Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sterling National Bank To Close Longtime Branch August 28 - Preserve The Original Home of Forest Hills Masons!

By Michael Perlman

Forest Hills Masonic Temple & Boulevard Bank in 1929, Courtesy of Michael Perlman

One of Forest Hills’ earliest commercial buildings houses Sterling National Bank at 108-01 Queens Boulevard, which was erected in 1920. However, as plans are underway to close its longtime location, the future of this classic Greek Revival style building may be in jeopardy, and merits a tenant that will preserve the building. 

According to Consumer Banking President Brian Edwards, the consolidation date for this branch (with Astoria Bank) will be on August 28. He explained, “Sterling is proud to serve this neighborhood by aligning dedicated relationship managers with the credit, deposit, and banking needs of the local community. While this branch is consolidating, we maintain two other locations within a mile at 63-72 108th Street and 97-33 Queens Boulevard.” 

Sterling National Bank, 108-01 Queens Blvd, August 2018 photo by Michael Perlman
As buildings that offer character are being lost in the name of progress, it is time to rediscover the site’s long yet forgotten history. The former tenant was Boulevard Bank, and nearly a century ago it was home to the Forest Hills Masonic Temple, which was considered a major achievement in a community that was named only fourteen years earlier. On October 9, 1920, a cornerstone was laid for Forest Hills Lodge No. 946 of the Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York by Grand Master Robert H. Robinson. A parade led up to the ceremony with a marching band, and the Knight Templar lodges of New York City escorted the Grand Master. On November 16, 1920, the Masons moved into their new site after previously meeting at Arcanum Hall in Elmhurst. The organization was granted a dispensation on December 18, 1916 by Most Worshipful Grand Master Penny.

In early 1919, for less than $10,000, Forest Hills Lodge No. 946 acquired a 64-foot frontage on Queens Boulevard by 150 feet on what was originally known as Gown Street. Stone Doric pilasters along with a stone frieze, quoins, and lintels provide contrast from the red brick façade with its large arched and rectangular windows, and were meant to offer charm and prominence on a highly visible intersection. Plans called for bowling alleys among other amusements and a kitchen in the basement, an auditorium and community hall on the first floor, and the Forest Hills Masonic Temple on the second floor with ante-rooms and lockers. One of the most engaging features would be an up to date organ in an organ loft.

Forest Hills residents provided assistance to Lodge No. 946, and Forest Hills Community Hall, Inc was known as the holding company. The Masons would undertake the financing of the property, including the temple, which would represent an investment of over $50,000. The charter committee consisted of Dickran M. Sarkisian, John Miller, Robert Whyte, J.M. Pahl, Andrew Galbraith, Adam Treu, and V. E. Engelbach. As of 1924, membership increased to 187.

Throughout the decades, the building was home to an array of community engagements. Early on, “Scandals at the Shore” was presented by the Lehbog Circle of the Silver Cross Day Nursery, and attendees compared a local show to the season’s best musical comedies. The entertainment group consisted of thirty active and six associated female members. The Forest Hills Choral Club, led by Bruno Huhn, offered a concert at the Masonic Temple in December 1923.

In the Forest Hills Theatre, over 400 participants attended the Fashion Revue and Frolic of the Forest Hills Masons on a single day of a two-day event in December 1928. A bridal tableaux displayed a $5,000 wedding gown. A ballroom dance session at the Masonic Temple followed, and proceeds helped furnish the temple. In September 1932, Forest Hills Jewish Center held High Holiday services on site. On a more humble scale, the Bath Sheba Chapter, Order of Eastern Star coordinated a Dutch supper and card and games party in 1945. That same year, the Trinity Triangle, Daughters of Eastern Star held the Annual Barn Dance. All expenses were paid by the brothers of the Forest Hills Lodge annually when it came to organizing a Thanksgiving dinner and a moving picture show for children of a local orphanage.

In 1928, it was announced that on February 1, 1929, Boulevard Bank and Trust Company of Forest Hills, which became a member of the Forest Hills Board of Trade, would share the building, and D. M. Sarkisian of 30 Jewel Street would be the founder and first vice president. Sarkisian, who was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and a WWI Army Captain, was also a trustee and elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills.

On May 14, 1948, the Sterling Safe Deposit Company was granted authorization to open the Sterling National Bank & Trust Company on June 1st. A vintage ad read, “In the past six years, Sterling National Bank has been serving thousands of residents and merchants in Queens through its office at (95-38) Queens Boulevard near 63rd Drive. Our new office will enable us to extend our services over a much wider area of this important section of Long Island.”

Forest Hills Masonic Temple remained for decades at its original site and relocated approximately fifty years after its founding to 101-01 Metropolitan Avenue.

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