Wednesday, September 8, 2010

10th Annual Downtown Forest Hills Walking Tour by Historian Jeff Gottlieb

Historian Jeff Gottlieb at the start of the tour on Austin St & Continental Ave, in the heart of historic Downtown Forest Hills! On the left-hand site is a remarkable century-old Tudor business establishment, designed in conjunction with the Forest Hills Gardens. The same holds true with the charming late 1920s Austin Hall & Tudor Hall, designed with shops at street level & apartments above. The former Corn Exchange Bank is on the right.
Similar perspective of above photo, but depicting Austin St in the 1940s, & featuring predominantly Tudor & Georgian Colonial commercial & residential sites from early 20th century Forest Hills. Postcard courtesy of Michael Perlman Postcard Collection
The 10th Annual Downtown Forest Hills Walking Tour was held on a pleasantly sunny and warm Sunday afternoon of September 5, 2010, and was a historic record-breaker, adding a chapter in the success of previous walking tours led by Historian Jeff Gottlieb. Members of Central Queens Historical Association and Rego-Forest Preservation Council, inclusive of neighborhood residents, were in attendance. The 2 hr 45 min tour began on the corner of Austin St and Continental Ave, made its way east on Austin St to Ascan Ave, while viewing the blocks between Austin St and Queens Blvd, and turning in on Ascan Ave. On Queens Blvd, the tour headed west, pointing out historic sites along the south and north sides, and made its way to 70th Ave, and then stopped at MacDonald Park, a cornerstone of the neighborhood. Then the tour turned in on 70th Ave and proceeded west on Austin St, back to its origins at Continental Ave.

Happy faces of the walking tour's diverse attendees, who pose in front of 1 Continental Ave, a Tudor apt & commercial site, which dates to the 1920s when Continental Ave was a thoroughfare referred to as "The Village." It was designed to complement nearby Forest Hills Gardens, established in 1909. When walking on Continental Ave, as well as Austin St, don't be the average passerby, but pause and glance at a world of English village-like intrigue overhead and all around. A slate steep roofline with wood spandrels, a 2-tone brick and stone half-timber effect, a limestone entryway, and a shield at the the climatic point of the central cross section with limestone quoins, captures the eye!
Michael Perlman, Chairman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council explains, "Historian Jeff Gottlieb, who is President of the Central Queens Historical Association, always manages to conduct a phenomenal tour. He can be compared to a walking encyclopedia, and is a people's person who makes Forest Hills history come alive on his tours, with his creative yet down to earth approach. It was great how many people asked questions, and engaged in each other's conversation as a result. This is a tradition that Forest Hills is extremely fortunate to have."

Two noble leaders! Historian Jeff Gottlieb in the path of the iconic Captain Gerald MacDonald statue in MacDonald Park, who was a WWI soldier & a Forest Hills resident. 
Historian Jeff Gottlieb reflected upon the 10th annual tour in pride. He explains "It was a great, solid tour, with the largest crowd in years. The Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce helped promote it. Giving the tour was enjoyable as the people were enthusiastic. It was comprised of various age groups and ethnicities." Approximately 50 - 60 people attended, which illustrates that a greater percentage of locals are caring about our neighborhood's history, and such distinctive sites in the Tudor, Georgian Colonial, Art Deco, Romanesque, Gothic, Neo-Renaissance, International Style, etc. The distinction amongst the commonly found architectural styles was explained, which grants character that is seldom found in today's developments.

Jeff Gottlieb explained the naming of Forest Hills in 1906, the establishment of the Forest Hills Gardens in 1909, historic patterns of the 20th century, and pointed out the majority of historic sites in Forest Hills' most popular commercial and residential district, in regard to their skillful architects and reputable developers.

Memorable 20th century businesses include Beau Brummel, Woolworths, Bohack, Chateau Jewelers, Addie Vallens, the Homestead, Sutton Hall Pharmacy, Cheeses of The World, & the recently shuttered Buster Brown Shoes. Some of Forest Hills' numerous celebrities were noted, including Helen Keller, Bud Abbott & Lou Costello, and Geraldine Ferraro. Street names from A-Z that are no longer in existence were pointed out, including Atom St, DeKoven St, Euclid St, Fife St, Gown St, & Pilgrim St, as well as Colonial Ave & Roman Ave (now 72nd Ave, but only retained in the Forest Hills Gardens). Austin St, Continental Ave, & Ascan Ave are holdouts. The site of Forest Hills' first firehouse was highlighted on Austin St. Also, the 1906 temporary electrified LIRR station on the south side of Austin St, which was built in close proximity to Forest Hills' 1st street, Roman Ave/72nd Ave featuring huble yet elaborate Neo-Renaissance rowhouses (1906) for original workmen, which are shamefully imminently endangered today.

