Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Personalization Spans Generations At Stoa Jewelry - Support The Mom & Pop Shops

Personalization Spans Generations at Stoa Jewelry
by Michael Perlman, Forest Hills Times
Rena Monogenis, co-owner of Stoa Jewelry

The heart of Forest Hills can be found along Austin Street, which was once dotted with both simple and upscale mom-and-pop shops reminiscent of a small town. Today, much has changed with the rise of some large corporations often occupying a few storefronts, but the business district retains its Tudor village and Colonial charm.

Nestled between that charm is a gem, where multi-generational patrons come upon a recessed flagstone entryway, sided by tastefully decorated window displays under a rustic wooden sign that reads “Stoa Jewelry.”

Enter Stoa at 71-60 Austin Street, and whether you are a longtime or new patron you will be greeted with a smile and the amiable demeanor of business owners Marie Sinanian and Rena Monogenis.

They have been giving their heart to the community for nearly 45 years by offering custom-produced jewelry, as well as art from local artists.

Making your way inside, the rustic charm continues with wood-and-glass wall and counter displays of custom-made jewelry, high ceilings bearing accent lights on artwork, a rugged plaster wall finish, and wood plank floors. Classical music adds to the gallery ambiance.

Customization is a dominant aspect of Stoa’s mission. “We design every type of jewelry that can be worn, from looks that are classic to way out there,” said Monogenis.

Jewelry is handcrafted in a variety of materials, including sterling silver or gold. Jewelry was originally produced in the back of the shop, but now the owners sketch the designs by hand and it is custom made off premise by local and international artists.

“If you want cufflinks and you have the design, we can execute the design, but if you want us to design it, we can from scratch,” said Monogenis. “If you wanted to create your own family crest, you would tell us what elements are very important to your family, and then we would design it using symbols.”

A notable custom-made design is a sterling silver barbell pendant, where the weight actually fluctuates. A sculptor from Germany designed a universe-inspired abstract sphere comprised of sterling silver rings with a single gold bead. It collapses and expands, and can be worn as a bracelet.

Customers often refer local artists to Stoa, and the owners fulfill their mission to the community by selling their work, which ranges from classical to abstract. Currently, paintings from three local artists are on display. Proceeds from the sale of the artwork are shared between Stoa and the artist.

Sinanian emigrated from Greece with her family in 1962, and settled in Forest Hills. Monogenis was born in Manhattan, but in 1950 at the age of 8, she made a move to Forest Hills. Both are Forest Hills residents to this day.

In 1968, Sinanian began working for her brother-in-law, who once owned Lorilil Jewelers on Continental Avenue. After learning the business firsthand, she took the initiative in 1972 to open her own jewelry shop on Austin Street, known as “A Bit Outre.”

Monogenis, then an employee of Chemical Bank, decided to change her career path not long after befriending Sinanian, and she took some jewelry design classes at the 92nd Street Y. Sharing a mutual vision, their friendship evolved into a business partnership, and on October 2, 1976, they opened Stoa Jewelry.

It may be hard to grasp that the jewelry business was neither owner’s childhood dream, but now it is their niche. Monogenis, who first envisioned being a clothing designer at age 11, attributes part of their success to a balance between their work styles.

“I work more from the heart, whereas Marie works more from the mind,” she said.

Stoa was originally situated further west on Austin Street in a portion of what is now Victoria’s Secret. Sinanian coined the business name due to the large recessed storefront’s configuration, which resembled a portico or arcade in Greek culture.

“A stoa was an ancient structure that was long and narrow, had columns and a roof, and was the town center where markets and meetings took place and people would sit and think,” she explained.

When asked how she felt being one of the last Austin Street mom-and-pop shops, she said, “I feel truly wonderful, and I must say that after all these years, we have been blessed with wonderful customers who have become friends.”

