Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Improving Our Parks with Historic Roots - How YOU Can Help!

By Michael Perlman

 Locals have the chance to get creative and feel like an urban planner. As part of an initiative to encourage citywide residents to play an active role in the beautification and versatility of citywide parks, the Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) launched the “Parks Without Borders” program in November, and began seeking requests, where the public can log suggestions for improvements on interactive maps through www.nycgovparks.org/planning-and-building/planning/parks-without-borders 

The program’s goal is to make park entrances more inviting, boundaries greener with enhanced sight lines and cozier with furnishings, and integrate underutilized park-adjacent spaces into ones the community can call their own.

Friends of MacDonald Park with founder Steve Melnick in the footsteps of Captain Gerald MacDonald Statue, September 2015

As communities plan their future, it is imperative to rediscover how such parks in Forest Hills and Rego Park bear historic ties to their neighborhood. MacDonald Park, a green oasis along the vibrant Queens Boulevard between Yellowstone Boulevard and 70th Road, was named on April 25, 1933 after Captain Gerald MacDonald (1882 – 1929), a WWI veteran from Forest Hills. He was an officer of engineers at the Battle of Meuse-Argonne and erected bridges and dug trenches. On May 26, 1934, a bronze Gerald MacDonald statue was dedicated to those who served in the war. In 1964, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy addressed an audience of 700. This is also the site of Forest Hills Tree Giveaways and the 112th Precinct’s Night Out Against Crime.

Captain Gerald MacDonald Statue under stately shade trees, 2008, Photo by Michael Perlman

Forest Hills resident Steve Melnick, founder of “Friends of MacDonald Park” (www.facebook.com/MacDonaldPark) explained, “Council Member Karen Koslowitz allocated $6,000 for MacDonald Park, and we received an $800 capacity fund grant from the City Parks Foundation and Partnerships for Parks, which will be used for tools and plantings.” Melnick submitted a Parks Without Borders request. He explained, “The entranceways need to be more open and inviting, and benches, tables, and bike racks could be added to bring more people into the park. The cracked sidewalks need to be reconstructed and LED lighting would improve security.” He also suggested a senior and children’s butterfly garden, children's events such as reading and puppet shows, musical events, and yoga. 

Council Member Arthur J Katzman & Marcia Katzman Allen, Courtesy of Marcia Katzman Allen

Another generously sized park is Yellowstone Park on Yellowstone Boulevard between 68th Avenue and 68th Road, which includes the Arthur  J. Katzman Playground. Council Member Arthur Katzman (1904 – 1993) whose nickname was “the conscience of city government,” served City Council for 29 years. When the land was slated for residential development, he advocated for the creation of a park, which opened on May 27, 1968.  

After the Parks Without Borders program was unveiled, another advocate came forward. Forest Hills resident Alexa Weitzman founded the grassroots organization, “Yellowstone Park Alliance” (www.facebook.com/YellowstoneParkQueens), and has since met with a NYC Parks representative. She explained, “This is a vibrant mixed-use park, and there’s always room for more greenery. It’s nice seeing grass, lots of open space, and maybe even a gazebo.” Her wish list also includes additional plantings, benches, resurfacing the bleachers in the basketball courts, and asking local dog owners how the trails can be upgraded. Prior to coordinating the alliance, she launched a petition which references three gates that open directly onto city streets. She stated, “Allowing these gates to open and close and installing locking mechanisms would create a much safer play space.” In addition, she envisions introducing lower fences to make the park more inviting.    

Leo Ehrenreich in 1949, Courtesy of Community Board 6  

Ehrenreich-Austin Playground between 76th Avenue and 76th Drive on Austin Street also merits sprucing up, and residents now have a chance to follow in the footsteps of Leo Ehrenreich (1882 – 1962). Under his “one-man civic association,” he advocated for Forest Hills and Kew Gardens playgrounds, and the park plot was acquired on May 2, 1947 after Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Queens Borough President George Harvey were receptive to his petition. 

Ehrenreich-Austin Playground in 2009, Photo by Michael Perlman

This generation has another Forest Hills-based visionary named Amy Long, who founded “Earth Citizens Club for Ehrenreich-Austin Playground.” She explained, “I would like to see our parks become a center for community events such as performances, a venue for arts and culture, and educational activities to promote ecological mindfulness and sustainable living; especially now when climate change and the environment is such an important focus.”  The grassroots group submitted ideas to Parks Without Borders, which included minimizing the fence, restructuring benches, and introducing a central arts installation and/or a mural. To date, the group has planted daffodils, launched a cleanup, and coordinated Family Yoga Fun Day last August.

