Thursday, July 2, 2020

Patriotism Forest Hills Style, July 5, 1920

By Michael Perlman

Forest Hills Gardens town crier
Back in 1914, the annual Independence Day festival was launched in the Forest Hills Gardens. This set off a tradition where committees, residents, and friends participated in a day-long program for all generations and interests in an exquisitely decorated and uniquely illuminated Station Square, as well as the Forest Hills Inn and Tea Garden, Olivia Park, and along Greenway Terrace. A most historical Forest Hills event was on July 4, 1917, when Colonel Theodore Roosevelt delivered his “One Hundred Percent American” unification speech at the LIRR Station to address WWI. Today, patriotism and tradition continue to echo in a modified form through Children’s Day at Flagpole Green in June. Let’s turn back the clock to July 5, 1920, which marked the 144th anniversary of America’s independence.

The ceremony on Village Green now Flagpole Green
Keeping in mind that the 1919 celebration cost $3,057.90, Dr. Thompson Tyler Sweeny, who served as the Chair of the 1920 celebration, requested that every Gardens family contribute an average of $10. It was anticipated as the greatest of Independence Day celebrations yet! The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin published, “Not only were the birds singing cheerily to arouse the villagers from morning slumbers, but through the streets early on July 5 came the Town Crier calling lustily to all to come to the Green for the Flag-raising at 9:30.” The ceremony featured members of American Legion Post 630 and Boy Scouts Troop 2 under the direction of Harvey Warren, who served as Post president and scoutmaster. Uniformed servicemen and Boy Scouts assembled in Station Square and began marching to Village Green. After Warren played the part of a Colonial Town Crier, he changed into military garb. The flag was raised and a patriotic prayer was made. A chorus sang patriotic tunes under guidance of the famed Glee Clubs leader Bruno Huhn, with piano accompaniment by Mrs. Charles H. Scammell, who was considered “the foster mother of all good singing of Forest Hills Gardens.”

Children were ready to play games in Station Square at 10 AM, thanks to the direction of Dr. W. F. Seybolt.. The publication read, “There are between fifty and sixty very happy boys and girls who are wearing bronze and silver badges, won at the children’s games in canvas-covered Station Square between 10 and 12 o’clock.” It continued, “With kiddie car races, pillow fights, sack and relay races, a whole program of fun, speed, and skill was carried out.” The lineup also included games for adults such as a baby carriage race, football kicking and ball tossing, tilting matches, tug-of-war between easterners and westerners.

At 2 PM, Hawthorn Park became a baseball field where the “Inn Warriors” (the Inns) clashed with the “Station Square Cohorts” (the Outs). An umpire appeared in armor, while a batter wore petticoats. The Daily Star reported, “There will be no tennis this year, the committee having decided that tennis is so integral a part of the life of the community as to make a baseball game a greater diversion.” The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin stated, “The Outs came nobly from the rear and put the winning run over the plate to the accompaniment of the deafening plaudits of the assembled throng.” It later read, “It was a dashing game, and the narrow margin of one run by which the Outs won their victory shows how closely it was played.” The Inns’ captain was Ray Bell whereas Edmund O’Shea led the Outs. 

By 4 PM, attendees were in tune for opera at Olivia Park, a natural amphitheatre. Milton Aborn directed a company which performed “Pagliacci” by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1892) and “Cavalleria Rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni (1889). The Metropolitan chorus featured 24 vocalists and the Metropolitan orchestra featured 17 members. Scenery was minimal to maximize on the park’s charming ambiance.

Between 5 and 7 PM, festivities included a home-cooked supper by the Women’s Guild of the Church-in-the-Gardens social room for $1, where the proceeds would benefit the Community House fund.

