My formative years were spent living on the North side of Eliot Avenue and in those days, the area between Eliot Avenue and the L.I.E. was districted as Elmhurst. We moved into that area when I was about nine and from the very beginning, I was always enthralled with the 84th Street pedestrian bridge over the L.I.E. The first winter there, I recalled kids telling me about great sledding down by the overpass. I had no clue of what they were talking about or where I was going but I was down for it.
We carried our sleds across the 84th Street foot bridge to the north side of the expressway and hopped over a small stone wall that separated the bridge from a grassy hill that ran down behind the houses on 57th Road. The hill was a wide buffer between the original three lanes of the westbound L.I.E, prior to the widening in the late 80s-early 90s. A sledding path had been formed from the pedestrian bridge down past the fences demarcating the back yards of the homes and ending just short of the LIRR mainline tracks. Time and time again, we would sled down at top speed on the path that seemed to go on forever, actually about 500 feet according to Google Earth, and make the trudge back up to do it all over again.
In early adulthood, I found that the view from 84th Street was fantastic and the view from the 71st Street overpass was like no other. From 84th Street, you could look eastward to see Shea Stadium and the Whitestone and Throgs Neck Bridges. Every year, throngs of neighbors would venture out on the hot summer night around July 4th when the Grucci Brothers put on their famous fireworks displays at Shea. I could always count on finding someone I knew to chat with before and after the show.
Looking west at 84th Street, presented some partial views of Manhattan and the sunset. The formidable Elmhurst Gas Tanks were ever present sometimes up sometimes down. I never actually saw them in motion but always noted their position. Once, I think it was 1985, early on Saturday morning, there was a small earthquake in the region that awakened me with a rumble. My initial thought was that the tanks had exploded. I got out and walked up to the over pass and thankfully, they were still there.
Stately Saint Adalbert's Church towered on the next hill between the expressway and Grand Avenue and Macy's circular concrete building on Queens Boulevard stood down in the valley.
When construction started on the L.I.E. widening, the bridge was taken out of service. I'd occasionally still take a walk there just to see what was going on. The photo showing the Gas Tanks seems to show backfill behind the retaining wall. With 84th Street crossing out of service, I decided to stretch out my evening walks to 71st Street pedestrian bridge. That was an eye-opening experience. On a clear day, you could make out the steel lattice structure of the Williamsburgh Bridge and take in the entire downtown perfectly. It was many a time when I would walk up the 71st Street overpass and just stare at the skyline and watch the sunset while contemplating the issues of the day. Whether I had a bad day at work or other issues on my mind, I always found a great sense of peace there. Kind of ironic in that I could find a few peaceful moments just above the usual snarl of traffic. Sunsets are best here in the autumn and late winter/early spring.
After what seemed like an eternity, 84th Street pedestrian bridge was finally re-opened in its current configuration. Gone were the small stone wall, the grassy hill and the great sledding. Gone were the steep concrete staircases and the flat main span, replaced with a series of more accessible ramps and a steeply sloped span. I still found it enjoyable nonetheless. My visits there ceased when I moved out of the area but I got back there recently to take a quick walkabout. The Elmhurst Tanks are but a distant memory and Saint Adalbert's is partially obscured by trees. Shea Stadium and the towering fireworks shows, were replaced with Citi Field and fireworks displays that don't seem reach the top of the stadium, at least from what I saw sitting in the stands. Shout out if you know whether the fireworks are at all visible from there.
All in all, 84th Street disappointed a little in that the photogenic angles are not what I recalled. Perhaps the views have been obscured by growth or perhaps the memories are better than they actually were. 71st Street on the other hand did not disappoint and still presents one of the best views in the area.