Monday, May 14, 2018

Touring Mid-Century Gems in Forest Hills & Rego Park

By Michael Perlman 

Attendees admire Forest Hills Jewish Center's architecture, Photo courtesy of Michael Perlman 
On Sunday, May 6, 2018, approximately 30 local residents attended the “Mid-Century Modern Architecture of Forest Hills and Rego Park” tour led by architectural historian Frampton Tolbert, who founded “Queens Modern,” an innovative website which largely chronicles the period of 1948 to 1970, when the Queens Chamber of Commerce recognized nearly 400 Queens buildings at its annual building awards program. The tour explored 1930s to 1960s developments along Queens Boulevard and nearby including Yellowstone Boulevard and 71st Avenue. Attendees learned that Art Moderne, Classical Moderne, International style, and Modernist sites were anything but dated. 

Tolbert feels that many people may not consider Mid-Century Modern architecture as significant, especially if they can remember it being built. He said, “Now that architecture from the 1960s is passing the 50-year mark, it is time to reevaluate what's worth preserving, especially in Queens which really had its heyday of development from the 1930s to the 1960s. It’s also a good time to reevaluate the significance of earlier examples like Forest Hills Jewish Center, the Forest Hills Post Office, and the former Metropolitan Industrial Bank.”

The tour was arranged in partnership with the Municipal Art Society, as part of the Jane’s Walk NYC series, a festival of over 200 complimentary tours featuring local history and personal observations, and bearing homage to Jane Jacobs, a tireless urban planning and preservation advocate and author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

Preservationist, author, & urbanist Jane Jacobs, Photo by Ron Bull, Toronto Star via Getty Images
Guests assembled at MacDonald Park, named after Captain Gerald MacDonald, a Forest Hills-based WWI veteran. The tour proceeded to the Classical Moderne Ridgewood Savings Bank, an Individual Landmark. Tolbert explained, “This was their first branch office due to growing population and the subway which opened a few years before. In 1940, mutual savings bank deposits were at an all-time high. Halsey, McCormack & Helmer were known as bank architects. You see the streamlined eagles and concave and convex shapes on a triangular plot. They really wanted to make a statement on Queens Boulevard, since many of the surrounding buildings were not here.” 

Ridgewood Savings Bank, 1st Prize Award recipient at 1940 Building Awards Competition, Courtesy of Queens Chamber of Commerce 

Ridgewood Savings Bank, Photo by Joanne Sullivan
The Kennedy House's distinctive lobby, Photo by Michael Perlman

The Kennedy House, 110-11 Queens Blvd, Photo by Michael Perlman
The Kennedy House, developed by Alfred Kaskel and opened in 1966, was the tallest apartment building in Queens for 24 years, according to Tolbert. “This glamorous building had one of the first rooftop swimming pools in the country and was designed by a prolific architect, Philip Birnbaum, who had a strong hand in Forest Hills.” He also pinpointed the Cord Meyer office building on Continental Avenue, completed in 1969. “Cord Meyer chose an International style office building, more in tune with Park Avenue office buildings in the late 1950s. I would say this was one of the last ‘Modern’ office buildings in Queens.” 

Forest Hills Library, Photo by Joanne Sullivan
The Forest Hills Library was completed in 1957 by architect Boak & Raad, mostly known for Art Deco/Moderne Manhattan apartment buildings. He pointed out the Modernist block brick façade and late Moderne elements including metal signage, window trims, and curved railings which conform to a flagpole. 

Forest Hills Post Office, Photo by Joanne Sullivan

Forest Hills Post Office, March 31, 2007, Photo by Greg Godfrey 
Forest Hills Post Office, Spirit of Communication
The terra-cotta-paneled Forest Hills Post Office, placed on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by Lorimer Rich in 1937. Tolbert said, “He got a job with the Architect of the Treasury during the WPA era and designed post offices around the country.” Above the entrance, the Spirit of Communication terra-cotta relief, designed by famed sculptor Sten Jacobsson, and features a female figure, a carrier pigeon, and a clock. Tolbert read a quote from Professor Andrew Dolkart of Columbia University; “Forest Hills Station is a simple modern design. It is basically two cubes that have collided.” He added, “It’s a mystery how the government funded it at a time when most post offices were Colonial Revival.” 

