Community of Astoria
The area now known as Astoria was originally called Hallett’s Cove, after its first landowner William Hallett, who settled there in 1652 with his wife, Elizabeth Fones. Beginning in the early 19th century, affluent New Yorkers constructed large residences around 12th and 14th streets, an area that later became known as Astoria Village (now Old Astoria). Hallett’s Cove, incorporated on April 12, 1839 and previously founded by fur merchant Stephen A. Halsey, was a noted recreational destination and resort for Manhattan’s wealthy.
The area was renamed for John Jacob Astor, then the wealthiest man in America with a net worth of over $40 million, in order to persuade him to invest in the neighborhood. He only invested $500, but the name stayed nonetheless, as a bitter battle over naming the village finally was won by Astor’s supporters and friends. From Astor’s summer home in Hell Gate, Manhattan—on what is now East 87th Street near York Avenue—he could see across the East River the new Long Island village named in his honor. Astor, however, never actually set foot in Astoria.
During the second half of the 19th century, economic and commercial growth brought increased immigration from German settlers, mostly furniture and cabinet makers. One such settler was Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, patriarch of the Steinway family who founded the piano company Steinway & Sons in 1853, which today is a worldwide piano company. Later on the Steinways built a sawmill and foundry, as well as a streetcar line. The family eventually established Steinway Village for their workers, a company town that provided school instruction in German as well as English. Part of the motivation for locating the Steinway factory in Queens was to keep the workers isolated from the ferment of labor organizing and radicalism occurring in other parts of New York, notably the Lower East Side.
Astoria and several other surrounding villages
Including Steinway, were incorporated into Long Island City in 1870. Long Island City remained an independent municipality until it was incorporated into New York City in 1898. The area’s farms were turned into housing tracts and street grids to accommodate the growing number of residents.
Astoria also figured prominently in early American filmmaking as one of its initial centers. That heritage is preserved today by the Museum of the Moving Image and Kaufman Astoria Studios.
Today, much of the Astoria waterfront is being redeveloped and underutilized industrial sites in forgotten historic neighborhoods are being revived. Hallets Point is one of five former industrial sites on the waterfront being transformed, and will bring seven new mixed-use residential towers, including 2,000 market-rate units and 500 affordable units, into the neighborhood. The development will also include new waterfront parks, a supermarket, retail shops and restaurants, and two new schools. These waterfront projects were designed by a New York architectural firm, in conjunction with private developers, city agencies and landscape architects.
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