The area now known as Astoria was originally called Hallett's Cove, after its first landowner William Hallett, who settled there in 1659 with his wife, Elizabeth Fones. Beginning in the early 19th century, affluent New Yorkers constructed large residences around 12th and 14th streets, an area that later became known as Astoria Village (now Old Astoria). Hallett's Cove, founded in 1839 by fur merchant Stephen A. Halsey, was a noted recreational destination and resort for Manhattan's wealthy.
The area was renamed after John Jacob Astor, then the wealthiest man in America with a net worth of over $40 million, in order to persuade him to invest just $2,000 in the neighborhood. He only invested $500, but the name stayed nonetheless, as a bitter battle over naming the village finally was won by Astor's supporters and friends. From Astor's summer home in Hell Gate, Manhattan – on what is now East 87th Street near York Avenue – he could see across the East River the new Long Island village named in his honor. Astor, however, never actually set foot in Astoria.
During the second half of the 19th century, economic and commercial growth brought increased immigration from German settlers, mostly furniture and cabinet makers. One such settler was Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, patriarch of the Steinway family who founded the piano company Steinway & Sons in 1853, which today is a worldwide piano company. Later on the Steinways built a sawmill and foundry, as well as a streetcar line. The family eventually established Steinway Village for their workers, a company town that provided school instruction in German as well as English.
Astoria and several other surrounding villages, including Steinway, were incorporated into Long Island City in 1870. Long Island City remained an independent municipality until it was incorporated into New York City in 1898. The area's farms were turned into housing tracts and street grids to accommodate the growing number of residents.
Fruit market on Broadway, a major neighborhood thoroughfare and retail area.
Astoria was first settled by the Dutch and Germans in the 17th century. Many Irish settled in the area during the waves of Irish immigration into New York City during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Italians were the next significant immigrants in Astoria. Numerous Italian restaurants, delis, bakeries and pizza shops are found throughout Astoria, particularly in the Ditmars Boulevard area.
The Greek cultural imprint can be seen in the numerous Greek restaurants, bakeries, tavernas and cafes, as well as several Greek Orthodox churches. While the population of Greeks in Astoria was 22,579 in 1980, it dropped to 18,127 by 1990 due to decreased immigration and lower birth rates. Greek organizations in the area include the Hellenic American Action Committee (HANAC) and the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York.
Arab shops on Steinway Street
Beginning in the mid-1970s, the neighborhood's Arab population grew from earlier immigrants from Lebanon to also include people from Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. In the 1990s, Steinway Street between 28th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard saw the establishment of many Arabic shops, restaurants and cafes, which is unofficially called "Little Egypt".
Many Maltese people also live in Astoria, around 20,000, and although this population has steadily been emigrating from the area, there are still many Maltese, supported by the Maltese Center of New York.
Astoria's South American and European population has seen significant growth since the early 1990s, including a large population of Brazilians, who reside in the 36th avenue area. Albanians, Bulgarians, and Bosnians have also shown a rise in numbers.
Many Spanish Americans live in Astoria, with most of them being of Galician heritage from Northwestern Spain; this community being supported by the Casa Galicia, or Galicia House.
At a period many Bangladeshi Americans settled in Astoria, Queens. Many had originated from Sylhet. By 2001 many of the Bangladeshi American people who had settled in Astoria had been moving to Metro Detroit. A survey of an Astoria-area Bengali language newspaper estimated that, in an 18 month period until March 2001, 8,000 Bangladeshi people moved to the Detroit area. However, as of 2010, the Bangladeshi American community in Astoria has been increasing, as Bangladeshi immigrants are increasingly settling in Astoria.
Population losses in Queens were particularly high in immigrant neighborhoods such as Astoria, which suffered the greatest population loss in the city—it lost over 10,000 residents between the years 2000 and 2010.
There is some debate as to what constitutes the geographic boundaries of Astoria. The neighborhood was part of Long Island City (LIC) prior to the latter's incorporation into the City of New York in 1898, and much of it is still classified as LIC by the USPS.
