Monday, September 27, 2010

Downed Trees Represent The Loss of History in Forest Hills: Michael Perlman's Interview with Forest Hills Patch

Local historian Michael Perlman stands with a monumental Weeping Willow that was destroyed during the tornado. Photo by Forest Hills Patch
Approximately a week after the September 16, 2010 macroburst, which tore through Forest Hills and sections of Rego Park within minutes, as well as other parts of Queens & Brooklyn, I was privileged to meet reporter Rob MacKay of Forest Hills Patch, a fairly new neighborhood publication. We surveyed the damage in Forest Hills' Cord Meyer section, and along Queens Blvd near MacDonald Park, which were 2 of the sections that were drastically affected. On the basis of my interview, which revolves around the historic "forest" factor in Forest Hills, Rego-Forest Preservation Council is proud yet sad to feature the 9/25 Forest Hills Patch article, Downed Trees Represent The Loss of History In Forest Hills:

Hundred-year-old growth swept away in 'minutes'

The storm system that ripped through Brooklyn and Queens on Sept. 16 caused one death, vast property damage and left thousands without power. It also destroyed hundreds of trees in the Forest Hills area, including some that had predated the neighborhood's turn-of-the-century founding.

Commissioner Joseph Bruno, of the New York City Office of Emergency Management, said Queens lost 3,113 trees in total, with 4,000 more damaged.

"You took a major hit, there's no question, that's over 7,000 trees affected in a significant way," Bruno said at a town hall meeting.

"It was like a living horror film," said Michael Perlman, a third-generation resident who was walking in his neighborhood when the storm struck. "This tragedy took the 'forest' out of Forest Hills."

The city has not taken an official count yet, but Perlman, who chairs the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, thinks that more than 1,000 trees were destroyed in just Forest Hills. The majority were maples, oaks and elms, but the neighborhood lost weeping willows, cherry blossoms, apple blossoms and ginkoes, too. Many of the trees stood 100-feet high, and some were close to 150 years old, he said.

Perlman, who has walked around the streets with his camera to document the damage, noted that trees located on street corners more often perished than ones at mid-block that were protected by large apartment complexes. He was surprised to discover that so many of the younger, thinner trees survived, while the thick trunks of many mature ones were snapped apart and blown 30 to 40 feet away. "It's haunting that what took an entire life — almost a century — can be eliminated in a couple of minutes," he said. "It proves that we have to be thankful for what we have and what we had."

No streets in the community were without damage, but the Leslie Apartments in Forest Hills Gardens and MacDonald Park on Queens Boulevard and 70th Road were hit particularly hard.

Other devastated areas include the portion bounded by 108th Street and Yellowstone Boulevard from 68th Street to Continental Avenue and what is known as "The Cord Meyer Section," which includes the vicinity of 110th Street and Jewel Avenue. One apartment building near the intersection of Queens and Yellowstone boulevards was left with a barren sidewalk as all its trees fell down like dominoes.

According to Perlman, some of the felled trees predated the establishment of Forest Hills in 1906 and Forest Hills Gardens in 1909, and most uprooted trees were older than the apartment buildings that were constructed beside them between 1920 and the 1940's. The macroburst, as it has become known, came 50 years to the day after Hurricane Donna ravaged Forest Hills, destroying the West Side Tennis Club and causing a seven-day suspension of the 1960 U.S. Open tennis tournament final that was being played there.

Perlman, 28, said he hoped to live in Forest Hills for his entire life, and he has just begun an effort to re-green the neighborhood. Some of the trees can be resurrected through re-planting and pruning, he believes, and if that's not possible, he wants to plant new ones. He said he plans to reach out to arborists, neighbors, civic associations, building complexes, the Parks Department, and the community board.

"Nothing is impossible," he said. "It would be very inspirational for the neighborhood."

End of an era! The tree of all trees; 1 of 2 cherished Weeping Willow trees in front of the regal James Madison on 108th St is uprooted & mourned by residents & passersby. Photo by Forest Hills Patch
A prominent oak tree, likely dating to the 1920s, snaps & twists at the trunk, falling  into the lawn of The Continental Apartments. It was planted when the first Continental Apts was erected or perhaps pre-dated it, and then Cord Meyer Development built around several of its type on the block, when the replacement building was erected. Photo by Forest Hills Patch

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