She then reminisced about yesteryear’s well-known mom-and-pop shops in close proximity. There was Buster Brown Shoes, Homestead Gourmet Shop, Beau Brummel (clothing), Koch and Nord Delicacies, Horn & Hardart, Towne Shepherd (hair salon), Thorn & Thistle (florist), Ina’s (millinery shop), and Madeline Begg, which she described as an exquisite dress shop owned by her neighbor.

Throughout the years, Stoa’s clientele has included notables such as Geraldine Ferraro, former professional tennis player Renée Richards, Dennis Hevesi, and judges. Within Stoa’s walls, countless memories are harbored relating to the relationship between the owners and patrons, on the basis of the character of the owners and which extends into their custom-made jewelry.

This contributes to stories ranging from humorous to heart-warming. For example, a long-standing American craftswoman from Maine named Peggy Johnson worked with Stoa to produce a sterling silver necklace with copper-and-stone accents, and dangling kitchen pots and utensils as a focal point.

“A man came into our shop and purchased it for his wife,” Monogenis recalled. “When he returned, he said the rest of his life won’t be the same, since he will never be able to give his wife another gift that she would enjoy as much.”

A heart-warming story followed.

“We designed a necklace for a woman who was the mother of a bride, and based it on the dress she planned to wear at the wedding,” Monogenis said. “She was thrilled, and thanked us with a photo of her outfit during the wedding.”

As for younger generations hoping to launch a jewelry and art business, Monogenis offered some pointers.

“Follow your dream,” she said. “If it is a true love, that will make your entire life a lot easier. Especially since we are in poor economic times, start small.” Referring to her experience, she added, “We could have expanded way back when, but we felt good with this size, which our customers helped accomplish. I don’t believe that success is measured strictly by money.”

On a Saturday afternoon, 10-year-old Ian Fried and his mother engaged in conversation with Monogenis. He was impressed when he learned about Stoa’s custom-made mission. Some items reminded him of his recent interest in collecting antiques, but only time will tell if it will unfold into his niche.

“It’s my first time here, and it’s a very artistic store,” he said. His mother first shopped at Stoa in 1990, and now the younger generation is being introduced. Fried said, “I always pictured these pieces as old-fashioned items from the early to mid-industrial revolution, but now this has given me a whole new light on antiques and how they are made."

“Customers over the years become the mamas, the papas, and an acquired family,” Monogenis said. “They know if they need a place to sit, rest, and socialize over coffee, they can come to us.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

Kenneth Murchison, The Mastermind Behind The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium

Rego-Forest Preservation Council, a longtime advocate of the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium and supporter of the late great architect, Kenneth Murchison, takes pride in sharing....

Kenneth Murchison, A Prominent Architect Who Left His Mark In Forest Hills
by Michael Perlman, Columnist of the Forest Hills Times/Queens Ledger

Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, a foremost public building architect & artist
An aerial photo of Forest Hills Tennis Stadium from 1929

Last week, this column noted that the West Side Tennis Club will host the first annual NY Open from July 4-7 as part of a series of summer events to commemorate the club’s 100-year Forest Hills operation.

President Roland Meier hoped the anniversary events would lead to a gradual restoration and revitalization of the iconic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which once hosted the U.S. Open, Davis Cup, Wightman Cup, and singles championships, in addition to the annual Forest Hills Music Festival.

“I believe we can hold quality tennis events, ice hockey in the winter, and a few classical and modern music concerts on a small scale which our club can associate with,” he stated.

In response to the stadium’s influential history and 90th anniversary this August, one may find it difficult to grasp its lack of use for nearly 15 years. Despite minimal maintenance and recent extreme weather, its condition is not as poor as some people claimed when condos were proposed for the site in 2010 and then rejected.

Recent engineering assessments by the club address likely needs such as sealing cracks and upgrading sewer lines, and the president speculated a cost of less than $2.5 million in repairs.

Now is the time to rediscover and honor the prominent architect behind America’s first concrete tennis stadium. His name is Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison (1872-1938), and the Forest Hills tennis stadium is a testament to his cultured life and legends that were born.

