I went to New York mainly to see family and friends. But when they were busy, I fulfilled some minor ambitions I’d been nursing for years.
One was to visit my first home, an apartment building in Sunnyside, Queens. This was less nostalgia than curiosity, because I moved from Sunnyside before starting kindergarten and hardly remember it.
I wasn’t quite sure how to get there. The subway system’s 7 train went through northwest Queens and would get me closest, but I didn’t know how to connect to the 7 from where I was staying in southeast Queens. So I hopped aboard the E train, knowing it would get me within a mile of my destination. When the E stopped at Roosevelt Avenue-Jackson Heights, a long-dormant synapse fired: hey, isn’t there a transfer to the 7 here?
All those youthful subway rides to Shea Stadium proved good for something! Sure enough, the 7 stopped just upstairs. It dropped me off a few short blocks from my first home.
North of Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside has a semi-industrial look. But south of Queens Boulevard, it consists mostly of three-story residential brick buildings. My guess is almost all of them were there when I was born. It was hard to believe I’d seen them before yet had no memory of them! On 47th Avenue the apartment buildings were much larger. A brief stroll took me to the one my parents brought me home to.
Again, no memory of the exterior, even though I’d seen it before. And I have only a few scattered recollections from inside.
My dad was a serious photographer, so of course there are photos of me from this time.
I looked for that swing set and found it easily enough: it was in the playground on the next block. Here’s what it looks like today.
From my parents’ perspective, it must have made a lot of sense to start out in Sunnyside. Probably the rent was cheap, and they were close enough to Manhattan to make my dad’s work commute fairly painless.
Living in Queens also gave them breathing distance from their families. If they wanted to hang with their parents, they could take the 7 and connect in Manhattan to the D and F trains, which would get them to Brooklyn in an hour or so.
I was hugely impressed by Sunnyside. I made my first visit on Halloween day as school was closing and was delighted by how matter-of-factly multicultural it is — just like the Bay Area! — yet how all the elementary school kids, regardless of background, were in costumes. I got real e pluribus unum pride from that. The adults in the neighborhood seemed both energetic and mellow, another contradiction to savor. And Sunnyside Pizza on 40th Street makes the best plain slice in New York!
The only shadow is the one cast by nearby Long Island City. When I was young, LIC was a place you didn’t go unless you lived there. Over the last few years it has morphed into Manhattan East (in fact, when I first saw it from Sunnyside, I thought it was eastern Manhattan). Now that Amazon has announced it’s locating a headquarters there, Long Island City threatens to gentrify everything around it, possibly including Sunnyside.
Still, if I ever have to move back to New York, I would seriously look into finding a place in Sunnyside. All these years later, I feel like I belong there.