Old and new mix it up at this multicultural Queens crossroads.
Mon Nov 2 2009
St. George's Church
Start/End: Main St--Flushing 7 Stop
Distance: 2.6 miles
Time: 3 hours
1 Calling this heaving thoroughfare Main Street at first seems ridiculously quaint: As far as crowds go, it’s not unlike Times Square. But until 100 years ago, this really was a small-town Main Street, at the center of rural Dutch Flushing. Remnants of that era remain, but they now overlap with businesses that cater to the neighborhood’s contemporary population, particularly Chinese immigrants. Evidence of this Queens Chinatown is easy to spot: Start off by buying a scallion pancake ($1), rolled and fried behind a Plexiglas window at AA Plaza (40-40 Main St at Kissena Blvd, no phone), under the elevated subway tracks. A glimpse of the old neighborhood is just beyond, at St. George’s Church (135-32 38th Ave between Main and Prince Sts; 718-359-1171, sg1702.org), an 1854 neo-Gothic whose stone spire towers above the stores surrounding it. A parish dating to 1702, it now holds services in English, Spanish and Chinese.
2 Get a sense of the ’hood’s first immigrant wave at the Bowne House (37-01 Bowne St between Northern Blvd and 38th Ave; 718-359-0528, bownehouse.org). A 1661 Dutch Colonial home that once sat by a vegetable garden and a forest of white oak trees, it’s now surrounded by brick apartment buildings constructed in the mid--20th century. (It’s currently closed to the public for renovations, though private tours may be arranged.) It was here, in 1662, that John Bowne allowed Quakers to meet in defiance of Governor Peter Stuyvesant’s ban on faiths other than the Dutch Reformed Church. Though citizens demanded freedom of worship in the landmark Flushing Remonstrance in 1657, it wasn’t until Bowne argued his case to the Dutch West India Company that tolerance was restored.
3 Around the corner in shady Weeping Beech Park, the clapboard Kingsland Homestead (143-35 37th Ave at Weeping Beech Park; 718-939-0647, queenshistoricalsociety.org; by appointment only) is another vestige of the old village. Built in 1785, it now sits next to a blacktop playground and is home to the Queens Historical Society. Upstairs, you can peruse antique maps that reveal how much the area has changed.
4 Walk past a string of tempting Korean restaurants on Northern Boulevard to Flushing Town Hall (137-35 Northern Blvd at Linden Pl; 718-463-7700, flushingtownhall.org), a vibrant cultural center. Its eclectic programming includes exhibits like “Talismans of Protection from Choson Korea,” a beautiful collection of centuries-old locks, plus music and theater performances. The lively Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers play Friday 6 (8pm; adults $20, students $10).
5 With freedom of religion established, the area’s Quakers built a Meeting House (137-16 Northern Blvd between Linden Pl and Main St; 718-358-9636) in 1694. Thick warped shingles now hang beside a concrete sidewalk; rubbed-out gravestones sit in the adjacent cemetery. The state’s oldest religious building in continuous use, it holds a silent meeting for worship on Sundays at 11am; public tours of the simple wood hall follow at noon.
6 Another sort of religion is practiced day and night at the nearby New York Table Tennis Club (35-26 Prince St between Northern Blvd and 35th Ave; 718-359-3272; tables $8 for 30 minutes). The club doesn’t host your average frat-style games: After all, China won all four of the sport’s gold medals in the 2008 Olympics. Rookies are welcome to rent a table—just know that kids here will play you like a fool.
7 Cool down with a heap of sugary shaved ice ($3.75) in the lively food court at Flushing Mall (133-31 39th Ave between Lawrence and Prince Sts, no phone). Traditional Chinese toppings include mung beans, peanuts and agar jelly. More tame is the lychee bubble tea ($2.50--$4), loaded with chewy tapioca balls, at Ten Ren’s Tea and Ginseng Co. (135-18 Roosevelt Ave between Main and Prince Sts; 718-461-9305, tenren.com), which also sells colorful teapots and an array of loose-leaf teas.
8 Finish your tour back on Main Street, browsing shops hawking exotic noshes like dried squid. For a sit-down meal, duck into the scruffy Golden Mall, where a plate of eight succulent dumplings can be had for $3 at the English-friendly Shandong Dumpling (41-28 Main St between 41st Rd and 42nd Ave, 718-939-5472). Or try ordering point-and-nod style at the all-Chinese soup stall a few steps away. (Look out for the slurping diners—you can’t miss them.)
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