Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Rediscovering Modernism in Queens - A Call for Preservation!


1st prize winner Metropolitan Industrial Bank, now Bank of America, 99-01 Queens Blvd, Photo by Michael Perlman

By Michael Perlman


The Queens Modern project is commemorating and exploring the appeal and significance of mid-century modern architecture in Queens, which often goes unappreciated.

Last year, Brooklyn resident and historic preservationist Frampton Tolbert, former deputy director of the Historic Districts Council, received an independent project grant from the state Council on the Arts for the endeavor, which can be found at queensmodern.com.

It is questionable as to why modern architecture in Queens and citywide is largely unrecognized and lacking of landmark designations, when in fact a minimal requirement for a landmarked site is to be 30 years old.

“There are many possible reasons, including that Queens architecture in general is considered less significant than architecture in other boroughs,” said Tolbert. “Part of this project is an effort to change that.”

Another goal is to showcase an array of forgotten and untold stories behind the development of noteworthy modern buildings, which will include everything from developers such as Alfred Kaskel to architects like Simeon Heller to owners, including the Leo F. Kearns family.

Tolbert considers Queens Modern a natural evolution of his popular blog, midcenturymundane.com. He currently serves as the director of development and communications at the Center for Urban Pedagogy, and sits on the boards of Victorian Society New York and the Recent Past Preservation Network.

The Queens Chamber of Commerce is known for its annual building awards, which encourages and recognizes creative development. Queens Modern chronicles the period of 1948 to 1970, when the chamber honored approximately 400 Queens buildings. Tolbert's mission is to personally survey all sites.

Currently, Queens Modern features 150 of the projects, but Tolbert plans to spotlight all the award-winners from this period, in addition to other sites from the era.

“I've discovered so many unique threads and stories, and really have scratched the surface,” Tolbert said. “In my mind, the height of design and development was the 1950s and 1960s.”

He pinpointed classic examples of modernism such as the Leslie Apartments (1948) at 150 Greenway Terrace in the Forest Hills Gardens; the Metropolitan Industrial Bank (1952), now known as Bank of America at 99-01 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills; the former Scandinavian Airlines System building (1955) at 138-02 Queens Boulevard in Jamaica; and Barkin, Levin & Co. (1958) at 12-12 33rd Avenue in Long Island City.

“I am very intrigued by the Metropolitan Industrial Bank, which is very unlike architect Philip Birnbaum's other works, which tended to be large brick apartment buildings for the middle and upper class,” said Tolbert. “I feel the idea that this was a showcase of modern industrial materials needs to be explored further.”

For Tolbert, conducting research is a work in progress, and his site will continue to grow. He said, “I've discovered so many unique threads and stories, and really have scratched the surface.” He continued, “I look forward to highlighting more information about prolific but largely unknown architects, such as John O'Malley and Raymond Irrera, examining development trends like the increase in Catholic church construction, as well as discussing how major working and middle class housing developments including Lefrak City, Electchester, and Glen Oaks Village came about.” 

 Furthering the mission of Queens Modern, he said, “I would like to convene a panel of speakers to discuss modernism in Queens and New York City in general. I also hope to coordinate an event including an exhibit at the Queens Chamber of Commerce.”

A similar version of this feature appears in the Forest Hills Times: 

http://www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/26461873/article-Rediscovering-Modernism-in-Queens


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Save The Cinemart Theatre & Watch "American Sniper" - A Major Film By Clint Eastwood


You can  help rescue the historic Cinemart Theatre by seeing a major film screening which begins this week! Please share with everyone & buy tickets:


Cinemart Cinemas at 106-03 Metropolitan Ave in Forest Hills has a second chance for survival, since Warner Bros. Pictures has at last licensed a first-run film, “American Sniper,” which is also one of the year’s most acclaimed films, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood.

* Previews will be screened on January 15 at 7 PM, 8 PM, and 9 PM, and include free popcorn and a drink with refills.

* Beginning on January 16, there will be 8 to 9 daily screenings through the Oscars (February 22) and likely beyond.

The Cinemart is being tested! If the film does not draw a large enough audience, owner Nicolas Nicolaou may have no choice but to close his 5-screen theater, which dates to 1927, since Hollywood studios will likely issue no other first-run films. However, he is determined to make every effort.

