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Lefrak City was originally a 42-acre swampy and marginal land west of Horace Harding Boulevard in Corona. Since 1916 this land was unrestricted and it was overlooked by real estate developers of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s as a poor investment. The land was too soft and marshy for building large buildings. Earlier, it had been the scene of hundreds of Quonset huts for returning World War II veterans and their families--before many of them marched off to Long Island’s suburbs. Before that, the land was a fill dump which was called Mary’s Dump. In 1954, Samuel J. Lefrak, who was one of the world’s major builders and one of the largest landlords in the New York City metropolitan area, went to the City Planning Commission to have it re-zoned for business and residence districts. With an initial investment of more than $6 million, Lefrak purchased the vacant property from the estate of Lord William Waldorf Astor of England. Without any aid from federal, state or city funds, he then took a risk to invest $150 million into the project from 1961 until its completion in 1966. The architect was Jack Brown; Frank Stein was the renting manager. It was billed as “The City of Tomorrow”, as a city within a city to fill the acute housing shortage in New York City.
Soon after the construction a total of 5,000 apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom units, with a new population of 25,000, were brought into the area, whose 20 18-story balconied buildings were surrounded by retail stores, supermarkets, restaurants, a public library, a bank, a post office, and two office buildings. Each apartment was built with nine-foot-high ceilings, an electric kitchen under-the-window air-conditioner sleeves, and a terrace for “total facilities for total living.” Inspired by the Olympic five-ring logo, the complex includes five intersecting residential sections, each section consisting of four buildings that form an x-pattern. Very uniquely, the buildings within each section are named for countries or cities that are located in the same part of the world. For example, section one is dedicated to Europe, with its buildings named London, Copenhagen, Paris, and Roma on their regimented bricks.
Lefrak City, the towering apartment complex, runs between the Long Island Expressway and 57th Avenue and stretches from Junction Blvd. to 99th Street. It borders Elmhurst, Corona and Rego Park. The official address of Lefrak City is 97-05 Horace Harding Blvd, Corona. The population of Lefrak City has varied over the years. In the beginning, the complex drew middle-class tenants and a large number of Jewish immigrants who had first settled in the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, and Brooklyn. Some of them were United Nations staff and diplomats. Lefrak City even housed many international exhibitors during the New York World Fair in 1964 and 1965. Following allegations by the Justice Department that black applicants were discriminated against in the early 1970s, the Lefrak Organization, which owns the property, agreed to help black tenants move into the complex.
In the 1980s, an increase of crime from drugs and gang violence led to the departure of Lefrak City’s white middle-class and left it teetering on the edge of collapse. It was not until the early 1990s that the coincidental arrival of Russian Jews and more African immigrants brought new life to the complex. This unlikely combination of newcomers, Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union’s Central Asia Republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and Muslim immigrants from Africa, has revitalized Lefrak City and stabilized its population. Toward the turn of the 21st Century, Lefrak City and its expanded adjacent vicinities have witnessed a new wave of Hispanic and Asian immigrants, mostly from countries such as Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru as well as China, India, Philippines, Pakistan, and Korea.
Lefrak City is a short walk away from the bustling mass transportation hub that brings together eight local bus lines as well as G, R and V trains. Triboro Coach Corp. operates Manhattan-bound express buses that stop at the complex. The Long Island Expressway intersects the Grand Central Parkway to the east, and Queens Blvd. and Woodhaven Blvd. meet two blocks from the complex. In addition to its indoor shopping center, the complex is within walking distance of the Queens Center Mall and the Rego Park shopping center. With courts for tennis, basketball, and volleyball, soccer fields, ice skating rinks, playgrounds, parking spaces and public garages, picnic and barbecue areas, jogging trails, and a vegetable garden for senior citizens, Lefrak City is a haven and a home for new immigrants, mainly from Latin America, Africa, Russia and Asia.
Through the years, Lefrak City has made a myriad of non-profit cultural, social, athletic, religious, and educational activities available to all residents: including an on-premises after-school program, computer-learning center, summer day camp, and youth employment program. Each summer the housing complex sponsors a barbecue for tenants during Family Day and hosts a popular youth basketball tournament. To serve the international flavor of its tenants Lefrak City also has a mosque, a synagogue, and a Baptist church, as well as other organizations that cultivate a strong sense of belonging. Today, Lefrak City, the largest privately financed apartment development in the United States is still attracting new residents from all over the city and the world.
More Information about the Lefrak City community is available from the following sources:
Corona, Lefrak City, Borough of Queens, New York City, 1955-1987 Prepared by Robert Friedrich Long Island Division, QBPL 1989
With a “Please Open Before Christmas,” the library at Lefrak City, the Queens Borough Public Library’s fifty-fourth branch started serving its thousands of residents on Tuesday, December 13th, 1966. Mrs. Marie Bottomley was the librarian in charge of the branch. At the time, the library rented a special wing in one of the Lefrak buildings, at 98-27 Horace Harding Expressway, to house the 8,000 sq. ft. branch. It had a capacity for 35,000 volumes, seated 110 readers, and boasted a community room for library-related programs. The Bookmobile, giving weekly library service, made its last stop in the area on December 6th, 1966.
The new Lefrak City Community Library, with the state-of-the–art-facility was relocated within the Lefrak City housing complex again at 98-30 57th avenue between 99th Street and Junction Blvd. The new branch is more than two times larger than the previous building, which reopened its doors to customers on August 18, 2003 after the extensive renovations. The Borough President’s Office contributed $600,000 from its 2004 capital budget for continuing renovation to the building. Richard Lefrak, Sam Lefrak’s only son and the third president of the Lefrak Organization, donated $50,000 to cover work to the heating and ventilation systems, sidewalk repair and plumbing. Because of the new improvements, the library now features an enlarged children’s room, a stadium-seating story time room for kids, an easy-accessible teen area, redesigned circulation desk, an elevator near the library’s entrance for handicapped people, and user-friendly self-checkout machines. It also has a 120-seat auditorium which could be divided into smaller sections for programs, classes and meetings.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately one of two American men and one of three American women will have some type of cancer at some point during their lifetime. Queens Library HealthLink seeks to increase access to cancer screening and cancer treatment among medically underserved communities in Queens. Queens Library HealthLink is a partnership between Queens Library, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Queens Cancer Center of Queens Hospital and the American Cancer Society.