Forest Hills Jewish Center, 2009, Photo by Michael Perlman
Forest Hills Jewish Center's Holy Ark, the greatest work of 20th century Judaic art by famed artist Arthur Szyk, Photo by Michael Perlman
Architect Joseph Furman with Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser pointing to the 1947 cornerstone of Forest Hills Jewish Center, Photo courtesy of Architect Joseph Furman's grandson, Architect Rich Furman

Forest Hills Jewish Center's main sanctuary after completion, Courtesy of Architect Joseph Furman's grandson, Architect Rich Furman

Forest Hills Jewish Center's main sanctuary's Art Moderne foyer, Courtesy of Architect Joseph Furman's grandson, Architect Rich Furman

Forest Hills Jewish Center's main sanctuary's Art Moderne foyer, Courtesy of Architect Joseph Furman's grandson, Architect Rich Furman

Forest Hills Jewish Center shortly after completion, Photo by Albert Rothschild Studios, Courtesy of Architect Joseph Furman's grandson, Architect Rich Furman
Joseph Furman designed Forest Hills Jewish Center in 1949, which was his sole synagogue, and received Honorable Mention by the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Tolbert pinpointed notable features including a crab-orchard rock façade and limestone surrounds with stained glass windows, which attendees interpreted as depicting the Burning Bush. He explained, “A main focus of the inside is the Holy Ark by the Polish-born illustrator Arthur Szyk. This is one of his only 3D sculptures and his only work for a synagogue. Unfortunately, the synagogue is proposed to be sold to a developer and demolished for a 10-story building that they would have space in.”
Postcard of Parker Towers on Queens Boulevard from Yellowstone Boulevard, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
Parker Towers, a 3-building complex was built around a courtyard with a large fountain that was recently demolished. He said, “It accommodated over 1,300 families, and originally 750 cars, an underground beauty parlor, barber shop, drugstore, and a maid and valet service; all the amenities, so you would never have to leave your complex.” Jack Parker commissioned Philip Birnbaum, who designed over 300 apartment buildings in NYC. “He was prolific and revolutionary,” said Tolbert, who referenced how Birnbaum minimized on hallways and offered exterior access to maximize usable space in apartments. 

Yellowstone Park in 2017, Photos by Michael Perlman

Opened on May 27, 1968, Yellowstone Park was initiated by Council Member Arthur Katzman. He explained, “Originally planned as just a concrete playground, the community requested the addition of grass and tree shaded areas. Before the late 1960s, architects had to follow templates of design provided by the Parks Department, which generally included placing the playground furniture. The landscape architecture firm of Coffey Levine and Blumberg were given free rein, and they created several semicircular spaces within the park that broke out different uses and addressed the change in grade.” He noted that Clara Coffey was one of the few women to lead a firm at this time, and the master plan was completed by another woman, Ann Butter. 

Metropolitan Industrial Bank, 99-01 Queens Boulevard, 1st prize award, Courtesy of Queens Chamber of Commerce

Fans explore the former Metropolitan Industrial Bank, Photo by Michael Perlman
Builder Alfred Kaskel & Architect Philip Birnbaum receive a 1st prize architectural award by Queens Chamber of Commerce, Photo courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council 

Tolbert called the former Metropolitan Industrial Bank Building at 99-01 Queens Boulevard a neighborhood highlight by Philip Birnbaum under Alfred Kaskel, which earned a 1st prize award by the Queens Chamber of Commerce. “This was a showcase of industrial materials. You don’t see a lot of Mid-Century metal banks anywhere, especially in NYC,” he said. He also pinpointed the site’s former Hollywood Lanes, a 30-lane bowling alley.

