Long Island City in western Queens, just across the East River from Midtown Manhattan and the Upper East Side, is one of the most vibrant areas in Queens and all of New York City. Visitors come for its museums, artists for its cheap studio rents, and residents for its neighborhoods and quality of life so close to Manhattan. A large geographic area of many neighborhoods, Long Island City has a distinct history from the rest of Queens and is in the midst of a major transformation.
Long Island City's transformation, however, is told in the stories of its many neighborhoods, some touched by development, other bypassed. Once an independent city, Long Island City officially comprises a swath of western Queens including over 250,000 inhabitants and the neighborhoods of Hunters Point, Sunnyside, Astoria, and lesser-known ones like Ravenswood and Steinway.
Long Island City Boundaries and Definition
Long Island City runs from the Queens East River waterfront all the way east to 51st/Hobart Street, and from the Brooklyn border at Newtown Creek all the way north again to the East River. Many New Yorkers know the area by two names: Long Island City or Astoria. Often you'll hear "Long Island City" when only Hunters Point and the Queens West development is meant.
Long Island City Real Estate
Real estate prices and residential availability vary widely across and within the different neighborhoods. Astoria and Hunters Point have seen rapid appreciation. Others like Sunnyside remain a great value with excellent transportation options. Still, other neighborhoods including Ravenswood and Dutch Kills are still off the real estate radar.
Like any area in flux, housing is a mixed bag and can range widely in price within a few blocks. One of the best ways to get a sense of housing values is to check a free service like Property Shark for recent sales.
Long Island City is all about getting places and has been for more than a century. Thousands and thousands of commuters pass through it every day, and many residents prize their 15-minute commutes to Manhattan.
Queens Plaza is a major subway hub with the G, N, R, M, and W. The 7 and F trains are blocks away.
The LIRR stops in Hunters Point only a couple times a day, but below the surface, a tunnel delivers thousands of commuters a day to Manhattan.
The beautiful Hell Gate Bridge connects Queens to Randall's Island for freight trains running to the Sunnyside Rail Yards.
The Queensboro or 59th Street Bridge is a free connect for cars and trucks going to Manhattan, but there's no highway running to its ramps, just Queens Boulevard. The Long Island Expressway goes underground at the Midtown Tunnel in Hunters Point.
Long Island City Neighborhoods
Hunters Point: Hunters Point is the neighborhood most people mean when they say Long Island City. It is in the midst of transforming from an industrial area into a premier residential neighborhood, with the housing prices to match. Hunters Point is at the East River, just across from the UN Building, and home to the Queens West development.
Queens Plaza: The lower span of the Queensboro Bridge spits cars out into Queens Plaza, the new "old Times Square." Weekend nights its bachelor central with packs of guys moving in and out of strip clubs. Almost underground below the vast metal jungle gym of the bridge, and known for prostitution and drugs, Queens Plaza is a sad introduction to Queens, though an upturn seems inevitable as major corporations bring jobs into the area.
Queensbridge: The largest public housing unit in New York City, Queensbridge Houses is home to 6,413 people in 3,147 apartments, in 26 six-story brick buildings. It was one of the earliest federal housing developments, opened by FDR and Mayor LaGuardia in 1939. Queensbridge is just north of Queens Plaza and runs to Queensbridge Park at the East River.
Dutch Kills: An old neighborhood, one of the first Dutch settlements on Long Island, Dutch Kills is north of Queens Plaza, between Queensbridge/Ravenswood and the Sunnyside Rail Yards. As realtors seek to cash in on Astoria's popularity, Dutch Kills addresses become known in the classifieds as "Astoria/Long Island City." The neighborhood is a mix of residential and industrial. Low rents predominate, but dilapidated blocks and lonely stretches make it a Long Island City frontier, despite great access to the N and W subways.
Blissville: Ah Blissville! Despite such a great name, the actual neighborhood is sure to disappoint. It's a small area south of the LIE, next to Cavalry Cemetery and Newtown Creek, with a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial properties. Blissville is named for mid-nineteenth century Greenpoint developer Neziah Bliss, and it continues its strong ties to Greenpoint, just over the JJ Byrne Memorial Bridge in Brooklyn.
Sunnyside: One of the best small neighborhoods in western Queens, Sunnyside has long attracted families to affordable, quality housing with quick access to Manhattan along the 7 subway. The western edge is industrial with warehouses and taxi depots.
Ravenswood: Hard by the East River, Ravenswood extends north from Queensbridge to Astoria. It is dominated by warehouses and the Ravenswood Houses, a public housing development of 31 buildings, six and seven stories tall, home to over 4,000 people.
Astoria: One of the best places to live in Long Island City, Astoria has transformed beyond the largest Greek neighborhood in NYC to a diverse, cosmopolitan, polyglot neighborhoods, home to recent immigrants and Brooklyn-style hipsters. Astoria has great restaurants and the last old-school beer garden in New York City. Ditmars and Steinway are two sections of Astoria. Often landmarks and apartments in nearby neighborhoods are christened Astoria to cash in on its reputation.
Steinway is home to the Steinway Piano Factory. In the 1870s the area was developed as the piano company's corporate village. It comprises the quiet residential area north of Ditmars, between 31st Street and Hazen Street.
Ditmars: Another residential area of Astoria, Ditmars is the center of the Greek community and is mostly one- and two-family houses around glorious Astoria Park.
Native Americans and Colonial History
The area was home to Algonquin-speaking Native Americans who navigated the East River by canoe and whose trails would later become roads like 20th Street in Astoria.
In the 1640s Dutch colonists, part of the New Netherlands colony, settled in the area to farm the rich soil. William Hallet, Sr, received a land grant in 1652 and purchased land from Native Americans in what is now Astoria. He is the namesake of Hallet's Cove and Hallet's Point, the promontory jutting out into the East River. Farming remained the norm until the 19th century.
19th Century History
In the early 1800s, wealthy New Yorkers came to escape the city crowds and built mansions in the Astoria area. Stephen Halsey developed the area as a village, and named it Astoria, in honor of John Jacob Astor.
In 1870 the villages and hamlets of Astoria, Ravenswood, Hunters Point, Steinway, voted to consolidate and become chartered as Long Island City. Twenty-eight years later in 1898, Long Island City officially became part of New York City, as NYC expanded its borders to include what is now Queens.
Regular ferry service to Manhattan began in the 1800s and expanded in 1861 when the LIRR opened up its main terminal in Hunters Point. The transportation links spurred commercial and industrial development, and soon factories lined the East River waterfront.
20th Century History
In the early 20th century, Long Island City became even more accessible with the opening of the Queensboro Bridge (1909), the Hellgate Bridge (1916), and the subway tunnels. These important transportation links encouraged further industrial growth, defining the area for the rest of the century. Even residential Astoria didn't escape the industrial transformation as power plants opened up along the northernmost bank of the East River.
By the 1970s, the decline of manufacturing in the United States was evident in Long Island City. Though it still remains a major industrial area in NYC, LIC's recent genesis as an artistic and cultural center started in 1970 with the opening of P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in a former public school. Since then Artists escaping Manhattan prices and then Brooklyn prices have established studios throughout Long Island City.
Contemporary Long Island City
Businesses and more residents have slowly but increasingly followed the artists. Citibank's tower, built in the 1980s, is a symbol of Long Island City's change, and the Queens West residential towers in Hunters Point have brought sky-high living to this old neighborhood. Though still in transition, much of Long Island City has begun to shed industry for greater residential and commercial development.