Friday, March 30, 2012

The Tea Garden: A Long-Lost Treasure Meets Controversy

This is Michael Perlman's feature story on the classic yet abandoned Tea Garden in the Forest Hills Times/Queens Ledger.  Will a century-old Forest Hills Gardens enclave which once hosted weddings, afternoon teas, plays, and dinners to the sounds of cellos and violins rise again?

Please feel free to post a comment on the article link, & share it with your friends: 

Forest Hills Gardens holds a secret awaiting a new lease on life.

The back of the century-old Forest Hills Inn at 1 Station Square is home to a long-lost treasure known as the Tea Garden, of which the majority of Forest Hills is unaware.

Situated on Greenway South behind an ornate gate, a fantasy-like enclave would open in 1912 to the delight of Inn guests and residents. In 1909, Station Square was the center of social life in a planned garden community, with Grosvenor Atterbury as the Gardens’ principal architect, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. as the landscape architect for public spaces and parks.

The Forest Hills Inn’s Tea Garden played host to numerous weddings, performances, and dinner dances, in addition to afternoon tea. Today, it is a shell of its former glory, and is prone to controversy between residents who wish to see it revitalized for social functions versus those who prefer restoring it as a private garden.

The Tea Garden borders the Forest Hills Inn and 20 Continental Ave, both of which are co-ops.

Nature has caused the monumental trees to flourish, but nature also cast a toll on the garden’s decorative features. The cascading fountain and pool has vanished. The “Ring For Tea” stand and rocking chairs, which were replaced with tables and umbrellas, have also vanished.

The central brick fountain is non-operational, the flagstone tiles are faded and cracked, and a gazebo bears rust. Upon first glance is a sad reality, but then the magic of what was and what could be resurrected becomes evident.

It is difficult to grasp how an integral feature could fall into abandonment and disarray, but not entirely surprising. In 1967, the Forest Hills Inn became apartments, which went co-op in the 1980s.

In 1977, it was announced that the U.S. Open would move from the nearby Forest Hills Tennis Stadium to Flushing Meadows Park. And music festivals in Forest Hills reached their peak in the 1960s.

With the change of occupancy of the Forest Hills Inn, and fewer tennis and music celebrities visiting Forest Hills, the Tea Garden was forgotten.

The July 12, 1924, edition of The Forest Hills Bulletin read, “The Tea Garden of the Forest Hills Inn is a veritable fairyland, when lighted with Japanese lanterns, with the trickling fountain heard in the background, and a new moon shining overhead. There is no more delightful place in Greater New York for one to spend the dinner hour.”

During the warmer months, every evening between 6:30 and 9 p.m. a delectable dinner was served, to the music of the Inn Trio, featuring selections such as Dvorak’s “Humoreske” and Albeniz’ “A Night In Seville.”

Ballroom dancing was featured on Saturday evenings, and the Tea Garden also hosted early performances of the Garden Players.

In a circa mid-1950s brochure uncovered in the Forest Hills Inn’s Historic Committee’s archives, the Tea Garden was then referred to as the Patio-Garden, and its glory continued. It offered “a bubbling fountain, candlelight, large umbrellas, and tall trees” with “violin strings in the spring and summer.”

Jade Eatery & Lounge holds a lease at the Forest Hills Inn, and the Tea Garden sits outside their back space.

“Many younger generations asked when the Tea Garden is opening, since they want to hold their weddings here like their ancestors,” explains manager Raymond Taylor. “We also want to hold community events, and allow the Inn and 20 Continental Ave to use the space as a common area. Jade has met some resistance from residents.”

Taylor visualizes “an authentic restoration of the garden, with possible outside funding.”

“If the fountain is approved in the plans, we would be delighted to resurrect such a tranquil piece of history,” he adds.

“Nothing can bring back the gentility of the Tea Garden,” says Martin Levinson, co-chairman of the One Station Square Historical Committee. “Instead of cellos and violins, the current era includes amplified music, liquor served to boisterous patrons, and people screaming on cell phones.”

He feels Jade’s public Tea Garden is “a security risk for those who live in the back of the Inn, since their apartments can be accessed by pranksters via terraces, trellises, air ducts, drain pipes, and roofs.” That said, Levinson does not mind a private garden.

