Saturday, March 24, 2018

Preservation Call For 3 of Forest Hills’ Earliest Residential Buildings - Save "The Village!"

By Michael Perlman

Forest Hills was named in 1906 by Cord Meyer Development Company, and in the heart of the neighborhood, north of the Forest Hills Gardens, stands a large quantity of buildings designed during its first few decades in the Tudor, Georgian Colonial, Colonial, and Art Deco styles. This collection of architecturally and historically significant buildings, mostly situated between Continental Avenue to Ascan Avenue and Austin Street to Ascan Avenue, comprised what was nicknamed by local residents as “The Village,” which relates to its traditional Old English ambiance, low-rise buildings, and mom and pop shops. They continue to offer much character, but as redevelopment pressures increase for condos and chain stores, sites that are worthy of preservation based on their architectural style, history, and age have become endangered. 

Three of the earliest apartment houses in “The Village” are The Alberta, Harding Court, and the One Continental Avenue Building, which are often overlooked, but remain in a good state of preservation. They were designed by architect Rudolf C.P. Boehler, who was known for his projects in Manhattan from the 1920s to the 1950s, but resorted to Forest Hills which was a desirable community. Selling points included the Long Island Railroad, Forest Park, and recreational facilities for golf and the West Side Tennis Club. 

Alberta Apartments, Photo by Michael Perlman

In an April 1928 ad, the four-story Alberta Apartments, a Tudor standout at 2 Roman Avenue, which has been renumbered 108-22 72nd Avenue, was marketed for being two blocks from the LIRR station, and offered two rooms, a kitchenette, foyer, and bath for rent at $65, three rooms, a foyer, and bath from $75 to $80, and four rooms, a foyer and bath for $105. Since Forest Hills was largely undeveloped, The Alberta was advertised for its view of Kew Gardens to its east and Elmhurst to the west, with an abundance of sunshine, to the benefit of 29 families. Another attraction was every modern convenience including General Electric refrigerators and spacious rooms with high ceilings and several large closets.     

The Alberta was erected by John S. Myers and named after his mother Alberta, which continues to bear homage with an inscription above the arched stone entryway. Other distinctive façade features include a pitched flagstone roof, multi-colored bricks, a half-timber effect accomplished by brick and stucco, ornamental balconies and fire escapes, wooden doors, and a dormer. The foyer area consists of two-tone marble walls and a moulded ceiling, followed by a marble stairway which leads to apartment units. The Alberta was ready for occupancy on October 15, 1923. If a lease was signed prior to its development, Myers offered to prioritize on a color scheme that suited the tenants’ styles. 

Harding Court Apartments in a mid-1920s postcard, Courtesy of Michael Perlman

Nearby, Boehler designed the six-story Tudor-style residence, Harding Court Apartments at 15 Portsmouth Place, which was later renumbered 109-01 72nd Road. This development was underway in September 1923 and bears homage to Warren G. Harding, the 29th U.S. President, whose term began in 1921, but passed away while in office in 1923. Designed by architect Rudolf C.P. Boehler, constructed by the Kholef Construction Company, and built by the Stanhold Company, it would become one of the earliest multi-story “elevator apartment houses” in Forest Hills, with 2 elevators and 44 apartments containing two to seven rooms across from the LIRR. It was ready for occupancy in March 1924, and an ad read “The last word in apartment construction.” Three rooms were rented from $45, whereas 5 rooms were available from $75. A June 1925 ad read “June brides complete your happiness – Live at Harding Court Apartments” and called it the “finest elevator apartments.” In May 1929, its appeal influenced the development of the Forest Hills Library, which became a tenant, attracting 500 subscribers in its first couple of weeks.

Harding Court’s façade also featured half timbers, brick and stucco, and a gabled slate roof, in addition to decorative stone lintels, Old English storefronts, and a courtyard leading to the stone entranceway, where an inscription bears “Harding Court.” Stepping inside is a spacious vestibule area with detailed stone walls with moldings, a mantle, and an arched ceiling.

One Continental Avenue Building, Photo by Michael Perlman

The One Continental Avenue Building, also known as 107-37 Continental Avenue, was designed as a 4-story residential and commercial complement to the ambiance of Station Square. In 1922, it was advertised that the three uppermost floors would have three apartments each, offering the benefit of all tenants having a view of Queens Boulevard and Continental Avenue. In 1926, a tenant could pay $125 for five large rooms and a bath. Some of the earliest businesses were the Sage Forest Hills Associates, Inc, Forest Hills Beauty Shop, and Hughes and Lewis Dressmakers.

Rudolf C.P. Boehler served as architect and engineer, and work was underway by the Fifth Avenue Studio, Inc. Distinctive features include a pitched slate roof, a half timber effect accomplished by brick and pea gravel, and an arched entryway with vines extending from cartouches which leads to a central section of limestone quoins topped off by a crest.

Beauty is in the detail, as evident by these additional photos... 

Alberta Apartments

Harding Court Apartments

One Continental Avenue Building

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