Five years ago, LeFrak City offered its residents amenities like pools and tennis and basketball courts, but very little green space. Now, the hidden city-within-a-city in Corona, Queens is getting an upgrade.
“There really wasn’t a lot of play area. There was gardening, but it wasn’t meant to be trampled on or used. It was meant to be seen,” said David Bernhardt, general manager of the massive housing complex.
That has changed immensely now that a five-year, $70 million renovation is winding down at LeFrak City. Built in the 1960s for middle- and working-class New Yorkers, the development consists of 20 16-story buildings spread across 40 acres. More than 15,000 residents live in its 4,600 apartments.
In the center of the towers — which are all named after global cities and countries as an homage to the 1964 World’s Fair that took place nearby — is now a space for kids and adults alike to run, play and enjoy communal space just for LeFrak City residents.
There are new playgrounds, two large fields of artificial turf for sunbathing and various sports, a putting green, permanent ping-pong and foosball tables, a new pool, and the tennis and basketball courts have been updated.
A smaller-scale basketball court with a lowered net has even been added in case any young residents want to follow in the footsteps of NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson and Kenny Smith, who both grew up in LeFrak City.
“Everything that was here was brought back and rethought and modernized,” Bernhardt said. “But there was a really nice addition of that open space for our community.”
In addition to adding amenities many New Yorkers might envy, the renovation at LeFrak City also included redoing the development’s lobbies and indoor and outdoor parking areas and installing solar panels on all 20 roofs “in an effort to minimize the footprint as much as possible here,” Bernhardt said.
The work also included securing doors via electronic card readers and closing off areas of the complex that once gave open access to the public.
Rosie the robotic resident
LeFrak City’s revamping isn’t the only thing that got modernized — so did its security team with the addition of a 4-foot-tall robot named Rosie, after the housekeeping robot on “The Jetsons.”
Rosie roams the pathways between buildings day and night as “an additional set of eyes,” Bernhardt said. “She live-streams video from five different perspectives, captures audio and can relay messages and share notifications when she’s moving throughout the community.”
While she does her rounds unsupervised, “she’s not a free-roaming robot where she’ll go onto the basketball court and get in the middle of a game,” Bernhardt said. “There’s quite a process to map her route, and we know exactly where she is going and how many times.”
When she nears something, Rosie will stop and say, “Hello,” “Good morning” or “Excuse me,” and sometimes she gets detained by fascinated residents.
“It’s fine, it’s what we expected. I think once residents get more used to seeing her, she’ll be like anyone else walking by,” Bernhardt said.
Fast facts about LeFrak City
• LeFrak City is located between Junction Boulevard, 57th Avenue, 99th Street and the Long Island Expressway in Corona, Queens.
• It consists of 20 buildings, 4,600 apartments and more than 15,000 residents. The buildings are named after global cities and countries to honor the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens.
• It was built between 1962 and 1971 and is named after developer Samuel J. LeFrak. It is still privately owned and managed by his son and grandsons.
• It was built during a post-World War II development period that also included Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, Co-op City in the Bronx and Starrett City in Brooklyn.
• The complex offers studios to three-bedrooms, with prices ranging from $1,400 to $2,900.
• Its demographics range from 50-year residents to young families and professionals who have been there for 12 months.