Sunday, March 30, 2014

The School In The Gardens Launches Centennial

By Michael Perlman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

PS 101 in 1927
PS 101 in 2014, Photo by Michael Perlman
PS 101 in 2014, Photo by Michael Perlman
Public School 101, nestled in the Forest Hills Gardens at 2 Russell Place, has been a community cornerstone since 1914, which was eight years after Forest Hills was named, and five years after the founding of the Gardens. To celebrate PS 101’s centennial and influential role in the community, students, parents, and faculty members rejoiced at the Community House on the evening of March 15th.   

The festivities marked the launching of a year-long celebration, characterized by several creative means of expression. On May 20th, PS 101 will officially become a Department of Education certified school, followed by the “Celebrating 100 Years of Diversity” international dinner on June 4th. Looking ahead, a Centennial Carnival will be held in October, the PS 101 Talent Show in November, and an Alumni & Parents Dinner come December. 

The Community House was filled with nearly 180 people, spanning the generations. Hof Hall was largely devoted to children’s activities. The agenda featured music and dinner, a show by Mario The Magician, and the All Star Dance Studios teaching classic and modern routines ranging from The Charleston to the Gangnam Style. The proscenium was complemented by an elaborate arched display of yellow and black balloons in representation of the school colors, alongside balloons which spelled “PS 101 100.” 

Hof Hall
Smith Hall

Smith Hall

At Smith Hall, attendees danced to the sounds of the notable duo, Banjo Nickaru & His Western Scooches featuring Betina Hershey Russo, whose diverse repertoire reflected the decades of PS 101’s operation. With support from local preservationists, a visual chronology of PS 101 graced the walls, and a window into the past featured a timeline of books read over the eras. Hors d’oeuvres were served, and dinner was prepared by parents and local merchants. To top it off, a multi-layer cake featuring PS 101-themed images was created by Mina Eimaldi, a PS 101 parent and board member, and presented to attendees who sang “Happy Birthday To PS 101!” To capture a memorable evening, participants set foot in a photo booth. 

Banjo Nickaru & His Western Scooches featuring Betina Hershey Russo
PS 101 Centennial Cake

 Back in 1909, the newly established Forest Hills Gardens bordered farmland which dated to its Whitepot days, but when the LIRR became an electrified stop at Station Square that same year, Forest Hills was eyed by newer families. In 1914, their children entered a 4-room frame school, nicknamed the “Little Red Schoolhouse.” As the population increased, that grew to a 4-story brick and limestone Germano-Tudor style school in 1927, which was designed by Architect William H. Gompert. Its octagonal tower bearing a pediment roof is a symbolic representation of the Forest Hills Inn.

PA President Soumaly King & Principal Monique Paniagua stand in front of the Smith Hall fireplace

“I am very proud of PS 101’s heritage, which reflects its academic excellence. We want to continue building our heritage, so hopefully in another 100 years that will be passed on to our next generations,” explained Principal Monique Paniagua. Parents Association President Soumaly King added, “It is amazing to be a part of a legacy, where thousands of children have gone to our school. We have cultivated and grown beautiful minds. We are academically enriched in a beautiful community, and we are lucky to reach this milestone now.”

“I have a daughter in the 5th grade and two older boys that graduated,” said Cecile Renna, who is a voice among parents echoing that sentiment. She explained, “What makes PS 101 unique is the sense of belonging to a great community, which is diverse in terms of culture and nationality. The teachers are amazing and really get to know you, and parents have become such great friends. It is a small school which is always welcoming. We have been at the school for 15 years, and when my daughter graduates, it won't be without sadness. I will cherish all the great memories.” As a Tory Burch employee, Renna helped raise funds for PS 101’s programming by having her company donate a pair of leather purses, scarves, and leather wallets, which were among the live auction’s many items, gift certificates, and membership packages.

PS 101 aims to instill a sense of the broader community within its students. After Hurricane Sandy, students assisted young victims by designing blankets. When the Forest Hills Gardens turned 100, the Parents Association coordinated a music gala to reflect the neighborhood’s cultural history, and some of the proceeds replaced a tree which succumbed during the 2010 macroburst. Other worthwhile events are the school choir’s performance at the annual Flag Day ceremony on Flagpole Green, a community-sponsored annual essay contest, and visits to the West Side Tennis Club and the Forest Hills firehouse. 

