Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Preservation Call: Public Art in Forest Hills & Rego Park

By Michael Perlman

Forest Hills and Rego Park are home to classic examples of public art, which foster a neighborhood’s distinctive identity and are often impacted by a community’s development and societal events. However, without educating property owners about their value and applying for NYC Landmark and National Register status, artistic works are being altered or demolished rather than restored.

Rego Park resident Pat Morgan is a regular on walking tours, who explained, "The design on our architecture is the creation of an artist put together by artisans of decades past. It was accomplished usually by hand, as computers were not available in the 30s and 40s for design, and relied upon the mechanical engineering of architects and their engineers." She continued, "As we bear witness to the work of the last century, we have proof that those designers and workers were truly artisans creating works that with proper care and maintenance, can last for more than a century."



Come upon the International-style Forest Hills Post Office façade, embellished with the “Spirit of Communication,” which is a terra-cotta relief designed in 1938 by famed Sculptor Sten Jacobsson. It features a female figurine holding a carrier pigeon and a clock, relating to timely services. It was commissioned by the Treasury Department Section of Fine Arts, where the goals were to enhance the public’s experience with art during the Great Depression while assisting impoverished local to national artists. The building earned National Register status in 1988 and the sculpture is part of the New Deal Art Registry.




Places of worship often become a showcase of religious art, where one acquires an appreciation regardless of faith. The Art Deco and Bauhaus-inspired Rego Park Jewish Center, completed in 1948, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 in response to local advocacy. The façade displays a massive mosaic mural depicting Old Testament scenes and symbols, which was designed by the notable 20th century Hungarian-born artist Alexander Raymond Katz. 



Banks were often designed on a more elaborate scale, meant to instill confidence while demonstrating commitment. Therefore, another mosaic mural was installed on the façade of Home Savings Bank of America at 108-36 Queens Boulevard (now TD Bank). It was designed by Richard Haas, an internationally recognized architectural muralist in 1989. It was nearly demolished, until owner Cord Meyer Development Company decided to cease lease negotiations with a prospective tenant that would not preserve it. Work was executed in Spilimbergo, Italy, and features views of the Forest Hills Gardens with Forest Hills Stadium, and the Twin Towers in the backdrop. 


There are other incidents where public art has vanished or perhaps temporarily, as in the case of Bank of America at 99-01 Queens Boulevard, which opened in 1952 as the Metropolitan Industrial Bank, and has sat vacant since 2015. A 22-by-25-foot mural, which illustrated Forest Hills’ growth was a focal point of the main lobby, but may have been covered over decades ago. It was situated in an International-style building designed by the award-winning architect, Philip Birnbaum, which consists of triple-height windows, a rotunda, and a colonnade of granite columns with stainless steel fins; an achievement of open planning that made patrons feel invited at a time when the norm was to erect banks in the Colonial and Art Deco styles with traditional materials, rather than industrial materials. 


When community residents picked up a copy of The Forest Hills-Kew Gardens Post on September 18, 1942, they came across an ad for the soon-to-open Art Moderne style Midway Theatre, designed by Thomas Lamb and S. Charles Lee. It read, “The Midway Theatre has been so named and dedicated as a tribute to the gallant men of our armed forces who achieved so brilliant a victory at Midway Island.” The glory was captured in a WWII “Battle of Midway” mural, but today it could likely be rediscovered under layers of paint. Patrons were ready for a single-screen theater, where they could enjoy films and attempt to escape the pressures surrounding WWII.



Four Art Deco murals once accentuated the facades of the Thorneycroft Apartments complex, completed during the 1939 World’s Fair along 99th Street and 66th Road, but today only one 99th Street mural remains intact, while the others have been concealed and removed. “The image of a man and woman sitting under a tree, with a dog on one side and a cat on the other, adds a personal touch,” said resident Carol Hagarty. “Over the past 30 years, my husband and I had several cats and dogs as companions, so the building’s rooftop artwork came to symbolize my own little family within those buildings. I hope that other neighbors know to look up and appreciate it, since artwork adds meaning to our lives.” A former Rego Park resident David Kalfus, who recalled his childhood, said, “I was puzzled by those murals when we passed them in our explorations, and I would tell my gullible brothers they were ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.” 



“Public art is a gift to the masses that should be celebrated and treated with the utmost level of respect,” said architect Matthew Ferraro, president of the board of directors of Chatwick Gardens, an Elizabethan and Tudor cooperative from 1929 in Forest Hills that is overseeing a large-scale façade restoration. “Previous renovations may have eliminated some historic features, but capital improvements provide a unique opportunity for owners to explore the history of their property, in order to evaluate how and if particular elements should be maintained or restored.”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dancing The Night Away at Forest Hills Stadium's FOLD Fest!