George Hoban, co-chairman of the One Station Square Historical Committee favors re-implementing the Tea Garden, but states, "We need to communicate with our neighbors first, since its future involves them,” he says. “We are in litigation to determine who has use of the Tea Garden, which could be for Jade, our tenants, or both. We’re hopeful we will have all or partial use, since we plan to restore it."

“We are open to grants, and won’t allow work which doesn’t keep its integrity and historic character,” he adds. “Some work would be conducted off-site, to minimize on-site construction and noise. In summer 2011, we cleaned up the Tea Garden for optics purposes.”

An aesthetic and functional restoration can co-exist, with the establishment of bylaws and security measures, to appease Jade’s patrons and residents of the Forest Hills Inn and 20 Continental Ave. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

ABC News: Queens Tennis Club Considers Next Move For The Historic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium

ABC Eyewitness News: This is a piece on the historic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium by reporter Lisa Colagrossi, featuring interviews by Michael Perlman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, & Councilman Domenic M. Recchia, Jr, Chair of the City Council Finance Committee. It features its status, since proposals are under review for the site, memorabilia, and positions of Rego-Forest Preservation Council & the Councilman, as well as the Stadium Arts Alliance proposal to restore & creatively reuse the stadium year-round:  

Please share this interview with your colleagues and friends. If you know of anyone who could assist the cause, please email 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Alberto: A Classic Culinary Survivor In A 2012 Economy

This is Michael Perlman's feature story on Alberto, a mom & pop restaurant of Forest Hills, which is surviving in a 2012 economy due to its classic recipe. It also makes a great case of adaptive reuse, since it is rumored to have been Forest Hills' knitting mill in 1928. Please feel free to post a comment on the article link, & share it with your friends:
Passionate co-owner Silvana Chiappelloni in front of a salvaged stained glass masterpiece
Alberto echoes Metropolitan Avenue's charming scale & spirit
 Alberto: A Classic Culinary Survivor In A 2012 Economy
In an age of corporate chains that make some New York City neighborhoods a mirror image of each other and cause some small businesses to close shop in a harsh economy, Forest Hills retains few old-time mom-and-pop favorites.

These businesses offer classic style and have passionate owners who personalize their patrons’ experience. They make a commitment to community, and embrace longevity and “beauty is in the detail.”

As the owners of Alberto at 98-31 Metropolitan Avenue, brother and sister duo Roberto and Silvana Chiappelloni provide those ingredients in abundance. Alberto offers fine northern Italian cuisine in an elegant ambiance, befriends its patrons, and adapts to tastes old and new.

Roberto attended culinary school in Italy and worked in stages in Italy, Geneva, London, and then aboard the Holland America Line. He visited a relative in Brooklyn, who encouraged him to open a restaurant. As a 23 year-old tennis buff, he visited Forest Hills and had a vision.

Meanwhile, Silvana worked for a golf club in Geneva, where her family ran a famed restaurant.

Alberto has been in operation since 1975, but began where Da Silvana once sat on Yellowstone Boulevard. In 1977, it moved to a larger space on Metropolitan Avenue. Formerly a stark white pizzeria, over the years the Chiappelloni's went antiquing.
A carved wooden bar took the place of an ice cream counter, and an elegant wood front replaced generic aluminum, and chandeliers rumored to have come from the Criminal Courthouse in Brooklyn were hung from the ceilings. What would later become the Alberto logo is a Gothic stained glass window rescued from a dismantled church.
It is a suspended focal element that separates the front bar area from the spacious table-clothed dining room. Two decades ago, the Chiappellonis exposed rustic brick walls and lifted the dropped ceiling to reveal rare 3x12 wood rafters, most remarkably from the site’s rumored knitting mill days circa 1928.
Did you expect to enjoy your homemade northern Italian cuisine in a knitting mill?
Salvaged architectural features from NYC buildings live on at Alberto
Succeeding in business is Alberto’s only option. Fortunately, Alberto owns the real estate, so self-serving landlords who raise the rent is not an obstacle.