The Cinemart's year-round lower price policy consists of a $6.00 admission for weekday matinees (12 PM to 5 PM) with an extension to Tuesday evenings. Seniors and children pay $6.00 at all times. General admission for adults is $9.00. Patrons can anticipate complimentary popcorn and a drink with Wednesday and Thursday admissions.

If ticket sales prove successful, the owner envisions restoring and renovating one of the borough's last continuously operated independent movie theaters.

The Cinemart as the Inwood Theatre, June 1949



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Petition: LANDMARK Queens Clock Tower, Bank of The Manhattan Company!


The iconic Clock Tower of Queens may be demolished, but must earn NYC Individual Landmark status. It takes moments to sign the petition & inform your friends: www.change.org/p/help-us-landmark-the-long-island-city-clock-tower  Calendaring, a public hearing, & designation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission must occur ASAP, so please emphasize that in the petition's comments section. The clock is ticking! 

 Photo by Clemens Kois
In addition to Landmark status, we believe this iconic building merits restoration and creative reuse, as Queens Plaza undergoes redevelopment. The building was sold twice in 2014, & the commercial tenants received notification to vacate.  Thankfully, local residents and architects Michael Hall & Matthew Chrislip of +Partners are spearheading a noble preservation campaign: http://pluspartners.org/licclocktower

Photo by Michael Perlman

Statement from Rego-Forest Preservation Council to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

The Bank of The Manhattan Company, also known as the Clock Tower, is one of Queens' most iconic and deserving landmarks at 29-27 41st Avenue (Queens Plaza North), designed in a Neo-Gothic meets Art Deco style. On October 25, 1925, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published, "A 4-way clock tower will rise from the 11th floor and will be a landmark easily seen from all points of Queens, as well as from Manhattan." In 1928, The NY Times reported that the Queens Chamber of Commerce recognized the Bank of The Manhattan Company tower with a first prize award for its architectural and civic value. Upon the building's completion in 1927, it was noted as a skyscraper in Queens, being that it was the tallest, and was deemed a symbol of growth and integrity. That same year, an ad by The Electime Company regarded it as “A Tower of Truth.”

This early skyscraper is a unique and striking landmark, with its castle-like parapet, crests, gargoyles, intriguing variation of limestone and brick, illuminated electron clock, and cartouches inscribed with “BM,” which relate to the bank’s name and commitment. Architect Morrell Smith, who was the Bank of The Manhattan Company’s principal architect for various projects, was a visionary. 

Without official landmark status by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, what is popularly referred to as the clock tower will stop ticking forever, and a historic site will be demolished. May this triumphant building stand proudly for future generations. With a new Chairperson of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, Meenakshi Srinivasan, the time has come for transparency at the public’s request, and an increase in the pace of Individual Landmark and Historic District designations in Queens.

Historic Documentation

Queensborough, 1927, Courtesy of the Queens Chamber of Commerce
Lithograph courtesy of Michael Perlman's collection
Queensborough, 1928, Courtesy of the Queens Chamber of Commerce 
Queensborough, 1927, Courtesy of the Queens Chamber of Commerce
Queensborough, 1927, Courtesy of the Queens Chamber of Commerce
Queensborough, 1927, Courtesy of the Queens Chamber of Commerce
Queensborough, 1927, Courtesy of the Queens Chamber of Commerce
Queensborough, 1938, Courtesy of the Queens Chamber of Commerce

Monday, December 8, 2014

Potential Landmarks In Peril Citywide‏ - Appeal To The Landmarks Preservation Commission


A map of landmark-worthy properties which may face the wrecking ball or major alterations if de-calendared: http://hdc.org/hdc-lpc/proposed-de-calendar-items

Fairway Apartments, 76-09 34th Avenue, Jackson Heights in 1937
An open letter, which was sent to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission at comments@lpc.nyc.gov on December 6, 2014:

Dear LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan & Commissioners,

On behalf of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, we would like to extend our gratitude in response to the Landmarks Preservation Commission's cancellation of the proposed administrative hearing on December 9, 2014, which would have likely resulted in the de-calendaring of nearly 100 landmark-worthy individual properties and two landmark-worthy districts.

We feel that if the Landmarks Preservation Commission was to engage in a massive de-calendaring, it would set a risky precedent, where those properties may undergo demolition as-of-right, and the public would speculate that future calendared properties may be de-calendared and also demolished. New York City residents, community groups, elected officials, and preservationists at large work tirelessly to research, propose, and advocate for new landmarks, which have largely resulted in those properties to have been calendared.