In November 1917, the NY Times referenced Murchison as part of the West Side Tennis Club’s nominating committee, which presumes why he was commissioned to design the stadium. Within 10 years of the West Side Tennis Club’s success in Forest Hills, the temporary grandstands surrounding the perimeter were inadequate.

The club and the United States Lawn Tennis Association partnered to finance the 14,000-seat stadium, which cost $150,000. Construction began in April 1923 and was completed that August in time for the Davis Cup, where an American victory took center court.

To help finance the expense, the NY Times reported on May 22, 1923, that 900 out of 1,500 choicest seats have already been taken under a 10-year subscription plan for $100, where the subscriber would have their name affixed to a metal plate, guaranteeing their seat for major events.

The Massachussetts Institute of Technology published “The Technology Review” (November 1922) which read, “America’s Tennis Stadium, now under construction at Forest Hills, Long Island is to be ready for the Women’s Nationals on August 13th and for the Davis Cup Challenge Round on August 31st. The West Side Tennis Club sought a general contractor whose record and facilities guarantee trustworthy workmanship and speed of construction without sacrifice of the economy. The Foundation Company was chosen to do the job.”

The firm specialized in superstructures and substructures, and built in Paris, Rio De Janeiro, London, Montreal, and Chicago. An authentic stadium plaque bears names of the architect, builders, engineer, Stadium Committee, and Board of Governors.

The horseshoe-shaped stadium’s concrete façade features a distinctive colonnade of archways, which appear golden at sunset, and allow spectators to walk underneath. The upper portion of the façade is embellished with cornice detail conveying understated charm, glazed terra-cotta shields which bear the West Side Tennis Club logo, and Moderne eagles which brace vertical flagpoles. Authentic concrete and wood grandstands face the tennis courts and the Tudor clubhouse designed by Grosvenor Atterbury in 1913.

Today, Kenneth Murchison’s descendants live in Rhode Island, New York, California, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and London. Lynne De Wardener-Burris, Kenneth Murchison’s great-granddaughter who lives on Long Island, expressed interest in volunteering to preserve the stadium, as well as other descendants.

Murchison’s grandson is Hays Browning of Washington, D.C., who visited the stadium at age 11. Based upon family stories, he described his grandfather as a good tennis player. In a detailed interview, he spoke of his grandfather’s accomplishments. He stated, “We’ve always been proud of his career, and he left buildings behind as evidence of his work.”

Murchison studied at Columbia University and Paris’ Ecole des Beaux Arts. That was where he befriended John Russell Pope, who designed Washington, DC’s Jefferson Memorial, National Gallery of Art, and the National Archives. Murchison worked with Realtor Douglas Elliman to design New York City’s first cooperative apartments at 39 East 79th Street for friends including Mrs. James Roosevelt and Emily Post.

His other New York residential projects are his family’s residence at 49 East 63rd Street, where Maxfield Parrish once painted, and his residence at the Beaux Arts Apartments at 307 & 310 East 44th Street, which is regarded as a major Art Deco work. His patriotic contribution can be found at Staten Island’s U.S. Marine Hospital.

“Large projects did not deter him,” said Browning. Some of his great public works are Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station, Jacksonville’s New Union Station, Buffalo’s Lehigh Valley and Lackawanna terminals in Buffalo, Havana’s Terminal Station, Hoboken’s Delaware-Lackawanna Station, and Jamaica’s Long Island Railroad Station.

On a more personal scale, he founded and designed the Dunes Club in Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island, where his family summered, and he also designed the once affluent Sands Point Bath and Tennis Club of Long Island. North Carolina’s famed Orton Plantation was the Murchison family’s winter retreat, and examples of his work were additions to the Manor House and the Luola’s Chapel designed in his sister’s memory. It remained in their family until recently. Also in North Carolina, his name is memorialized in Wilmington’s Neo-Classical Revival Murchison National Bank Building.

Besides architecture, Murchison furthered his artistic talents and was an individual of high society.