Other local parks with historical ties awaiting public input include Federoff Triangle, Real Good Park, World’s Fair Playground, Lost Battalion Playground, Russell Sage Playground, Annadale Playground, Plaza 67, Horace Harding Playground, Pebblestone Triangle, Fleetwood Triangle, Willow Lake Playground, and The Painter’s Playground.

“Over 300 volunteer hours were devoted just to MacDonald Park in 2015,” said Melnick, who indicated that such a commitment by locals coupled with the city’s Parks Without Borders program has the makings of a success story. 

A modified version of this article appears in the Forest Hills Times: www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/27040805/article-Help-improve-your-local-park

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cinemart Cinemas Fundraiser Begins Dec 30 with "The Hateful Eight"

Please ATTEND & SHARE the 12/30 fundraiser to help upgrade & preserve the classic Cinemart Cinemas​ at 106-03 Metropolitan Avenue, Forest Hills.

Beginning on 12/30, Quentin Tarantino’s film, “The Hateful Eight,” an American mystery western with an all-star cast will debut at the Cinemart in a rich 35 mm film format & a digital format (only theater outside Manhattan). An $8 admission will include free popcorn, free drinks & refills (seniors $6). Help finance the installation of novelty leather recliners, slated for March 2016, which is part of owner Nicolas Nicolaou’s commitment towards providing comfort & affordability. 

Showtimes: www.cinemartcinemas.com

The Cinemart is presumably the city’s longest independently owned & operated theater since its opening in 1927, & one of the last.

Last year's screening of the first-run film, "American Sniper" achieved record ticket sales, thanks to the community, and helped prevent the Cinemart from closing its doors. Please continue your support. 

Owner Nicolas Nicolaou and manager Sal Parete welcome you....

Monday, December 21, 2015

Dec 27: FREE Forest Hills Gardens Tour!

FREE Forest Hills Gardens Holiday Tour on Sun, Dec 27 from 2 PM - 4 PM. 

Please add your friends to the event page & share over social media.

We will visit historic sites including the storied Forest Hills Inn & Tea Garden, PS 101, The Leslie, Adolph Weinman's WWI Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, Church-in-the-Gardens, & the Christian Science Church. Also to be explored is the Gardens' celebrity culture with names i.e. Burt Bacharach, Fred Hart, & Alrick Man, Jr.

We will meet at Station Square outside the LIRR Station at Continental Ave & Burns St. Please join Jeff Gottlieb (Central Queens Historical Association, President), Michael Perlman (Rego-Forest Preservation Council, Chair, & Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park, Author), & Cheryl Cuddeback (longtime resident, author, & real estate salesperson).

The forecast is predicted to be mild. Questions? Email jeffgottlieb@hotmail.com & unlockthevault@hotmail.com  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Kennedy House At 50 - A Landmark of Luxury Living

By Michael Perlman

Towering 34 stories over Queens Boulevard is the Kennedy House at 110-11 Queens Boulevard, which has been a prestigious address since its 1966 opening. On track to its 50th anniversary, past and current residents, as well as descendants of its architect and builder are proud to relive memories and emphasize the distinctive accommodations.

The Kennedy House was developed while the 1964 – 1965 World’s Fair was underway, and not long after the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was designed by award-winning architect Philip Birnbaum (1907 – 1996) and developed by another award winner, Alfred L. Kaskel (1901 – 1968), President of Carol Management Corporation, who frequently partnered to introduce projects to the growing Forest Hills community, including a majority of presidential-titled buildings along 108th Street and Yellowstone Boulevard. Without a surprise, their latest endeavor was the recipient of a 1st prize bronze plaque by the Queens Chamber of Commerce in 1966.

Kennedy House rising, as Forest Hills musician Peter Dizozza & his father pose alongside Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church on May Day, 1965, Courtesy of Peter Dizozza

When residents picked up The New York Times in April 1965, highly stylized ads featured cartoon-like renderings of the tower offset by a rooftop pool. A few were titled “A Landmark of Luxury Living” and referenced a “new dimension of urban living.” Accommodations would include a landscaped park and gardens which occupies 75 percent of the site, banded terraces with turquoise lights, and central air with individual room controls. Rent for a studio to a three-bedroom apartment began at $162, and all-inclusive was gas, electric, and use of “vacation-at-home facilities,” such as two rooftop swimming pools, a sauna, a sun deck, a recreation room, a 24 hour doorman, and an attended garage.

