Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Long-Awaited Station Square Restoration Progresses

By Michael Perlman

Station Square is continuing to undergo restoration, brick by brick, after construction began in April and sections were fenced off to vehicular traffic. Last week, local residents and LIRR commuters observed workers reinstalling the historic brick surface along Continental Avenue, which many considered a breath of fresh air. In a time when many buildings citywide that merit preservation fall victim to the wrecking ball, Station Square’s restoration is a rare sight, and marks one of the largest restoration projects in Forest Hills history.

Station Square is the gateway to Forest Hills Gardens, America’s earliest planned garden community, founded in 1909. Inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement, the 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 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, once accessible from the Inn through arcades and bridges sheltering residents and visitors from the weather, enabled a 13-minute commute to Manhattan. The Tudor village ambiance gave birth to historic events including annual 4th of July celebrations, Col. Theodore Roosevelt’s “100 Percent American” speech on July 4, 1917, and Helen Keller’s address to over 1,200 soldiers of the Rainbow Division that same year. 

Tony Barsamian, a member of the Board of Directors of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation provided an in-depth view of the restoration. In order to upgrade utilities to meet 21st century standards, the overwhelming majority of original bricks were carefully salvaged and stored in Station Square and FHGC facilities. “We have cleaned and replaced every brick with either the original brick or custom-tailored bricks 100 percent to match the originals. We’ve padded them with the same sand in terms of how we lay them down. We don’t use mortar, since it cracks when it is icy or snowy, or water gets into it and then it freezes. We have gone out of our way to maintain it to hopefully last another hundred years.” 

In addition to addressing the roadway’s sinking elevation, Barsamian said, “We made improvements in the center island in terms of bringing it back to its original form.” He continued, “When you dug underneath Station Square, you saw that some of the lines and infrastructure elements were dated. Between National Grid and Con Edison and some other service providers, they came in and upgraded their connections to the homes and our community at large.” Water lines were also repaired. The plans will reportedly include the illumination of Station Square’s arcades.

Routine maintenance has been conducted annually, but not a restoration to this level, according to Barsamian. “This is a unique project that should garner great support from historians, since it will bring to life something that could have disappeared. We will probably be finished in February, but a ribbon-cutting ceremony or party may take place in March to welcome everyone to the beautifully restored Station Square.”

“When I watch bricks being put down in 2018, I imagine what it must have been like in the early 1900s,” said Barsamian. “I ask myself, ‘What were the original construction workers and masons thinking? Did it occur to them that they were involved in something so monumental that it has become a model throughout the country and the world, and when someone wants to create a planned historic village? Did the workers have any concept that the brick that they put down would still be walked and driven on?’ This is a throwback to an earlier time, and yet it was futuristic while designing from the past.” 

Barsamian owes much of the success to restrictive covenants. He explained, “A major reason that the community has been maintained for 100+ years is that homes are required by a covenant in their deed that they keep the integrity and structural soundness of the founding fathers’ established code. You cannot walk in and say I’m going to put in a checkerboard look or paint my bricks green and orange. People buy into the neighborhood knowing that there are restrictions on what can be done, and they need to seek our approval based on the community’s original design. That is why it is a timepiece, where you might as well be in an 1800s European Tudor village.”

Station Square’s restoration is not only marked by the most recent roadway project, but is witnessed along its Tudor facades. George Hoban, president of Station Square Inn Apartments Corporation, explained, “Over the past 10 years, our corporation has spent over 7 million dollars restoring our three buildings, and I don’t think people realize that it was funded entirely by less than 100 owners through assessments. People may also not realize that out of the hundreds of brick patterns throughout the buildings, each and every brick pattern is unique.”

Hoban also extended compliments to the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation and Friends of Station Square for their commitment to restoring and beautifying Station Square over the years, and said “The planning and logistics behind this project were obviously challenging, but they have come through flawlessly.” As a 21-year resident, he added, “I still feel a sense of joy each and every time I come home and see the beauty of the Square. I would see the surprised faces of New Yorkers coming off the LIRR into the Square for Forest Hills Stadium concerts and sensed that many were unaware such a beautiful and unique place existed in NYC.”

For another resident Dan Ziegler, who is the owner of Station Square Fight Fit at the Forest Hills Inn, he is also very pleased with the restoration of a town center with many paths. “When I come home, I almost feel like I'm in Europe. Famous people used to stay in my building, and I love how we can go for a stroll in the Gardens and look at mansions, or walk to Queens Boulevard for more of a city vibe. It's almost like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ where you go through a door, and each door has something special.”

“Visitors may not realize that when you get an aerial view of Station Square with its bricks, it looks like a map of England,” said Gigmy Bista, manager of Jade Eatery & Lounge. “I cannot wait for the restoration to be complete. We would always have locals, commuters, and tourists taking pictures and hanging out, and it was really good for businesses.” Station Square is symbolic of his first time settling in America. “When I attended Queens College, I started working at Jade as a server and remember admiring the Square so much, having my meals on the Square’s bench, and feeling special. I always think of Jade and the Square as my second hometown.” 

A similar version of this feature has been published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: http://www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/27618913/article-Station-Square-restoration-moving-forward

1 comment:

  1. So, only three months behind schedule on a 9 month projected completion date. Roughly 35% behind. And add to that trying to work though the winter...