Jackson Heights
The Vision & The Accomplishment

by Jeffrey A. Saunders

Jackson HeightsJackson Heights, a planned community developed between 1909 and 1945 by Edward A. McDougall and his architects, was inspired by the Garden City movement in England. It was built as a higher density garden community for the professional and managerial class.

The experimentation and innovation employed in Jackson Heights generated widespread national and international attention, and examination in architectural journals. Interest was so intense that in 1925 an international planning conference was held here for planners and delegates from twelve countries. It continues to influence urban residential planning both in the United Stares and abroad.

The design standards and opportunity for creativity in Jackson Heights influenced many architects designing for this community, who concurrency employed similar approaches and concepts throughout the city. Consistent design concerns included the relationship of light and open space, air and ventilation, views and vistas, rooflines and decoration, massing ant scale, landscaping and gardens, courtyards and setbacks, a sense of community and personality, and provision for automobiles. Tower
Picture by Fanny Chuqui (Grade 8, I.S. 145)
from Jackson Heights: From Ice Age to Space Age
© Rudolph E. Greco, Jr.

In Jackson Heights the principle that urban planning is truly about the full city block rather than the individual building or lot was established. Development was rayed out in three zones:: A higher density middle zone, flanked by lower density western and eastern zones.

MacDougall's Queensboro Corporation initially layer out elegant buildings surrounding spacious interior gardens, coining the term "garden apartment" for this innovation. Most were sold to residents as cooperatives, testing and setting the precedents for many of the co-op laws used today in New York City. Therein, it became the first garden apartment cooperative community in America. Stately Anglo-American "English Garden Homes. were added for those who preferred private homes.

On large end-of-block parcels previously reserved along the avenues far later development, fanciful apartment buildings were bull`. They "capped" the blocks, protectively enclosing The architectural rhythm of the buildings and houses on the side streets. They enliven the historic area with a flair and sense of procession along the avenues.

The primary building material in the historic area is brick, with masonry brickwork, stucco, half-timber, slate, rile, ironwork, and terra-cotta embellishments. Architectural influences include neo-Tudor, neo-Georgian, French, Italian, Spanish, and Moderne. Facades were individualized and enhanced with loggias, Belvederes, turrets, towers' arches, colonnades, dormers, monumental temple-fronts, battlements, pediments, and other large scale decoration.

It is important to note that the architects who built here were no' striving to design in architecturally "pure" theoretical styles. Many were European trained architects with warm remembrances of their European heritage. They evoked these images and visions, and combined them with a Jackson Heights (and very American) promise of "the good and gracious life" to be had living here. Stylistic influences were frequently combined and adapted. The assignation of stylistic appellations is therefore a generalized one, applied after-the-fact.

These distinguishing characteristics qualified Jackson Heights for recognition as a New York City landmark district in October, 1993. It is projected to be listed on the New York State and federal Registers of Historic Places as Historic Register Districts by late 1995. Jackson Heights has achieved what architecture critic Robert A M. Stern calls, a "mix of urbane apartment and rowhouses... a modern urban suburbia that demonstrates, as none have since, what high density housing in the City could be."
map of Jacksons Heights

RETURN TO Jackson Heights Beautification Group
last revised March 21 1999
by David Goldfarb