Thursday, February 20, 2014

Richard Haas’ Mosaic Masterpiece on Queens Boulevard Turns 25

Richard Haas' mosaic mural, Photo by Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Queens Boulevard has shops, buildings, roadways, and a few public works of art… if you look carefully enough. This year marks the 25th anniversary of a mosaic mural designed by the famed architectural muralist, Richard Haas.  

The mural adorns the curved façade of TD Bank at 108-36 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills. It showcases America’s earliest planned garden community, the Forest Hills Gardens, which originated in 1909. At the foot of Station Square sits the Long Island Railroad Station, which extends across its width. Bearing prominence in the mural is the Forest Hills Inn, which opened in 1912 and towers over Station Square. The scene commemorates the Gardens’ Tudor and Arts and Crafts styles, as well as monumental trees, which resulted from the partnership of principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. 

The charm is further captured through a birdseye view of homes beyond the Inn, as well as specific examples of cottages in individualized windows along its perimeters. Also depicted is a cornerstone of tennis and music history, the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which opened in 1923, and a backdrop of the Manhattan skyline featuring the Twin Towers. 

“I have always said this was one of my secret favorites,” said Richard Haas. “I was taken by the history of Forest Hills as a planned community based more on English and other European precedents.” He designed the mural as the first of an extensive series for the Home Savings Bank of America in 1989. It was executed in Spilimbergo, Italy by professional craftsmen under Mr. Trasavenuto’s leadership, and installed by Mr. Cravato in Forest Hills.      
Haas’ contemporary creations often become relics. “It's so classic-looking, that I had no idea it was such a recent creation,” said Kew Gardens resident Liz Manning Jarmel.
Actor Emil Beheshti, a former Forest Hills resident said, “I am proud to see Richard Haas’ beautiful mosaic, as it reflects my childhood and the care given by residents. It reminds us of the rich history of Forest Hills and its gorgeous architecture.”

The mural was on the brink of demolition when Commerce Bank became the tenant in the mid-2000s, and referenced their storefront design standards. That was when landlord Cord Meyer Development Company had requirements of their own. “It would have been almost sacrilegious to alter or remove the mural. We appreciated the mural’s beauty and significance, as well as the survival of the World Trade Center picture,” said Anthony Colletti, Chief Operating Officer of Cord Meyer. “We made keeping the mural a deal breaker. Soon after, everyone was a winner; Cord Meyer, Commerce Bank, and most importantly, the community.”

Queens residents expressed their pride. Kevin Walsh, Founder of Forgotten New York hopes the mural will not be forgotten. “Now we can be thankful that Richard Haas' fanciful depiction of Station Square and the Gardens beyond will remain, to inspire generations to come.” 

I pass this several times a week, and on sunny days, the gold mosaics absolutely gleam,” said Regina Judith Faighes. “It is an aesthetically beautiful monument to our beloved Forest Hills, and I feel there should be a ceremony honoring the very talented Richard Haas and his gift to our community.”

One of Haas’ major tools is his paintbrush, which he applies to a façade and redefines a technique known as “trompe l’oeil.” He creates an optical illusion by adding architectural detail and dimension to an otherwise blank canvas. Last year, he told CBS Sunday Morning, “A mural contains a neighborhood in many ways. It begins to make people aware of what the beauty is that’s around them.”

Richard Haas, Courtesy of the artist

In 1978, Paul Goldberger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic and educator wrote, “The art of Richard Haas is at once entirely realistic and quite fantastic.” He then went on to say, “From a period when Haas began to make small dioramic boxes of artist’s interiors in the mid-Sixties and later New York street views, to the time when he was involved in full scale reshaping of urban exterior and interior environments, Richard Haas has been an ‘urban artist’ without peer.”

Richard Haas was born in 1936 and raised in Milwaukee. In the mid-1950s, he worked as a stonemason assistant to his great uncle George Haas, who was the master stonemason at Taliesin, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright. As an assistant professor at Michigan State between 1964 and 1968, it afforded him the opportunity to meet notable artists and critics such as Barnet Newman, Clement Greenberg, and Jules Olitski. In 1968, he made New York his home, and in 1975, painted his first outdoor mural featuring a replica of a cast-iron façade at Prince Street and Greene Street. This led to various outdoor commissions across America, which continues to this very day.

A similar version of this story appears in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Seeing Tomorrow For The NYS Pavilion - Landmark & Restore This Icon!

