ironically, Utopia Land Co. went bankrupt before it could realize its dream. Much of the land remained unused for the next 35 years before Jamaica’s Gross-Morton Park Corporation began developing the area. In 1940, a road that ran from Union Turnpike to Grand Central Parkway was christened Utopia Parkway, the only hint of the land’s intended use.
With the farmland, Gross-Morton created around 24 blocks of colonial and Cape Cod-style single-family homes bordered by Utopia Parkway, 188th Street, Union Turnpike and 73rd Avenue. The company’s brochure touted the development as ”a location of established prestige, unquestionable charm and unmatched convenience.” In 1942, NYC Parks opened the 3-acre Utopia Playground on Jewel Ave between Utopia Parkway and 179th Street.
One of Utopia Parkway’s notable residents was renowned shadow-box artist Joseph Cornell, who lived at number 3708.
Artist Joseph Cornell (right) lived at 3708 Utopia Parkway (left, pictured in 1979). Source: MoMA.
The street also hit the spotlight as the name of the 1999 Fountains of Wayne (of “Stacey’s Mom” fame) album. The first song bears the same name, with the chorus:
“I got it made
I got it down
I am the king of this island town
I’m on my own
I’m on my way
Down Utopia Parkway”
Now, what was once a haven for Jewish immigrants is now home to growing Asian and Russian populations, and housing prices have risen steadily. While the original Utopia was never realized, today’s Utopia isn’t too far off.
Get in touch with the author @catku.