Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Concert Fundraiser Starring Harmonica Virtuoso Jiayi He - Help Restore The First Presbyterian Church of Newtown

You are cordially invited to a unique concert starring notable harmonica virtuoso Jiayi He. 

 When? Sunday, May 4 at 1:30 PM 

Where? At the historic First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, south side of Queens Blvd and 54th Ave.

The concert is also a fundraiser that will address a much-needed restoration of the church, which was recently designated State & National Register of Historic Places status. The public will pay a $10 admission fee.

Fundraiser contributions can also be mailed to:

First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, 
54-05 Seabury Street 
Elmhurst, NY 11373

An early 20th century photo, Courtesy of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown
 The church was founded in 1652, and the present Gothic sanctuary was built in 1895, and features distinctive attributes such as stained glass by Tiffany artists and a 1788 bell. In the 1920s, the church was transported to accommodate the widening of Queens Blvd. A diverse history which ties into Queens' Colonial past is as follows:

Historic & recent church photos, Courtesy of Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council:

About the concert - "Harmonica Music from Classical to Modern"

“Jiayi He plays one harmonica for many pieces & many harmonicas just for one piece!” Jiayi He has won prestigious awards in America, Europe, and the Far East. Performing concerts around the world, he plays an extensive range of harmonicas, which includes Chromatic, Diatonic, Tremolo, Bass, Wheel, multiple harmonicas... as well as the largest harmonica and the smallest harmonica in the world. He will also play "Sheng," which is a forefather of the harmonica and the earliest Chinese reed instrument with blow and draw playing. It was invented nearly 3,000 years ago. The harmonica was invented in Germany in 1821.

Jiayi He will perform with a Woodwinds Quintet and a Harmonica mixed with Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon, among a new and unique combination of music. Jiayi He's daughter, Jenny He, will accompany her father on the piano.

The concert will world premiere "Cantabile for Solo Harmonica and Woodwind Quintet" by renowned composer Michael Isaacson. It is a new work special written for Jiayi He.

The concert program will include: Blue Danube Waltz, Skaters Waltz, Turkish March, Flight of the Bumblebee, Little Swan Dance, music by Gershwin, Blues... and Wind Quintet Selections from Cosi Fan Tutte by W. A. Mozart.


Harmonica: Jiayi He
Flute: Abbe Krieger
Oboe: Suzette Jacobs
Clarinet: Aaron Abramovitz
Horn: David Moldenhauer
Bassoon: Kukiko Otani
Piano: Jenny He

Jiayi He is a world-class harmonica virtuoso. He won silver medals at the World Harmonica Championships in Germany in 1989, in Japan in 1995, and the bronze medal at the International Competition in the U.S. in 1991. He taught master classes and judged competitions in Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Hangzhou and Singapore. He has soloed with the China National Symphony Orchestra, China National Ballet Symphony Orchestra, Nassau Symphony Pops, Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra, California Pops Orchestra, Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Society of Philadelphia, Carson City Symphony, Calcutta Chamber Orchestra and numerous others. Mel Bay Publications, Inc published his book Recital Pieces for Chromatic Harmonica. Jiayi regularly performs in recitals throughout Europe and Asia. He has appeared on ABC, NBC, News 12 Long Island, Queens Public Television, Sino Television, and recorded for movies and CDs. He has performed at the General Assembly Hall of United Nations and at a pre-game show at Shea Stadium for the New York Mets. New York City Mayor Bloomberg attended his seminar, and learned how to play harmonica at Harmonica Mass Appeal MMNY in 2012. Jiayi also performed at International Peace Day in China 2012. He has received award the honorary title of "Messenger of Peace" by Friends of the U.N. and the Organizing committee. Jiayi is a faculty member at the Turtle Bay Music School in New York City.

PentaWinds was founded on the principle of five breaths or energies working together in the form of a quintet. Dedicated to serving audiences of all ages and backgrounds, Penta plays traditional quintet repertoire and is devoted to exploring new musical media with the awareness of the effortlessness of breath. To that end, PentaWinds has recently embarked on an operatic/musical journey that will include an adaptation of Cosi Fan Tutte and the world premiere of Musical Soup. Comprised of esteemed musicians flutist Abbe Krieger, oboist Suzette Jacobs, clarinetist Aaron Abramovitz, hornist David Moldenhauer and bassoonist Kukiko Otani, recent engagements have included the Roerich Museum, the New York City Bar Association, the Art on the Corner series, and the Mahwah Public Library.