Trylon Theater in The Theatre Catalog, 1941
“The Trylon Theater, with a glass block and stone facade was named for one of the two symbols of the 1939 World’s Fair, the Trylon and Perisphere, and was designed by Queens architect Joseph Unger,” explained Tolbert. It became Ohr Natan, and the adjacent Tower Diner was formerly Emigrant Savings Bank, which features a clock tower; both of which are endangered due to redevelopment pressures. 

Parkside Memorial Chapels, 98-60 Queens Blvd, Rego Park, Photos by Michael Perlman

A rare abstract sculpture at Parkside Memorial Chapels, Photo by Michael Perlman

Parkside Memorial Chapels was designed in 1961 by Viennese architect Henry Sandig, who worked for the notable firm Emory Roth & Sons. Tolbert said, “This is his most notable work. Most other works listed in the AIA Guide are no longer extant, but this one is pretty unusual, consisting of star-patterned walls and concrete screens. There is a striking metal sculptural fountain near the entrance, and the design of the building is supposed to represent the Sinai Desert, according to their website.”

Rego Park Jewish Center, March 2010, Photo by Michael Perlman
Rego Park Jewish Center, 1950, Courtesy of RPJC

Rego Park Jewish Center's main sanctuary, August 2008, Photo by Michael Perlman

Rego Park Jewish Center's main sanctuary, August 2008, Photo by Michael Perlman

Architectural historian Frampton Tolbert & friend Leora in front of Rego Park Jewish Center mosaic mural, Photo by Michael Perlman
Attendees explored the sanctuary of Rego Park Jewish Center, erected in 1948 by Frank Grad & Sons, and earned placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. The façade’s mosaic mural, designed by the prominent artist A. Raymond Katz, features a Torah scroll and the Ten Commandments, and Jewish holiday symbols, and stained glass windows were also designed by Katz. Tolbert said, “The mosaic was fabricated by V. Foscato, a mosaic factory in Long Island City. The mayor attended the dedication, and later, Eleanor Roosevelt visited and presented the congregation with a plaque.” Two prolific Ben Shahn tapestries were among the sanctuary’s numerous intact features. 

Lefrak Tower at 97-45 Queens Boulevard (now The Contour) & Lefrak Center at 97-77 Queens Boulevard, 2010, Photo by Michael Perlman
Lefrak Tower (1962) and Lefrak Center (1965) were completed by the Lefrak family’s in-house architect Jack Brown, who also designed Lefrak City. He said, “Proposed as Mid-City Center, the family wanted to create a commercial core and lure businesses out of Manhattan. This is one of the first and only Mid-Century office complexes in Queens.” IBM, Liberty Mutual, GM, and McGraw-Hill were the earliest tenants.

A similar version was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Continued Evolution of Forest Hills Stadium

By Michael Perlman

The eagle-adorned Forest Hills Stadium, Photo by Michael Perlman
Forest Hills Stadium, which became America’s first tennis stadium in 1923, and operated as a restored concert and pro tennis venue since its reopening in 2013, may soon offer year-round opportunities. Madison House Presents, which is about to coordinate another concert season starring a number of legendary artists, has potential plans to introduce diverse attractions including a novelty “Grand Slam Automat” feature, a spinoff of the nostalgic Horn & Hardart Automat branches, which served an average of 800,000 patrons daily at 180 self-service cafeterias throughout New York and Philadelphia, shaping 20th century American dining and culture. 

Grand Slam Automat preliminary rendering, Courtesy of Madison House Presents & Creative Director Bill Sullivan - Note: Current text is only for theme
Winter Wonderland ice skating daytime rendering, Courtesy of Madison House Presents & Creative Director Bill Sullivan

Also part of the vision is to offer ice skating on its hallowed courts, in addition to a Christmas tree with holiday vendors as part of a "winter wonderland” carnival. “We have been dreaming about this general idea for years, and now there are a number of options that we are working on,” said Concert Manager Mike Luba of Madison House Presents, who works closely with Jason Brandt, the stadium’s general manager. “When the concepts are more fully developed, we will present the ideas to the board of the West Side Tennis Club (WSTC), and they will let us know if we have the approval to move forward,” said Luba. 

