Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tale of 2 of Forest Hills' Earliest Apartment Houses

The historic Georgian Court, 109-20 Queens Blvd

The Alberta, a historic Tudor gem at 108-22 72nd Ave, which was originally 2 Roman Ave.

 Two of Forest Hills' earliest apartment houses are the Georgian Court and the Alberta, which are situated in the business and residential district in the heart of our neighborhood.

It is the compilation of low-density developments with mainly Tudor and Colonial design which surround the Austin St and Queens Blvd thoroughfares, and which grant character to what was once referred to as "Forest Hills Village" or "The Village." Let's think twice before insensitively altering or demolishing the low-rise residential and commercial sites along and in between these thoroughfares. Preserving, restoring, and adaptively reusing our assemblage of buildings which began in 1906, will pay respect to the fine craftsmanship and vision of our remarkable developers, urban planners, architects, and business owners, who would once strive to make our streestscapes harmonious and distinctive from Anytown USA. It was a complementary extension to the aura of the Forest Hills Gardens, and still is in many ways, with the exception of a few tacky aluminum or stucco-covered buildings, and the brick and steel sliver McOffices that began to rise on 72nd Ave.

We extend our gratitude to Historian Ron Marzlock of the Queens Chronicle's I Have Often Walked column, for publishing the history of the Georgian Court and The Alberta on June 23rd & June 16, 2011 respectively, and establishing the need for their preservation and that of the greater neighborhood:

Georgian Court: An Innovator in Forest Hills

test4Georgian Court: an innovator in Forest 
Hills   1
Georgian Court, located at 109-20 Queens Blvd, with tennis courts to the left, May 1931.

 Georgian Court holds the distinction of being the first apartment building built on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills. It was an innovation for its time for many other reasons too.

It was designed by Manhattan architect Louis I. Brooks of 63 Madison Ave. and was the only apartment building built in Forest Hills during the Great Depression, opening for occupancy on Oct. 1, 1930.

All apartments were built with three or four rooms and were convertible to six- or seven-room units.

The building had two Otis elevators, individual incinerators for each unit, refrigerators and gas ranges. There were no dumbwaiters. It was Forest Hills’ first apartment building with colored tile to match the fixtures in both the bathroom and kitchen, a welcome change to the stark black and white of the 1920s. References were required for tenants to rent a three-room apartment for $100 or four rooms for $140, expensive at the time.

Georgian Court’s most attractive selling point was that it was situated next to beautiful tennis courts. However, that was short lived. It was announced on Dec. 3, 1936 that a new church and rectory were to be built there for Our Lady Queen of Martyrs for $365,000. Steam shovels broke ground in May 1938, residents lost their view and they endured the noise for the next year.

Today Georgian Court sits modestly on the boulevard, obscured by all the other structures towering over it. Compared to newer buildings, residents are still very happy with its solid construction and love their 80-year-old building.

More photos of the Georgian Court, courtesy of Michael Perlman

A Forest Hills Gem: The Alberta, Built in ’23

test4A Forest Hills gem: The Alberta, built in 
’23 1
A 1923 architect’s rendering of The Alberta, located at 2 Roman Ave, today’s 108-22 72 Ave in Forest Hills.

 The oldest apartment building in Forest Hills outside of the Gardens I have found to be The Alberta. John S. Myers of Manhattan was the builder, and he named the structure after his mother.
In 1922 Myers hired architect Rudolf C.P. Boehler to design a four-story luxury walk-up building at what was then 2 Roman Ave. Boehler worked mainly in Manhattan, from 1920 to 1954, and this was his only project in Queens.

Through a beautiful marble covered vestibule you enter The Alberta’s spacious, artistically treated reception room, from where marble stairs lead to the apartments.

One of the selling points was Myers’ willingness to arrange the color scheme in accordance with tenants’ wishes if leases were signed before completion of the building. Inspection began in late September 1923 and it was ready for occupancy on Oct. 15. Expensive for its time, The Alberta’s A and B line of four-room apartments cost $145 a month, the three-room C and E line was $110 and the two-room D was $85.

Another selling point was that, as advertised, the apartments had a commanding view overlooking Queens Boulevard to Kew Gardens in one direction and Jackson Heights and Elmhurst in the other.