“He founded the Beaux Arts Balls at Hotel Astor, which benefitted architects during The Great Depression,” said Browning. “He was a talented musician of 14 instruments, was excellent on the piano, and he conducted New York’s Mendelssohn Glee Club.”

In Bryant Park, he stood in the footsteps of George Washington and dressed in his attire to participate in a pageant commemorating the 143rd anniversary of Washington’s inauguration.

Pati de Wardener of Exeter, Rhode Island is the wife of Murchison’s grandson, Max de Wardener. She echoed Browning’s pride, and emphasized how Murchison’s legacy is evident in her family.

“His grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherited his work ethic, sense of community, humor, and style,” she said. “Some are business owners, photographers, electrical engineers, and teachers. Everyone inherited his love of music.”

His 1916 Broadway musical comedy, “Come To Bohemia,” was one example of his expertise as a composer.

After examining stadium photos, de Wardener explained, “Even with its age and scars, it exudes a grace that is timeless. The stands, although wood and not limestone, transports one back to the beautiful amphitheaters of ancient Rome and Greece. I see an ice skating rink in the winter, rollerblading, a jogging track, a dog park, a space for arts & crafts festivals, and an inviting sidewalk cafe nestled under the shade of arches where neighbors would gather.”

Robert Rauschenbach, a 50-year Forest Hills resident who grew up around the stadium, feels enriched. He enjoyed acts including Frank Sinatra, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Olivia Newton John, and Bette Midler, as well as the US Open and the Robert F. Kennedy Tournament featuring politicians playing celebrities.

“That stadium needs to be embraced as a shrine,” he said. “Without Forest Hills, there would be no US Open or Arthur Ashe Stadium.” He continued, “Forest Hills is a true icon in the classic sense of what a tennis stadium should be. It was built to last, and with some TLC, it will last hundreds of years.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium May Be Restored & WSTC To Celebrate 100 Years in Forest Hills This Summer

West Side Tennis Club Looks Back & Plans Ahead
by Michael Perlman of the Forest Hills Times/Queens Ledger

The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which is now 90 years old. America's first concrete tennis stadium! Photo by Michael Perlman
Caption: "The National Tennis Club" circa 1973, Published by Harlee George & Curteich Color, Courtesy of Michael Perlman Postcard Collection
The Tudor clubhouse of the West Side Tennis Club from the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Photo by Peter Dutton

The West Side Tennis Club has reached a milestone!

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the stately $25,000 Tudor clubhouse overlooking tennis courts, which was designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, the principal architect of the 142-acre Forest Hills Gardens.

The year 2013 also marks the 90th anniversary that a foremost public building architect, Kenneth Murchison, designed the 14,000-seat eagle-adorned Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which was the first concrete tennis stadium in the United States.

The West Side Tennis Club was founded in 1892 on Manhattan’s West Side. After outgrowing their second Manhattan home, the club surveyed over 30 locations for an expansion, and voted to move to Forest Hills Gardens on December 3, 1912. In 1913, land was secured with a $2,000 down payment and a $75,000 mortgage.

Come summer 2013, the West Side Tennis Club will celebrate by staging a series of events for club members and the community at large.

“History always repeats itself” may not be just a cliché, as the club marks new beginnings by eyeing an expansion yet again, while educating new generations about its rich but often overlooked tennis, music, social, and architectural contributions to Queens.

The West Side Tennis Club is exploring the idea of developing some covered tennis courts, squash courts, an ice skating rink, and a fitness facility, but at first, club members and the public can anticipate a summer filled with 100th anniversary celebrations.

The first celebration will be a flag ceremony on April 21 for club members. That will be followed by a series of events, such as summer tournaments, carnivals, free tennis clinics, and music festivals that recall the famed Forest Hills Music Festivals held throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The inaugural New York Open from July 4-7 will consist of a hard court tournament, and will feature citywide amateurs and professionals. The open is being organized by Tennis In New York, a non-profit whose mission is to promote tennis and preserve its history in New York.