Winter Wonderland ice skating rendering, Courtesy of Madison House Presents & Creative Director Bill Sullivan  

Since a proposal has yet to be submitted, there are hopes that the vision will materialize in time for next winter. He continued, “As the WSTC has been a great partner on the stadium restoration/renovation, I am hopeful that they will continue to be supportive of ideas which are not only good for the WSTC, but for the neighborhood and Queens.”

Madison House Presents continues to keep the community and visitors on its radar, and expressed much sentiment for a historic stadium. “The stadium and its grounds are magic, pure and simple, and we are always dreaming of events that will hopefully boost the quality of life for those who get to experience them,” said Luba. 

Winter Wonderland carnival rendering, Courtesy of Madison House Presents & Creative Director Bill Sullivan
Forest Hills was once home to smaller scale Horn & Hardart Retail Shops near the stadium at 71-63 Austin Street and 116-63 Queens Boulevard, and the firm’s vice president, Frank Hardart, Jr, resided at 188 Ascan Avenue and 64 Dartmouth Street in Forest Hills Gardens. Marianne Hardart, the great-granddaughter of H&H Automat co-founder Frank Hardart, keeps the Automat’s history alive and emphasized much pride. “People always ask me about bringing back the Automat, as it held a special place in their heart and our country’s history, and it sounds like Forest Hills Stadium’s installation of Automat windows would be a beautiful tribute.” 

Horn & Hardart Retail Shop, 71-63 Austin St, Forest Hills, Courtesy of John W. Romas Collection

Courtesy of Michael Perlman & Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Horn & Hardart Automat at 1557 Broadway, 1st branch in NYC which opened in 1912 - Now Grand Slam, Courtesy of Michael Perlman & Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Marianne Hardart also explained how the H&H Automat was a forerunner from its architecture to affordability of delicious fresh food. “Those little windows sparked the imagination of diners of all ages and introduced a new way of generations of Americans by getting a handful of nickels from a thrower and then going to the windows to pick your food. It was an adventure especially for children, and was also a place that tore down barriers based on class, gender, or race, as it welcomed everyone.” 

Forest Hills Stadium Creative Director Bill Sullivan poses with his book, "Forest Hills" in front of the WSTC Clubhouse, Photo by Michael Perlman, August 2018

Bill Sullivan is an artist who serves as Forest Hills Stadium Creative Director. He has designed logos, media material, and most recognizably, colorful portrait heads and plaques celebrating the stadium’s role in tennis and music that can be found along the stadium arcade’s colonnade. In commemoration of the WSTC’s 125th anniversary in 2017, he produced banners which bear homage to historic achievements. He even authored the book “Forest Hills,” which features a large collection of his re-imagined photos that capture the evolution of tennis viewed through its players and its impact on architecture, art, and fashion. 

Architect Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, the famed public buildings architect who designed Forest Hills Stadium, Courtesy of Murchison's descendants

Sullivan praised Stadium architect and past WSTC member Kenneth Murchison as a Renaissance man. “Murchison had a theatrical vision with a pageantry to celebrate the tennis match, and created a planned experience. Every year it changed into a slightly new form, and my book is about the element of change within the stadium’s horseshoe.”