At 7:30 PM, they made their way back to Station Square for a band concert and the community Choral Club that performed several patriotic airs comprised of nearly 75 vocalists. Another highlight was music at twilight by the Regiment Band of the 22nd Corps of Engineers, a 40-piece band under Master George Briegel. The evening continued with dancing in Station Square at 9 PM, lasting until midnight. The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin read, “The dance on Station Square, lighted by myriads of red, white, and blue incandescents, will fittingly close a happy family and community patriotic day – the Independence Day of 1920, long to be remembered”… “The decorations will consist of myriads of American flags interspersed with those of the Allies, all placed to produce the best effect.” It also stated, “All the lads and lassies, maids and matrons and escorts danced on the canvas covering until – well, why tell the hour – for the music was the best and the night balmy.” Over 3,000 people were in the audience and among the dancers, and Chairman Henry W. Hirschberg was commended for this final feature.

The festival offered a humanitarian aspect. Proceeds from the refreshment booth, which served ice cream cones, lemonade, iced tea, sandwiches, and cake, benefited the Big Sisters of Queens Borough. Based on the prior year’s partnership, the Big Sisters received over $200 and assisted seven children who would have traditionally ended up in institutions, and ultimately helped them find suitable homes. 

Reflecting on the festival’s success, the publication stated, “Our friends and relatives were here in such numbers that it was apparent that our village is growing, and that everyone likes ‘our party,’ as Dr. Sweeny, the chairman, called it.” It continued, “The most impressive and appropriate part of the program, in the humble opinion of the editor, was in the Flag raising and the singing of the newly christened Choral Club.”

A similar version was featured in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Coronavirus Relief Initiative – Local volunteers ready to serve our community!

Coronavirus Relief Initiative – Local volunteers ready to serve our community by offering services including supplies, food, & conversation. All volunteers are strongly advised to wear a face mask & gloves!

** Annamaria Girardi: & 347-272-6149

** Thomas Mei: & 718-909-5874

** Peter Fleming: & 917-584-9900

** Anna Demetrashvili: & 646-775-1949 

** Nathania Horowitz:

**Marie DiBella:  

** Alexandra Kay:

** Tiffany Pierce:

** Gabriella Golan: 

** Roger Mashihi: (347) 489-6828

** Yvonne Scibelli:

** Cari Cohen:

** Elizabeth Stoddard:

** Patty Bugland: &  

** Amy Beth Goldman:  

** Paige Cragg & her husband:

** Christine Liem & husband Chris: 

** Astrid Munera & Elkin Verona:

** Madiha Zoobear: 

** Yael Yomtov-Emmanuel:

** Jessica Keller & Noel John: &

** Congressional candidate Sandra Choi: & 347-286-1140

** Bruce Goerlich: 917-592-8335

** Batya Kaufman:

** Dina Bouzier Murphy:

** Cristina Liparulo:

** Mickey Blume-Zacarias: 

** Marla Kleinman:

** Melanie Rudolfo:

** Helaine Lu:

** Jessica Crespo:

** Patricia Bernard:

** Yvette Jong: & 718-5444037 

** David C. Vitt :
Donating his time in honor of his employer, Farmingdale State College.

** Mike Arcati, Forest Hills American Legion Post Advocate: & 646-512-1359
“We want the community to know that the American Legion Post's members and building is available to help in the best capacity possible.  Our initial thought is to connect with a local hospital and make our location either a testing/vaccination site or a triage location.  As an alternative, it can be a location to collect supplies, for volunteers to meet & gather supplies to deliver to community members who cannot leave their homes.” 

** Kim Collins, The Bowery Mission:
In need of critical supplies and food as we feed and shelter those who have no home.

** Questions? Contact founder Michael Perlman, co-admin of Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens – “Our Communities”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A New Local Facebook Volunteer Unit To Help Those in Need

As Coronavirus cases surge, lending a helping hand as a community is essential. Over the weekend, this columnist, who is a co-admin of the 16,500+ member Facebook group, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens – “Our Communities” founded a new volunteer unit comprised of members who came forward within hours. The post reads, “Times of crisis can bring us closer together. Who would like to volunteer to help community residents in need? For example, we can run errands for seniors who are advised to stay home during the pandemic. We can commit good deeds that are small, while socially distancing ourselves among other precautions. As a large Facebook group, we can help some of our neighbors.”

