A Tour Guide of Elmhurst, Queens


There are many routes to Elmhurst. Each method will give one a different experience of the area. I prefer walking, but many enjoy sitting on a bus, taxi or underground in the subway. A combination of all of the above is feasible, because within just the town of "Elmhurst," there must be at least three subway stations (Grand Ave/Newtown, Elmhurst Ave, and Woodhaven Blvd), over eight buses and as always, taxis are numerous. The thing about walking in Elmhurst is that one will always be able to find a different way to get somewhere. The town is kind of a grid, yet still retains its organic city planning. It's very ad hoc. If one street does not work for you, someone will just add another. And it's likely that many already use that alternate road.

The journey begins from Van Kleeck Street at 2:30 PM. There are two apartment buildings facing each other, but 51-55 is where we must start. When walking out of the building, the most striking thing is the sun shining and reflecting off the bricks of the building across. It is as if the light is trapped in between the two buildings, as if the sun is shining directly at them. Perhaps it is the bareness of Van Kleeck Street that makes the light always so bright. There are hardly any trees or any notable structures that can absorb the light. There are only buildings, some old cars (like a burgundy 80s Ford Taurus), and kids playing outside.

After exiting the building, you must turn left and walk straight. For the first ten steps, it is necessary to either look at your feet or stare straight at the stores ahead. You must do all that is possible to ignore the kids loitering outside. Handball is likely being played against the façade of the building. You must do everything in your power to not engage in this game or with the people involved with it. Soon after passing this, you will finally reach the first opening, which is L&P Supermarket, at the corner of Van Kleeck Street and Grand Avenue. There is no striking signage that marks L&P. It is a mystery why it is even called L&P. Perhaps there is a very small sign or poster on the side of the building that says “L&P” and that is how everyone in the neighborhood started to call it that. But that L&P might just as well be the remnant of something that existed before Mr. and Mrs. Kim opened their store. I’d like to imagine that it was a hardware store. There is something about hardware stores that are incredibly ugly, seemingly obsolete yet necessary. 

You are walking South now, perpendicular from where you began, along Grand Avenue. I am directing you to the library, but there are so many things to note along the way. You must walk swiftly, look straight ahead, while using your peripheral vision to glance at the store windows on the left. Depending on whether you want this to be 1995 or 1998, you will pass a Chinese food take out restaurant or a renovated deli. The deli is a misfit in the neighborhood because it is so stylish, but they have amazing turkey sandwiches that you can eat for lunch, but it is the kind of New York City sandwich that when you take one bite, everything inside the sandwich will come out the other end. That is, unless you are very accustomed to eating it.

You will cross many roads but these are not significant. The only thing I will tell you is to try to cross them very quickly, taking two very wide steps. No one in Elmhurst takes her time crossing the road. Finally, after walking on the windy road that is Grand avenue, you will reach the fire station. The fire station looks phony, as if no fireman or fire trucks were actually inside of it. The red door is always closed and the Dunkin Donuts next door is much more part of the community than the fire station. However, people in the neighborhood will tell you that it is very nice that we have our own fire station and that it has a sign that reads “Elmhurst Fire Station.” The Dunkin Donuts is the size of a closet and before it became that, it was just a regular newspaper, coffee, and donut shop. People seem not to notice the difference, except it is much cooler drinking coffee from a cup with a pink logo on it. Five steps more from the fire station, you will finally be at the grand landmark of Elmhurst, which is the Queens Boulevard.

However much you feel inclined to gasp and take a few steps back, you must resist. Just stand there looking at the six lanes of cars moving in three different sections, in two directions. You must cross the boulevard bit by bit and make sure you are not alone. It is also known as the “boulevard of death”, and two people died in Elmhurst crossing it in ’95. One of them was a boy my age. He was always skateboarding though, so you could have said it was coming. You can hardly walk across the boulevard, so it is crazy to expect that you can skateboard across it. The boy was in a coma for days or weeks and his poor, single, abusive father nursed the boy in his last days. We don’t know what happened to the father and his sister after the boy’s death.

Once you reach the other end of the boulevard, you should cross the small street. It is much nicer on that side of the road. Right by the Grand Ave/Newtown subway station, there is an entrance to a small stationery store. This store, unlike the fire station, deli, L&P or the Queens Boulevard, is not a landmark or monument of the community but it is for me a personal significance. The details regarding the memories made in and around it I will not divulge, but it is pleasurable to imagine you lingering around it. When you start walking straight forward though, you will start to see signs for the library and its contours will begin to appear. The library, unlike anything in Elmhurst, has a lot of land around it. Whatever you do though, do not enter. Stand right by the black fence surrounding the library, positioning your body parallel to its entrance. Tilt your head up and look for the green clock tower on the right. If it is just around 3 O’Clock, it will start ringing.

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뉴욕에서 활동하는 작가이자 번역가이며 딜런+리갤러리 공동 운영자이다. 비평가, 번역가로서 , , , , 등에 기고한 바 있다. 그녀는 코넬대에서 조각과 프린트 메이킹을, 스쿨오브비쥬얼아트에서 예술비평을 전공했다. seo.hyung.lee@gmail.com

Diana Seo Hyung Lee

Diana Seo Hyung Lee is a New York City based writer, translator, and partner of Dillon + Lee. Her writing and translations have appeared in Flash Art, The Brooklyn Rail, ArtSlant, Degree Critical Blog, ArtAsiaPacific, and The Forgetory, an online publication she helped start, where she currently serves as a contributing editor. She received her MFA in Art Criticism and Writing from The School of Visual Arts in 2012 and BFA in Fine Art with a concentration in Sculpture and Printmaking from Cornell University in 2008. She can be reached at seo.hyung.lee@gmail.com.

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