“Competition is the best form of advertising,” says Silvana. “If you have a great product, people will return. Our clientele chooses us during the toughest economic times, on the basis of our quality of food and experience."
“Enormous joy keeps me in business against the odds,” she continues. “You must love what you do. We give up all holidays, and spend 12 to 15 hours per day at work. I want to encourage young people to have passion, which starts with a dream. There are so many unemployed, so work hard, since it’s great being your own boss.”

Dedication and passion are part of the Chiappelloni recipe.

“What drives me is joy and feedback from customers,” explains Silvana. “When I see beautiful families, it eliminates all negative energy. I have seen four generations celebrating life. We live in a world where everything is changing, but if you have a good foundation of family, the new generation improves, and carries on values, passion, and love.”

Commitment is evident in authenticity, customization, and variety. Alberto offers dishes inspired by the Lombardy, Liguarian, and Emilio-Romagna provinces, with approximately 175 award-winning wines.

Alberto’s clientele is widespread. “When Alberto first opened in the 1970s, not too many people knew of Metropolitan Avenue, but now it is ‘restaurant and antiques row,’” says Silvana. “In the last decade, there’s lots of young people and diverse ethnic groups, and longtime customers.”

Alberto is popular for private parties, and 30-plus patrons are accommodated according to their financial needs. Frequent celebrations are baptisms, baby & bridal showers, birthdays, and anniversaries. OpenTable reservations are made online. Birthday card promos and gift certificates are also available.

To survive in a harsh economy, small businesses always need to take customer feedback, and create beyond basic business models. Alberto is a place where soul lives in its food and personality, and is a cornerstone for generations.

Alberto's hours of operation are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5 to 10:30 PM; Friday and Saturday from 4 to 11:30 PM; and Sunday from 4 to 10:30 PM. For more information, call (718) 268-7860, visit, or “like” their Facebook page.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Forest Hills Inn's 100th Anniversary Marked By Restoration & Historic Committee

This is Michael Perlman's feature story on the Forest Hills Inn's 100th anniversary in the Queens Ledger/Forest Hills Times. Please feel free to post a comment on the link & share it with your friends. Let's take part in this historic moment:
Circa early 1920s postcard of the Forest Hills Inn towering over Station Square
The Inn as of August 2009 amidst scaffolding
The Inn as of March 2012
Scaffolds Come Down & Reveal Forest Hills History
Passersby and residents of the historic Forest Hills Inn at 1 Station Square can see the light of day, and even more so in the near future with planned restorations of adjacent buildings.

This prominent Forest Hills Gardens tower’s scaffolding and netting, which was erected circa 2004, is now at ground level at Station Square and Greenway South, and the repaired façade can once again be appreciated for its Tudor and Arts & Crafts appeal.

The Forest Hills Inn officially opened on May 1, 1912, making its restoration timely for its 100th anniversary.

Forest Hills Gardens originated in 1909. The Russell Sage Foundation appointed Grosvenor Atterbury as the Gardens’ principal architect, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. as the landscape architect for public spaces and parks.

Inspired by Ebenezer Howard's Garden City Movement of England, this is our country's earliest planned garden community. It is a highly recognized model of urban planning, with Old English mansions tastefully situated on classically named private winding streets with lush landscape.

The board of Forest Hills Inn meets with contractors monthly to plan the restoration. The roof and facades of all three buildings have not been restored for at least the same number of decades, but now repairs on the Inn’s tower are complete.

Terra-cotta roof tiles were falling, and the pebble stucco finish on the façade became porous. This affected the metal structure underneath, allowing water into the apartments. Also weathered were top-floor terraces bearing gargoyles, which serve as drainage features.

“While examining the façades, we kept noticing weathered features, needing restoration,” explains Martin Restituyo, president of the One Station Square, Inc. co-op board. “Our five-year capital improvement plan, estimated at $3.5 million, will soon address all remaining restoration, which encompasses the Inn Apartments (of the Forest Hills Inn), the Raleigh, and the Marlboro. Restorations are funded through shareholder assessments. Unlike the past, we have appropriate plans and funds.”

“Restorations are funded through shareholder assessments,” he adds. “Unlike the past, we have appropriate plans and funds.”