Several members of a new growing volunteer initiative have spoken! “It’s always important to give back, but in this time of social distancing, it is imperative that those with stronger immune systems help those who cannot go out in public without risking their health,” said Batya Kaufman. “I have no family nearby, so I know how lonely and difficult it can be without a nearby support system. I also hope I will make some lasting connections that continue beyond this pandemic.”

“Volunteering in a time of crisis enables me to connect with my community and helps affirm my purpose,” said Melanie Rudolfo. She envisions picking up groceries for seniors.

A group member, Kris Supangkat of Kew Gardens, was able to help Forest Hills resident Barbara Glick, who was in need. “She offered to bring me eggs and face masks, and I never met her before. Our group changed overnight from simple posts to life-saving help for others who might die because they can’t get out or they don’t have money to buy stuff. We need to realize that we can be someone who needs others.”

Glick feels a “need to go back to the old Forest Hills and know your neighbors’ names.” She explained, “How can it be when you live in a building for 48 years that nobody knows who you are and nobody helps you? It takes a village, and more than ever that’s been proven. Giving back is great karma and receiving is love, but when it comes down to it, it’s about love and empathy. It doesn’t matter what religion you practice, or what political party you’re part of. Any of us could die from the Coronavirus!”

Alexandra Kay’s grandmother will always be a huge inspiration. “She is the definition of selflessness, and although she passed away, I will never fail to follow in her ways. I was raised around loving and giving people. I want to give back to the world everything that I got in my life, especially to people who need it and can’t always ask for help. I would like to see a significant amount of love and giving in a time where people and businesses are in a crisis. There shall always be light, even in the darkest of times.”

A crisis can particularly make people feel lonely, but Dina Bouzier Murphy hopes to make a difference. Her volunteerism is motivated by the recent loss of a neighbor. “We tried to help him as much as we can, since nobody ever came to visit. He passed away alone, and we realized that he had no surviving family or friends but us. He was grumpy at times, but now we understand why. For that reason, I really want to reach out to everyone that needs our attention.”

“No one is alone” is part of a Sondheim song, which is true, explained Marlene Meltz. “This is a crisis for all. The hydro- Christian teachings inspire us to reach out, so whenever people can share their time, do it.”

As for volunteering to help the community and elders, Mickey Zacarias said, “When there is a need, you fill the need. We are a community and that’s what we do. It’s just like helping a family member.”

In a time of crisis, our most vulnerable populations are at highest risk, explained Elizabeth Stoddard. “My idea for helping seniors would be to divide a call list, where volunteers could call seniors on their list to offer conversation, see how they’re feeling and if they have any medical needs, and offer to pick up groceries or medications.” After learning that schools are closing citywide, she said, “If anyone can’t feed their kid breakfast or anything, I have extra unopened cereal boxes among non-perishable foods.”

Christine Liem was raised in Indonesia and moved to America 15 years ago. “In Indonesia, if someone needed help, we would provide money or food.” Besides her husband Chris, she does not have much family in the U.S. “I can relate when someone lives alone and needs help, so I will contribute my time and energy,” she continued. Looking ahead, she envisions opening a local food pantry for all.

Congressional candidate Sandra Choi describes Queens as a model for the world and a collective community. She said, “Now, more than ever, we have to look after one another and continue to build a community, so no one feels alone.” She visualizes innovative policy reforms to support the most vulnerable in our community, and especially those left behind by policymakers. She explained, “No one lives a single issue life, as we are all impacted by a number of factors. For example, a senior in our community who lives on a fixed income and depends on homecare service will undoubtedly be affected by COVID-19 since it can isolate them, limit access to a caregiver, or they may no longer perform the basic tasks needed including errands to the pharmacy, grocery store, or bank. We need more collaboration among federal, state, local agencies, and private non-profits to ensure our seniors are able to lead lives with dignity and independence.”

“When people say they have no time, no one really does, but we have to find some way to get involved and serve,” said Patty Bugland, who served on her Forest Hills building board for 14 years. “The sense of being part of a small town within a 105 unit co-op is very real, and we can all benefit by being on call for each other. During those years, I worked anywhere from 35 to 60 hours weekly between my job as a special ed teacher for the DOE and a speech and debate judge for a Long Island high school.” She is willing to prioritize for people in need within a radius of 72nd Road, Grand Central Parkway, and Queens Boulevard.”

