Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Forest Hills South: Helping Hands Improve Historic Ambiance

By Michael Perlman

On a chilly but sunny Saturday morning before Thanksgiving, residents of the Forest Hills South cooperative demonstrated why every day should be “Thanksgiving.” As approximately 20 multi-generational residents took their shovels and planted 3 Tulip trees, 200 Tulip bulbs, and 100 Daffodil bulbs on November 23rd, they also instilled humanitarian values and lessons comprised of community service, environmental beautification, and neighborliness.

Forest Hills South exemplifies neighborliness in a unique country style setting blocks from the heart of Forest Hills, and is situated between Queens Boulevard and Grand Central Parkway from 76th Drive to 78th Avenue. Residents come home to a retreat consisting of seven well-preserved Georgian Colonial buildings facing a park-like campus which is unnoticeable from Queens Boulevard, and offers monumental trees, pathways, benches, and fountains.

Residences are The Parkview, Meadowbrook, Beaverbrook, Girard, Dover, Dartmouth, and The Marlborough. Developed between 1939 and 1941, Forest Hills South was completed during the population boom witnessed as a result of the 1939 World’s Fair. The complex contains 604 apartments, and was designed by famed architect Philip Birnbaum, who was often recognized for his efficiency of layouts and communal living. 

Forest Hills South in 1941, Courtesy of Library of Congress & James Griffin

George McGrath, President of the Board of Forest Hills South, first learned about the availability of free Tulip trees by corresponding with Rego-Forest Preservation Council, and sent Resident Manager Jose Leon to adopt some trees which remained from a fall 2013 tree giveaway event at the PS 219 Paul Klapper School. Forest Hills South experienced the loss of trees due to storms including Hurricane Sandy, so introducing Tulip trees was the ideal fit. They are fast-growing, hardy, bear colorful flowers, and will assimilate well with an ambiance of flowers and the foliage of mature Beech, Sycamore, Maple, Cherry, and Japanese Maple trees.  

“Our residents and staff take pride in our trees and gardens which make this such a unique property in Forest Hills,” said McGrath. Residents planted bulbs in the central courtyards between 77th and 78th Avenues. The trees were planted along the garden walkway in front of the Dover, on the side of the Dover, and adjacent to a recently completed parking lot at the corner of 78th Avenue and the Grand Central Parkway. He added, “We have been coordinating bulb plantings for 10 years, and this is the first time we invited residents to plant trees.”

Migda Cartagena made a move to Forest Hills South last January, and was drawn by its landscaping. She said, “I want to participate in every event that I can. It’s fun, and even more fun when everything is in bloom.”

Jose Leon, who took pride in attending the event with his grandson, always makes sure that each residence is notified about events. He stated, “We are teaching the children how important it is to keep our area nice, and how to get together like a big family, which Forest Hills South is. They will grow up and teach their children to do the same.”

At age 5, Oliver Mandell helped plant a Tulip tree and bulbs. His reaction was “I loved it! I learned how to plant bulbs and trees.” Matt Mandell, a resident since 2000, has participated in many events with his children and wife. He said, “Since we live in an apartment, this is a rare opportunity for us to do some gardening. In the spring, we walk around and try to figure out which flowers we planted.”

Greening the complex can be accomplished through additional methods, where being environmentally sustainable while restoring period architectural features is considered a priority. “Whenever we make property enhancements, we make sure it is in the style of what was here,” said McGrath. Next year, the board envisions installing LED lighting with classic style fixtures.

A conversion from oil to natural gas was made in 2008, which cut fuel costs in half. McGrath then explained, “We were one of the first in Forest Hills to install white roofs, which reflect 70% of sunlight to help keep our buildings cool. The installation costs 2/3 of a traditional asphalt roof. This allows us to retain more capital for future building maintenance and improvements.

 Next week, staff members will plant bulbs around the fountains, and residents can also anticipate more happy times with their neighbors. A Hanukkah menorah and an Evergreen with colored lights will be placed in the central gardens. McGrath explained, “We will be stringing hundreds of white lights on the trees and shrubs throughout the property, have a countdown, and throw a switch that turns on all the lights. Then we will go into our community room for a party with hot chocolate and cookies.”

Photos by Michael Perlman of tree & bulb planting ceremony: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8095451@N08/sets/72157638069132195/

Michael Perlman's column in the Forest Hills Times/Queens Ledger, "Forest Hills South: Helping Hands Improve Historic Ambiance" http://www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/24121199/article-Forest-Hills-S--is-grounds-for-improvement

Forest Hills South prospectus from 1941

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