Long before Europeans arrived in North America, the area of Long Island that would someday become Bayside was occupied by Matinecock Indians, members of the Algonquin Nation. As European settlers moved in, the Matinecocks found their way of life challenged.
In 1638 the Dutch West India Company appointed Willem Kieft as the director of New Netherland, which covered much of the area we now know as the mid-Atlantic states. (New Amsterdam, the city that became New York, was the capital of New Netherland.) The following year, Kieft "purchased" the land between Flushing Creek and Little Neck Bay from the Matinecocks; a few years later he granted two English brothers, John and William Lawrence, the area that is now Bayside. For 200 years, the area was primarily farmland.
In 1824 a merchant named Abraham Bell purchased a large section of property, about 250 acres, extending from Little Neck Bay to about where 204th Street is now, and from a little north of the LIRR tracks to where 35th Avenue is now. A dirt road named Bell Avenue (later Bell Blvd.) bisected the property.
The Bell family sold off various tracts of its holdings throughout the 19th century, as the area began to be developed. The final piece of the Bell property was the 95 acres between what is now 35th and a little past 39th Avenues and stretching from what is now Bell Blvd. to what is now 204th Street. That last piece of farmland was sold in 1904 to the Rickert-Finlay Development Company, which divided it into residential lots, christened it Bellcourt, and began to sell properties (priced from $225).
One of the first lots Rickert-Finlay sold was on the corner of Bell Blvd. and Lamartine Avenue (now 36th Avenue). The lot was 60 x 100 feet, and the house that was built there was a unique cobblestone design that was completed by 1906. That home still stands today and is an official New York City landmark. (See other maps of the Bellcourt development here, including an overlay of current streets.)
Those who purchased property in Bellcourt bought into a “planned community” – the development company did not build homes, but it did have a vision for the community. Rickert-Finlay laid out the street grid and established lot sizes, then put in place Bellcourt Land Restrictions that established the parameters for this new neighborhood. Among other rules, the restrictive covenants limited the size of the houses and set minimum setbacks from the street. As long as they stayed within those rules, homeowners were free to design their own houses.
Over the ensuing decades, the lots of Bellcourt became filled with classic Colonial homes, ranch houses, Tudors, Capes, and even a Sears kit house or two. Homes along 206th Street were razed in the late 1950s to make way for the Clearview Expressway, which bisected the community. (See maps of the original planned community, and an overlay of today's street grid.)
As the century came to a close, the historic character of Bellcourt began to be threatened by overbuilding. The construction of several oversized homes galvanized the community to take action to protect the charm and scale of this beautiful neighborhood.
In 2005, local homeowners succeeded in establishing a new zoning designation called R2A. The new R2A zone, which limits new construction to single-family homes, established a minimum width to lots (40 feet) as well as a maximum to living space (50% of the lot space; meaning that a home built on a typical 40 x 100 lot was limited to 2,000 square feet of living space). R2A zoning also limits the total building height (35 feet), and limits building footprints to 30% of the lot size (so that a 4,000-square-foot lot may only use 1,200 square feet for all buildings, including the garage). Buildings may not be less than five feet from the property line, and the front yard must be at least 15 feet deep — and it must be at least as deep as the adjacent yard, meaning the front of a new home may not extend further out than its existing neighbor. (Visit the NYC page about R2A zoning and see details about the approval of R2A zoning here.) Unfortunately, some architects and developers continue to defy these limitations and attempt to build homes larger than permitted under R2A zoning. The Historic Bellcourt Civic Association was formed in 2018 to give a formal voice to our neighborhood to help prevent overbuilding and enforce the R2A zoning that protects our community.