Kew Gardens is a triangular-shaped middle class neighborhood in the central area of the New York City borough of Queens, bounded to the north by the Jackie Robinson Parkway (formerly Interborough Parkway), to the east by Van Wyck Expressway and 131st Street, to the south by Hillside Avenue, and to the west by Park Lane, Abingdon Road and 118th Street. Forest Park and the neighborhood of Forest Hills and Forest Hills Gardens lie west of the neighborhood.
The neighborhood is accessible thanks to the surrounding expressways, Kew Gardens – Union Turnpike subway station, and Kew Gardens railway station.
Kew Gardens was one of seven planned garden communities built in Queens from the late 19th Century to 1950. Much of the area was acquired in 1868 by Englishman Albon P. Man, who developed the neighborhood of Hollis Hill to the south, chiefly along Jamaica Avenue, while leaving the hilly land to the north undeveloped.
Maple Grove Cemetery on Kew Gardens Road opened in 1875. A Long Island Rail Road station was built for mourners in October and trains stopped there from mid-November. The station was named Hopedale, after Hopedale Hall, a hotel located at what is now Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike. In the 1890s, the executors of Man’s estate laid out the Queens Bridge Golf Course on the hilly terrains south of the railroad. This remained in use until it was bisected in 1908 by the main line of the Long Island Rail Road, which had been moved 600 feet (180 m) to the south to eliminate a curve.
The golf course was then abandoned and a new station was built in 1909 on Lefferts Boulevard. Man’s heirs, Aldrick Man and Albon Man Jr. decided to lay out a new community and called it at first Kew and then Kew Gardens after the well-known botanical gardens in England.The architects of the development favored English and neo-Tudor styles, which still predominate in many sections of the neighborhood.
In 1910, the property was sold piecemeal by the estate and during the next few years streets were extended, land graded and water and sewer pipes installed. The first apartment building was the Kew Bolmer at 80–45 Kew Gardens Road, erected in 1915; a clubhouse followed in 1916 and a private school in 1918. In 1920, the Kew Gardens Inn at the railroad station opened for residential guests, who paid $40 a week for a room and a bath with meals. Elegant one-family houses were built in the 1920s, as were apartment buildings such as Colonial Hall (1921) and Kew Hall (1922) that numbered more than twenty by 1936.
In July 1933, the Grand Central Parkway opened from Kew Gardens to the edge of Nassau County; this road was extended in 1935 as the Interborough Parkway to Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York. Since the parkways used part of the roadbed of Union Turnpike no houses were sacrificed.
The greatest change was wrought by the opening of the Independent subway along Queens Boulevard to Union Turnpike on December 31, 1936; four months later, the subway was extended to Jamaica, Queens. Residents could now reach Manhattan and Brooklyn twenty-four hours a day for five cents. The immediate effect was to stimulate the construction of larger apartment buildings like Kent Manor and high-rise buildings along Queens Boulevard and the last vacant land disappeared.
Despite its historical significance, Kew Gardens lacks any landmark protection.
In 1964, the neighborhood gained news notoriety when Kitty Genovese was murdered near the Kew Gardens Long Island Railroad station. A New York Times article reported that none of the neighbors responded when she cried for help.The story came to represent the apathy and anonymity of urban life. The circumstances of the case are disputed to this day. It has been alleged that the critical fact reported by the NYT that “none of the neighbors responded” was false. The case of Kitty Genovese is an oft-cited example of the bystander effect, and the case that originally spurred research on this social psychological phenomenon.
As of 2000 U.S. Census, the demographics were 66.2% White, 13.0% Asian, 7.0% Black or African American, 0.3% American Indian and Alaska Native, 7.4% Other and Hispanic or Latino were 20.0% of the population. The neighborhood’s demographics have since changed, however. The Hispanic and Asian populations have grown significantly over the past decade. Current U.S. Census estimates place the Kew Gardens population at more than 25,769.
Kew Gardens is ethnically diverse. A large community of Jewish refugees from Germany took shape in the area after the Second World War which is reflected still today by the number of active synagogues in the area. The neighborhood attracted many Chinese immigrants after 1965, about 2,500 Iranian Jews arrived after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and immigrants from China, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, the former Soviet Union, India, Bangladesh and Korea settled in Kew Gardens during the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, Kew Gardens has a growing population of Bukharian Jews from Uzbekistan, alongside a significant Orthodox Jewish community. Also many immigrants from Central America, and South America call Kew Gardens home, as well as immigrants from Japan. Kew Gardens is well known for being a residential area, with a mix of one-family homes above the million-dollar range, complex apartments, co-ops and others converted and on the way or being converted as condominiums. A major five-star hotel is under development on 82nd Avenue, reflecting a modernization of the area.