The building has been renumbered 108-22 72 Ave. but retains the name Alberta. After 88 years it is in pristine condition, and serious thought should be given to its preservation as buildings like this will never be constructed again in Forest Hills. With the very high value of the land alone, this beauty could be put in danger of destruction at some point.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Memorium: Pat Dolan, Queens Community Leader

Photo courtesy of Bates, Susana Freelancer & NY Daily News
I was shocked and saddened to hear about the passing of Patricia Dolan, the President of the Queens Civic Congress, and a long-dedicated borough-wide advocate. She was struck by a car on the evening of November 15th at the intersection of Hillside Ave & 198th St. She was 72.  
Pat Dolan worked at the Queens Community House, and directed a para-transit system to aid senior citizens. She was the Chair of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, and was a founder of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy. One of her priorities was advocating for the protection of Queens neighborhoods from overdevelopment.
In a public statement, Queens BP Helen Marshall said, "Last night, the people of Queens lost a terrific and tireless leader who fought with knowledge and passion for libraries, senior citizens, parks, children, transportation safety, and every other issue that affects all of us. Pat dedicated her life to Queens. She was the epitome of a civic leader and the definition of a community leader." 
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told the Daily News, "I am deeply saddened to have learned of the tragic death of Patricia Dolan, one of our city's great civic and community leaders. Pat was extremely involved in the preservation of quality of life not just for Queens residents, but for all new Yorkers. She was interested in and dedicated to making the city a better place to live.”
She will be greatly missed. We must continue to work together to preserve and fulfill her legacy, benefit from her teachings, and make our borough and city a safer and more attractive place to live and visit.
Memorial services for PATRICIA DOLAN
Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Schwartz Brothers - Forest Park Chapel
114-03 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, NY 11375
(Queens Blvd. and 76th Road)
Douglaston Patch, 11/16/11 
Times Ledger, 11/16/11  
NY Daily News, 11/16/11
NY Daily News, Article II, 11/16/11  
Queens Chronicle, 11/16/11 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Save Our 600 Trees At The Kew Gardens Interchange - Open Letter To NYS DOT

Highway Plans Will Uproot 600 trees, 600 trees will fall, Queens Chronicle cover photo by Peter C Mastrosimone, Sept 29, 2011
Time may be running out to save 600 trees, which the NYS Dept of Transportation reportedly plans to cut down at the Kew Gardens Interchange, affecting Kew Gardens, Briarwood, & other Queens communities and beyond. Below is an open letter originally sent on 10/28 to Landscape Architect Jim Lau of the NYS Department of Transportation, & now Landscape Architect Scott Levy. Please publicize & add your voice. 
Subject: IMPORTANT: Kew Gardens Interchange Project - Creative Options To Rescue The 600 Trees Slated For Chopping

Dear Mr. Jim Lau & Mr. Scott Levy,
I understand you are the landscape architects of the NYS Dept of Transportation, who are assigned to the Kew Gardens Interchange Project. Many of my colleagues and I have read in local papers such as the Queens Chronicle, that 600 trees would be slated for the chopping block, as the roads undergo reconfiguration in Kew Gardens and Briarwood. I have some creative ideas, which I encourage you and the NYS Dept of Transportation to consider.
We feel there is no replacement for our beautiful, mature trees. The September 2010 tornado and the August 2011 hurricanes was responsible for the loss of about 4,000 trees cumulatively in our borough. Natural disasters are beyond our control, but proactively preserving our trees is within our control. The NY State DOT's plans to cut down 600 trees goes against my morals as a citizen and humanitarian. What may be "as of right" is not always right for the citizens. Trees convey life, beauty, are nature's pride, purify our air, keep the ground cool, are home to wildlife, and are historic to our Queens landscape.
Statistically speaking, the significant and very successful tree giveaway event that I coordinated in MacDonald Park in June 2011, as well as the tree plantings and giveaways occurring citywide through MillionTreesNYC, will not exceed the beauty and benefits posed by our mature trees in our lifetime. Applying measures towards the preservation and maintenance of our mature trees is most beneficial towards our community.
I urge the NYS DOT to creatively revise their Kew Gardens Interchange plans, in order to preserve the endangered trees. The roads can be reconfigured alternatively. In sections where revision is not at all possible, then Plan B would be to have the endangered trees moved by tree moving companies that specialize in commonly moving medium to larger size trees. Then they can be planted either in parks or on private property which lost a plethora of trees, and they could be named in honor of victims of 9/11, or in the memory of loved ones in a broader perspective. It could be financed by any combination of the State, Parks Dept, green organizations, banks, elected officials, and citizens. Some of the trees can also be given to the tree moving companies which have nurseries, and they can be sold.
Rather than New York State using the funds to chop down these trees, NYS should allocate those funds towards their salvation via transport. As long as our graceful and mature trees along the Kew Gardens Interchange are saved, that is what bears the greatest significance. It would be a sad day or time period in our history to witness the mass destruction of our mature trees, so please work with us by exploring our ideas, and hopefully a compromise can be reached for all parties. Please contact me ASAP. Thank you for your consideration!