Children at recess, 1920s
Children at recess, 1920s
Drinking milk, 1940s
Class of June 1931
Class of June 1945
A 1950s class photo
Class of June 1954
Class 2-202 in 1979
A relic from the PS 101 boiler room!

Public School 101's centennial was also featured in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Zac Brown Band: Welcoming Summer 2014 at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium

Stadium Architect Kenneth Murchison's great-granddaughter Lynne de Wardener-Burris and great great-granddaughter Skye Burris
Zac Brown Band, Courtesy of Zac Brown Band website

Act Two at the iconic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium! On June 21, the summer will begin with high notes as the three-time Grammy winner and Multi-Platinum Zac Brown Band will take the stadium stage, and open the summer 2014 concert series. Other great names headlining today’s entertainment will soon be announced.

On June 21, doors will open at 5 PM for a 6 PM show, and as the sun sets somewhat later that evening, the audience will be left with an impression for concerts to come. Tickets will be available on March 22 at 10 AM through America’s first concrete tennis stadium, dating to 1923, has undergone restoration work in addition to some renovations, which include ticketed seating, improved ADA seating, widened aisles, handrails, and easier access to food, beverages, and other accommodations. The public can now bookmark a new website,

In August 2013, U.K. folk rock band Mumford & Sons, along with opening bands Bear’s Den and The Vaccines marked a new chapter of Forest Hills history by entertaining 17,000 fans in a stadium that was nearly sold for a condo just 3 summers earlier.

Mumford & Sons plays Forest Hills! Courtesy of Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Mumford & Sons became the first major musical act at the stadium since the 1980s, which not only attracted new fans, but struck a chord for patrons who recalled the annual Forest Hills Music Festivals of the 1960s through the early 1980s. Forty-nine years to the day, The Beatles delivered a legendary performance. Memorable summers also featured music greats including Frank Sinatra, Donna Summer, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, and the Rolling Stones. 

Frank Sinatra about to go on stage with Count Basie at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium's Summer 1965 Music Festival, Photo courtesy of Robert Rauschenbach

Some fans also recalled pivotal moments in tennis history, such as those witnessed during the U.S. Open prior to 1978, or when Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson broke racial color barriers. Others reminisced the stadium’s cinematic role in “Strangers On A Train,” where Alfred Hitchcock filmed Davis Cup matches between Australia and the United States. 

"America's Tennis Stadium" ad, published in MIT's "The Technology Review" in 1922, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
A foremost public building architect, Kenneth Murchison, made his mark on Forest Hills by designing the stadium. “A resurgence of a concert scene at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium is a wonderful addition to the cultural fabric of the city,” stated Murchison’s great-granddaughter Lynne de Wardener-Burris, who first visited with her family last summer. She explained, “Many current music and sports venues are so removed from the people they are meant to attract, that it was refreshing to see this gem in midst of a thriving residential community. It felt like a people's place built on a human scale, and I know my great-grandfather would love that his work is being preserved and utilized.”
Architect Kenneth Murchison, Courtesy of Pati de Wardener
Past and present community residents are equally enthusiastic about the stadium’s second season. “We are very excited to see the Zac Brown Band,” said Sandra Mandell, who owns Oliloli Studio on Metropolitan Avenue. “It is such a treat to attend a concert right in our neighborhood. I am looking forward to my first experience at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, a venue rich with history, and I hope this new era brings more art and culture to Forest Hills.”

Jodi Kass-Tracten now resides in Redding, Connecticut, but will never forget Forest Hills. “In the mid-1960s, the night that Sammy Davis Jr. performed was magical. The air was crisp and the place was packed. He sang for hours, and then of course no one wanted him to leave, so he sang some more.” She continued, “It’s still such an elegant place, and I'm thrilled that the Stadium has reopened for concerts.”

My mother knew my sister and I were Beatles fans, so she bought us tickets in the summer of 1964,” said Las Vegas resident Judith Becker. She explained, “I can vividly remember everyone’s excitement, as they looked up to see their helicopter arriving and landing on the grass courts. I spent my teenage years seeing concerts with friends, and I remember sneaking in through a hole in the fence.” In closing remarks, she added, “I haven't been back to Forest Hills for many years, but I would sure go back to see a concert at the Forest Hills Stadium, a beautiful and intimate venue.”