Nile Rodgers with CHIC at FOLD, Photo by Michael Perlman

 Dancing The Night Away at Forest Hills Stadium's FOLD Fest!

by Michael Perlman

It was history-in-the-making, as Grammy award-winning songwriter, producer, and guitarist Nile Rodgers coordinated and presented the “Freak Out Let’s Dance” (FOLD) Festival at Forest Hills Stadium on October 8. It was the penultimate concert of the 2016 season, which turned America’s earliest tennis stadium and a restored and renovated concert venue into a 5-hour outdoor disco party. 

The heavens must have shed tears of joy, as citywide concertgoers and out-of-towners danced and sang, refusing to allow intense downpours to place a damper on their plans. It was largely a celebration of the soul of the 1970s and 1980s, followed by a few more recent hits. Decades have passed, but the vocals were very much in tune and complemented by rich instrumentation.

The prediction of concert manager Jon McMillan, who said that the evening would be “the party of the year,” came true. He explained, “We’re used to having one legend on stage at a time, but in this case, we're ecstatic to have four on one night.”

Nile Rodgers at FOLD, Photo by Michael Perlman
The lineup featured Nile Rodgers & CHIC, the band which he co-founded in the 1970s, with showstoppers such as “Le Freak,” “Everybody Dance,” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.” 

Bette Midler in the moment, Photo by Michael Perlman
Bette Midler, a special guest, performed with Nile Rodgers. Her set included her classics such as “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and marked her return engagement following her August 1983 concert. Midler said, “This is only the second time I’ve ever been to Forest Hills. It is so gorgeous and glamorous up here.” She exchanged witty banter with the audience and said, “When Nile invited me, I was confused and knew it was going to be ‘Ahh… Freak Out,’ and he looked at me. I was going to break out my platform shoes from the old days, but I realized I’d fall from that height and end my life.” 

Village People, Photo by Michael Perlman
The high energy, elaborately costumed 6-member Village People’s performed their most memorable number “YMCA,” “In The Navy,” and “Macho Man.” 

Earth, Wind & Fire, Photo by Michael Perlman
Earth, Wind, & Fire energized the stage with a multiplicity of genres with hits such as “Shining Star,” “Let’s Groove,” and “Fantasy.” The festival also featured Alex Newell, Studio 54’s DJ Nicky Siano, a most successful DJ of his time, and the iconic DJ Cassidy, who mastered works in front of a 24 karat gold mic and ornate table. 

DJ Cassidy, Photo by Michael Perlman
Alex Newell, Photo by Michael Perlman
Among the crowning moments was “We Are Family,” where Nile Rodgers was joined by the multitude of musicians and numerous dancers. This topped off his vision for the festival, where he explained his goal as “to demonstrate the evolution of dance music as defined by his own life and the spirit of collaboration.” He called FOLD “a fun, open, and wonderful experience with real people and real music.”

Miri Malach flew in from Boca Raton. As part of her VIP package, she met Rodgers. “I enjoyed getting a minute alone with Nile, who is friendly, affable, and warm, and I had a photo-op.” She continued, “The Village People instructed us on the proper way to do the ‘YMCA’ at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Bette Midler has been one of my favorite stars for decades, and I was thrilled to finally see her.”

Bette Midler, Photo by Michael Perlman
For New Jersey resident Sandy Goldbeck King, the festival sparked a recollection of Midler’s 1983 concert. “The incomparable Bette Midler is fun and energetic, but also moving. I have distinct memories of when her backup singers, the Harlettes were dressed as mermaids.” 

A concert ticket from 1983
The most memorable moments for some attendees related to music’s impact and the diversity of genres. Forest Hills resident Evan Ginzburg, who regularly features varied genres on his Net TV show, “Evan Ginzburg's Legends TV,” said, “Hearing what was voted the happiest song of all time, Earth, Wind, & Fire’s ‘September,’ a mere two weeks after my beloved mom Barbara Ginzburg passed on, was uplifting for me, as music is always therapeutic.” Another local attendee, Alicia Venezia explained, “When Nile Rodgers said he found out he had cancer, he wrote more and sang more, and then went on to perform ‘Get Lucky.’”

Catherine Joyner, a Bronx resident, who was raised during the disco era, attended with her friends from the High School of Music & Art, and the concert was a continuation of her reunion. “We were vocal majors and sang along to most numbers such as ‘Good Times’ by CHIC, which wakes me up each morning. If it wasn’t for our reunion, we wouldn’t have seen this concert, and now we hope to see more in Forest Hills.”