Michael Perlman
Forest Hills, NY

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium May Have A Sports & Entertainment Future

Proposed exterior perspective, Courtesy of Stadium Arts Alliance & rendered by John Ciardullo PC
Proposed site plan, Courtesy of Stadium Arts Alliance & rendered by John Ciardullo PC

At the legendary Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the ball may be back in court. A non-profit known as the Stadium Arts Alliance is one of the contenders that submitted a proposal, in response to the West Side Tennis Club's Request For Proposals which ended on November 4th. The Stadium Arts Alliance would potentially lease the stadium and boost revenue for the WSTC. All particulars are not yet publicly known, but the US' 1st concrete tennis stadium would likely undergo restoration and conversion to accommodate tennis matches and hockey, with music and art festivals in the warmer months. 

A known alteration would be the installation of stadium seating in place of the authentic wood and iron grandstands, and a reduction of seating from 14,000 to 9,700. The dilapidated barbed-wire fence surrounding the property would be replaced by a traditional iron fence with brick posts, and the perimeters would be landscaped. A new walkway with an overhead brick archway with pitched rooflines and letters which read "WSTC Stadium." Two replicas of the Stadium's blue & gold glazed terra-cotta shields bearing the WSTC logo and "1923" would be installed on the gateway. Historic architectural features including the archways, eagles, shields, flagpoles, and cornice lines would undergo restoration.

Besides the Stadium Arts Alliance's proposal, Cord Meyer proposed a new plan for condos, and other proposals also involved demolition for residential development. For a proposal to materialize, it would be subject to a review by the Stadium Committee, and in 2012, it would need to pass by a 2/3 vote of WSTC voting-eligible members, followed by approval of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation.

The Stadium Arts Alliance is comprised of developer & President Kevin McCabe, and Chairman John Banks. Kevin McCabe is the founding partner and chief executive of the Aviator Sports & Events Center at Floyd Bennett Field, and John Banks is the VP of Government Relations for Con Ed, and a NY Public Library and MTA board member.

A seemingly greater path towards the stadium's restoration and creative reuse was discovered on November 3, 2011, when the WSTC elected Roland Meier as their new President over Kenneth Parker, who was reportedly anti-preservation. In August 2010, Cord Meyer Development proposed condos on the site of the stadium, and in protest, WSTC Tennis Committee Chair Roland Meier resigned from his position. Some neighborhood residents, countrywide preservationists, WSTC members, and tennis and music notables joined Rego-Forest Preservation Council in opposition to the condo plan. After the October 2010 vote, Kenneth Parker expressed his disappointment that the Cord Meyer plan was rejected by more than half of its voting-eligible WSTC members.

Chairman Michael Perlman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council explains, "Since the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium became endangered in July 2010 for typical condos, we have advocated for the historic stadium's preservation and creative-reuse as a mixed-use venue, to benefit the greater community and the WSTC. We will continue to hold public relations campaigns, conduct outreach, coordinate petition drives and letter campaigns, and meet with elected officials and other influential parties. We have maintained a dialogue with some tennis buffs, preservationists, some celebs, & President Obama's Advisory Board on Historic Preservation, which supports preservation and reuse. On behalf of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, I submitted a comprehensive city landmark bid in July 2010, and a bid for the State & National Register of Historic Places in summer 2011, in which the latter would likely generate more funding for restoring (and ultimately reusing) the stadium, if approved. We will support any plan that encompasses tennis, music and art festivals, and restores the iconic features of the iconic Stadium. There is always hope towards preserving and reusing our historic sites, as long as there is creativity, dedication, and proactive teamwork. Mixed-use creative revitalization and restoration for our country's 1st concrete tennis stadium, and home to firsts in the tennis and music world, will convey historic pride, create jobs, and be a boost to our quality of life, character, property values, and local business, as well as become a 21st-century family destination." 

President Obama's Advisory Board on Historic Preservation admitted that the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission "irked its public duty," by not calendaring the stadium for a public hearing. Rego-Forest Preservation Council feels the LPC has a "double-standard" when it comes to Queens, since under the Landmarks Law's architectural and cultural provisions, the Stadium has the criteria for city landmarking, and it mentions nothing about a site's physical condition as a means for rejection. Sites in worse physical condition in Manhattan have been heard, landmarked, and restored. If it becomes a State & Federal landmark through NYS Historic Preservation Office (the Register), the West Side Tennis Club and any potential partner or owner can apply for federal tax credits, state grants, as well as other funds for repairing the stadium.

NY 1 News coverage, Nov 5, 2011: 

Michael Perlman's feature story for Untapped Cities offers a comprehensive illustrated history, and explains the community rewards for collaborating to save a rare piece of Americana:

The storied stadium provides dimension to the streetscape! Photo by Michael Perlman
View from the top, as the eagles have a commanding view of Forest Hills, Photo by Peter Dutton
Have a seat in the grandstands & visualize legendary tennis players & musicians, which once again can play at the stadium, Photo by Peter Dutton