The public is routinely presented with the opportunity to testify on hearing items, but a "commissioner only" vote on a massive de-calendaring would have appeared as if the public has no voice in the landmarking process, or as if we inhabited the days of protests before witnessing the classic Pennsylvania Station's demolition.

Our landmarks and potential landmarks are a unique contribution to our city's architectural and cultural history, diversity, and aesthetics, and are cornerstones in the eyes of NYC residents who experience their communities first-hand. As per the Landmarks Law, which enables the public to provide testimony for properties, the public needs to have a say in the future of the nearly 100 individual properties and the 2 districts, which have been calendared.

Upon reviewing the listing of the proposed de-calendaring items, our boroughs would lose their identity and distinctive qualities of a livable community. Some cases in point are the Ahles House and the Douglaston Historic District Extension in Queens, the IRT Powerhouse and Loew's 175th Street Theater in Manhattan, the 5466 Arthur Kill Road House and Garner Mansion in Staten Island, the 65 Schofield Street House and the Samuel Babcock House in the Bronx, and St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church and St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church and Rectory in Brooklyn.

We strongly encourage the Landmarks Preservation Commission to schedule public hearings for all of the calendared items, beginning where there is most pressure to alter, sell, or redevelop the site, or where development patterns in the surrounding community could compromise the site's integrity or longevity. May the Landmarks Preservation Commission and New Yorkers work as a team, to emphasize how a governmental body and their constituency can operate cohesively for our city's improvement. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

~ Michael Perlman
Rego-Forest Preservation Council, Chair
Forest Hills, NY

Douglaston Historic District Extension - This is one example of the neighborhood's homes: 39-12 Douglaston Parkway, completed circa 1910
Ahles House, 39-24 to 39-26 213th Street, Bayside
First Reformed Church of College Point, 118-09 14th Avenue, Courtesy of College Point Memories Blog
Pepsi-Cola Sign in daylight, Long Island City, Photo by Bridge and Tunnel Club
Pepsi-Cola Sign illuminated, Long Island City, Photo by Bridge and Tunnel Club
Bowne Street Community Church, 38-01 Bowne Street, Flushing
Spanish Towers Homes, 34-30 to 34-52 75th Street, Jackson Heights
Old Calvary Cemetery Gatehouse at Greenpoint & Gale Avenues, Blissville, Photo courtesy of Forgotten NY

Now imagine if our Forest Hills landmarks remained stagnant on a calendared but not landmarked list, and were on the verge of being de-calendared. This is why a public hearing and a motion to designate in a reasonable timespan is essential.

Ridgewood Savings Bank, 107-55 Queens Boulevard, Designated May 30, 2000, Photo by Michael Perlman

Engine Co 305, Hook & Ladder Co 151 at 111-02 Queens Boulevard, Designated June 12, 2012, Photo by Michael Perlman

Remsen Cemetery at Alderton Street & Trotting Course Lane, Designated May 26, 1981


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Touring Forest Close & the Forest Hills Gardens with Architectural Historian Barry Lewis

By Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council Chair & Forest Hills Times Columnist






On a warm Saturday morning, nearly 40 residents of Forest Hills and other communities gathered in Station Square, to begin their weekend with a tour of the Forest Hills Gardens and Forest Close. Many anticipated their first encounter with notable architectural historian Barry Lewis, who conducted historic NYC tours, televised on Channel Thirteen, and wrote the book, “Kew Gardens: Urban Village in the Big City.”

This tour was made possible by the Historic Districts Council, NYC’s largest citywide preservation advocate. It is part of the non-profit’s “Six To Celebrate,” where the HDC will offer tours of the neighborhoods which encompass the six preservation-worthy selections of 2014 between June and October. HDC Preservation Associate Barbara Zay explained, “These tours serve to highlight neighborhoods that many New Yorkers are unaware of, and in places that are more heavily trodden, to shine a light on unknown aspect of their history or built environment.”



The Forest Close Association nominated Forest Close, an assemblage of rowhouses designed in 1927 by Robert Tappan, a client of Cord Meyer Development Company. It is bounded by 75th Road, 76th Avenue, and Austin Street. Zay explained, “The HDC seeks to raise awareness of this delightful neo-Tudor enclave and explore opportunities to further protect it for future generations. The Association is concerned about new developments and real estate projects in its surrounding neighborhood that could threaten the Close’s sense of place.”






