Towering 34 stories over Queens Boulevard is the Kennedy House at 110-11 Queens Boulevard, which has been a prestigious address since its 1966 opening. On track to its 50th anniversary, past and current residents, as well as descendants of its architect and builder are proud to relive memories and emphasize the distinctive accommodations.
The Kennedy House was developed while the 1964 – 1965 World’s Fair was underway, and not long after the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was designed by award-winning architect Philip Birnbaum (1907 – 1996) and developed by another award winner, Alfred L. Kaskel (1901 – 1968), President of Carol Management Corporation, who frequently partnered to introduce projects to the growing Forest Hills community, including a majority of presidential-titled buildings along 108th Street and Yellowstone Boulevard. Without a surprise, their latest endeavor was the recipient of a 1st prize bronze plaque by the Queens Chamber of Commerce in 1966.
|Kennedy House rising, as Forest Hills musician Peter Dizozza & his father pose alongside Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church on May Day, 1965, Courtesy of Peter Dizozza|
When residents picked up The New York Times in April 1965, highly stylized ads featured cartoon-like renderings of the tower offset by a rooftop pool. A few were titled “A Landmark of Luxury Living” and referenced a “new dimension of urban living.” Accommodations would include a landscaped park and gardens which occupies 75 percent of the site, banded terraces with turquoise lights, and central air with individual room controls. Rent for a studio to a three-bedroom apartment began at $162, and all-inclusive was gas, electric, and use of “vacation-at-home facilities,” such as two rooftop swimming pools, a sauna, a sun deck, a recreation room, a 24 hour doorman, and an attended garage.
|Alfred Kaskel & Philip Birnbaum hold a 1st prize building award, Courtesy of Daniel Kaskel|
Historically, the owner called the Kennedy House “the tallest swimming pool foundation in the world.” Florida resident Daniel Kaskel, great-grandson of builder Alfred Kaskel explained, “Alfred is credited for constructing the first elevated pool on the rooftop of an apartment building. He experienced engineering issues, but resolved them by combining concrete and steel framing to support the heavy loads.”
Residents and visitors continue to make an entrance under a colonnade marquee past a driveway, and walking across marble floors in a 2-story domed lobby by the famed interior designer Tom Lee, and topped off with an elegant crystal chandelier. Manhattan resident Dara Birnbaum, daughter of architect Philip Birnbaum offered a detail account. “My father grew up in poverty on the Lower East Side, and it meant the world to him to be able to provide the rising middle class, post-WWII, with a sense of status, achievement, and refinement.” She continued, “He paid utmost attention to the layouts of the apartments, yielding more open floor plans, with less square footage dedicated to hallways, and instead added expansive living rooms and bedrooms.”
Her father took pride in living on the 29th floor of what was deemed the tallest building in Queens. “My birthday and my mom’s birthday are on October 29th and September 29th, so that held meaning for us. My brother and I were a little intimidated by the height of the terrace, and we would tease about how people walking on the street looked like ants.” Her favorite accommodation was the rooftop pool, which she took advantage of in the summer while pursuing architecture. “I could return home from college and swim as the sun set over Manhattan, which was magical,” she recalled.
The Kennedy House remains a beacon of light. “The markers of the blue lights used for the terraces reminded my father of an airport runway, specifically those at JFK Airport,” she said. The lobby’s crystal chandelier holds more stories. “It typified my father's desire that the rising middle class could identify with items of luxury, and while it can be seen as a status symbol, it is also a wondrous sparkling light to welcome one home.” She pointed out that his entryways and lobbies were designed to be prominent, and he and Kaskel would often fly to Europe seeking chandeliers and antiques.
Erected with the family in mind, the Kennedy House symbolized traditions. Las Vegas resident Judith Becker’s grandparents Jack and Pauline Schwartz were among the first tenants and remained until the mid-1980s. She said, “I visited them weekly and when I became a parent, my son and I visited together.” Also among the first tenants were Forest Hills resident David Schwartz’s grandparents, and his most cherished memories included playing in the property’s small park with his grandfather. He continued, “I loved being greeted by John, the doorman who was there years later, when I dropped off my daughter to visit her friend. I walked in and said ‘hello John,’ and he said ‘hello David.’”
Since 1995, the Kennedy House has been part of resident Regina Judith Faighes’ harmonious experience. It faces Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, where she sings in the choir. She explained, “It is set back from Queens Boulevard, and its grounds include spacious lawns and beautiful trees, including a majestic linden tree. This year, they planted evergreen trees on which lights are hung, so they are living Christmas trees.”
James Griffin and his wife have called the building home for 15 years. “It is superbly maintained and skillfully managed, and the location is a contender for the best in Queens,” he said, referencing its convenience to diverse restaurants, shops, the subway, and the LIRR. He also praised the refurbished gym, the 24-hour doorman, and the pool.
Native Forest Hills resident Robert Rosner said, “I remember a bust of JFK facing fountains, which was removed soon after its installation.” Bert Schwartz’s 6-faced bronze sculpture that captured various moods of JFK was set against a meteorite, and was rejected for its small size. Its whereabouts are unknown, but what is known is how the majority of the Kennedy House’s grand features and services withstood the test of time, proving “A landmark of luxury living.”
A similar version also appeared in the Forest Hills Times: www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/27003251/article-The-Kennedy-House-At-50