One of the well-known Art Deco locations on 6th Ave & W 57th St in the 1930s - Now demolished, Postcard courtesy of Michael Perlman & Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Sullivan patronized one of the last Automats on West 57th Street. Looking forward, he said, “We are trying to integrate the quality and streamlined aesthetics of a very American experience, and offering a new way to serve around 10,000 people.” Concertgoers could “pick, swipe, and take” hot and cold sandwiches from the Grand Slam Automat’s compartments. The Tilden, named after tennis player Bill Tilden, could offer a Philly cheesesteak, and The Connolly, as in tennis player “Little Mo” Maureen Connolly, could serve grilled chicken. “It would have clocks with four time zones for the Grand Slam; Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open,” said Sullivan.
The vision does not end there. “A new scoreboard would celebrate tennis and music’s past,” said Sullivan. Some upcoming concerts include Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters on June 13, Roger Daltrey performs The Who’s “Tommy” with The New York Pops on June 17, Boy George & Culture Club on July 28, and David Byrne on September 15. The expansive lineup continues with the first-ever food festival, “The Infatuation’s EEEEEATSCON” on October 6, and New York radio station WFUV creating an on-site experience within a dedicated space, the “FUV Clubhouse,” to broadcast select shows live on air. The complete lineup which includes comedy is at At the public’s request, plans continue with new gender-inclusive permanent restrooms on its main concourse, which will minimize wait time for a more enjoyable concert experience.

Sullivan called Jason Brandt a chess master of today’s space, and explained, “Jason often talks about ‘creating discoverable experiences,’ and we always want people to think there’s something new and interesting around the corner in Forest Hills. We are the caretakers of this cathedral of American tennis and music, which is unlike any place in the world, but there was a lost past at Forest Hills Stadium. Now people are rediscovering how the stadium and its grounds were built.”

Dadras Architects, a firm led by partners Robert Dadras and Victor Dadras, who founded the Downtown Revitalization Group, which specializes in historic preservation, urban design, and adaptive reuse, is well-acquainted with Forest Hills, and also expressed much enthusiasm for the stadium’s future. “The idea of bringing back an Automat is innovative, and I also suggest events for the diverse audiences that live in Forest Hills would be very much appreciated,” said Robert Dadras. He referenced the stadium and Forest Hills as superb examples of urban planning and architecture accomplished correctly. “Anything that can help preserve and restore Kenneth Murchison’s iconic structure would be a positive thing, since it stands as a rare example in today’s world of what can be achieved if folks collaborate to produce a quality place to live, work, and play.” 

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium as America's Tennis Stadium in Ad, The Technology Review November 1922, Courtesy of  Michael Perlman

A similar version appears in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Station Square: Restoring The Gateway To Forest Hills Gardens

By Michael Perlman

The talk of the town is the much-anticipated Station Square Restoration Project, announced last week by the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, which maintains the character of Forest Hills Gardens, an earliest planned garden community in America, originating in 1909.

The Forest Hills Inn triumphs over the stately Station Square, Photo by Michael Perlman, November 2015

Station Square, November 2015 photo by Michael Perlman
A statement read, “This will be a multi-faceted project with many phases, and involving more than just the restoration of the historic road surface. All the public utilities will also be upgraded, including their infrastructure, once the roadway is opened.” The project will commence this week and continue through 2018. While vehicular traffic will be off limits east of Continental Avenue, emergency vehicles will be permitted. 

Station Square circa 1916 to 1920 postcard, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
Local residents began to discuss Station Square’s history and their hopes for a community anchor. Sir Leonard Lombard, a director of the Station Square Inn Apartments Corp said, “What makes its ambiance unique is the whimsical Arts & Crafts style that the architects employed, combined with the fantasy-like Neuschwanstein romantic road castle. The architectural and cultural history, which was in vogue at that time, is unlikely to be duplicated with today's technology and state-of-the-art construction methods.” He hopes the restoration will continue with the facades. “I hope to see a more unified commercial look and more upscale shops along Station Square.” 

Inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement, this model residential development was designed by principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Station Square accommodated a classy social life, particularly at the spire-adorned Forest Hills Inn, which opened in 1912 and offered 150 rooms, adjoining the Raleigh apartments on the east and the Marlboro apartments on the west. The LIRR Station, accessible from the Inn through arcades and bridges sheltering residents and visitors from the weather, enabled a 13-minute commute to Manhattan. Historic events transpired, including annual 4th of July celebrations, and at the Station, where Col. Theodore Roosevelt delivered his “100 Percent American” speech on July 4, 1917, and Helen Keller greeted over 1,200 soldiers of the Rainbow Division that same year. 