Alfred Kaskel & Philip Birnbaum hold a 1st prize building award, Courtesy of Daniel Kaskel

Historically, the owner called the Kennedy House “the tallest swimming pool foundation in the world.” Florida resident Daniel Kaskel, great-grandson of builder Alfred Kaskel explained, “Alfred is credited for constructing the first elevated pool on the rooftop of an apartment building. He experienced engineering issues, but resolved them by combining concrete and steel framing to support the heavy loads.”

Residents and visitors continue to make an entrance under a colonnade marquee past a driveway, and walking across marble floors in a 2-story domed lobby by the famed interior designer Tom Lee, and topped off with an elegant crystal chandelier. Manhattan resident Dara Birnbaum, daughter of architect Philip Birnbaum offered a detail account. “My father grew up in poverty on the Lower East Side, and it meant the world to him to be able to provide the rising middle class, post-WWII, with a sense of status, achievement, and refinement.” She continued, “He paid utmost attention to the layouts of the apartments, yielding more open floor plans, with less square footage dedicated to hallways, and instead added expansive living rooms and bedrooms.”

Her father took pride in living on the 29th floor of what was deemed the tallest building in Queens. “My birthday and my mom’s birthday are on October 29th and September 29th, so that held meaning for us. My brother and I were a little intimidated by the height of the terrace, and we would tease about how people walking on the street looked like ants.” Her favorite accommodation was the rooftop pool, which she took advantage of in the summer while pursuing architecture. “I could return home from college and swim as the sun set over Manhattan, which was magical,” she recalled.

The Kennedy House remains a beacon of light. “The markers of the blue lights used for the terraces reminded my father of an airport runway, specifically those at JFK Airport,” she said. The lobby’s crystal chandelier holds more stories. “It typified my father's desire that the rising middle class could identify with items of luxury, and while it can be seen as a status symbol, it is also a wondrous sparkling light to welcome one home.” She pointed out that his entryways and lobbies were designed to be prominent, and he and Kaskel would often fly to Europe seeking chandeliers and antiques.

Erected with the family in mind, the Kennedy House symbolized traditions. Las Vegas resident Judith Becker’s grandparents Jack and Pauline Schwartz were among the first tenants and remained until the mid-1980s. She said, “I visited them weekly and when I became a parent, my son and I visited together.” Also among the first tenants were Forest Hills resident David Schwartz’s grandparents, and his most cherished memories included playing in the property’s small park with his grandfather. He continued, “I loved being greeted by John, the doorman who was there years later, when I dropped off my daughter to visit her friend. I walked in and said ‘hello John,’ and he said ‘hello David.’”

Since 1995, the Kennedy House has been part of resident Regina Judith Faighes’ harmonious experience. It faces Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, where she sings in the choir. She explained, “It is set back from Queens Boulevard, and its grounds include spacious lawns and beautiful trees, including a majestic linden tree. This year, they planted evergreen trees on which lights are hung, so they are living Christmas trees.”

James Griffin and his wife have called the building home for 15 years. “It is superbly maintained and skillfully managed, and the location is a contender for the best in Queens,” he said, referencing its convenience to diverse restaurants, shops, the subway, and the LIRR. He also praised the refurbished gym, the 24-hour doorman, and the pool.

Native Forest Hills resident Robert Rosner said, “I remember a bust of JFK facing fountains, which was removed soon after its installation.” Bert Schwartz’s 6-faced bronze sculpture that captured various moods of JFK was set against a meteorite, and was rejected for its small size. Its whereabouts are unknown, but what is known is how the majority of the Kennedy House’s grand features and services withstood the test of time, proving “A landmark of luxury living.”

A similar version also appeared in the Forest Hills Times: www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/27003251/article-The-Kennedy-House-At-50

Friday, December 4, 2015

Dec 6: FREE Historic Forest Hills Tour!

FREE Historic Forest Hills Tour on Sun, Dec 6 from 2 PM - 4 PM.
We will explore stately residential buildings, the business district, & the Forest Hills Gardens. We will meet at La Boulangerie at 109-01 72nd Rd. Please join Jeff Gottlieb (Central Queens Historical Association, President), Michael Perlman (Rego-Forest Preservation Council, Chair & Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park, Author), & Susanna Hof (Terrace Sotheby's Realty, Principal).