“This is why we felt that coordinating this event in Forest Hills would be so appropriate,” said Tennis In New York President and CEO Dale Caldwell.

It may become an annual tradition, evoking memories of a time when the U.S. Open was held at the Forest Hills tennis stadium.

The U.S. Open was founded in Forest Hills in 1968, but was moved to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in 1978 due to its popularity. In Forest Hills, generations witnessed tennis legends such as Tony Trabert, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Don Budge, Bill Tilden, John McEnroe, and Helen Jacobs take the court.

Meanwhile, legendary musicians who performed in the stadium include Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Simon & Garfunkel, and Trini Lopez. Perhaps the most memorable moment was The Beatles landing in a helicopter on the grass courts.

For approximately 15 years, the stadium did not host events and gradually fell into disrepair. In October 2010, a plan to sell the stadium to Cord Meyer Development to demolish it to make way for condos was voted down by club members.

Former President Kenneth Parker expressed his disappointment, hoping it would improve club finances. On January 1, 2012, President Roland Meier took his seat, and now remains hopeful for a future that will capture some of the clubhouse and stadium’s past glory.

Some local business owners and residents see a brighter future. Rena Monogenis, co-owner of the 44-year-old Stoa Jewelry at 71-60 Austin Street praised the idea behind the New York Open and summer events.

“This would restore a spirit to our neighborhood,” she said, reminiscing on her early twenties when she saw Billie Jean King play. “It would be wonderful getting the stadium back into action. When something is built well, it weathers the years and should not go to waste.”

“The events planned for this summer are really great because it would help support the effort to restore and revive the club and its iconic stadium,” said James Voketaitis, who has lived in Forest Hills for 18 years. “I am sure there will be many Queens organizations that will be very interested.”

One such organization is the Queens Economic Development Corporation, where Forest Hills resident Seth Bornstein is the executive director. Upon hearing about the club’s anniversary and vision, he also saw potential for the club and stadium, calling it a great asset to Queens and New York City.

“Their concept is good, and would certainly attract visitors to Queens,” he said. “Bringing people to Forest Hills would help local shops and restaurants along Austin Street and Metropolitan Avenue. If the West Side Tennis Club moves on this, the Queens Tourism Council would certainly help promote it.”

In an interview with Meier, he explained his vision and the progress already underway.

“The New York Open will be a first, and we hope it will become a major New York event,” he said. “We have a lot of interest from people who want to play, companies who want to participate, and special guests.”

Meier hopes the 100th anniversary events and the conceived expansion will lead to the stadium’s revitalization.

“We are looking at a gradual restoration,” he said. “I believe we can have quality tennis events, ice hockey in the winter, and a few classy concerts on a small scale which our club can associate with. We picture a mix between classical concerts and modern music.”

Members are contributing and volunteering their time to many projects.

“We are building a playground, and the club is becoming more family-friendly,” Meier said. “If you live in the neighborhood, it’s the best backyard to play in.”

Some people have suggested that the stadium is not structurally sound, but Meier refuted that claim.

“We did testing and the structure is sound,” he said. “We need to seal the stadium to avoid water penetration and need a new sewer system.”

Meier takes pride in the 100-plus new members that joined this past year, which includes many young members and families.

“We have achieved something that we never have before in our club history,” he said. “We were very isolated for many years, but now we are becoming a part of the neighborhood. This is a start to closing our wallflower status.

“We are onto something and can gain momentum to make it into a real club,” Meier added. “I want the West Side Tennis Club to survive for another 100 years and become a destination again.”

Eye on the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, 2010 photo by Pat Lannan
From the grandstands towards the historic field & clubhouse, Photo by Peter Dutton
The eagle overlooking the field has gone astray, but restoration would be a plus. Historic photo courtesy of Michael Perlman & Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Celebrities were a staple at the stadium & club. This is magazine clipping from circa 1954.