Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Station Square: Restoring The Gateway To Forest Hills Gardens

By Michael Perlman

The talk of the town is the much-anticipated Station Square Restoration Project, announced last week by the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, which maintains the character of Forest Hills Gardens, an earliest planned garden community in America, originating in 1909.

The Forest Hills Inn triumphs over the stately Station Square, Photo by Michael Perlman, November 2015

Station Square, November 2015 photo by Michael Perlman
A statement read, “This will be a multi-faceted project with many phases, and involving more than just the restoration of the historic road surface. All the public utilities will also be upgraded, including their infrastructure, once the roadway is opened.” The project will commence this week and continue through 2018. While vehicular traffic will be off limits east of Continental Avenue, emergency vehicles will be permitted. 

Station Square circa 1916 to 1920 postcard, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
Local residents began to discuss Station Square’s history and their hopes for a community anchor. Sir Leonard Lombard, a director of the Station Square Inn Apartments Corp said, “What makes its ambiance unique is the whimsical Arts & Crafts style that the architects employed, combined with the fantasy-like Neuschwanstein romantic road castle. The architectural and cultural history, which was in vogue at that time, is unlikely to be duplicated with today's technology and state-of-the-art construction methods.” He hopes the restoration will continue with the facades. “I hope to see a more unified commercial look and more upscale shops along Station Square.” 

Inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement, this model residential development was designed by principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Station Square accommodated a classy social life, particularly at the spire-adorned Forest Hills Inn, which opened in 1912 and offered 150 rooms, adjoining the Raleigh apartments on the east and the Marlboro apartments on the west. The LIRR Station, accessible from the Inn through arcades and bridges sheltering residents and visitors from the weather, enabled a 13-minute commute to Manhattan. Historic events transpired, including annual 4th of July celebrations, and at the Station, where Col. Theodore Roosevelt delivered his “100 Percent American” speech on July 4, 1917, and Helen Keller greeted over 1,200 soldiers of the Rainbow Division that same year. 

LIRR Station with original fountain as the centerpiece circa1915, Courtesy of Susanna & Robert Hof
When guests and prospective residents of the Forest Hills Gardens picked up a copy of “Forest Hills Inn,” an early 20th century illustrated pamphlet by philanthropic organization Russell Sage Foundation’s subsidiary, Sage Foundation Homes Company, they learned about the Gardens’ benefits of location, education, and business, as evident by the planning of parks and open spaces alongside homes with architectural treatment. It read, “Grouped around the arcade, through whose arches may be seen the Common, the groves, and the homes of Forest Hills Gardens, are attractive stores and shops that supply every normal want. In the center of the Square, the play of a fountain adds to the vivacity and charm of the scene. The architecture and plan of Station Square have been designed to provide an attractive spot for the common use and pleasure of residents. Beauty, harmony, and utility are here combined in a unique way.” 

Grosvenor Atterbury's sketch of Station Square, circa 1909 - 1910, Courtesy of Susanna & Robert Hof
One couple who builds upon the history of their families living in the Gardens since its origins is Susanna and Robert Hof, owners and managing brokers of Terrace Sotheby’s International Realty, which occupies three Station Square storefronts. Since pedestrians will be channeled onto the sidewalks, he said, “We see it as a net neutral or even positive aspect for businesses.”

The project will preserve and utilize the roadway’s authentic bricks, which will be stored in a loading area along Greenway Terrace. Robert H. explained, “The distance between the roadbed and the sidewalk has deepened. The brickwork, in the pattern of a Union Jack is sacred, and where there are gaps, they will be filled in with proper vintage bricks of the same type and acquired potentially from Upstate New York.”

Susanna H. provided further insight. “As part of the plan, the Forest Hills Gardens Corp. is trying to work out the details to restore the large decorative lanterns that hang from the facades.” The center island is also expected to be repaired, which is where a fountain once provided water for horses, and then around 1916, two kiosks were added and would function as police and taxi outposts. “It is wonderful how it evolved into a sitting area,” she said.

In a joint statement, they explained, “We are very enthused over the restoration plans, and thank Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who was instrumental in arranging a grant which helps all of us.”

Wendy Bachman, president of Friends of Station Square admires how Station Square was described as "one of the finest public spaces in America" by Robert A.M. Stern, former dean of the Yale School of Architecture and founder of architectural firm RAMSA. “The LIRR, Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, and Friends of Station Square collaborated for over 25 years to raise funds and seek guidance in maintaining this American architectural jewel,” she said.

Past restoration success stories include the center island in 1995, the LIRR Station in 1999 after being deemed “National Register - Eligible,” and landscaping as the result of the Millennium Appeal from 2000 to 2001. She continued, “The guts of the square need a complete overhaul. After the restoration is complete, my hope is that it will take another 100 years before any work of this magnitude.” 

The Sage Foundation’s 1912 ad read, “Endowed by nature with every beauty, the country is disfigured by towns, cities, and suburban developments which make a sorry and hideous spectacle. Our rapid growth may be a reason for our having neglected to take some thought of how we were planning and what we were building, but the time has come for more forethought, and this excuse should no longer be tolerated.”

This precise planning lives up to its testament. “I feel truly blessed to live in Station Square and love looking out my window, seeing the clock and life in Forest Hills Gardens passing by, changing with seasons,” said Mr. James, who embraces the turn-of-the-century ambiance. He continued, “One observation is the expression on people's faces when they step off the LIRR for the first time, wondering where they are, and amazed with what they are seeing in Queens.” 

Forest Hills Inn & Station Square with ivy, 1966 postcard courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

A similar version appeared in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

For updates on the Station Square Restoration Project, email the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation at  

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