Questions? Email jeffgottlieb@hotmail.com & unlockthevault@hotmail.com

RSVP on Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/1513120738986003


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Help Solve Forest Hills Gardens Mysteries & Rediscover Relics

Copyright Michael Perlman
Forgotten Past of The Forest Hills Gardens by Michael Perlman

- Why did the handprint & footprint concrete slabs featuring celebrities outside the Forest Hills Inn, once known as "Celebrity Walk" vanish?
- Why are the 2 concrete eagles at the base pedestals of the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium nowhere to be seen?
- Why is the only remnant of the Sun Dial on Village Green a 4-hole pedestal?
- Why & when did the historic Fountain of Piping Pan in Olivia Park vanish?
- Why is 8 Greenway Terrace, which  contains a greenhouse that once belonged to the popular Forest Hills Flower Shop left vacant in the exclusive Forest Hills Gardens for approximately 15 years?
- Will the Tea Garden see new light?
- Is the Forest Hills Gardens' standalone stone mailbox post the last of its kind locally?

Forgotten relics and some mysteries are very much alive in our backyard, and such is the case in the Forest Hills Gardens.

Established in 1909 as America's earliest planned garden community, Tudor and Arts & Crafts homes on winding streets featuring lush landscapes add up to a predominant preservation success story, thanks to restrictive covenants administered by the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation.

Principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury and urban planner Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. would generally be content, despite the few features that have vanished.
Copyright Michael Perlman, 2015
Copyright Michael Perlman, 2015
On Village Green, situated along Greenway Terrace, one comes upon a pea gravel pedestal with four holes. Affixed to the top was once the “Sun Dial.” The pathways which extend from the pedestal are symbolic of the sun’s rays providing contrast from the lawn.

Back in 1915, it was boasted by The Newtown Register as “a very attractive feature which was depended upon as giving the correct time when the sun shines.”

Copyright Michael Perlman, 2015
Copyright Michael Perlman, 2015
Olivia Park offers a most intimate setting, but a tranquil and functional feature once known as the Fountain of Piping Pan has long vanished. In 1915, The Sun published, “The presiding genius of the fountain is a small nude boy in plaster playing a pipe and the water tumbles over the stones at his feet down into a miniature lake, where the birds may disport themselves as in one of nature’s own sylvan retreats.”

On July 4, 1915, with a local branch of the Audubon Society on scene, the fountain, designed by Beatrix Forbes-Robinson Hale, was dedicated to Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, who was kindly regarded for her passion to birds.

Also part of her acclaim was her establishment of the Russell Sage Foundation, which sought to improve the social and living conditions in the United States.

Her vision was realized as this park often served as a natural amphitheater, where Irmgard, Baroness von Rottenthal performed interpretative dances at the ceremony to the sounds of Grieg and Tchaikovsky.

Copyright Michael Perlman, 2015
Copyright Michael Perlman, 2015
At 8 Greenway Terrace stands an Old English single-story Forest Hills Flower Shop with an adjoining greenhouse that opened in the 1920s as florist and landscape contractors, but shuttered around 1998.

“The florist John J. Loguercio ran the shop for many years, and would employ some of the local teens as delivery boys, including one that became an M.D. Andre, who now owns Forest Hills Flowers & Blossoms on Metropolitan Avenue, began working for John,” recalled Forest Hills native Maria Swanson.

“It was a beautiful spot with climbing roses and window displays,” added Kew Gardens resident Eileen Mahoney, who was raised at 14 Greenway Terrace. “Everyone in the neighborhood had him provide flowers for their weddings. Neighborhood Christmas trees and wreathes were purchased there.”

Copyright Michael Perlman
“It saddens me that some of these unique features have disappeared,” said Swanson, who recalled concrete slabs in front of the Forest Hills Inn, which consisted of Forest Hills’ Celebrity Walk.

On site were entertainers’ handprints and footprints. They included Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis, Jr. and likely Buddy Hackett, The Beatles, The Marx Bros, Betty Davis, Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne.

“They were possibly removed in the late 1970s,” she continued.

Former Forest Hills resident Steven Grimando was on scene at the time the slabs were salvaged during a construction project.

“They were framed in wood and placed on dollies, two at a time,” he said. “Under the Forest Hills Inn, there’s a ramp with doors, and the slabs were then placed deep within a series of catacombs.”

Copyright Michael Perlman
As the Inn was a center of a classy social life prior to its residential conversion in 1967, the Tea Garden, nestled behind the Inn was in full swing. Opened in 1912, it was once the site of afternoon teas, weddings, dances, and productions by The Gardens Players that took inspiration from the natural setting.