Preservation campaign painting by Doug Leblang of the NYS Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair

~ Rego-Forest Preservation Council requests NYC Individual Landmark status, restoration, and creative reuse for the iconic New York State Pavilion. 

~ Below is an article written by Michael Perlman, a Forest Hills Times Columnist and Rego-Forest Preservation Council Chairman:

The 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is nearly three months away, but the symbolic New York State Pavilion, which could be celebrated as one of Queens’ most cherished sights, exhibits weathered architectural elements behind fenced off perimeters. Its significance is largely unknown to younger generations. 

    “People For The Pavilion,” an organization led by visionaries Matthew Silva, Christian Doran, and Salmaan Khan, held the first presentation, question and answer session, and reception at the adjacent Queens Theatre on January 25, attracting an audience of over 200. The organization is dedicated towards the NYS Pavilion’s preservation, and recognizes its value as an iconic piece of New York City history and its potential as a vibrant space for surrounding neighborhoods and the greater community. 

 To capture its future potential and history, Matthew Silva, a technology and video production teacher founded a Facebook group and page, and began producing a documentary called “Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion.” It will feature interviews with Fairgoers, operators, and architects. The trailer has been released, and Silva is now raising funds through Kickstarter to see it through.   

NYS Pavilion preservationists attend the People For The Pavilion event, Jan 25, 2014
Famed architect Philip Johnson designed the Modernist NYS Pavilion, which celebrated innovation. It consists of the Tent of Tomorrow, which exhibited the world’s largest multi-colored plexiglass suspension roof and a terrazzo Texaco road map of New York State. After the Fair, it operated as a concert venue attracting the likes of Led Zeppelin, and was also a roller skating rink. Fairgoers would also take an elevator to the top of the Pavilion’s three Observation Towers, which offered panoramic views of the city, as well as frequent Theaterama (now the Queens Theatre). The NYS Pavilion acquired its role in the spotlight on a segment of “The Flinstones” and in “Men in Black.”  

Even The Flinstones made a stop at the 1964 World's Fair!

After conducting structural studies, the Parks Department released figures in December, with options of restoring the NYS Pavilion for a new use at $72 million, stabilizing it as a ruin for $43 million, or demolishing it for $14 million. A combination of these findings and the event fueled locals’ determination to see a future for the NYS Pavilion. Suggestions for creative reuse outpoured. 

Notable film historian Tom Stathes envisions bringing his "New York Cartoon Carnival" to the Pavilion. He explained, “I showcase my early animation series mostly in Brooklyn, and would love to have more local spaces such as the Pavilion available for some of my outdoor screenings. I'd be more than willing to coordinate a fundraiser as part of my series, with the group seeking to preserve this important structure.”
“When I look out from the Queens College library, I see the Pavilion’s blinking light and remember my childhood,” said Enzo Longo. He envisions it as a public venue for discovering cultures and new technologies. “Almost everyone in Queens is either an immigrant or a descendent that can connect with this World Fair's theme.” He would like to see “Shakespeare in the Park” at the Pavilion, and a literary site where nearby high school and college students can discover its connection to the valley of ashes in F. Scott Fitzgerald's “The Great Gatsby.” “New York is a fertile place to enact some New Deal lessons, so let’s employ people with a living wage to restore the Pavilion,” he said. 

Friends Michael Torre and Mary Rose Kaddo visualize live music and a beer garden at the Tent of Tomorrow during the milder months. Torre stated, “Queens’ main political leaders need to care about landmarking. This is an accessible world-class site, which should bring a positive attitude to our borough.”

Howard Fein felt very encouraged by the event’s turnout. He said, “It shows that people really care. The site has an emotional connection to those who remember it as the Pavilion, and its unique architecture has captured the imagination of those too young to remember the 1964 World’s Fair.”

 The panel expressed its mission of securing NYC Individual Landmark status for the NYS Pavilion as one of the first steps, and The New York Landmarks Conservancy collaborated with People For The Pavilion to help accomplish that. Director of Development Scott Leurquin referred to the NYS Pavilion as the Fair’s architectural star. Crediting the site’s National Register of Historic Places status, he said, “We will provide guidance and support in securing City Landmark designation.” He continued, “The Conservancy urges the Parks Department and elected officials to work together to make sure that the site is properly repaired and reopened to the public. Adaptive reuse is not only feasible, but can lend itself to a host of activities.” 
The symbolism of sun despite cloudy times at the Tent of Tomorrow

May new generations have the chance to re-enter an icon!