Manhattan resident Halli Moskowitz recalled intriguing moments. “I’m a huge fan of old school hip hop artists Grandmaster Melle Mel and Doug E Fresh (who made an appearance), and back in the day, I actually danced with Felipe Rose of the Village People on the dance floor.” Also from Manhattan, Kyle Supley of the web series, “Kyle Supley’s Out There,” said, “The trip was quick and the architecture of the stadium and surroundings is a historical throwback that everyone from Manhattan should experience.” 

Concertgoers dancing the night away! Photo by Michael Perlman
The concert became a family affair for many including Kara Hailey, who commuted from Brooklyn Heights. She commented, “I was incredibly impressed with how tight Nile Rodgers and his band were, and of course how Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind, & Fire can still hit those high notes!” Praising the stadium, she said, “It is intimate, which is rare for an outdoor venue.” 

Where the magic begins - Photo by Michael Perlman
"America's 1st tennis stadium" & a foremost concert venue, Photo by Michael Perlman

Note: A similar version of this feature story was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/27288386/article-Dancing-the-night-away-in-Forest-Hills

Additional photos are available upon request. 


Friday, September 30, 2016

Forest Hills Tennis Archive, Library, & Maybe A Museum?


Reminiscing & Building Tennis History in Forest Hills


by Michael Perlman, Historian, Preservationist, Author

The stately Tudor style Clubhouse
Forest Hills Tennis Stadium: First in America
Significant achievements in recent West Side Tennis Club (WSTC) history include the comeback of world-class concerts in 2013 and pro tennis in 2016, and now the club is considering the development of a public tennis library and archive, and perhaps a museum on the property.

On August 27, 2016, the historic clubhouse became the grounds of a seminar and dinner, where national and international members of Tennis Collectors of America (TCA) and WSTC members gathered to help shape the future of the club. A day earlier, the club hosted a tennis antiques trade show.


Vintage tennis publications on display
The TCA, a non-profit, was founded in 2003 to promote tennis collecting and tennis history through the TCA website, published media, and an annual meeting at varying locations throughout America. The seminar was attended by WSTC members. It featured a WSTC history slide show by 45-year member and chair of the archives committee member Bea Hunt, plans for the tennis history library by Alan Edelman, and memories of the US Open among tournaments by panelists Linna Hunt, Nancy Crabill, Ray Fitzmartin, and Jim Sheridan, and moderator Jack Leibler (past WSTC president). Edelman and B. Hunt both joined TCA last year. 


Memories committee panelists: Linna Hunt, Nancy Crabill, Ray Fitzmartin, Jack Leibler, Jim Sheridan
TCA & WSTC members gather
The WSTC was founded in 1892 on Manhattan’s West Side, and leased land at Central Park West and 89th Street, Amsterdam Avenue and 117th Street, and Broadway and 238th Street before calling Forest Hills home in 1913 and developing America’s first tennis stadium in 1923. Bea Hunt explained, “Originally, there were 13 charter members, who organized our club as a men’s tennis club, but that same year, we held our first club championship for men and women. By the end of our first season, we had 5 tennis courts and 43 members.”


Forest Hills Tennis Stadium as "America's Tennis Stadium" - MIT's The Technology Review, November 1922
Today, Forest Hills offers a stately Tudor clubhouse designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, but attendees were hard-pressed to learn that the first clubhouse was a shanty with cold showers. Hunt emphasized how far the club has come, and said, “In 124 years, Angela Martin is our first woman president, but I am disappointed to say that we didn’t have one earlier.” Throughout its history, numerous pivotal moments included the Wightman Cup featuring the first international team match for women on the stadium’s opening day, breaking racial color barriers when Althea Gibson became the first African American to win a US national tennis title in 1957, and the birth of the US Open, where Billie Jean King played the first “open” match in 1968.


Alan S Edelman addressing his audience 
Baltimore resident Alan Edelman is much of an inspiration to the WSTC and largely a reason for their expansion plans, as well as WSTC member James Wilson. Nearly two years ago, Edelman was seeking a New York venue to play tennis, visited the WSTC, and met Wilson. He reminisced, “One of the first things I was told, which was shocking, was that West Side doesn’t have much of an archive. I consider this the most important tennis institution in the United States, and I really couldn’t believe they wanted my collectibles.” That consisted of over 500 magazines featuring WSTC history from 1953 until the late 1980s.