Before Martin Restituyo’s presidency in December 2008, the previous board erected scaffolding around the Inn in 2004, without obtaining Forest Hills Gardens Corporation approval. The board felt it was essential due to emergency repairs, but the Gardens Corporation referenced restrictive covenants that protect the Gardens’ historic character.

By March 2009, the legal dispute between the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation and the Inn’s board was settled, and the tower’s repairs were completed in a year’s time.

Restoration of Station Square is costly, but possible with commitment. Friends of Station Square vice president Suzanne Parker explains the non-profit’s mission. “To protect, beautify, and educate the community about Station Square, Forest Hills, and its environs,” she says.

As a case in point, she cites re-installing a restored lantern to a corner of Burns Street after raising approximately $20,000, but that the majority of the eight remaining lanterns from 1910 are in deterioration. “Friends of Station Square embraced these whimsical icons of the prevailing Arts & Crafts style of the Square as an ongoing project, and continues its fundraising efforts,” notes Parker.

In the Inn’s early years, the Sage Foundation Homes Company distributed an illustrated 25-page prospectus to new residents and guests, establishing why the Inn and the Gardens is unique.

“Forest Hills Inn is a delightful all year round home for the busy man or woman who must spend the day in the city, but appreciates every minute saved for outdoor living and recreation amid wholesome and aesthetic surroundings,” read the brochure.

Station Square was conceived as a town center with the Inn, apartments, connected shops and the train station, which took locals to Penn Station in 13 minutes.
The 150-room Inn’s rates were $14 - $18 per week, including meals. References were required. Guests were welcomed to socialize at the Inn’s reception and smoking rooms on a vine-screened loggia overlooking the square. Guests enjoyed dinner overlooking the Greenway and Tea Garden, which hosted weddings. Tennis courts, golf, billiards, and a squash court were other fine amenities.

The 100th anniversary of the Inn is marked by the board’s establishment of a Historic Committee, co-chaired by Martin Levinson and George Hoban, who is collecting memorabilia for preservation’s sake, while telling a most significant chapter of Forest Hills history.

"The Innside Story" on a super-sized matchbook cover, circa 1950s
The social heart of Forest Hills! Amazing how the matches were embellished with an artist's touch.
If we were able to journey back in time, which space(s) should define your day?
One of the earliest postcards depicting the Forest Hills Inn circa 1912. Note the long-vanished fountain in the center of Station Square, which has been replaced not long after with a center island with traffic control booths & a landscaped sitting area.

One of many matchbooks from the Forest Hills Inn's hotel days under Knott Management
The July 4, 1919 carnival poster in front of the Forest Hills LIRR train station. Two years earlier, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered his famed Unification Speech atop the station steps to the crowds at Station Square.
Station Square has a traditional yet renewed sense as the seasons change
The banner on the right boasts the Forest Hills Gardens Centennial in 2009, but the Forest Hills Inn opened in 1912.

Forest Hills train station
Wide perspective on the Forest Hills train station

Fall 2009 photo: Friends of Station Square planned on restoring 1 of 8 Arts & Crafts lanterns designed by Grosvenor Atterbury. 
March 2012 photo: Friends of Station Square succeeded in restoring 1 of 8 Arts & Crafts lanterns designed by Grosvenor Atterbury. This marks a case study of "steep" commitment towards the restoration & beautification of Station Square.

View from Greenway Terrace towards the Forest Hills Inn at Station Square, March 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

Restoring Civic Virtue

Michael Perlman's feature story in the Queens Ledger/Forest Hills Times on March 1, 2012. Please share & consider commenting on the Queens Ledger website:

Civic Virtue, west of Queens Borough Hall at Queens Blvd & Union Turnpike

Civic Virtue at its original home of City Hall Park, NYC circa 1930

Art is open to interpretation, and an artist's vision is bound for misinterpretation.

It a shame how the true meaning of Civic Virtue – the statue that stands near Borough Hall - is frequently misinterpreted and devalued in political discourse.

At a February 2011 press conference, ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner proclaimed this work of public art “sexist.” He called for a public work to be privatized and removed, posted it for sale on Craigslist, and explained that if it cannot be removed, it needs to be concealed with a tarp. Since then, an influx of art defenders and preservationists have emerged.