A list of volunteers and people who need their services is underway. To participate, contact Michael Perlman over Facebook or at and provide your name, Facebook link, phone number, and email.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Annual Preservation Conference Unites Citywide Advocates

By Michael Perlman

Preservation conference panel, Photo by Michael Perlman
The Historic Districts Council (HDC), a citywide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods, hosted the 26th Annual Preservation Conference at John Jay College on March 7. Hundreds of preservationists from the five boroughs networked and discussed strategies in preserving historic buildings and districts that grant community distinction, with an aim of strengthening the preservation ethic through tools including Individual Landmark (façade) and Historic District status via the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, as well as the State & National Register of Historic Places. 

Rego-Forest Preservation Council at the preservation fair
Rego-Forest Preservation Council flyer, March 2020
An annual preservation fair offered an opportunity for organizations to present current initiatives and display posters, brochures, and petitions at tables. Diverse attendees included Rego-Forest Preservation Council, Docomomo, South Street Seaport Coalition, 300 East 25th Street Block Association, Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, NY Preservation Archive Project, Greenwich Village Preservation, Park Slope Civic Council, Iron Hills Civic Association, Save Chelsea, Bronx Borough Landmarks Committee, Mott Haven Historic Districts Association, and Hart Island Project. Networking continued over a buffet lunch. 

Iron Hills Civic Association & friends, Photo by Michael Perlman
Section of preservation fair, Photo by Michael Perlman
This event builds upon the success of the recent ceremony where the “Six To Celebrate” 2020 communities meriting preservation are Rego Park, East Flatbush, Center Park Slope, Bronx Preservation Committee, Todt-Dongan Hills, and Landmarks of the Future Citywide. Rego-Forest Preservation Council advocates for landmark status for significant sites in Rego Park, Forest Hills, and nearby Queens communities, and documents local history. Presently, Forest Hills has three official landmarks, Remsen Cemetery (designated 1981), Ridgewood Savings Bank (2000), and Engine 305 & Ladder 151 (2012), but Rego Park has no designations. 

Simeon Bankoff, executive director, Historic Districts Council, Photo by Michael Perlman

HDC President Daniel Allen, Photo by Michael Perlman
HDC President Daniel Allen explained their success since 1970. “We have produced hundreds of programs about New York’s history and educated thousands of people about how to protect their historic neighborhoods, worked on gaining designations of more than 125 of the soon-to-be 150 historic districts, and reviewed thousands of proposals to alter historic buildings.” He continued, “Since last year’s conference, preservationists fought hard to protect the city’s character.” Landmark designations include Bay Ridge’s first historic district and Tin Pan Alley. “Each advancement has something in common; a fierce group of preservationists holding rallies, sending e-blasts, writing letters, bothering elected officials, and testifying at hearings.” A short film of preservation stories proved what makes our city special, and also included Landmarks Lion award recipients such as historian Barry Lewis and preservationists Christabel Gough and Kitty Carlisle, and Grassroots Preservation Award recipients. 

Chair Sarah Carroll, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, Photo by Michael Perlman
There are over 37,000 landmarked buildings and sites, including over 1,400 Individual Landmarks, 149 Historic Districts, 120 Interior Landmarks, and 11 Scenic Landmarks. HDC Executive Director Simeon Bankoff introduced keynote speaker, Chair Sarah Carroll of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). She explained, “NYC is a vibrant city whose history is revealed through its built environment. I believe that preservation is integral for the dynamism of this city and is a significant factor in NYC being a global destination. It was because of New Yorkers’ growing concern for the protection of the city’s history, that the Landmarks Law was enacted 55 years ago.”