At the conclusion of the tour, Historian Jeff Gottlieb gave Preservationist Michael Perlman the stage, enabling him to give a presentation on the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium Preservation Campaign. It was well-received, and garnered the support of many locals that signed onto a petition calling on landmark status and creative reuse for the iconic Stadium. The 10th annual tour of the district also caught the attention of NY 1 News, which ran the report later that afternoon, and featured footage of historic sites, and interviews by Historian Jeff Gottlieb, Preservationist Michael Perlman, Steve Melnick of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce & Queens Blvd Restoration Group, and a Rego Park participant who explained how she will now begin seeing our neighborhood's history and architecture in a different light, and owed her gratitude to Gottlieb's tours.

Annual Tour Shows Many Sides of Forest Hills, NY 1 News, 9/7/10

Admiring the Tudor charm of the Gladstone & Harding Court on Austin St. Distinguishable characteristics include the half-timber effect, pitched roofs, burnt bricks, & tall chimneys. The Bishop's Crook style lamp posts were re-introduced in the late 90s, conveying harmony with the architecture.
Architect Benjamin Braunstein was a household name. This is evident when designing the Portsmouth, a Georgian Colonial apt house with a courtyard leading to 2-wing recessed entryways and facades, allowing light and creating a sense of place. Distinctive features include lantern, original wood doors, large windows, a bricked dental cornice, limestone roundels, non-accentuated fire escapes, & ornamented wrought-iron balconies on Austin St. The Portsmouth was built in conjunction with its easterly neighbor, the Hawthorne.
Crossing Austin St to Ascan Ave's Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church & one of the greatest examples of Tudor architecture & urban planning in Downtown Forest Hills, Sutton Hall. Note the apt house's graceful stepped entryway, Medieval wood doors with knight motifs on inlaid stained glass, the central facade's cupola, mansard roofs, prominent half-timber effect, recessed facades, castle-like motif, arched overhead window storefronts, & more.
Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church & Parochial School (1938 & 1928, with harmonious 1950s edifices) is a grand Romanesque & Gothic complex that spans 4 city blocks, with a plethora of stained glass, novel steeples, ornate entryways, landscaped courtyards between the buildings, and gardens outlining the facades.
Admiring the craftsmanship & urban planning of the attached Warrenton & the Hampton complex (109-20 71st Rd to 109-05 72nd Ave) attached with a suspended arch on a lush garden, as well as the Carlton House, with its 4-section front facade outlined with quoins, recessed columned entryway, decorative balconies, corner terraces, & pediments with roundels.

Jeff Gottlieb explains how the mid 1920s Georgian Court is the earliest apartment house with a Queens Blvd address in Forest Hills. This Georgian Colonial gem boasts a recessed entrway with Corinthian columns, a flagstone path, a pitched slate roof with balustrades, recessed facades permitting greenery, air, and light, quoins, limestone lintels, cornices, & an arched window adjacent to the entryway where a doorman would once greet residents.

Historian Jeff Gottlieb atop the legendary Midway Theater's sweeping staircase. The theater was designed by America's foremost theater architect, Thomas W. Lamb, & was his very last theater, & one of his relatively few in the Art Moderne style, considering his circa 300 theaters nationally. Completed in 1942, it was named at the last moment after WWII's Battle of Midway. The limestone facade is mostly intact, with its curtain-like effect, illuminated marquee & vertical beacon boasting MIDWAY, curved facade with a streamline design, & a side picture window. Originally a single screen theater, it now features 9 screens, and is a thriving theater, with a largely intact Art Moderne lobby-in-the-round.
The Forest Hills Post Office is 1 of 2 sites in Forest Hills thus far to be placed on the State & National Register of Historic Places. Its cornerstone reads 1937, and the site depicts the International Style with some Art Deco touches. Most post offices of the era were in the Colonial style, but Architect Lorimer Rich was experimental with his clever use of industrial materials in shape and form. Above the brass doors, there is a terra cotta "Spirit of Communication"relief sculpture by famed artist Sten Jacobsson. The site has some resemblances to the 1939 World's Fair's NY City Building. Note the stained terra cotta facade, tall recessed windows with a simplified cornice line. The International Style & Art Moderne style of Forest Hills Jewish Center is evident in the background, with a 1947 cornerstone. These historic sites make a suitable backdrop to serene MacDonald Park, in midst of bustling Queens Blvd.
Hopefully, landlords, tenants, and developers can realize how preserving their culturally and architecturally significant properties can contribute to the harmonious ambiance of the neighborhood, and in turn, maintain and enhance property values, residency, and business, and improve our quality of life. For questions about Forest Hills and Central Queens' architectural styles and history, and restoring and creatively reusing your site, please e-mail:

Historian Jeff Gottlieb, Pres. of Central Queens Historical Association:
(917) 376-4496

Preservationist Michael Perlman, Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council:

Photo Collections by Michael Perlman

10th Annual Downtown Forest Hills Tour Photoset
Central Queens Historical Association - Prior Walking Tours
Extensive Collection of Austin St & Queens Blvd Photosets


  1. Wonderful Michael - keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you very much! I appreciate your contributions too.