Guests would dine to the Inn Trio’s performance of Nevin’s “A Day in Venice” and Dvorak’s “Humoresque.” Today, behind an ornate gate on Greenway Terrace stands majestic trees and a defunct central brick fountain, but the cascading wall fountain has vanished. Now plans are underway to restore the Tea Garden.
Copyright Michael Perlman
Copyright Michael Perlman
On a stroll among forgotten spots, locals can stop at presumably the last pea gravel mailbox post on Ascan Avenue and Greenway South, which bears a 1938 inscription. The mounted miniature mailbox is long gone, but to its right is a more familiar 1950s-era blue mailbox.
The long gone eagle & Bill Tilden in 1937 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium
And a couple of concrete eagles have mysteriously gone missing from the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which was designed as America’s first tennis stadium in 1923 by architect Kenneth Murchison and built by The Foundation Company.

Bea Hunt, former vice president of the West Side Tennis Club, noticed the pair in photos through the 1950s, but then examined a Rolling Stones concert photo marked July 2, 1966, where the eagles were missing.

“Today there are 11 concrete eagles at the upper fa├žade overlooking the amphitheater, but originally an eagle stood on each pedestal at the lower ends of the horseshoe,” she said.

Source: Queens Ledger - Forgotten Past of The Forest Hills Gardens 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

11/15: Triple 300th Anniversary at First Presbyterian Church of Newtown

A special invite from the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown on Queens Blvd & 54th Ave, which will celebrate a triple 300th anniversary on November 15, 2015:

The historical 363-year-old First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, was the only church in Queens west of the Flushing River from 1652 to 1735. It was founded in 1652 by Puritans (like the Pilgrims) who came seeking freedom to practice their religion. This 363-year-old church has been in the same area, now Elmhurst, long before there was even a country called the United States! The church they founded is still going strong. Today, the congregation is a wonderful multicultural, multiracial mix, with members from over 25 countries, working in harmony to serve God and the community.

Sun, Nov. 15 will be a day to give thanks and celebrate the church's 300th anniversary of three commemorative events:

1. In 1715, the original Puritan church (founded 1652) turned officially Presbyterian.

2. In 1715, land was given to the church by member and prominent citizen Jonathan Fish for its first two churches (1715-1774/5 and 1787- 1928), and its cemetery (1822-1959) – across the street from the current location. The original sheepskin 1715 deed will be displayed at this event.

3. In 1715, our oldest, and still existing, book of records was begun. The original will be shown! Done in quill pen, with quite a few ink blotches, it records not only membership, baptisms, marriages, and deaths, but also an earthquake, smallpox wiping out families, yellow fever, slaves becoming members of the church, and how sinning members were disciplined.

In celebration of these events, a memorial stone to Jonathan Fish, an early Newtown settler, will be mounted on the wall in the church entry hall and be unveiled on this day. He came from Massachusetts to the new English settlement that would later be called Newtown (all western Queens then). He died in 1663 after serving as a magistrate for the town for several years. He was the ancestor of many remarkable men, including Hamilton Fish, advisor to President Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant, and wealthy railroad owner Stuyvesant Fish (who had the stone made), three New York State congressmen, and is also said to be related to the Bush family, Secretary of State John Kerry, and others.

There will be a display of various documents and historical artifacts, including the following:

1. The original 1715 handwritten deed, written in the reign of King George II (uncle of the infamous George III of Revolutionary War times)

2. Our original 1715 Record book

3. The original small draft of a 1774 resolution by some church members to form a Committee of Correspondence, and support the Continental Congress
4. Photos of some important Fish descendants
5. Photos documenting the moving of the present church on log rollers turned by hand winches from the other side of Queens Boulevard, when the street was widened in 1924 to accommodate subway construction
6. Other photos and documents showing the congregation at worship as the demographics of Queens changed.

Our 10:45 AM worship service will include music and message to celebrate our colonial heritage and 300 years of Presbyterian faith.

All are welcome to attend the events.

List of Events

10:00 AM - 2:00 PM: Historical display in the sanctuary

10:45 AM: Church service in the sanctuary

12:30 PM: Unveiling of Jonathan Fish memorial stone

Refreshments in Fellowship Hall after unveiling

2:00 PM: Historical walking tour of Newtown

Source: www.fpcn.org/news/200-fpcn-celebrates-triple-300th-anniversary-on-sun-nov-15