The area south of Astoria was called Ravenswood, and traditionally, Broadway was considered the border between the two. Today, however, many residents and businesses south of Broadway identify themselves as Astorians for convenience or status, since Long Island City has historically been considered an industrial area, and Ravenswood is now mostly a low-income neighborhood. Some of the thoroughfares have lent their names to unofficial terms for the areas they serve. For instance, the eastern end of Astoria, with Steinway Street as its main thoroughfare, is sometimes referred to simply as "Steinway", and the northern end around Ditmars Boulevard is sometimes referred to as "Ditmars". Banners displayed on lamp posts along 30th Avenue refer to it as "the Heart of Astoria".
The primary streets running north-south are Vernon Boulevard along the East River; 21st Street, a major traffic artery with a mix of residential, commercial and industrial areas; 31st Street; and Steinway Street (named for Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (later Henry E. Steinway), founder of the piano company Steinway & Sons), a major commercial street with many retail stores, and a very prominent Middle Eastern section between Astoria Boulevard and 28th Avenue, the area is full of Middle Eastern food restaurants which present some local types of food from Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco, most food in these restaurants is Halal to suit the Muslim residents who are main customers in this neighborhood.
The Greater Astoria Historical Society in the historic Quinn Memorial Building on the corner of Broadway and 36th Street serves as a valuable historical resource as well as providing tourist information.
Steinway & Sons piano factory located at 1 Steinway Place (not to be confused with Steinway Street) has been in operation in Astoria since the late 19th century and represents a legacy of award-winning craftsmanship, arts patronage, and the once vibrant, stand-alone Steinway Village. Limited tours of the factory are available.
Bicycle lanes added to Astoria's roadways include marked space along Vernon Boulevard, 20th Ave., 21st Street, 34th & 36th Avenues, and access to protected paths crossing the Triborough Bridge onto Randalls and Wards Islands. Riders may also engage in more scenic biking along short, unmarked sections of 19th Street bordering both Astoria Park and Ralph DeMarco Park, a span that is occasionally closed to motor vehicle traffic during events.
The 1973 film adaptation of the John-Michael Tebelak stage musical Godspell includes multiple images of characters beneath the supports for The Hell Gate Bridge, or East River Arch Bridge, as seen from Randall's Island, both while the plot unfolds as well as during visual montages that take place in such numbers as Day by Day and We Beseech Thee. The view of the bridge is similar to those found in Astoria Park and Astoria can occasionally be viewed in the background of shots facing east.
The 1991 movie Queens Logic was filmed all around Astoria and features an Astoria landmark—the Hell Gate Bridge. One of the screenwriters, Tony Spiridakis, has roots in Astoria.
The 1996 independent film Girls Town shows scenes shot in Astoria Park.
The 1982 film version of Tempest starring John Cassavetes had scenes shot at the cafes on 23rd Ave off 31st St.
Woody Allen's 2002 film Hollywood Ending had scenes shot in the neighborhood surrounding the Kaufman Astoria stages.
The Accidental Husband (2008), Directed by Griffin Dunne; with Uma Thurman, Colin Firth and Jeffrey Dean Morgan was filmed in Astoria on 33rd Street and 23rd Avenue.
The 2011 remake of the comedy film Arthur depicts at least one scene showing Astoria, Queens, using a Batmobile visual shown from 34th Street and 34th Avenue in the neighborhood.
Two notable Robert De Niro films were filmed on location in Astoria—Goodfellas and A Bronx Tale. While the latter was set in the Bronx, most of the exterior scenes were filmed in Astoria as well as the nearby neighborhood of Woodside. The high school featured in the film is William Cullen Bryant High School on 31st Avenue, and the church used in the film is St. Joseph's on 30th Avenue, and the funeral parlor scenes were shot from a funeral home on 30th Ave, across the street from St. Joseph's Church. Other films shot in Astoria include Five Corners (1987), starring Jodie Foster, and the 1950s Serpico (1973) with Al Pacino had several scenes filmed in Astoria. The elevated train stop at Ditmars Boulevard was the location for a chase scene and Serpico has a clandestine meeting in Astoria Park under the Hellgate Bridge.