Jenny He began her studies in music and piano at the age of four. She has performed in various venues including TV shows at News 12 Long Island TV and Queens Public Television. She performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, as well as in many other live concerts. Jenny is also a mechanical engineer working at a consulting firm in NYC.

For questions, please contact Michael Perlman, Chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council at

 Preserve this icon & enjoy a quality concert!

Final Act For The Continental Theatre - Another entertainment & social loss for Forest Hills

By Michael Perlman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

After a 51-year run, the Forest Hills community waved adieu to its quaint neighborhood twin movie theater, UA Brandon Cinemas on April 21st. Situated at 70-20 Austin Street, it was long known as the Continental Theatre, named after its close proximity to Continental Avenue. This restful destination in the heart of the business district was on the agenda for dates, couples, singles, and families with children, who would make a day of dining out and patronizing Austin Street’s shops. The marquee boasted mainstream films ranging from Star Wars to Les Miserables to The Great Gatsby. Operated by Regal Entertainment Group and owned by local developer Heskel Elias, the marquee now reads “Coming Soon: PM Pediatrics.” 
Back in March, this column reported that Austin Street may soon become “medical center row,” since medical facilities on Austin Street’s west end are slated to expand eastward within a 4-block radius. Austin Street is known for its unique boutique shops and restaurants, but reality shifted throughout the last decade as a number of longtime and recently established independent small businesses shuttered. This is mostly due to rent increases and demographic changes. Small businesses are frequently displaced by large chains, inclusive of banks, pharmacies, and a recent rise in medical establishments. 

Pasta Del Giorno at 70-49 Austin Street closed in February, in addition to its neighbor, Second Time Around. Construction is now underway for an urgent care facility. In October 2013, an out-of-context glass building housing a ProHealth Urgent Care Center was proposed for 71-53 Austin Street, which has since received violations and stalled.

When the Continental Theatre opened in 1963, Forest Hills residents were welcomed by the “Continental” script neon sign, and first saw Jean Genet’s “The Balcony” at a Walter Reade Theatre. An ad praised it as “New York’s and the world’s first split-level theatre,” which was only a 5 minute commute from the 1964 World’s Fair. It read, “From the beautifully decored lounge, you can either step down to the orchestra level or easily make your way up to the mezzanine. Here is a truly refreshing entrée into the experience of movie-going.” This dramatic innovation was designed by Architect John J. McNamara, and was also noteworthy for its art gallery for local artists, carefully selected films at an intimate ambiance, and rooftop parking. 

 In a public statement, landlord Heskel Elias called the property’s redevelopment for PM Pediatrics “exciting” and “more profitable” for The Heskel Group. Rego Park resident Gloria Nash responded, “It's all about who can afford the highest rents, rather than balance or quality of life, but it's no longer a community vision when a significant percentage of the population is left out.” She backed up her claim by questioning, “What percentage has a need for pediatric services, especially in light of no shortage of pediatric services in the area? What percentage has an interest in a theater which increases our enjoyment?”  

Other locals also mourn the theater’s loss. “PM Pediatrics already has 10 New York locations, so why does Heskel need to ruin a five decade entertainment space to open another?” asked Jennifer Cohen of Forest Hills. “It’s just a matter of time when people will be asking ‘Which Austin Street urgent care center should we visit? The one on 69th, 70th, 71st, or 72nd?’” 

Forest Hills resident Anita Nelson offered a suggestion. “The Austin Street corridor needs a nice art theater like the Kew Gardens Cinema, and if it hosted live entertainment, that would fill a void and be a huge bonus to Forest Hills. Currently, live entertainment is only available at bars.”

The UA Brandon’s closure echoes the loss of the cherished Trylon Theater, the Forest Hills Theatre, and the Drake. This leaves the 9-screen Midway Theatre on Queens Boulevard as the sole theater in the immediate vicinity, and the 5-screen Cinemart Cinemas somewhat further on Metropolitan Avenue.

“Close a restaurant or a dress shop, and there are others that open up,” said Nash, who continued, “But close a theater, and what other social and community options will open to replace that?” 

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Glimpse of Holland In Forest Hills - Happy 85th Anniversary To The Holland House!