Time capsule: WSTC tin   
The site of pivotal moments!
Wilson suggested that they create a public archive extending beyond the club’s membership. Edelman said, “It became apparent that most institutions don’t have archives. If we can accumulate an encyclopedic history of all of tennis, it will be a very important thing for the tennis world.”


Bea Hunt with Alan S Edelman
Part of the archive will document members’ memories. During the US Open, Nancy Crabill escorted players to center court from 1975 to 1977 and carried male player racquets, which she called glamorous, but there was one time she escorted female players. She said, “Jimmy Connors approached me and asked if I was going to escort Chris Evert onto court. He asked if I would give her a message (although they were not together then), and said to tell her that I love her and wish her luck.”

During the US Open, Linna Hunt once sold tennis merchandise in the pro shop under the stadium and distributed passes to tennis players. She recalled her experience with Patricio Cornejo, a Chilean tennis player who made it to the men's doubles finals in 1974. “On the day of the tournament, his favorite racquet was still being strung and he told me to please bring it out, even if the game was starting. I was shy in front of an audience, but ran out, gave him his racquet and got a standing ovation. That was the high point in my tennis life.”

Jim Sheridan, now an honorary member and consultant to the club, has been a familiar face at the WSTC for 52 years. In 2014, he was presented with a plaque in recognition of his dedicated service as assistant through head groundskeeper, which was built on the legacy of his father Owen Sheridan, who began tending the grounds in 1932. Sheridan reminisced The Beatles concert in 1964, when they landed in a helicopter. “No one thought about the wind screen, and it blew the fences down,” he said. Fans throwing jelly beans at Ringo was a common sight. “There was grass at that time at the stadium, and jelly beans were stuck in the grass for some time since it rained.”

Ray Fitzmartin worked the US Open for nearly 50 years, officiating various matches and tournaments. “As an umpire in Forest Hills, we had to show up at 9 AM every day. If the match ran 3 hours, you had to stay that long with no bathroom breaks. You had to wear a blazer and a long sleeve shirt and tie, no matter what the weather was.” In contrast to the US Open in Flushing Meadows, he said, “Here the atmosphere was warm, and players would ask if they could join you for lunch or dinner.”


Jim Sheridan signing "Legendary Locals of Forest Hills & Rego Park" by Michael H Perlman for TCA President Becky Desmond
WSTC Foundation President Roland Meier addressing the dinner party
After the seminar, TCA members further expressed their support for an archive. President Becky Desmond, a founding member who resides in Downingtown, PA, has been teaching tennis since 1967. One of her earliest collectibles took a creative spin, when she acquired a tennis motif button depicting two Edwardian ladies on each side of the net with a dog, and transformed it into a ring while maintaining its integrity.

Desmond said, “I look forward in seeing how the TCA can help the WSTC, and it’s wonderful that this venture will take place on the historic site and memorabilia will not be locked up in a closet somewhere.” She may even donate her 1970s era personal photos of Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors walking the grounds, and another of Connors and Ilie Năstase cleaning the lines on court after the rain.


Michael Perlman & Jeanne Cherry: Two authors come together
Santa Monica, CA resident Jeanne Cherry, another TCA founder, is the author of “Tennis Antiques & Collectibles.” “I searched for books on tennis memorabilia, but after finding none, decided to write the first book on this topic,” she said. Her tennis collection consists of everything from trophies and paintings to letters to and from players and greater than 600 racquets. Eyeing the future, she said, “I am writing a pictorial biography of Helen Wills, who won the women’s singles national championships at Forest Hills seven times in the 1920s and 1930s, and I will be glad to donate a copy.”


Archives committee chair Bea Hunt, WSTC President Angela Martin, WSTC Foundation President Roland Meier, TCA President Becky Desmond, Photo by Michael Perlman


Caitlyn & Elise Carpenter host WSTC trivia
At the dinner, the youngest attendees were two sisters, 11-year-old Caitlyn and 10-year-old Elise Carpenter of Mamaroneck, who have been playing tennis for 7 years and volunteered to become speakers for 2 rounds of WSTC tennis history trivia. “If you bring forward a sport, you need to preserve its origins, so you can learn from it,” said Caitlyn. Elise then added, “I thought it was really cool how they got everyone to put out their antiques for others to see.” Both sisters expressed interest in becoming TCA members someday by saying “yes” with a smile.



Step into the future of the WSTC, beginning with the Clubhouse's Hall of Fame

Tennis memorabilia display
WSTC Certificate of Subscription toward the Stadium, July 20, 1923


1931 & 1923 Lawn Tennis magazines 
1935 & 1968 tennis publications



WSTC Centennial plate, 1892 - 1992


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sept 25th: Four Forest Hills Events - Mark Your Calendar!


