The Place Beyond the Plaza

by Lily Panych

On my first day interning with NPP, I was introduced to the reclaimed plaza concept through an orientation at Corona Plaza, the largest of the three Queens-based plazas that fall under my jurisdiction. I work nearby, in Rego Park, but once I biked north up Junction Boulevard and took a right onto Roosevelt Avenue I sensed a new, palpable energy surge in my environs. The flurry of activity around me was too much to take in while cycling, Hundreds of people milled about, I peered into storefronts with their doors flung open, women hawked corn on the street; the colors, sounds, and smells were a happy assault on my senses. As my bike joined the others locked onto the gate surrounding the 7 train, I appreciated the plaza’s existence as a calm central location among the bustle, a greatly needed oasis for one to reflect during a busy New Yorker’s day.

IMG_1758Photo Credit: Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, 2014

Corona Plaza officially opened in August of 2012, culminating a 10-year vision put into existence by over 50 community partners to transform this one-street corridor, which serves 5 million 7 train riders a year, multiple bus lines, and hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians. Corona Plaza is unique among the NPP’s plaza partnerships in this large-scale support from the local council member, the Queens Museum, and the Queens Economic Development Corporation, who all fought hard to transform the plot from metered parking spaces to a huge open-air common.

Corona and her plaza have a rich history. I work with a fellow, Chris, who is a born and bred Dominican-American raised in Corona. The plaza, which is also officially a NYC park, is a common thread throughout his youth, a supporting character in his adventures running the streets as boy. He reminisced to me about collecting pastries and chips from the bakeries flanking the square before watching his first big-screen movie, Selina, at the Corona Plaza Theatre.  This theatre opened in 1927, playing Hollywood fare with Spanish subtitles for 78 years, until it became a drugstore in 2005, a Walgreens sign now set in the original marquee.

I was surprised that Corona had been established enough as a neighborhood in the Roaring 20s’ to warrant a theater. Little did I know that the elevated station, Corona-103rd Street, opened above the plaza grounds on the IRT line a decade before, in 1917!

But things get even more historic. In 1854 a group of Southern horse owners opened the National Racetrack on the grounds of what was to become Corona Plaza, today only remembered in the namesake of National Street, at the northeast corner of the Plaza. While still a racetrack, the plaza also hosted the first ever baseball game at which an admission fee was charged.

The fact that Corona Plaza is thriving today, hosting fantastic cultural events such as this past summer’s Oye Corona!, Christmas tree lightings, and one of the most active twitter accounts in the plaza game is a testament to its storied past. Despite this being such a dynamic city, sometimes the people of NYC know just how to hold on to a good thing!


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