Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Glimpse of Holland In Forest Hills - Happy 85th Anniversary To The Holland House!

By Michael Perlman of  Rego-Forest Preservation Council & the Forest Hills Times

What is in a name? The Holland House, situated at 73-37 Austin Street is now 85 years old, and since 1929, has been a grand residence which never abandoned its charm.

Perhaps Forest Hills residents are unaware of its Dutch influence. Around 250 years prior to its completion, the land was granted by a Dutch King to Casper Joost Springsteen in the mid-17th century, when Queens was a Dutch Colonial province of the New Netherlands. After remaining in the prominent Springsteen farming family for seven generations, the 4-acre parcel sold for an excess of $1,000,000 in December 1928 to President Robert Shelley and Treasurer Alfred J. Ball of the Shellball Realty Corporation, which erected and managed the Holland House. In summer 1929, the ten-story site was prized for being the tallest Queens apartment house in one of the most beautiful suburban American communities, with average home prices ranging from $25,000 to $350,000.  

A notable architect by the name of Benjamin Braunstein designed the Holland House, and also made his mark on significant developments including Sutton Hall, The Wakefield, Tilden Arms, and The Chatham in Forest Hills, Marion Court and Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Rego Park, and The Mowbray in Kew Gardens. Braunstein designed the Holland House to be soundproof and fireproof, and to offer two to eight rooms with one to three baths, foyers leading to living rooms, and three penthouses. His plans also included a 50 x 175 foot rear garden, a roof garden, and a social hall for residents and guests to entertain. Hallways were furnished in the Old Dutch style. 

The Holland House is synonymous with the Forest Hills Gardens’ Old English style, and is uniquely merged with the streamlined Art Deco influences of a time when the Chrysler Building was under construction. The façade features terra-cotta scrollwork depicting gargoyles, birds, and foxes, as well as raised brick, stonework, ornamental balconies, archways, and recessed areas and large windows which maximize light and air.

“A quiet dignity pervades the whole building which is noted for high quality and character of its tenancy and management,” read an illustrated prospectus for new suitors and tenants. It continued, “Gracious, uniformed attendants at the entrance doors admit you to a nicely carpeted and well furnished lobby, next to which are two passenger elevators. The management provides twenty-four hour door, elevator and valet service. Maids may be had by the day or hour. To assure the comfort and protection of all, references are required from prospective tenants.”  

Today, the Holland House is a co-op with a 7-day doorman, and residents can attest to its quality living outlined in the prospectus. “We were drawn to the building because of the pre-war architecture and our large apartment’s attention to detail,” said Carmela Gersbeck. Board President Bart Haggerty explained, “Our community is very diverse, ranging from singles to young couples, to couples raising children, to multiple generations, to retirees.  Several residents reside here for over 40 years. We are half a block to Austin Street’s shopping and restaurants, while still being on the quiet residential section of Austin Street.” 

“The Holland House has all the trappings of a Park Avenue residence, along with views of the Manhattan skyline and three bridges, and it’s zoned for Public School 101 in the Gardens,” said Historian Bill Safka. He then pointed out some fellow notables. “Disc Jockey Eddie Arcaro and a model known as Sabrina lived here. Bing Crosby and Dixie Lee would visit a penthouse resident.” 

The building takes pride in its garden, which was named “Keith's Courtyard” after their doorman Keith Smith. Safka, who is also Chair of the Beautification Committee explained, “I planned and planted our garden along with Keith, who was so keen in seeing it rejuvenated. Way back when, brides would take their wedding photos in front of our Magnolia trees.”

“We expanded our garden with a stone patio, a variety of shade loving plants and perennials, and tables and chairs for the residents' quiet enjoyment,” said Gersbeck. Residents adopted a Japanese Maple, a Tulip Tree, two Eastern Redbuds, and an Amur Maackia tree from the Forest Hills Tree Giveaway Events, which contributed diversity among mature Maples and Elms.

Gersbeck explained some other special characteristics. “We have a very committed board which sponsors events and makes the Holland House a diverse and active community.” Some attractions are summer and fall barbecues, a spring cocktail party, and Halloween and holiday parties. This year, residents can anticipate a hallway renovation and the possibility of an exercise room.

We take pride in presenting the prospectus which was distributed shortly after the Holland House opened....

A rendition of this feature was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

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