What do animals, books, a yard sale, & a street fair have in common? Between 10 AM & 4 PM on 9/25:

At the Forest Hills Street Fair, I will be offering signed copies of my book "Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park" as a collaboration with Trylon Vet Care P.C.'s Posh Pets Rescue fundraiser. Stop by our table on Austin Street near Starbucks. I will also be selling signed copies at the Tea Garden of the Forest Hills Inn around the corner from Station Square, as part of the Inn's annual yard sale that will benefit this historic property. Feel free to email unlockthevault@hotmail.com with questions or requests.


- Michael Perlman







Saturday, February 27, 2016

Pro Tennis Makes A Comeback At Iconic Forest Hills Stadium

By Michael Perlman

US Open 1977 at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, 35 mm slide

A milestone for the West Side Tennis Club and the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium was achieved in 2013, when the iconic-but-long dormant stadium underwent restoration work and a rebirth as a concert venue that hosted Mumford & Sons. It recalled the days of the Forest Hills Music Festival, predominantly held during the 1960s and 1970s and featuring the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan.

Now the club’s integral role in tennis history will have a new chapter. On February 17, Mylan World TeamTennis announced the formation of New York Empire, a franchise that will debut this summer at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.

“Excitement, enthusiasm, and a historic moment are some of the words members have used to express their feelings,” said Angela Martin, president of the West Side Tennis Club. “One of our junior players is thrilled that he will be able to see Andy Roddick play. There is also a great deal of conjecture about who the other players will be, not only on the New York Empire team, but other teams as well.”

Mylan World TeamTennis is a leader in professional team tennis competition, and features some of the world’s best players. The 2016 regular season will run from July 31 to August 13 and conclude with the Mylan World TeamTennis Finals on August 27.

The season will consist of six teams in competition for the King Trophy, which was named after its co-founder, Billie Jean King.

Former world number one Andy Roddick was signed as a marquee player, and ESPN commentator and former tour player Patrick McEnroe will serve as a coach.

“As both a player and an owner, I have always enjoyed all that encompasses Mylan World TeamTennis,” said Roddick in a statement. “To be able to play on the legendary courts at Forest Hills and be involved with a team in a city that I love will make this even more special.”

The initial contract, negotiated by former director Bob Ingersole and a committee comprised of David Duff, Carl Koerner, and Jon Knipe, will stand for three years.

The WSTC holds high expectations for this summer and the future of the club and its stadium.

“Not only for our club’s young members, but several generations have not had opportunities to witness pro tennis at the stadium,” Martin said. “In addition, tennis lovers will have unique opportunities to see matches.”
Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in 1923, Courtesy of West Side Tennis Club

The stadium was designed in 1923 by Kenneth Murchison. It was the first concrete tennis stadium in America and the site of several historic firsts. Tennis was a segregated sport until racial barriers were broken in Forest Hills, when Althea Gibson became the first African American to win a US National tennis title in 1957, and Arthur Ashe became the first African American male to win the US Open title in 1968.

The stadium was also the birthplace of the US Open, where Billie Jean King played the first “open” match in 1968. In 1977, the final US Open was played at the stadium, and when it relocated to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, some spectators claimed that the stadium’s glory days were over.

In 2010, the stadium came close to demolition, until a plan to sell the site for a condo development was rejected.

At the time of the WSTC’s 100th anniversary in the spring of 2013, past president Roland Meier eyed a mix between quality tennis events, ice hockey in the winter, and concerts consisting of classical and modern music.

“Opportunities have arisen and will continue to surface for future uses of the stadium,” Martin said.





Billie Jean King at the US Open Tennis Championships, 1971

Also accessible at:Forest Hills Times - Pro tennis makes a comeback at iconic stadium


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Feb 26 Special Event: Legendary Locals & Queens History



Special Event: On February 26 at 7:30 PM, celebrate diverse achievements & Queens history by learning about legendary locals linked to Forest Hills, Rego Park, & Richmond Hill. RSVP: www.facebook.com/events/124918757894710

A presentation & book signing will be led by Michael H. Perlman, a 33-year Forest Hills resident who is an author, columnist, and Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council. Michael will personalize copies of his book, "Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park" (foreword by Jerry Springer)

Admission is FREE & his book is available for purchase. Refreshments will be served. The event will be held at the Leonard Center at 86-13 112th Street in Richmond Hill. Please invite your friends.

This event is being coordinated by the Richmond Hill Historical Society to commemorate the history of Richmond Hill, which has been recognized as a preservation priority through the Historic Districts Council's "Six To Celebrate Program" - www.6tocelebrate.org