Close-Up On: Sunnyside


Portions of this article have been updated.

When the elevated train opened in Sunnyside in 1917, hundreds of money-conscious Manhattanites hungry for cheaper suburban living flocked to the region. Its namesake remains uncertain: Some say it was named for Sunnyside Hill farm in 1875; others say it was named for the hotel that accommodated visitors to the Fashion Race Course in Corona. Its tree-lined, townhouse-laden blocks are a mecca for cultural diversity, ranging from early German, Irish, and Czech immigrants to more recent Indian, Latino, and Korean arrivals. This summer, the neighborhood experienced its 15 minutes of fame when it was used for location shots in the blockbuster Spider-Man. But Sunnyside is not just the residential refuge portrayed in the film. Countless Irish pubs and restaurants-bars make for an always rousing nightlife, while Sunnyside Yards, a graveyard of abandoned train cars and storage lot for in-use cars, has become a site of historical intrigue for local walking tours.

Boundaries: Sunnyside Yards to the north, the Long Island Expressway to the south, Calvary Cemetery to the east, and Van Dam Street to the west

Main Drags: Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue, the most frequented strips, teem with shops, eateries, and bars.

Public Transportation: Fifteen minutes from Grand Central Terminal: Take the 7 train to 40th Street and Queens Boulevard.

Average Rent: Studio, $850 to $900 ($800 to $900); one-bedroom, $1000 to $1200; two-bedroom, $1400 to $1600 ($1250 to $1400)

Average Price to Own: One-family house, $350,000 to $450,000 ($300,000 to $400,000); two-family house, $450,000 to $700,000 ($450,000 to $600,000)

Landmarks: Architecture and gardening buffs will love the greenery of Sunnyside Gardens, designed by landscape pioneer Marjorie Cautley. Among the first female landscape architects in the country, she gave the apartments their unique appeal with tree-lined pathways and communal flowerbeds. Erected between 1924 and 1929, it became the first community in the U.S. to embody the Garden City Movement. Sunnyside Gardens is an architectural landmark and was designated a historic district in 1984.

Cultural Institutions: The Thalia Spanish Theater has served as a cultural resource for the Latin American and Spanish community for 25 years. As the recipient of 60 Association of Critics of Entertainment Awards and the only Hispanic theater in Queens, it is dedicated to the preservation of zarzuelas (a Spanish theatrical form based on opera) and to providing the best Spanish plays as well as a variety of productions centered around dance and music. The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum (in Queens since 1985) has temporarily moved to Sunnyside, minutes from its old location, while it undergoes renovations. The momentary, and regretfully gardenless, indoor facility offers its second series in the new space: “Noguchi: Sculpture and Nature,” a look at the versatile sculptor-lamp maker-artist’s works and creative processes. As of September, the Museum of African Art will also be temporarily relocated to Sunnyside (36-01 43rd Avenue). Its opening exhibit, “Facing the Mask,” will display various African masks, from the Ivory Coast to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Famous Residents: Well-known faces from the past and present are writer and architectural critic Lewis Mumford, social realist painter Raphael Soyer, Jazz Age cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Ethel Merman, and the late Perry Como. Actor James Caan also grew up in Sunnyside.

Sietsema’s Eats: Natural Tofu (40-06 Queens Boulevard) offers six variations of the bean curd, coupled with items like kimchi, mixed vegetables, and, for the adventurous, beef intestine. Tandoori Palace (36-10 Greenpoint Avenue) is a wondrous castle-like restaurant with excellent freshly made Punjabi food. Try the goat and chicken rule. Yummy!

After Nightfall: Sidetracks (45-08 Queens Boulevard)—a restaurant by day and a lively bar by night—offers three dancefloors with drink specials and features local and out-of-town DJs (the nightclub is open until 4 a.m. from Thursday to Saturday). Blooms (41-08 Queens Boulevard)—also a restaurant and late-nighter—boasts a variety of wines, domestic and imported beers on tap, a plethora of whiskeys, live bands, and a distinctly Irish decor, making this dim, wooden, busy, and stylish bar a great visit.

Local Politicians: Assemblywomen Margaret Markey and Catherine T. Nolan, Congressman Joseph Crowley and Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Councilman Eric Gioia (all Democrats), and state senators George Onorato (Democrat) and Serphin Maltese (Republican)

Crime Stats: The 108th Precinct patrols Long Island City, Sunnyside, and Woodside. As of November 22, 2005, it reported 6 murders, 25 rapes, 133 robberies, 334 felony assaults, and 437 burglaries. (As of August 25, they reported 5 homicides, compared to 3 last year; 4 rapes, down from 10; 223 robberies, up from 194; 120 felonious assaults, up from 96; and 422 burglaries, up from 362.)