During her time at the LPC for over 25 years in various roles, she has strived to initiate fairness and equity to the agency. She explained, “I firmly believe that preservation needs to represent and reach more communities, and that means representing our diverse history, and in the long-run, promoting preservation in all communities. We are working to ensure diversity in designations, making sure that we are telling the stories of all New Yorkers, and really looking at communities that haven’t had a voice in the past. We are working to ensure effective outreach for our regulatory work and garnering support for designations while recognizing NY’s incredible diversity, and ensuring fairness, transparency, and efficiency in regulations, so that proposed work is approved in a timely manner and that we are supporting property owners through technical assistance and improved guidance.”

She continued, “Preservation is more than just protecting our historic buildings, but about providing life to these buildings, so they can continue to be relevant tomorrow because as speaker Corey Johnson says, ‘In a city as dynamic as New York, the only constant is change.’”

A recent LPC goal is to identify newer buildings that reflect the more recent NYC history. She said, “It is vitally important that we think ahead and protect these properties that continue to represent the city’s changing nature, as well as the diversity of our social and cultural history.”

“In order to be equitable, we need to nurture preservation in less represented communities that may not have the architectural icons that earlier districts had, but have equally strong historic and cultural value,” said Carroll. 

Preservation session led by Simeon Bankoff, HDC, Photo by Michael Perlman
Participant-driven conferences are a component that differentiates this event from others. In classrooms, leaders delivered 45-minute sessions on NYC preservation topics which were voted upon by preservationists, and the winners were “South Street Seaport,” “Not Just Preservation,” “What About Penn South?,” “Lower West Side,” “Quarantine Island,” and “Preservation Manifesto.”

Simeon Bankoff’s presentation pinpointed that New Yorkers inherit the city and need to pass it down to future generations in a recognizable shape, and asserted that the government is the nurturer of citizens and must provide a healthy environment, safety, education, housing, and a stable economy. Additionally, equal access and the opportunity to utilize public resources are essential. Attendees proposed advocating for more preservation-friendly people in public office and offering training sessions, having buildings over a certain age become landmarks (similar to other municipalities), and having the full LPC body review proposed designations, the LPC holding public hearings at a certain threshold of community support, and every community having access to open space and protection of their historical resources. Suggestions also included implementing citywide planning which includes preservation and sensitive contextual development, modifying mayoral appointments of commissioners, instituting a demolition tax based on environmental factors and an EIS peer review, and strengthening community board oversight. A main point was that our historic city’s preservation is equally as important future housing and climate resiliency. 

50+ years of advocacy panel, Photo by Michael Perlman
Plenary sessions were inspired by HDC’s 50th anniversary. The first session, “50+ years of advocacy” reflected upon HDC’s preservation work and posed the question of what will advocates seek to preserve in the next 50 years. Panelists pinpointed current preservation challenges and proposed directions meriting exploration. It featured moderator Angel Ayón, Gregory Dietrich, Christian Emanuel, and Vicki Weiner. As a case in point for Queens, Emanuel, a real estate broker, was a dormant preservationist until his parents, commercial tenants at the Bank of Manhattan Company tower in Queens Plaza were facing eviction, and what was once Queens’ first skyscraper (1927), was threatened with demolition. They partnered with the HDC and rallied support from the community and elected officials, and the building was landmarked within a year. Today, Emanuel is on HDC’s board of directors. 

Designation tales panel, Photo by Michael Perlman  
The second session, “designation tales” largely focused on landmarking success stories told by advocates and offered advice on the process. Panelists were moderator Kelly Carroll, George Calderaro, Julia Charles, Jim Protos, and Keith Taylor.

Monday, March 2, 2020

A Forest Hills Map with A Story To Tell

1926 Forest Hills map by Ernest Clegg for Cord Meyer Development Company, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
In a dusty old box, if we look beyond the surface, there may be more to discover than what meets the eye. With a curious mind, one is bound to encounter a couple of surprises. This is the case with a highly illustrated Forest Hills street map from 1926 in a prospectus for Forest Close, an award-winning Arts & Crafts style village of rowhouses developed that same year by Cord Meyer Development Company. At the time, Forest Hills, which was named by the firm, was only 20 years old, while Rego Park was 3 years old. Cord Meyer’s client was Ernest Clegg (1876 – 1954), a largely respected pictorial cartographer, graphic designer, and calligrapher. Today, he is long-forgotten, but his extensive inventory of artistic maps serves as a testament.