By Michael Perlman of  Rego-Forest Preservation Council & the Forest Hills Times

What is in a name? The Holland House, situated at 73-37 Austin Street is now 85 years old, and since 1929, has been a grand residence which never abandoned its charm.

Perhaps Forest Hills residents are unaware of its Dutch influence. Around 250 years prior to its completion, the land was granted by a Dutch King to Casper Joost Springsteen in the mid-17th century, when Queens was a Dutch Colonial province of the New Netherlands. After remaining in the prominent Springsteen farming family for seven generations, the 4-acre parcel sold for an excess of $1,000,000 in December 1928 to President Robert Shelley and Treasurer Alfred J. Ball of the Shellball Realty Corporation, which erected and managed the Holland House. In summer 1929, the ten-story site was prized for being the tallest Queens apartment house in one of the most beautiful suburban American communities, with average home prices ranging from $25,000 to $350,000.  

A notable architect by the name of Benjamin Braunstein designed the Holland House, and also made his mark on significant developments including Sutton Hall, The Wakefield, Tilden Arms, and The Chatham in Forest Hills, Marion Court and Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Rego Park, and The Mowbray in Kew Gardens. Braunstein designed the Holland House to be soundproof and fireproof, and to offer two to eight rooms with one to three baths, foyers leading to living rooms, and three penthouses. His plans also included a 50 x 175 foot rear garden, a roof garden, and a social hall for residents and guests to entertain. Hallways were furnished in the Old Dutch style. 

The Holland House is synonymous with the Forest Hills Gardens’ Old English style, and is uniquely merged with the streamlined Art Deco influences of a time when the Chrysler Building was under construction. The façade features terra-cotta scrollwork depicting gargoyles, birds, and foxes, as well as raised brick, stonework, ornamental balconies, archways, and recessed areas and large windows which maximize light and air.

“A quiet dignity pervades the whole building which is noted for high quality and character of its tenancy and management,” read an illustrated prospectus for new suitors and tenants. It continued, “Gracious, uniformed attendants at the entrance doors admit you to a nicely carpeted and well furnished lobby, next to which are two passenger elevators. The management provides twenty-four hour door, elevator and valet service. Maids may be had by the day or hour. To assure the comfort and protection of all, references are required from prospective tenants.”  

Today, the Holland House is a co-op with a 7-day doorman, and residents can attest to its quality living outlined in the prospectus. “We were drawn to the building because of the pre-war architecture and our large apartment’s attention to detail,” said Carmela Gersbeck. Board President Bart Haggerty explained, “Our community is very diverse, ranging from singles to young couples, to couples raising children, to multiple generations, to retirees.  Several residents reside here for over 40 years. We are half a block to Austin Street’s shopping and restaurants, while still being on the quiet residential section of Austin Street.” 

“The Holland House has all the trappings of a Park Avenue residence, along with views of the Manhattan skyline and three bridges, and it’s zoned for Public School 101 in the Gardens,” said Historian Bill Safka. He then pointed out some fellow notables. “Disc Jockey Eddie Arcaro and a model known as Sabrina lived here. Bing Crosby and Dixie Lee would visit a penthouse resident.” 

The building takes pride in its garden, which was named “Keith's Courtyard” after their doorman Keith Smith. Safka, who is also Chair of the Beautification Committee explained, “I planned and planted our garden along with Keith, who was so keen in seeing it rejuvenated. Way back when, brides would take their wedding photos in front of our Magnolia trees.”

“We expanded our garden with a stone patio, a variety of shade loving plants and perennials, and tables and chairs for the residents' quiet enjoyment,” said Gersbeck. Residents adopted a Japanese Maple, a Tulip Tree, two Eastern Redbuds, and an Amur Maackia tree from the Forest Hills Tree Giveaway Events, which contributed diversity among mature Maples and Elms.

Gersbeck explained some other special characteristics. “We have a very committed board which sponsors events and makes the Holland House a diverse and active community.” Some attractions are summer and fall barbecues, a spring cocktail party, and Halloween and holiday parties. This year, residents can anticipate a hallway renovation and the possibility of an exercise room.

We take pride in presenting the prospectus which was distributed shortly after the Holland House opened....