LIRR Station with original fountain as the centerpiece circa1915, Courtesy of Susanna & Robert Hof
When guests and prospective residents of the Forest Hills Gardens picked up a copy of “Forest Hills Inn,” an early 20th century illustrated pamphlet by philanthropic organization Russell Sage Foundation’s subsidiary, Sage Foundation Homes Company, they learned about the Gardens’ benefits of location, education, and business, as evident by the planning of parks and open spaces alongside homes with architectural treatment. It read, “Grouped around the arcade, through whose arches may be seen the Common, the groves, and the homes of Forest Hills Gardens, are attractive stores and shops that supply every normal want. In the center of the Square, the play of a fountain adds to the vivacity and charm of the scene. The architecture and plan of Station Square have been designed to provide an attractive spot for the common use and pleasure of residents. Beauty, harmony, and utility are here combined in a unique way.” 

Grosvenor Atterbury's sketch of Station Square, circa 1909 - 1910, Courtesy of Susanna & Robert Hof
One couple who builds upon the history of their families living in the Gardens since its origins is Susanna and Robert Hof, owners and managing brokers of Terrace Sotheby’s International Realty, which occupies three Station Square storefronts. Since pedestrians will be channeled onto the sidewalks, he said, “We see it as a net neutral or even positive aspect for businesses.”

The project will preserve and utilize the roadway’s authentic bricks, which will be stored in a loading area along Greenway Terrace. Robert H. explained, “The distance between the roadbed and the sidewalk has deepened. The brickwork, in the pattern of a Union Jack is sacred, and where there are gaps, they will be filled in with proper vintage bricks of the same type and acquired potentially from Upstate New York.”

Susanna H. provided further insight. “As part of the plan, the Forest Hills Gardens Corp. is trying to work out the details to restore the large decorative lanterns that hang from the facades.” The center island is also expected to be repaired, which is where a fountain once provided water for horses, and then around 1916, two kiosks were added and would function as police and taxi outposts. “It is wonderful how it evolved into a sitting area,” she said.

In a joint statement, they explained, “We are very enthused over the restoration plans, and thank Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who was instrumental in arranging a grant which helps all of us.”

Wendy Bachman, president of Friends of Station Square admires how Station Square was described as "one of the finest public spaces in America" by Robert A.M. Stern, former dean of the Yale School of Architecture and founder of architectural firm RAMSA. “The LIRR, Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, and Friends of Station Square collaborated for over 25 years to raise funds and seek guidance in maintaining this American architectural jewel,” she said.

Past restoration success stories include the center island in 1995, the LIRR Station in 1999 after being deemed “National Register - Eligible,” and landscaping as the result of the Millennium Appeal from 2000 to 2001. She continued, “The guts of the square need a complete overhaul. After the restoration is complete, my hope is that it will take another 100 years before any work of this magnitude.” 

The Sage Foundation’s 1912 ad read, “Endowed by nature with every beauty, the country is disfigured by towns, cities, and suburban developments which make a sorry and hideous spectacle. Our rapid growth may be a reason for our having neglected to take some thought of how we were planning and what we were building, but the time has come for more forethought, and this excuse should no longer be tolerated.”

This precise planning lives up to its testament. “I feel truly blessed to live in Station Square and love looking out my window, seeing the clock and life in Forest Hills Gardens passing by, changing with seasons,” said Mr. James, who embraces the turn-of-the-century ambiance. He continued, “One observation is the expression on people's faces when they step off the LIRR for the first time, wondering where they are, and amazed with what they are seeing in Queens.” 

Forest Hills Inn & Station Square with ivy, 1966 postcard courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

A similar version appeared in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

For updates on the Station Square Restoration Project, email the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation at