The New York TimesGINIA BELLAFANTE
April 18, 2014
Far too often, over the past few years we have read about Brooklyn as a marketable commodity — its aesthetic, lifestyle and twee products coveted and exportable. But the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park would seem an appropriate time to reflect on Queens: The Brand.
It is hard to think of a locality that has rivaled the borough as popular culture’s image of white, urban American working-class life. “All in the Family” reigned on television in the 1970s. Decades later it was followed by “The King of Queens,” which was shown on CBS from 1998 to 2007 and portrayed the lives of a secretary and her delivery-driver husband — she a striver, he an endearing, complacent slob. Nearing the end of its final year, the show claimed 8.7 million weekly viewers, roughly twice as many as “Girls” now does. When you include all the people who have encountered the show in endless rerun, infinitely more Americans are familiar with the folkways of middle-age proletarian life in Queens than are well-versed in the habits of privileged young memoirists in northern Brooklyn.
While there are no apparent plans for a “Girls: St. Petersburg,” “King of Queens” was remade for Russian television a few years ago. Cast in the leading role of the rotund Doug Heffernan was an actor who was slim and fit and more suited to global-economy television. Looking at Queens from a certain vantage point, say, the F.D.R. Drive just south of the United Nations, it is hard not to mine a metaphor from this, because these days Queens itself is taller and skinnier and cosmetically rearranged; in some sense it isn’t the new Brooklyn so much as it has become the old Manhattan.
Last month, a luxury development called Five 27 set a sales record for Long Island City when a two-bedroom penthouse sold for $1.58 million, which is in fact a skimpy sum when compared to other recent listings. Right now it is possible to spend $3,580,000 on a condominium of 1,842 square feet at the View, one of the glass residential towers lining the waterfront in Hunters Point showcasing the East River and the Manhattan skyline. In the same building is a three-bedroom apartment only slightly larger — at just over 2,100 square feet — for $5,388,000, an amount that will get you a very nice townhouse, two or three times the size, in some of the best neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
According to the real-estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel, the number of sales in Queens jumped 32.8 percent to 3,156 during the first quarter of this year compared with the first quarter last year, with median condominium prices rising more than 17 percent in that time. Both median and average home sale prices rose to the highest first-quarter result in more than five years, with the average sales price of luxury properties jumping 19.5 percent over the first quarter of 2013, a rate more than twice as high as Brooklyn’s. Recently, a real-estate website, The Real Deal, reported a rental record set in Astoria when a townhouse duplex with heated floors leased for $5,000 a month. The owner, the write-up noted, is from Geneva.
So if you haven’t been paying attention, Queens is over before you even knew it got going. Long Island City, not too long ago, acquired its own branch of TriBeCa Pediatrics, founded by a French laissez-faire parenting guru, Dr. Michel Cohen, the preferred pediatrician of the Lower Manhattan celebrity class. Just a few weeks ago Mayor Bill de Blasio named Tom Finkelpearl, the executive director of the Queens Museum, as the city’s cultural commissioner. When you exit the Vernon Boulevard- Jackson Avenue subway stop — the first in Queens on the 7 train — what you see immediately is a chic children’s clothing store and the kind of apartment building you might find in Berlin.
At the View, buyers are coming from around the world and the affluent suburbs, Silvette Julian, a tall and fashionable broker who represents properties in the building, told me. They are investors from Australia, empty nesters from Connecticut, seekers of second and third homes. The $5,388,000 penthouse had been used as a pied-à-terre, and with a small dining area, vast terrace and large bar, it had the vibe of a place you keep girlfriends, not longstanding wives and grandchildren. There are many people coming who would have previously looked down their noses at Queens, Ms. Julian told me.
In all of this there is plenty of cause to find grievance, because of course it would be nice if the office of city planning could introduce measures to isolate all the snobs, “Mad Men” impressionists and so on in Manhattan. The eruption of billionaires’ row in Midtown means that mere multimillionaire globalists will increasingly be pushed out beyond Manhattan. If “All in the Family” were to be remade now, authenticity might demand it be filmed elsewhere — maybe Pennsylvania.
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson-The Julian Group