Saturday, April 5, 2008

Vanderbilt Motor Parkway turns 100

Mr. Miller and I drove to the remaining stretch of the Motor Parkway and parked in a lot in Alley Pond Park across from Creedmore Psychiatric Center at the corner of Union Turnpike and Winchester Boulevard. We walked past the Alley Pond Tennis Center and past a group of men practicing cricket in a tennis court.

Falling Into a Queens Time Warp

It is basically the east end of a three-mile stretch of what remains of the parkway in Queens, although there are remaining segments on Long Island, said Mr. Miller. It was built by William K. Vanderbilt Jr., a great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad tycoon.

“Willie K” wanted a race-road for him and his tycoon friends. The annual Vanderbilt Cup soon drew an international field and crowds of 300,000.

The private 45-mile highway from Flushing, Queens, to Lake Ronkonkoma was built between 1908 and 1911. The architect was John Russell Pope, who later went on to design the American Museum of Natural History in New York and Washington’s National Gallery of Art. It is listed with the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places in 2002, but never recognized as landmark by the city.

The parkway closed in 1938, and parts are run by the city’s Parks Department as a path for walking and biking and enveloped by a woodsy canopy. Although it is surrounded by busy roads like Union Turnpike and the Grand Central Parkway, it’s handsome banks and curves pull the eye off into the distance, back to an earlier time of sporting chaps in gloves and caps, driving chugging motorcars.

Mr. Miller speaks passionately about its swashbuckling history: The drama and danger of the open-road motorcar races; how rum-runners used the parkway because it was privately owned and not patrolled; how Mr. Vanderbilt had dramatic jurisdictional showdowns over rights of way with Robert Moses, who was building the Grand Central Parkway; the 1910 race that drew 300,000 people and killed several mechanics and spectators; how Mr. Vanderbilt’s vision changed Long Island’s roadways and the shape of the automotive world.


Anonymous said...

I was relieved of my bicycle on the Motor Parkway just west of Alley Pond Park back in the early 60's. It was scary, but the kids left a bike with me that once it was retrieved from the police station and cleaned up turned out to be better than the one they took from me.

ken said...

neat roadway, messed up a bit by homeowners who've extended their backyards within feet of it, by swiping land owned by the city.

georgetheatheist said...

If you bicycle it, go east and then come back west - it's all downhill that way on your last leg!

ken said...

in that case I think I'll just go west, and then head home.

-Joe said...

I walk or mountain bike it once a year in north of Manhasset.Its a LIPA power line ROW now but its so vacant its like going back in time. In Manhasset there is underground tunnel from Vanderbilts old house up to the LIE.
He had a private secret entrance

Anonymous said...

That's a great photo.

Substitute a little red star
on his cap and he looks like a
Soviet guard in charge of protecting an old secret road to the Kremlin!