Situated on the boundary of Forest Hills and Kew Gardens on Queens Boulevard, Civic Virtue has been keeping an eye on passersby since 1941. The classically designed 22-foot, stone-and-marble sculpture has a commanding presence in a serene setting amidst urbanization.

Civic Virtue was designed in 1920 by renowned sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies, and sculpted by the Piccirilli Brothers. Frederick MacMonnies was the last major American Beaux Art sculptor, and was the first American to win a Gold Medal at the Paris Salon.

He also designed other famous works across America and Europe, including Nathan Hale in City Hall Park, Truth and Beauty outside the 42nd Street Library, and three statuary groupings on the Soldiers and Sailors Arch in Grand Army Plaza.

Civic Virtue depicts a muscular nude Hercules with a sword in his right hand behind his neck, and stands over (but not on top of) two mermaid-like sirens depicting vice and corruption.

Controversy ensued since Civic Virtue’s origins. In 1922, Civic Virtue watched park-goers and elected officials as it stood centrally in Manhattan’s City Hall Park. Shortly after, because some people felt it disrespected women, it earned the nicknames “Tough Guy” and “Fat Boy.”

In January 1941, Robert Moses announced a contract of $21,720 for the statue's transport, and on May 29, 1941, the 24-ton statue was placed in a wooden container, meticulously packed with sand and attached to a 35-ton crane. At 2 mph, it made its cross-town parade on a 16-wheeled haulage truck with stout timbers to Kew Gardens in a four-hour commute. 

On May 31, 1941, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who famously hated the fountain because its naked backside could be viewed from his office, said “Oh, it’s gone at last. Now I won’t have to look at that virtuous back anymore.” Alongside Queens Borough Hall, Civic Virtue would once again be in a landscaped setting, but not “turn its back” on government.
   On October 7, 1941, City Council President Newbold Morris presented Civic Virtue to Borough President George Harvey, who advocated for its rescue. He said, “For 12 years, Queens has really had civic virtue, but has never been able to prove it. We can, now!” There were 50 invited guests including Adolph Weimann and A.F. Brinkerhoff of the National Sculptors Society, as well as 200 onlookers who cheered.

Civic Virtue has not been maintained for decades; with an inoperable fountain, a weathered sculpture, and cracked steps. On September 7, 2011, as chairman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, I nominated Civic Virtue for the State & National Register of Historic Places, so the statue can be commemorated and eligible for funding incentives, to help restore this public masterpiec

On December 13, 2011, it was determined “National Register-Eligible” by Specialist Daniel McEneny of the New York State Historic Preservation Office. The next step is for the city to endorse the eligibility statement.

On February 6, 2012, Queens BP Helen Marshall held a budget hearing at Queens Borough Hall. Architect Glenn Urbanas of Richmond Hill, testified at the hearing. He suggested “a modest sum which might be as little as $25,000 - $30,000 to be allocated in next year’s budget, so Request For Proposals can be prepared for accredited stone conservators, who can provide a detailed scope of work including estimates of materials, labor, and procedures for a phased project of cleaning, conservation, and restoration.” Marshall said she found it very disturbing that the statue degrades women. After Urbanas’ presentation, he explained its allegorical nature. “Marshall seemed to have softened her resistance towards conserving the sculpture,” said Urbanas.

Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Community Board 9, also testified, and since then, Marshall has expressed interest in meeting with the board. “We have a work of art that’s crumbling and corroding due to pigeon droppings and the elements,” Carey said. “If it was in Italy, Civic Virtue would be a revered statue. We want it cleaned and conserved.”

On February 7, 2012, NYC Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe explained “We have expressed our support to improve and restore the Civic Virtue statue. We suggest working with potential donors to find the funding for any necessary restoration to this monument.”

We must not let our cornerstones fall by the wayside by abandoning them for decades. Preserving existing infrastructure should be addressed before new development.

We should embrace and cultivate our art and architecture, which establishes who we are as a community and nation, and inspires more creative works in contrast to some modern lackluster developments. Restoration will also promote walking tours and tourism, since Queens is often underrepresented.

Let’s incorporate public art and preservation into our school curriculum, and take inspiration from historic sites. Considering the extent of politicians ousted from public office in recent years, New York City needs more civic virtue, not less.