Clegg’s creative illustrations include Forest Close, the West Side Tennis Club Stadium which was three years old, the “new” Forest Hills Theatre on Continental Avenue which opened in 1922, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs two years prior to developing the parochial school building on Austin Street, the Queens Valley Golf Club which would have been located in today’s Kew Gardens Hills. At the time, the Queensboro Bridge and Queens Boulevard had a trolley line, and commuters could either hop on a 30-minute trolley or a 20-minute bus. North of Queens Boulevard, thoroughfares included Yellowstone Avenue (renamed Yellowstone Boulevard), Continental Avenue (now 108th Street), Colonial Avenue (now 110th Street), and Seminole Avenue (now 112th Street). Further north was a proposed park, which would become Flushing Meadows Corona Park, as well as a sketching of Flushing Creek.

One of the cartouches features the original Georgian Colonial style real estate office for Cord Meyer Development, which stood where the Midway Theatre is located. The map also notes the location of other significant sites including the Forest Hills Masonic Temple, which later became Boulevard Bank and Sterling National Bank. Opposite Forest Close and its sister community of Arbor Close were tennis courts on Austin Street, facing the LIRR.

Numerical streets did not exist, but rather alphabetized Atom Street on the east to Zuni Street on the west, perpendicular to Queens Boulevard. A majority of unique streets have been renamed such as Atom Street as 75th Avenue, De Koven Street as 72nd Road, Pilgrim Street as 67th Drive, Sample Street as 66th Road, and Zuni Street as 63rd Drive. Jewel Street has been retained as Jewel Avenue. Some street names are preserved in building names, such as the Kelvin Apartments at 69-40 108th Street and Livingston Apartments at 68-60 108th Street. In other cases, building names based on streets are forgotten such as The Portsmouth at 72-22 Austin Street on Portsmouth Place, reserved for south of Queens Boulevard, now 72nd Road. These three properties are the earliest Cord Meyer apartment buildings standing.

Another category is buildings that pay tribute to street names that were no longer in circulation. A later Cord Meyer building, The Balfour at 112-20 72nd Drive memorializes Balfour Street. Quality & Ruskin Apartments on Yellowstone Boulevard and 108th Street pay tribute to Quality Street known as 67th Road and Ruskin Street as 67th Avenue.

South of Queens Boulevard, the map features Backus Place named after the Backus family farm, one of the major farming families, especially at the time of the Civil War. Further east, Ascan Avenue was retained, and named after farmer Ascan Backus, who was one of the most successful commercial farmers in the northeast. Between those boundaries, heading east, were streets including Herrick Avenue, Shelbourne Place, Continental Avenue, Windsor Place, Roman Avenue, and Portsmouth Place.

Clegg lived a diverse life. He was born in the suburbs of Birmingham in the U.K. and attended King Edward VI Grammar School and the Birmingham School of Art. His work was highly influenced by the Victorian Arts & Crafts Movement. As a calligrapher, he felt inspired by the medieval period’s gilded and illuminated manuscripts. During WWI in 1914, he was commissioned with the 7th Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment. Then in 1916, he earned the rank of Major and was a temporary Commanding Officer.

In 1919, he increasingly became well-known as a graphic designer and calligrapher in American and British veteran communities in New York. When he worked with William Edward Rudge, the New York Fine Art publisher, he illustrated and lettered a limited edition of Canadian war poet John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.” Another highlight was his illuminated manuscript for the British Princess Royal, Princess Mary on her wedding in 1922. A pictorial map from 1925 in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York features a chronology of part of New York City depicting six locations and buildings of Brooks Brothers since their founding in 1818. Another masterpiece was his Great War Map of Battle Lines in France and Belgium on September 25, 1918, copyrighted in 1926. It was presented by Marshal Sir Douglas Haig to the Old Guard of New York. The insignia of 42 American Divisions which witnessed service is depicted.

