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:


Sunday, March 30, 2014

The School In The Gardens Launches Centennial

By Michael Perlman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

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

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

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

Hof Hall
Smith Hall

Smith Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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