The video game Grand Theft Auto IV—which takes place in a mock New York City named Liberty City—has a neighborhood named Steinway in the borough of Dukes, the counterpart of Queens in the game. The game features a Bohemian Hall-inspired "Steinway Beer Garden", but as an Irish-and-German themed bar instead of Czech. (A mock TV commercial for the Steinway Beer Garden, viewable at the Rockstar website, includes the voice-over remarking that the Garden is "ethnically confused.") Steinway Park is modeled after Astoria Park, with its famous outdoor pool (including the diving platforms) and scenic water's-edge pathway. Numerous signs and awnings of real local Astoria businesses appear in the game, although the names have been altered (e.g. "ASTORIA Medical Dental" becomes "ROSARIA Medical Dental").
The video game The Godfather II depicts Astoria in its version of New York City.
In grave sites
Astoria is the final resting place of New York City mobsterFrank Costello as well as ragtime composer and musician Scott Joplin. Both Costello and Joplin are interred at St. Michael's Cemetery. The cemetery hosts annual public events and concerts to celebrate Joplin's musical legacy, including a Joplin retrospective.
Paul Volponi's award-winning novel Black and White is set in Astoria.
In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is pulled over by a policeman on a "motor cycle" in Astoria while driving with the narrator into the city.
Astoria is the setting for the novel Autobiography/Masquerade, also released in 2006. It was written to honor the memory of Antonio "Nino" Pellegrino, an Astoria native who appeared briefly in A Bronx Tale.
The music video for the 1985 song Your Love by the British band The Outfield was set in a sound stage/painting studio in the rear of what is currently Strand Pharmacy at 25-01 Broadway. At the end of the video, the female "painter" walks out of the sound stage onto Crescent St. and then makes a left onto Broadway.
A Guinness World Record was set in Astoria on July 18, 2009, for the "Largest Musical Saw Ensemble". The record, part of the annual NYC Musical Saw Festival (in Astoria since 2002) was organized by Natalia Paruz at Trinity Lutheran Church, with the participation of 53 people playing the musical saw together.
Rapper Action Bronson filmed his music video "Strictly 4 My Jeeps" in Astoria. The video was released on May 20, 2013 as the single for his upcoming album Saaab Stories.
In notable buildings and streets
Because of its proximity to Manhattan and semi-reasonable rents, Astoria has become home to an ever-increasing number of fledgling actors lending to the nomenclature, "Actoria"—a term coined years ago by local actor/writer Jason Arcaro who moved to Astoria in the 1990s before the thespian "coup de main".
Astoria has a few fine buildings but is not noted for its overall architectural charm or excellence. The Tumblr blog Astoria Ugly attempts to document what it calls the "Queens Aesthetic".
The 1970s situation comedy All in the Family was set in Astoria, although the address given for Archie Bunker's home (704 Hauser Street) is fictional.
Kaufman Astoria Studios has further been longtime host to the PBS series Sesame Street and has been credited with local shoots on films like The Stepford Wives, the 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, and the Golden Globe winning Angels in America
The Greek television program Stous 31 Dromous ("On 31st Street") was filmed in Astoria in 2007.
^"NYC2010". Results from the 2010 census. City of New York. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
^Jones, Delmos J.; Joan Turner and Joan Montbach (December 1992). "Declining Social Services and the Threat to Social Reproduction: An Urban Dilemma". City & Society6 (2): 99–114. doi:10.1525/city.19184.108.40.206.
^Berkow, Ira. "ON BASEBALL; Ford Highlight Film Started Early", The New York Times, August 17, 2000. Accessed November 3, 2007. "Vivid in my memory is Stengel's shrug, palms up at his sides, gesturing in response to the mixture of cheers for Ford and boos for his removal. It was a display of sympathy for the kid from Astoria, Queens, who just a few years earlier was playing in street stickball games, and now under a national spotlight and World Series pressure had pitched so beautifully."
^Litsky, Frank. "Al Oerter, Olympic Discus Champion, Is Dead at 71", The New York Times, October 2, 2007. Accessed November 19, 2007. "Alfred Oerter Jr. was born Sept. 19, 1936, in Astoria, Queens, and grew up on Long Island, in New Hyde Park. At Sewanhaka High School, he was a sprinter and then a miler."