In 1928, his large map commemorated aviator Charles Lindbergh’s first independent flight navigating the Atlantic Ocean a year prior, and was published by the New York John Day Company. That same year, he produced a rare jigsaw puzzle map captioned “Firestone reaches around the world to give most miles per dollar,” which features factories and plantation buying offices of Firestone in countries including the United States, Mexico, Russia, China, and Africa.

His pursuits as a yachtsman led him in the direction of creating a series of decorative printed charts that recorded three America’s Cup competitions off Newport in the 1930s. After a request from the British Ambassador, Lord Halifax, he returned to England in 1944, and then began producing decorative County maps. It proved beneficial for the Women’s Land Army Benevolent Fund that offered post-war support for thousands of female volunteers who helped sustain British food production during WWII. Clegg’s Kent: Battle of Britain, 1940 – 1941 pictorial map was among many other highly recognized accomplishments.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Lost Battalion Hall, Where History & Recreation Come Alive

By Michael Perlman

Lost Battalion Hall in 1940
Lost Battalion Hall linen era postcard, Courtesy of Michael Perlman

One historic site that has served as a community beacon for over 75 years is Lost Battalion Hall at 93-29 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park. From 1938 to 1939, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) funded an Art Moderne building that bears homage to the 77th Division of the U.S. Army for its heroism in the Battle of Argonne in France during WWI. Over half of its 550 American soldiers perished and are remembered as members of “The Lost Battalion.” The building was placed under Parks Department jurisdiction in 1960, and also serves the community as a recreation center for children to seniors with diverse programs and activities including art, a media lab, weightlifting, ping-pong, basketball, and fitness classes.

Lost Battalion Hall's Art Moderne facade, Photo by Michael Perlman

Lost Battalion Hall's limestone inscription with bronze tablets, Photo by Michael Perlman
WPA mural 1, Lost Battalion Hall gym, Photo by Michael Perlman

WPA mural 2, Lost Battalion Hall gym, Photo by Michael Perlman
Adorning the façade is a tributary limestone inscription with two bronze tablets of the Statue of Liberty. In a most unassuming place, the gymnasium, players encounter two “Sailor, Soldier, Marine” WPA murals of the Lost Battalion in action, which were painted by Oscar Julius in 1938 and last restored in 1995. Two bronze plaques are displayed in the lobby. One features Lady Liberty with an inscription that reads, “In Memory of The Lost Battalion. Built AD 1938 By Work Projects Admin. George U. Harvey, Boro. President of Queens.” Another memorial plaque features BP Harvey’s portrait as Lieutenant colonel, DSC (Distinguished Service Cross) dedicated by the citizens of Queens in 1946.

Lost Battalion Hall memorial plaque, Photo by Michael Perlman
Queens BP George Harvey memorial plaque, Photo by Michael Perlman
Company C 308th Infantry, Camp Upton, Lost Battalion, Jan 1918
Company C 308th Infantry, France, 1919
Historically, Lost Battalion Hall featured a firing range and drill hall for the Queens Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. This is also where the Civilian Defense Volunteer Office welcomed enrollees for World War II. In 1941, 2,000 guests celebrated President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday with a dance to aid an infantile paralysis drive. Among other diverse events are square dance festivals in the 1940s, an appearance by professional basketball player Bobby McDermott in 1950, boxing matches, a Perquackey contest in 1966, and testimonials for Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.

Lost Battalion Hall, WWII civilian defense matchbook, Courtesy of Michael Perlman

Square Dancing at Lost Battalion Hall, March 22, 1943, Courtesy of Parks Dept

Square Dancing at Lost Battalion Hall, March 22, 1943, Courtesy of Parks Dept

Lost Battalion Hall, Boxing with champ Emile Griffith circa May 1962, Courtesy of Parks Dept
Lost Battalion Hall boxing circa May 1962, Courtesy of Parks Dept 
Lost Battalion Hall Perquackey contest, September 10, 1966, Courtesy of Parks Dept
Lost Battalion Hall Director David Siegel presents bust to Barnett Federoff, 1963, Today Federoff Triangle park in Forest Hills bears tribute

Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented a proclamation and proclaimed August 22, 2003 as “77th Appreciation Day” in recognition of the brave men and women who served on behalf of our nation. An excerpt read: “For 86 years, the 77th Army Infantry Division has protected our city and our nation in times of crisis. On its 86th anniversary, we salute its descendant, the 77th Army Reserve Command and its courageous and skilled members who continue this illustrious unit’s legacy of valor. The unit was established on August 25, 1917 in New York State, and was called the ‘Metropolitan Division’ because a large percentage of its membership was residents of New York City.”

