Places that Matter

Jackson Heights Historic District

click on image for slideshow
Hampton Garden, Courtesy of Daniel Karatzas, Jackson Heights Beautification Group
Hampton Garden, Courtesy of Daniel Karatzas, Jackson Heights Beautification Group
Elm Court entrance, Courtesy of Daniel Karatzas, Jackson Heights Beautification Group
86 Street House, Courtesy of Daniel Karatzas, Jackson Heights Beautification Group
34th Avenue photo, Courtesy of Daniel Karatzas, Jackson Heights Beautification Group
Neighborhood planned as a "Garden City"
Place Details »

Place Matters Profile

By Ricki Sablove

A middle-class enclave modeled on philanthropic housing, a garden city laid out on an urban grid, Jackson Heights is one of the most distinctive and, today, diverse communities in the United States. Loosely based on Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept, it originally developed through the confluence of various social, economic, and technological factors during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Founded in 1909 by Edward Archibald MacDougall, the Queensboro Corporation would become the most significant catalyst in the design and growth of the new community called Jackson Heights. Queensboro purchased 350 acres of farmland and spent several years working on the planning of streets and infrastructure. MacDougall also used his political influence to extend the subway to Queens; the dual system, with its underground and elevated lines, opened today’s 7 line in Queens in 1917.

The consolidation of the five boroughs of New York City in 1898, followed by the completion of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909, provided an escape hatch for Manhattan dwellers weary of overcrowded conditions. The demand for greener pastures, combined with rumors of an imminent subway extension to Queens and the abundance of land ripe for development, led to the formation of Queensboro.

Queensboro’s initial idea involved the building of concrete bungalows. But a trip to Europe by the corporation’s directors changed their minds. Inspired by the modern cluster housing they saw in Berlin and other cities, they decided to build something different: a housing type that would become the “garden apartment.” At the same time, the Manhattan tenement reform movement captured the imaginations of the developers. (One of Queensboro’s principal architects, Andrew Thomas, received his early training in philanthropic housing.) Conceived as a means of improving the living conditions of the working class, it emphasized minimal land coverage and maximum interior light and air. Although the audience Queensboro had in mind was different from the lower middle classes who benefited from tenement reform, the company’s directors believed that this medium-density housing would be equally attractive to more affluent people, particularly if the buildings were surrounded by landscaping.