Monday, June 1, 2009

Historic Sites to Get Setting They Deserve by John Lauinger - NY Daily News

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THE BOWNE House and the Kingsland House - two of the city's oldest homes - are crammed into opposite ends of a Flushing park as if they wouldn't fit anywhere else.

The historical importance of the Colonial-era relics is obscured by a hodgepodge of playgrounds and an asphalt walkway that serves as a shortcut from Parsons Blvd. west to the No. 7 train.

"People walk through here and don't recognize what they are seeing," Marisa Berman, executive director of the Queens Historical Society, said last week.

Parks Department planners have devised a new master plan to revitalize Weeping Beech Park, built by Robert Moses in the 1960s and later expanded.

"There is too much asphalt, not enough green and nothing respecting the history of the site," said Kevin Quinn, who heads Queens capital projects for the Parks Department.

The first phase of that plan is to start in January, Quinn told Community Board 7 late last month. Funded with $850,000 from Borough President Helen Marshall and Mayor Bloomberg, it will replace a now-defunct wading pool with playground equipment, a spray shower for kids and plantings.

The rest of the plan is far more ambitious, but it can't become reality unless it gets a $5 million cash infusion from elected officials in coming years.

Plans call for ways to remember the land's history as the birthplace of religious freedom in America and, later, as a prominent nursery owned by the Parsons family.

Landscaped areas will be expanded around the Bowne House, which is original to the site, and the Kingsland House, which was moved to the area in the 1960s and now houses the Queens Historical Society.

"That will give the houses more breathing space," Quinn said.

The centerpiece of the long-term plan is a design that would unearth the long lost Fox Lane, which once ran just north of the Bowne House, roughly where the concrete walkway is today. It was named after Quaker founder George Fox, who preached in the late 1600s under two large oak trees on the Bowne farm. The road was later used by the Parsons family to display plants grown in their nursery.

"This is where some of the first exotic trees were grown in the nation, so we want to respect that history," Quinn said, noting the area will be recreated as a leafy pathway.

A tai chi space will also be added that will double as an outdoor classroom - a feature that embraces the Quaker tradition of outdoor meetings.

Berman and Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman said the plans will give the two homes their due.

"They should have an appropriate surrounding to depict the history of the area," Bitterman said.