The audience at Mumford & Sons, August 28, 2013 photo courtesy of Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council

America's first concrete tennis stadium, Courtesy of Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council

 A similar edition of this feature appeared in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Austin Street Retail District At Risk

The Forest Hills community is at risk. Learn more by visiting Michael Perlman's column in the Forest Hills Times/Queens Ledger:

71-53 Austin St received a Stop Work Order by the NYC Dept of Buildings: One of the signs of how select property owners are undermining the integrity of the historic retail district

Austin Street, long known for its independently owned boutiques, novelty shops and culturally inspired restaurants, may soon be on the verge of becoming “medical center row,” as several businesses are slated to expand from the thoroughfare’s west section eastward.

Over the past decade, the retail district has been marked by the closure of many small businesses, including Daniella Boutique, Santa Fe Steakhouse, Stoa Jewelry, Buster Brown Shoes, Homestead Gourmet Shop, and Art World. Pasta Del Giorno at 70-49 Austin Street, which opened in 1989 and offered fine Italian dining, closed in mid-February.

The closed shops made way for large corporations, including banks, chain pharmacies, clothing shops, and cell phone stores, to move in after landlords imposed hefty rent increases upon some longtime tenants.

“I am very upset so many boutiques have closed, such as Lulu’s, Austin Jeans, and Piccolo Mondo,” said Elias Kalogiros, who co-owns Austin Street's Exo CafĂ©. “There used to be a nice combination of middle to high-end shops, but the neighborhood is changing based on what landlords are asking. Some rents on Austin Street are even higher than Manhattan, so we can expect more medical facilities, banks, and office buildings.”

Rumor has it that UA Brandon Cinemas at 70-20 Austin Street will close shortly for a medical business. A February job filing with the Department of Buildings states an existing legal use for a theater and a proposed use for an “ambulatory diagnostic” establishment.

Likewise, nearby shop Second Time Around also closed recently, and a permit issued last month calls for “construction of a new urgent care office including limited demolition.”

“This is supposed to be a shopping area and should stay like this,” said Sal Wahd, manager of Leather Boutique.

In summer 2013, the community learned that a new glass building was proposed for 71-53 Austin Street, and would be home to an H&M clothing store. But banners posted last October instead read “Coming Soon – ProHealth Urgent Care.”

“It is sad enough that so many stores are closing due to harsh economic times, but having more medical facilities won’t do anything for Forest Hills,” said Lisa Jaume of Lady Love Boutique at 71-63 Austin Street. “A glass building will take away from the charm of Austin Street, and a vacant lot attracting vandalism is unwelcome in such a prestigious neighborhood.”

Her concerns have become a reality, as the property is now covered in graffiti and trash collects behind the construction fence.

“This is not a medical street,” said Natasha Nirmal, owner of Urban Creations Fashion Boutique at 71-54 Austin Street. “More shops and restaurants would be beneficial for the entire street, and may help businesses that are suffering. I hope the medical facilities won’t affect our retail parking.”

Commenters on Edge of The City: A Forest Hills Blog have suggested a make-your-own salad take-out place, an independent coffee house, an upscale diner, and a good, reasonably priced Chinese restaurant.

“Before a medical center opens on our main shopping strip, how about we first get some of the restaurant options that so many other thriving neighborhoods in New York City already have for years?” asked Drake Michell, webmaster for the site.

“It concerns me that we will have an abundance of urgent care facilities in a four-block radius,” added Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce. “I will be delving into some concerns of small businesses and possibly scheduling a meeting.”

Forest Hills co-op owner Ron Daniel, who is also a licensed real estate salesperson with Sotheby's International Realty NYC, offered his take on the situation.

“Unfortunately, there is no Austin Street BID to work with business owners, landlords, the community, and Community Board 6 to incentivize and spur growth of new retail and restaurant operators,” he said. “These groups must devise a comprehensive plan to create a cohesive atmosphere for this high foot traffic street. Business operators need to begin by banding together because the landlords certainly are not.”

If you are a concerned Forest Hills resident or business owner and care about the future of your community, please email Rego-Forest Preservation Council at