Monday, November 11, 2019

11/16 "Reflections of Historic Forest Hills" Art Show at Jade

The community is invited to historian & artist Michael Perlman's art show opening on November 16 from 6 PM to 8 PM. His exhibit, "Reflections of Historic Forest Hills" features his local architectural photography, often embraced by nature, as well as his restored vintage community images.

Jade Eatery is located at 1 Station Square, Forest Hills Gardens. Admission is FREE & a Happy Hour special will begin at 6 PM.

All prints are for sale, & his exhibit will be on display through 12/15. Please invite your friends.

Michael Perlman will explain his perspective on photography & the restoration process, as well as showcase local historic sites. A toast to an enjoyable evening & community spirit!

Facebook event page:

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Unsolved Mystery: The Fountain of Piping Pan

By Michael Perlman

Fountain of Piping Pan, Olivia Park circa 1915, Courtesy of Michael Perlman
“There is a mystery on our hands!” Decades ago, the “Fountain of Piping Pan,” also known as “Olivia Fountain,” a focal point of the one-acre Olivia Park bounded by Markwood Road and Deepdene Road in Forest Hills Gardens, mysteriously vanished despite restrictive covenants which have long-preserved the Gardens’ historic beauty. Now the community wants answers, with a vision of rediscovering or rebuilding the fountain.

This attractive, tranquil, and environmentally beneficial feature consisted of a young male cherub playing a pipe which overlooked a bird fountain alongside the right-hand pathway as residents would walk from Markwood Road. In 1915, The Sun published, “The presiding genius of the fountain is a small nude boy in plaster playing a pipe and the water tumbles over the stones at his feet down into a miniature lake, where the birds may disport themselves as in one of nature’s own sylvan retreats.” In response to The Bird Club of Long Island which formed that summer to safeguard bird life, the publication stated, “From Brooklyn to Montauk Point, branch clubs are being formed, bird refugees and sanctuaries are bring created, and other steps are being taken to make the bird population multiply, and the insect horde decrease.” The membership numbered 300 and spanned 40 communities.

On July 4, 1915, with a local chapter of the Audubon Society on site, the bird fountain designed by Underwood Road resident Beatrix Forbes-Robinson Hale (later Women’s Suffrage Club of Forest Hills president) and presented by the Russell Sage Homes Company, was dedicated to Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, who was praised for her passion for birds. As a case in point, she purchased Marsh Island to transform it into a bird sanctuary. Also part of her acclaim was her establishment of the Russell Sage Foundation, which sought to improve the social and living conditions in the United States. The park was originally named in her honor, and her vision was realized as it served as a natural amphitheatre due to its sloping topography and acoustics. 

Forest Hills Gardens resident Elma Rae who unveiled Fountain of Piping Pan, 1915, Courtesy of Michael Perlman
 A woodthrush began to sing, a hidden orchestra played “Morning” by Grieg, and an elf emerged from the forest, drank from a fairy spring, and offered a libation to nature. Irmgard, Baroness von Rottenthal performed five interpretative dances at the fountain’s dedication ceremony. The repertoire also consisted of “Anitra’s Dance” by Grieg, where the pagan girl carried garlands of flowers and expresses joy in living, “Eve” by Tchaikovsky, “The Butterfly” by Chaminade, and “The Bird Basket” by Lacombe, where a Dresden China Shepherdess abandoned her flock to feed the birds which she calls from the trees. The New York Tribune read, “The entire village of merrymakers surged around the natural amphitheatre in their brilliant costumes as she emerged from cover to worship the beauty on every side.” Operatic singer Vivian Holt performed “Hark, Hark The Lark” by Schubert. Then the fountain was unveiled by a young Gardens resident, Elma Rea, who dedicated it “to the birds in recognition of their services and charm.” The program also read, “It is at the same time given to the people of the Gardens, to whom this park belongs.” 

Olivia Park is one of the most serene and private Forest Hills Gardens settings, where stately homes minimally meet the eye. A 1918 edition of “Country Life on Long Island” read, “It was especially desired to shut this park off almost entirely from the street and to give it the restfulness and seclusion of a remote piece of woodland, and yet to make the interior more inviting, if possible, than the original valley. The long stone steps and bright gravel walks invite the passerby to enter, while the smooth green grass within temps him to stop and rest beneath the shade of the Dogwood and the Wild Cherry trees.”

Among the locals who value preservation and restoration is Tony Barsamian, who called the fountain fascinating, and is hopeful to solve the mystery. As a member of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation Board of Directors and an active community participant, he said, “I have always believed that it is crucial to preserve and maintain the historic integrity of our unique community. People buy into the Gardens knowing that the homes cannot be arbitrarily changed architecturally and stylistically. Our process is designed to withstand the whimsical fashion dujour and trendy applications, which is why Forest Hills Gardens appears as it has looked for over a hundred years; a stunningly beautiful neighborhood in the midst of New York City.”

Another Forest Hills Gardens Corporation board member, Elizabeth Haberkorn, takes pride in how the park was used as an amphitheatre, historically for dances and performances by the Garden Players. Now she is working with FHGC to develop a plan to upgrade parks including Olivia Park. She said, “We are in the planning stage, and will work with landscape architects and residents to keep the parks holistically consistent and historically accurate, while making them more attractive and useful to residents.” 

Olivia Park in 2015, Photo by Michael Perlman
She also admires the park’s wildlife, trees, and its potential for recreation. “I have often watched woodpeckers and other birds in the trees. It is also beautiful in the fall with various colors of leaves. My son and I have sledded in the park for years. I recall one blustery winter day when two NYC cops joined in and raced down the hill.” 

As an avid gardener, she coordinated with FHGC nearly five years ago to plant naturalizing narcissus and daffodils along the wooded edges, and her son and other children also volunteered. Over the years, thousands of bulbs were planted. “Last year, at the suggestion of a resident, a renowned architect and landscape architect, we added 1,000 hyacinthoides hispanica, small blue woodland flowers among the earlier plantings.”

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