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Queens's Nondescript Image Hides Long History, Culture

WHEN Byron Saunders, head of the Queens Historical Society, comes to work each morning at one of the oldest buildings in New York State, the Kingsland House, built around 1785. And Mr. Saunders is just a short walk from the Bowne House, the oldest house in Queens, built in 1661.

For all its reputation as a nondescript, working class neighborhood, Queens is replete with history, first-rate ethnic restaurants, and things to do. "Queens has been unfairly overshadowed by its proximity to Manhattan," says Jeffrey Kroessler, a historian at Queens College. Native Americans were here centuries ago, followed by the Dutch and then the British. The "Freedom Mile" in Flushing has 19 historical points that span three centuries.

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"P. T. Barnum [the circus showman] and Teddy Roosevelt came to our building in the last century," says Betsy Enright, development director for the Flushing Council on Culture and Arts at Flushing Town Hall built in the 1860s. Across the street, worshippers still gather at a Quaker meeting house, built in 1661, the oldest house of worship in New York City.

Queens includes the famous Paramount film studio (now called the Kaufman Astoria Studios), which is the largest movie studio north of Florida. The early Marx brothers movies were made here, as are Woody Allen's films. The largest television museum in the United States is located here, as is the National Tennis Center, home of the US Open.

The New York World's Fairs of 1939 and 1964 were held in Flushing, where the Unisphere from the '64 fair still stands - a symbol of Queens's outward reach to the world.

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