“Town home living in Forest Close and nearby Arbor Close allows for gardening, outdoor dining, or winter reading by the fireplace,” said Forest Close resident Elisa Barsoum Losada. “Each home has a private patio overlooking a shared common green space and has doorbells on the patio and front doors. These features encourage a sense of community, and allow neighbors to live and work together throughout the seasons.”

“Contemporary architects and developers can take a lesson from the design of Forest Close,” said Joanne Wasti, who opened her home and served fine cookies and lemonade. She explained, “As people become more aware of their carbon footprint and green design, Forest Close is an example of a design emphasizing community and away from the car culture. The shared garden area also helps with run-off and cools our homes in the summer.”

The Association maintains a covenant which regulates changes to its architecture and open space, similar to the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, which upholds restrictive covenants governing the Forest Hills Gardens.



Established in 1909, the Gardens is America’s earliest planned garden community. It originated when the Russell Sage Foundation purchased land from the Cord Meyer Development Company, and Principal Architect Grosvenor Atterbury and Landscape Architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. developed what would become an internationally recognized model of urban planning. Tudor and Arts & Crafts mansions, a few apartment houses, the Forest Hills Inn, religious institutions, and outdoor and indoor recreational features can be found.

Barry Lewis highlighted the community’s history and clever design principles. Station Square was conceived as a town center, which merges residential space with an inn, shops, and the LIRR station. Lewis explained, “Atterbury’s walkway system around Station Square is brilliant. He figured, ‘Why should people staying at the Inn have to schlep their luggage outside?’ He created over the street bridges and a walkway system that goes through the buildings.” He continued, “This is urban thinking. Not suburban thinking. It’s about civilizing the city’s way to live in the industrial era.”







Lewis glanced across the way at The Inn Apartments (separate from the Inn) and pointed at the oversized casement windows. He said, “These architects understood that modern people wanted light and air in their apartments. The waffling allows for a multiple exposure.” He continued, “There was a feeling of security and coziness using distressed brick over fieldstone, which gives a rugged feeling of civility.”

Addressing front lawns of homes, Lewis pointed out that most are not fenced in, which can be attributed to covenants. “You would get off the train from NY, where everything follows a grid street system and felt claustrophobic, but here you would have a feeling of openness,” he said.

Every community faces some controversy over development. Lewis addressed the last lot to be developed, which is where The Leslie apartments stands. The site was formerly the Russell Sage Foundation’s sales office and the Austin Hanks house, where the lone surviving family member refused to sell for redevelopment’s sake. Not long after she died, The Leslie was completed in 1942.

The Leslie’s advantages were sunken living rooms, artist studio windows, social rooms, and indoor and outdoor play areas. Additionally, he stated, “An entire city block is completely surrounded by gardens. This was a template for some white brick apartment buildings of the post-war period such as the Manhattan House.”

The Community House
Another stop was Atterbury’s 1926 Community House, which contains a theater, a social hall, and basketball courts. Lewis said, “There was room for everybody. It was very common in a quality community development to have a clubhouse.” He related it to garden communities of Jackson Heights and Kew Gardens. Other historic sites that Lewis featured were the West Side Tennis Club, the Church-in-the-Gardens, the Tea Garden, Hawthorne Park, PS 101, and the Holland House just beyond the Forest Hills Gardens.

The Church-In-The-Gardens


“Protecting places such as the Forest Hills Gardens and Forest Close is important, for it is part of the fabric of New York City,” said Elmhurst resident Helen Chin. “It is unique not just terms of community, but in architecture, design, and urban planning. What was incredible is how soothing and nurturing the environment was.”

A similar version of this feature was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: http://foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/25273891/article-Closer-look-at-two-significant-neighborhoods

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ben’s Best: A Legend Since 1945


By Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council Chairman & Forest Hills Times Columnist

Ben's Best founder Benjamin Parker & son Jay Parker
Few independently owned restaurants in Rego Park among citywide establishments hold the merit of satisfying taste palettes of New Yorkers since 1945. The days of seeing neighborhoods lined with mom and pop shops inclusive of delicatessens on every few blocks may have faded, but Ben’s Best at 96-40 Queens Boulevard is here to stay, according to second generation owner Jay Parker. Local delicatessens which now only exist in the memories of longtime residents are Sandy’s Surf, King Delicatessen/Boulevard Delicatessen, and the Pastrami King.

