Willets Point provided literary inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald when he wrote “The Great Gatsby.” It was once home to the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company, who were responsible for dumping mountains of ash left behind from coal-furnaces in the early 1900s.
“The place was just very dismal. Even on a good day,” said Jason Antos, the executive director of the Queens Historical Society.
In the 1850s, the area was still salt marshes. After, the ash removal company and automotive shops moved in and it became known as the Corona Dump. In the 1930s — when the World’s Fair was on the horizon — then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses had Willets Point in mind.
What You Need To Know
Willets Point provided literary inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald when he wrote “The Great Gatsby"
Fitzgerald referred to the area as "The Valley of Ashes"
It was once home to the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company
The neighborhood will now be home to a $780-million dollar soccer stadium for the New York City Football Club as part of a project including affordable housing and a hotel
“Robert Moses sees an opportunity and kicks out the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company and moves the fair in,” said Antos.
That lead to the creation of nearby Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and, in 1961, ground broke on Shea Stadium, the future home of the New York Mets. The National Tennis Center followed in 1978. Willets Point’s industrial footprint continued to shrink.
“The iron triangle was basically that. It was narrowed down to this triangular pattern, this wedge of property facing the Flushing River,” said Antos.
For decades, there were several unsuccessful attempts to redevelop the area. Donald Trump proposed a sports complex in the 1980s. The Mets wanted to rebuild their stadium on this footprint in the 1990s and Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed a plan that included a massive shopping and entertainment space in 2012. Mayor de Blasio worked out a plan in 2018 that included affordable housing.
“What we’ve done here is put housing first,” said Councilmember Francisco Moya, who represents the area.
In his office — wallpapered with soccer memorabilia — Moya celebrates the most recent plan. It includes a $780-million dollar soccer stadium for the New York City Football Club as part of a project including affordable housing and a hotel. An entire neighborhood is rising from the Valley of Ashes.
“The vision here is to really do something that’s been done nowhere else,” said Moya.
Antos says the planned housing for thousands of people in Willets Point is a first.
“That will be the first time in history that a community has lived there. It’s never happened before,” said Antos.
The area’s last resident, Joseph Ardizzone, who was born and raised in Willets Point, died in 2016.
With new development coming, a new generation of neighbors is coming too.