Friday, September 17, 2010

Kiwanis Club of Forest Hills Helps Forest Hills Tennis Stadium Preservation Campaign & Supports Neighborhood Preservation

A handful of dedicated members of the Kiwanis Club of Forest Hills with President Walter Sanchez & Guest Speaker Michael Perlman
The Kiwanis Club of Forest Hills is in the field of assisting in the campaign to landmark and reuse the iconic yet endangered Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. 

The guest speaker of the evening of September 2nd, the date of their monthly meeting, was Michael Perlman, Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, who was invited by Walter Sanchez, President of the Kiwanis Club of Forest Hills. Michael Perlman read the mission statement of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, explained how the community organization began in late 2006 in response to the 100th anniversary of Forest Hills, and in response to how precious potential landmarks and sections of the neighborhood are under siege by developers and property owners who undertake demolition or insensitive alterations, rather than considering city & state landmarking options, creative adaptive reuse, and funding programs for restoration and historically-sensitive renovation. The larger picture of the modification or loss of historic sites is a compromising of the historic character, harmonious feel, and property values of sections of Forest Hills & Rego Park. The dominant architectural styles of Forest Hills and Rego Park were also pointed out, opening eyes of participants.

The presentation revolved around a most pressing case in point, in which Cord Meyer Development seeks to buy the historic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium from the West Side Tennis Club, and demolish the majority for a typical condo. That would likely occur if 2/3 of the voting-eligible members of the West Side Tennis Club approve of a sale on September 23rd, although any redevelopment would require the approval of the Forest Hills Gardens Corp (Restrictive Covenants), Dept of Buildings (permits), and City Planning (zoning). The consensus of Kiwanis Club members in attendance was very concerned, asked how they can help in the preservation campaign, and unanimously signed a petition requesting a public hearing and Landmark status by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. They realized how demolition of the 1923 Stadium would be an insult to a series of firsts in our architectural, tennis, and music history, and how a modern condo would be out-of-context for the earliest planned community countrywide, the Forest Hills Gardens, in which its historic sites are safeguarded by Restrictive Covevants since the establishment of the Gardens in 1909. They also realized how it would adversely affect property values of the Forest Hills Gardens and adjacent Van Court section.

Another case in point of the presentation was the endangerment of an assemblage of historic and rare Neo-Renaissance rowhouses in Forest Hills, situated on 72nd Ave between Austin St & Queens Blvd. The rowhouses were developed by Cord Meyer and designed by notable architect, Benjamin Dreisler, and are the oldest extant developments, dating back to the naming of Forest Hills in 1906 by Cord Meyer (ironic how that same firm is trying to manipulate historic architecture 104 years later). The rowhouses mark the shift of Whitepot to Forest Hills in 1906. They have been the site of 85th and 100th-anniversary dedication ceremonies, in conjunction with the establishment of Forest Hills. Despite their cultural and architectural legacy, the majority have been demolished in recent years by unsympathetic developers, who don't feel the need to fit in with the majority of the community's sentiments. The developments that replaced these historic sites are banal and contradict the rich character of the village-inspired Austin St and the greater neighborhood.

Michael Perlman also explained the landmarking process, funding opportunities for owners of historic properties, how the public's outcry to the demolition of Penn Station led to the establishment of the Landmarks Law in 1965, and how it is essential for Kiwanis Club members and a large percentage of the neighborhood to volunteer with Rego-Forest Preservation Council through research, photography, and letter campaigns and testimony at public hearings. Also explained was how it is essential to advocate for a site's landmark status proactively, in contrast to a reactionary basis of a historic site being slated for demolition; although sometimes a site's endangerment becomes apparent at the last minute. The Kiwanis Club members expressed an interest in volunteering with Rego-Forest Preservation Council, and were grateful for the presentation.

The meeting featured an elegant dinner at a restaurant on Metropolitan Ave, where the Kiwanis Club began by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Then members went around the table, introducing themselves, and briefly discussed their careers. They expressed their passion for the community and discussed potential community projects. President Walter Sanchez is a wonderful community leader, who is well-rounded, open-minded, brings community issues to the forefront with his noble character and great sense of humor, and builds upon his experience as Publisher of the widespread Queens Ledger newspaper series.

The mission of the Kiwanis Club of Forest Hills is to bring together those with concerned interests in Forest Hills, to help preserve the fabric of community, to help children in need, and to work together to build harmony. The Forest Hills branch became official 8 months ago. It is a relative newcomer in a network of Kiwanis Clubs citywide, and its membership is growing monthly. The members who attended the September meeting are a representation of the full membership, and show much enthusiasm for the community, and how a great relationship between the members is the key ingredient towards a vibrant club and a more "neighborly neighborhood," with a wide range of community projects for all.

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium outer facade boasting grand Gothic-inspired archways, shields, cornice lines, and eagles which are capable of holding up flags. Note how the brilliant late summer afternoon sun is accentuating the outer facade and underside of the authentic grandstands, beneath the Forest Hills rendition of the "golden arches." This is the 1st concrete tennis stadium countrywide, designed by the famed Kenneth Murchison, and was integral in establishing tennis as a national sport. Photo by Michael Perlman.
The iconic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium towards authentic grandstands with stone walls & eagles watching over in pride. Visualize tennis & music greats taking center field in the stadium since 1923, and also since 1913, which was before the stadium's completion. Photo courtesy of Patrick Lannan.
Aerial from authentic grandstands of Forest Hills Tennis Stadium towards Tudor style Clubhouse of the West Side Tennis Club. Photo courtesy of Peter Dutton, also known as Joe Shlabotnik on flickr.

Close-up of Tudor-style Clubhouse from the top of the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Photo courtesy of Peter Dutton, also known as Joe Shlabotnik on flickr.

Long live the Kiwanis!
How You Can Help

1. To become a member of the Kiwanis Club of Forest Hills, and have a role in community projects, e-mail President Walter Sanchez at

2. To volunteer with Rego-Forest Preservation Council, and have a role in preservation campaigns for a character-rich neighborhood, e-mail Chair Michael Perlman at and join our Facebook Group:

3. Landmark Letter Campaign for Forest Hills Tennis Stadium:

- Join the Facebook Group for S.O.S. (Save Our Stadium!):

- Rego-Forest Preservation Council Stadium & Clubhouse campaign photos and memorabilia:
- Stadium & Clubhouse gallery featuring Peter Dutton/Joe Shlabotnik's photography: and

4. The most frequently used websites for the average preservationist is that of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office (State & National Register of Historic Places), which are respectively:

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