   Ben’s Best opened in 1945 and was incorporated in 1947 by its founder Benjamin Parker. His son, 62 year-old Long Island resident Jay Parker is the third generation in the kosher deli business. Reminiscing his youth, he said, “I would work for my father on weekends and ran the franks and knishes grill.” His grandfather owned a Hebrew National deli on 163rd Street and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx.  



   Some people attribute the dwindling of classic neighborhood delis to changes in demographics, modern tastes, or retirement. However, Jay Parker, who purchased the business from his father in 1984, values tradition while maintaining his faith in the future.  He said, “All neighborhoods change, but we looked far ahead. There is only one reason for success, but thousands for failure. You have to fertilize the soil you are growing on.” He explained his recipe of survival. “During the holidays we charge a little less for our products, since we have an ethical component to our business. The more the community needs us, the lower the price we set.”

   Parker takes Ben’s Best in the direction of private and corporate catering for events of all sizes, maintains an online presence, is open 7 days, and processes orders from anywhere in the United States. “We have 250 corporate accounts that we service all the time,” he said. Ben’s Best even catered Air Force One under the Clinton Administration.

   Parker takes pride in what’s more than a position, but rather a commitment. “It has been my life. I met my wife and closest friends here. Customers have been here for 40 years, and when they come back, they pick up the conversation from where they left off.” Businesses are destined to become a mainstay when their owners foster new relationships daily. “When you like what you do, it comes a little better,” said Parker. 

   “I have an obligation to keep the community strong,” said Parker, who has proudly served the Rego Park-Forest Hills Lions club and the Rego Park Merchants Association, and was also a past president of Rego Park Jewish Center.

    Another key ingredient is tradition. “Seventy years ago you walked through the door, and you got the same product you will get today. Consistency is the word,” said Parker. His personal favorites are goulash and his grandpa’s recipe of stuffed cabbage. Some patron favorites are pastrami, corned beef, chicken soup with matzo ball, and the Knishwich. Parker explained, “You won’t get a pastrami sandwich with sprouts and sundried tomatoes anytime soon. Corned beef should be corned beef. A little mustard and cole slaw, and we’re good.” Some foods that have been phased out are heart stew, lung stew, cholent, and jellied calves feet (p’tcha).

   Ben’s Best was a stop for notable figures such as Jerry Lewis, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Senator Jacob Javits, Governor Pataki, Mayor Ed Koch, Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz, and Architect Jack Brown. Ben’s Best was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and will be featured in “Deli Man,” a documentary produced by Erik Greenberg Anjou, which chronicles cross-country deli owners who maintain the tradition.






   Enter Ben’s Best and one will see an appetizing counter with photos of notables and plaques on the wall. Just beyond, a 65-seat wood-paneled dining room displays historic Rego Park scenes. A painting of Benjamin Parker looks out at patrons with pride. A map reads “You’ve been in our home. Where is yours?,” and allows patrons to pin their residence. A classic wooden sign of a Judaic main street is another definitive element, often memorialized on Ben’s Best postcards. The famed logo depicts a man on a bicycle, who rides by a deli window. 

A classic menu

A current menu of a classic!

  Parker displayed a classic menu insert, potentially dating to the Mayor Lindsay Administration. It boasted a 99 cents Friday lunch special with no tax, and offered soup, golden brown filet of sole, French fries, cole slaw, tartar sauce, dessert, and coffee, tea, or Coke. The menu featured an Amstel Holland Beer logo and a sketch of a fisherman on a boat.


   Reflecting upon the past while sensing the future, Parker stated, “Every day is a challenge to get better than the day before. Whatever you learned on Monday, you bring to work on Tuesday and add to it. Now I am focused on the next 70 years.” He continued, “For our 50th anniversary, we rolled the prices back. Maybe for our 75th anniversary, we will do the same.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

Midway Theatre World's Fair Films on June 10 at 7 PM - You're Invited!


Come celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 1939 World's Fair and the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World's Fair by attending two complimentary films on June 10 at 7 PM at the historic Midway Theatre, 108-22 Queens Boulevard, Forest Hills. With much gratitude to the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce and Regal Cinemas.