77th Appreciation Day Proclamation to Lost Battalion Hall, Photo by Michael Perlman
Lost Battalion Hall security with youth coach Eric Friedman & manager Angela Elie, Photo by Michael Perlman
“I have the pleasure of meeting and working with people of many backgrounds and have a chance to listen to their experiences and learn about their customs,” said Lost Battalion Hall Manager Angela Elie, who serves the community since 2011. “We engage people of all ages and abilities through art, music, technology, and so much more. For example, I enjoy watching seniors get active through various programming.”

Elie’s service is complemented by diverse experiences including working with professional basketball players. She said, “One of our former teen members plays for Oklahoma City Thunder and won last year’s NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest. I felt a sense of pride watching the content and even told my husband, ‘That’s my kid!’” Other unforgettable moments include hosting Mayor de Blasio’s Town Hall in June 2017 and a holiday event with Derek Jeter portraying Santa Claus. “A most notable perk is that I get to work in a building with so much life, character, and history every day,” she said.

Elie is also grateful to educate the community about the site’s rich history. “I love meeting people that visit who are relatives of those that were part of the Battalion,” she said.

Lost Battalion Hall Recreation Center hosts a wide range of programs including some that precede the start of her position. In affiliation with her staff, she has developed, conceptualized, and launched enrichment programming including culinary arts which is offered every first Saturday. She explained, “This program is tailored for children, ages 8-13, and helps them get comfortable in the kitchen. Participants prepare three-course meals inspired by international cuisines with the assistance of New York Cares volunteers. We also host a Study the Stars Program that actively explores the field of astronomy. Participants utilize our state-of-the-art telescopes on the rooftop and are encouraged to engage with our natural environment.”

Among the humanitarian causes, the center has participated in food donations and has been part of the Department of Homeless Services’ community outreach initiatives. Additionally, it has served as a deployment site for the Board of Elections.

Elie feels that the WPA murals serve as a touching reminder of sacrifice and freedom. “I recall being in awe when I first laid eyes on them, and they’re a lovely piece of history.” In recent years, artist Lufa Rufo painted a mural that transformed the Senior Center’s walls, ceiling, and a piano with trees, birds, butterflies, and the Unisphere.

For 25 years, Eric Friedman, has served as the center’s youth coach, and feels that this historic building is a second home. “Knowing that Lost Battalion Hall bears homage to the 77th division of the US Army makes me feel proud to be an American.” He has been running tiny tot programs for ages 1-3 for over 20 years. He continued, “Watching children learn, grow, and develop is truly enriching. My programs teach and prepare toddlers for preschool, and it’s been a pleasure to work with families of the surrounding communities.”

I also coach street hockey and serve as director of the afterschool program here at Lost Battalion Hall Recreation Center. Each aspect of my position here is rewarding and fun.

Friedman has long been an inspiration. “I tell all my athletes, members, and program participants to enjoy life and respect their families and communities. As long as they focus on that, they can always reach for the stars.”

He also fondly recalls Derek Jeter’s holiday event. “Jeter handed out gifts to hundreds of children, and I can’t begin to describe the priceless expressions on their faces when he walked in.” Another highlight was hosting the New York Rangers during a street hockey clinic. He said, “The players were so receptive to the children and truly engaged our members to help them master the sport of hockey. It was great to see children interact with these athletes.”

Some events may not be as well-known. He explained, “A few Golden Glove fighters trained as part of our boxing program. We also run an Olympic weightlifting competition and had a few NBA players that played here before their professional careers began.”