H&R Real Estate Investment Trust and Tishman Speyer recently teamed up to build 1,600 new rental units and 30,000 square feet of retail in Long Island City, and in addition to the regular amenities that the megaproject will contain there will be one unusual one: the ghosts of the Van Alst family, a prominent Queens clan that settled in what used to be called Dutch Hills 350 years ago. The Van Alst family cemetery was rediscovered in 2000, when the city decided to rezone the area and hired an archaeological consulting firm to research the environmental impact. The firm discovered that in 1925, workers for the West Disinfecting Company had unearthed some bones and remnants of caskets at Jackson Avenue and Orchard Street and notified Harry Van Alst, a Queens lawyer. (The abandoned West Disinfecting Company complex, which the development will replace, was profiled by photo-essayist Nathan Kensinger a couple months ago.)
Harry was, until recently, the last known (by the city, at least) descendant of Joris Stevenson Van Alst, who settled in what is now Long Island City in the mid-17th century. Other prominent Van Alsts include Bergoon Van Alst, a local hero during the American Revolution (he drove off loyalist raiders who attacked his pigpen) and Peter G. Van Alst, a prominent surveyor who was responsible for raising the grade of Jackson Avenue from three to eight feet. The last remnants of the Van Alst name in Queens are the 21st Street-Van Alst stop on the G line and the Van Alst playground in Astoria.
It is not known how many other Van Alsts are buried in the family graveyard, but after Tishman Speyer bought the site in June they were required by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to make a good-faith effort to find any descendants, which they did, not particularly zealously, by taking out some newspaper notices. Luckily, one of those notices was spotted by a Times reporter who took up the torch and located Rachel Van Alst (a Van Alst by marriage) and her son John. Her late husband, also named John, was a descendant of the original Joris. Tishman Speyer is now aware of their existences and has promised to "work closely with them as the process moves forward."
· Long in Repose, Last Remnants of a Founding Family Will Leave Long Island City [NYT]
· Long Island City Megaproject Could House 1,600 New Rentals [Curbed]
· Exploring an Abandoned Long Island City Chemical Complex [Curbed]