Constructed between 1871 and 1890, the forty-seven row houses located along 45th Avenue that compose this district represent a rare and relatively intact example of nineteenth century residential architecture in Long Island City. The buildings exhibit diverse architectural styles, including the Italianate, French Second Empire, and neo-Grec. Many houses still possess their original stoops, lintels, and pediments, lending a sense of aesthetic unity to the streetscape. House Nos. 21-12 through 21-20 on the south side of 45th Avenue, and Nos. 21-21 through 21-29 on the north side of the street, display original pedimented entrances, fenestration defined by segmented arches, and bracketed lintels; and many of the buildings are brick, a departure from the more usual wood construction in surrounding areas.
The residences were built on land that belonged to the Van Alst family for nearly 200 hundred years. In 1861, the trustees of Union College purchased the property from the Van Alsts, and the Long Island Railroad moved its terminus to Hunters Point. Taverns and commercial venues opened to accommodate the influx of commuters. This increased flow of people prompted developers Spencer B. Root and John P. Rust to acquire the land in 1879, and build many of the houses that survive today.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the area was home to established families and prosperous citizens; at one point the block was known as “white collar row.” During the 1880s, “Battle Axe” Gleason, the last mayor of Long Island City before the consolidation of New York, resided on 12th Street (now 45th Avenue). Gleason obtained his nickname, and garnered adoration from his voters, by famously using an ax to chop down an LIRR fence that blocked pedestrian passage along Second Ave. When the elevated trains were extended to Long Island City in the early twentieth century, the noise caused many of the long-time residents to move away. During the Depression, houses in the district were converted to multiple family dwellings, and many remain so today. ©2014