Photograph by Kris Graves
Photographs by Kris Graves

We recently explored Hunters Point, Long Island City, showcasing the modern corridor amidst its industrial roots. Long Island City (historically called Dutch Kills) is undergoing a dramatic renewal process which includes a rezoning to tap into underutilized mixed-use potential for residential, commercial and light industry. Today, we look at the history of Dutch Kills and the latest plans for the area.

When it was founded in 1642, Dutch Kills was a swampy area that had scattered farms and a mill. On the western edge of Queens, east of what is now Roosevelt Island, Dutch Kills was characterized in the 1800s as “a crossroads hamlet with two or three old farms.” The Dutch Kills farms supplied produce to the New York markets and the water-powered grist mills ground grain in the area now known as the Sunnyside Rail Yards. The gristmill in Dutch Kills was a central hub of the Queens road network, and began Long Island City’s legacy as a New York City transit center.


In 1870, Long Island City was founded and engulfed the neighborhood of Dutch Kills. Almost twenty years later, the five boroughs were consolidated. According to the Greater Astoria Historical Society, “When Queens voted to become part of greater New York in 1898, it was assumed that, after decades of negotiations, a bridge would connect Manhattan and the borough. In 1901 the Queensboro Bridge started.” To complete the Sunnyside Rail Yards and the bridge, the city tore down most of the long-standing Dutch Kills buildings, creating new open spaces around the bridge (Queens Plaza) and removing housing stock. The bridge project continued to channel traffic and development to Queensboro Plaza and Dutch Kills, which reinforced the area’s historical legacy as a crossroads and secured its role in the 19th century as an industrial manufacturing hub.

Photograph by Kris Graves
Photograph by Kris Graves

Long Island City’s industrial production peaked mid-century and began to decline, as did overall manufacturing in New York City: “Since reaching nearly 1.1 million jobs in 1947, manufacturing employment in New York City has fallen by nearly 80 percent.” Analysts from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York posit that high costs for labor, land, and energy, along with globalization, contributed to the extraordinary decline in New York City manufacturing. As manufacturing declined, artists began flocking to Long Island City to rent studio space in former industrial spaces and reimagined the neighborhood’s role once more as a creative space.

Photograph by Kris GravesPhotograph by Kris Graves

In 2011, Long Island City was still composed of limited residential building and light manufacturing zones. Of the Queens Plaza, the New York Times stated: “For a long time the reputation of this industrial part of Long Island City owed more to strip clubs evicted from Times Square than anything else.” In 2001, the area was identified as a “growth area” by the city, and was rezoned to foster residential and commercial development. The New York City Department of City Planning stated: “The goal of the zoning is to foster reinvestment and redevelopment that takes advantage of Long Island City’s excellent mass transit access and its supply of large, underdeveloped properties.”

The Long Island City Partnership lists a total of 32 planned or completed hotels, 86 planned or completed residential buildings, and 9 planned or completed office buildings. The Bloomberg Administration completed an extensive $80 million greening project in Queensboro Plaza that constructed a park and improved bike lane access and the drainage in the area. JetBlue relocated its offices to Queens Plaza, and CUNY Law School relocated its facilities nearby. Of these changes, the Long Island City Partnership says: “Since then, the area has been booming.”

dutchkills07Photograph by Kris Graves

Is this exactly accurate? The influx of hotels, offices, and new residential buildings have brought more foot traffic into the neighborhood, as well as a few new restaurants. There are new art spaces and local entertainment spots that are beginning to open their doors. The neighborhood is set to change rapidly over the next few years, but as of yet the shifts are subtle and there are still a large number of buildings under construction. We will take a closer look at the redevelopment of Long Island City in a follow-up article

All photographs by Kris Graves, support his current Kickstarter project on the haunting landscapes of Iceland.

5 thoughts on “The History and Renewal of Long Island City and Dutch Kills, Queens

  1. Great Article.. I am Looking for info on a building in LIC that has MDCCCCXV On the front in grey stone.. Can’t figure out the Roman Numerals.. Thank You

  2. First off, thank you so much for reblogging my photo “Hi Rise” in Long Island City.

    Your article which does provide a nice overview but shows some small gaps. You don’t exactly identify when LIC began to be a destination for artists – predominantly visual artists attracted by the ample light – back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s wheen there had been much hype of Dutch Kills and LIC becoming the next hot neighborhood. Unfortunately with the aftermath of the fiscal crisises in the 70’s and the pressing need to redevelop and remediate many neighborhoods in Manhattan this never really took off. Part of it was bad zoning in Dutch Kills where NYC Planning rezoned the whole area for industrial use with only limited variances for residential. Later in 2007 as developers used the zoning laws which had zone some areas of Astoria and LIC for hi-rise towers – the slew of condos and hotels came about. Yes, part of it was NYC government finally realizing the area needed more than just reliance on artists to rejuvenate the area. But as NYC has been woefully behind the curve in the areas needs, it took the hotel and condo developments as well as the initial pioneering of CitiBank to realize much more had to be done ot the infrastructure than reopening the Court Square subway station back in the late 70’s and planting some birch trees (again a relic of the towers in the park movement from mid 20th century) or just adding zigzag planters in front of where JetBlue now stands – the Dutch Kills park is a godsend. I applaud the city planners INITIAL foresight but I am cautious with how responsive they have been to the needs of the area. The police precincts report the hotels have been good at reducing crime in the Queensbridge area and I have met families feeling confident walking from the Queensbridge spot to their hotel in the early evening when over 15 years ago that would be unheard of.

    The biggest surprise though is how some of the development is deterring the very artists who kept the area from becoming a violent ghetto – the artists and long-standing building owners who withstood such insults as lightly inspected live poultry markets and light industrial factories being built right next to residences and poorly maintained artists lofts as taxes were raised upon homeowners and landlords of such lofts just given a slap on the wrist for the violations.

    The very light the visual artists that the many low rise buildings the area originally offered are being supplanted by high-rises and such art institutions as 5 POINTZ face little comprimise from building owners. Granted 5 POINTZ building needs to be replaced, but I wonder why another tall high-rise? I do applaud the design of the high-rsies – the reflective glass and sleek designs helps mitigate blockage of natural light. Yet, art does help rejuvenate – go see Welling Court murals sponsored by Ad Hoc Art and how it brings visitors to the area and helps highlight such community efforts as Two Coves Gardens – which had been neglected by NYC and calls for sanitation to clear the area often ignored for long periods.

    Nevertheless, I do realize LIC /Astoria is attracting a new breed of artists – more musicians and theater people who in the past would be here only for a session at Silvercup or Kauffman Astoria now reside here. The culinary arts are booming in an area already with a robust past for good food.

    My hope is you future reports offer greater detail and wider perspective of the area. If you would like my participation email me or contact me at my photoblog. I have resided in Astoria and the DUtch Kills areas since 1994. It has always been a great place to live and I have gotten to know some of the friendliest and most creative people in my life here.

  3. This was a nice historic read about Long Island City. I look forward to more posts like these and if you don’t mind, i’ll be sharing the link with my netwrok and site.

  4. Hi, this is a very interesting commentary on the Dutch Kill history. It is an interesting term, eh – Dutch kill. Keep up this great photo-journalism combo. Prhaps you’ll be in the NYT next with a series on NY zipcodes. Cheers.

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