A rendition of this feature was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Children Envision The QueensWay’s Future - Historic Route May Be Redefined

By Michael Perlman

Youthful visionaries at the QueensWay Mobile Workshop, Photo by Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Our children are our future. On March 29, Queens’ youth had a creative opportunity to shape our borough’s future by illustrating and presenting their visions for the QueensWay, which bears potential as a 3.5-mile linear elevated public park. The event was held at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, which uniquely sits in the foreground of a section of the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch Line in Forest Hills. 

QueensWay conceptual rendering with children's play area, native trees, & wildflowers
Along with numerous Queens residents, the Trust For Public Land and Friends of The QueensWay envision converting an abandoned stretch of tracks, depleted with weeds and trash into a multi-faceted resource which Queens can pride as its symbolic representation of the 21st century. This was one event among a series of QueensWay workshops and mobile workshops, which the organizations hope will inspire Queens communities to contribute ideas, pose questions, and receive feedback. 

The Rockaway Beach Branch Line in Forest Hills as of 2011, Courtesy of Friends of The QueensWay
Woodhaven Junction Station in 1950, Courtesy of Friends of The QueensWay
In 1962, a small section of the line succumbed to a fire, and city officials responded by decommissioning the entire line. The conceived QueensWay would bridge central to southern Queens communities, as it intersects Rego Park, Forest Hills, Glendale, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, and Ozone Park, and also provide direct access to Forest Park. According to the Trust, the QueensWay would serve 250,000 residents living within a mile, while fostering a major economic boost to Queens.  

Queens is a few steps closer to the QueensWay, as evident by a number of recent developments. After New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo awarded the Trust for Public Land a $467,000 to determine if the QueensWay is feasible, it led to the commissioning of two planning and design firms, WXY architecture + urban design and dlandstudio, which was recently joined by Hester Street Collaborative, a community engagement nonprofit. The organizations debuted preliminary design renderings at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School on March 24, followed by their presentation at the High School For Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture on March 26. To reach residents who are unable to attend major workshops, QueensWay mobile workshops will continue to be held.

The March 29th children’s mobile workshop was monitored by Shelma Jun of the Hester Street Collaborative and joined by Friends of The QueensWay volunteers Travis Terry of Forest Hills and Ruben Ramales of Woodhaven. Jun opened the QueensWay Mobile Workshop toolkit, and across a communal table, displayed a foldout aerial map bearing the neighborhoods that the QueensWay would intersect. She explained what led to the tracks’ abandonment and how it has creative reuse potential. The map was then reversed to reveal 10 photos which depict the area’s conditions and its embankments.

Ramales explained, “You'll find yourself on grade in the north. As it starts to work itself south, it’s pretty much earth embankments until it hits Forest Park, which then becomes more of a ravine. It changes back to earth embankments until it becomes an elevated viaduct.”

Jun explained how the areas vary in width, and drew comparisons to the width of two school buses, an airplane, or the Statue of Liberty. For example, the QueensWay is 72 feet wide near Jamaica Avenue, but 133 feet wide adjacent to the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School. “Where an area is really wide, we can introduce lots of activities,” she said. In response, the children were presented with a map with bold titled communities along the QueensWay, and were asked to place buttons pinpointing activities which they could enjoy along specific stretches. The buttons ranged from bird watching to garden spaces to food festivals. 

   The children were then handed a “QueensWay History Coloring Book.” It illustrated the line’s origins to its abandonment, and showed how some sections grew wild and others began housing businesses below. The last steps enabled them to imagine how an old railroad can be transformed into a park, and encouraged drawing what they would like to see in a circle. The children created a pond with frogs and fish, trees, flowers, bike paths, a zip line, and swings. Then they placed their 4 favorite program stickers, which included nature walks, ecology classes, and picnic areas. 

The event concluded with children presenting their work and exhibiting much respect for each other’s visions. This proved how community residents need to listen to each other’s views and work as team players, to achieve a win-win solution for Queens. 

“Through our QueensWay workshops, we are coordinating fun activities for students in kindergarten through grade 12. We want to get ideas from kids in schools or afterschool programs, since they can be very positive and creative,” said Ramales. 

Conceptual renderings of the QueensWay
Conceptual renderings of the QueensWay
Conceptual renderings of the QueensWay
There are nearly 2,500 QueensWay petition signers. Will you add your name & a comment?

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

You can advocate for a historical route and Queens' future by joining Friends of The QueensWay: