Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Rediscovering Modernism in Queens - A Call for Preservation!

1st prize winner Metropolitan Industrial Bank, now Bank of America, 99-01 Queens Blvd, Photo by Michael Perlman

By Michael Perlman

The Queens Modern project is commemorating and exploring the appeal and significance of mid-century modern architecture in Queens, which often goes unappreciated.

Last year, Brooklyn resident and historic preservationist Frampton Tolbert, former deputy director of the Historic Districts Council, received an independent project grant from the state Council on the Arts for the endeavor, which can be found at

It is questionable as to why modern architecture in Queens and citywide is largely unrecognized and lacking of landmark designations, when in fact a minimal requirement for a landmarked site is to be 30 years old.

“There are many possible reasons, including that Queens architecture in general is considered less significant than architecture in other boroughs,” said Tolbert. “Part of this project is an effort to change that.”

Another goal is to showcase an array of forgotten and untold stories behind the development of noteworthy modern buildings, which will include everything from developers such as Alfred Kaskel to architects like Simeon Heller to owners, including the Leo F. Kearns family.

Tolbert considers Queens Modern a natural evolution of his popular blog, He currently serves as the director of development and communications at the Center for Urban Pedagogy, and sits on the boards of Victorian Society New York and the Recent Past Preservation Network.

The Queens Chamber of Commerce is known for its annual building awards, which encourages and recognizes creative development. Queens Modern chronicles the period of 1948 to 1970, when the chamber honored approximately 400 Queens buildings. Tolbert's mission is to personally survey all sites.

Currently, Queens Modern features 150 of the projects, but Tolbert plans to spotlight all the award-winners from this period, in addition to other sites from the era.

“I've discovered so many unique threads and stories, and really have scratched the surface,” Tolbert said. “In my mind, the height of design and development was the 1950s and 1960s.”

He pinpointed classic examples of modernism such as the Leslie Apartments (1948) at 150 Greenway Terrace in the Forest Hills Gardens; the Metropolitan Industrial Bank (1952), now known as Bank of America at 99-01 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills; the former Scandinavian Airlines System building (1955) at 138-02 Queens Boulevard in Jamaica; and Barkin, Levin & Co. (1958) at 12-12 33rd Avenue in Long Island City.

“I am very intrigued by the Metropolitan Industrial Bank, which is very unlike architect Philip Birnbaum's other works, which tended to be large brick apartment buildings for the middle and upper class,” said Tolbert. “I feel the idea that this was a showcase of modern industrial materials needs to be explored further.”

For Tolbert, conducting research is a work in progress, and his site will continue to grow. He said, “I've discovered so many unique threads and stories, and really have scratched the surface.” He continued, “I look forward to highlighting more information about prolific but largely unknown architects, such as John O'Malley and Raymond Irrera, examining development trends like the increase in Catholic church construction, as well as discussing how major working and middle class housing developments including Lefrak City, Electchester, and Glen Oaks Village came about.” 

 Furthering the mission of Queens Modern, he said, “I would like to convene a panel of speakers to discuss modernism in Queens and New York City in general. I also hope to coordinate an event including an exhibit at the Queens Chamber of Commerce.”

A similar version of this feature appears in the Forest Hills Times:

No comments:

Post a Comment