Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Forest Hills Tradition at Traymore Chemists

By Michael Perlman

Mom & pop shops once lined the streets of Forest Hills, granting much personalization and ambiance, but today small businesses built on tradition are increasingly an endangered species. This is due to high rents, changing demographics, the pandemic, and the lack of interest in younger generations to acquire the business or a landlord or tenant’s disinterest in making it available for another party.

Among Forest Hills’ longest continuously operating family businesses is Traymore Chemists at 110-80 Queens Boulevard, which was owned by Kenneth Liebowitz for over four decades. “Growing up, I never fully appreciated how hard my father worked to support our family, but one thing I knew is that he was very proud of his business,” said Kew Gardens Hills resident David Liebowitz, who began running the business after his father retired a few years ago. Now he feels privileged for the opportunity to continue building upon his father’s service to the community and preserve a classic business.

Original owner Kenneth Liebowitz

Patrons enter a classic recessed storefront with an original wooden door, and encounter authentic wooden built-ins and “Prescriptions” stylistically painted on the wall behind a counter with a vintage torsion balance and a pharmacy class cup, contributing to the charm. It is Traymore Chemists’ mission to offer the most economical prices for vitamins, over-the-counter medications, DMV eye exams, diabetic stockings, walkers, wheelchairs, blood pressure monitors, knee and back braces, fragrances, etc. They offer senior care specialty services and free delivery. Staff members relate to a diverse community by their ability to speak Spanish and Greek.

Michael Perlman, Owner David Liebowitz, & District 29 City Council Candidate Michael Conigliaro

Liebowitz acquired a first-hand lesson over time, despite not working at Traymore Chemists early on. He explained, “My father took great pride in serving customers, but even more than that, he really made customers feel like family. When I say that, I am not exaggerating. He truly cared about people, and they loved him for it. Ask anyone who knew him, and they will tell you the same thing.”

“When I began to run the business, I hired new pharmacists in the mold of my father,” he said. They are Anna Antiaris and Kathy Legakis, who have also become much admired community personalities. He continued, “I can tell you 100 percent that they really are like my father, since they are so special in that same way. They have such pleasant personalities.”

Kenneth Liebowitz, Courtesy of David Liebowitz

A pharmacy existed on site prior to Traymore Chemists, which was known as Jules Landsberg Pharmacy in 1963 and possibly earlier. Patrons would dial BO 1-8440. Today, the phone number is consistent, but in a numerical form, 718-261-8440 to reach Liebowitz and his colleagues.

Such a business poses advantages over a large chain. Liebowitz emphasized how crucial it is for the community to support small businesses and their neighbors, especially during the pandemic. “We are all suffering due to Covid-19, and as a society, we need to help each other by supporting our local small businesses. In today’s world, society has become so emotionally distant, but people crave friendliness and warmth. Our goal is to make people feel good when walking into our pharmacy by knowing their name and treating them with dignity and respect.”

Recently, an elder patron needed assistance and called the shop, so Liebowitz fulfilled his mission to “save the day!” He explained, “I asked our delivery person to assist them. We have elderly customers that sometimes ask us to pick something up for them at the food store, so we do it for them. It is our pleasure, since we want to be known in our community as the place that everyone can turn to, and especially for seniors who need some extra care.”

“My father used to call his customers ‘friends and family,’ and that’s exactly what I want to continue,” said Liebowitz.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A Sweet Celebration Filled with Memories for Aigner Chocolates’ 90th Anniversary

By Michael Perlman

It is proven that what is homemade and from the heart is a recipe for success. Aigner Chocolates at 103-02 Metropolitan Avenue has achieved a milestone, which tells a story of a mom and pop shop that is a rare survivor, thanks to the long hours of dedication under past and current owners, creativity, personalization, and a humanitarian spirit where patrons and the community become an extended family. To celebrate 90 years in Forest Hills, a socially distanced ceremony was held in front of the shop on September 13, with speeches from generations of owners and nearly ten elected officials; some of whom presented proclamations. Gift bags with a commemorative “90” chocolate pop were distributed, and harpist Erin Hill performed standards. 


Guest speakers were Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, Councilman Donovan Richards, NYS Senator Joseph Addabbo, NYS Senator John Liu, Assemblyman Ed Braunstein, and representatives of Queens BP Sharon Lee and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi. It even included a Certificate of Recognition from Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

Congresswoman Grace Meng, who presented a proclamation said, “Representing the Sixth Congressional District, I hold up Aigner Chocolates for great recognition and honor on the 90th anniversary of its founding, and declare today to be ‘Aigner Chocolates Day!’” President and CEO Thomas Grech of the Queens Chamber of Commerce said, “If you work to support your family, such as a meat guy, bagel guy, or the chocolatier, you are an essential worker. Aigner employs 8 people, which is 8 rents and 8 kids to put through school. At the end of the day, we should value every single job, since the person that has it, is essential to their family.” 

Owners Mark Libertini and Rachel Kellner acquired the business in October 2015 and added a new chapter to the Aigner story. Back in 1930, Germany native and confectioner Alfred Krause opened Krause’s Candy Kitchen in a predominantly German community. Since 1960, three generations of the Aigner family satisfied the sweet tooth of patrons. It consisted of John Aigner, who began working at Krause’s in the 1950s after training in Austria and Germany, his son Peter and wife Pia, and then their son Chris. In 2009, the business was renamed Aigner Chocolates. Then in 2015, master confectioner Peter Aigner trained Kellner and Libertini, who continue to produce chocolates on museum-quality equipment from the 1940s and 1950s. 

Kellner explained that it was love at first sight for the shop’s history and felt honored to preserve a tradition. She said, “What we didn’t realize at that time was that we were being adopted by a community, so caring and involved. The friendships we’ve developed with our fellow business owners, neighbors, and customers were completely unexpected, and now we can’t imagine our lives without all of these amazing people.” She then explained, “My husband loves making chocolate and I love running a chocolate shop, but the passion and love wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for all of you. This day is a celebration about community, because without this incredible community, we wouldn’t be here. To Mark, my partner in life and in business, you had a vision, and it allowed my vision of ‘food as therapy’ to become a realty in this beautiful business. You said our life would be an adventure. Babe, you were right!” Libertini said, “We are devoted to the art of creating beautiful and delicious chocolates using traditional family recipes and techniques. Our vision is to share our passion for the art of chocolate while making the world a better place.” 

Vintage photo of past owner Peter Aigner

Peter Aigner’s earliest memories date to his childhood. “We lived above the chocolate shop, when I was about 9 in 1960. When my parents were in bed, I would sneak downstairs into the store to help myself to half a dozen milk chocolate marshmallows and take it up to my room. As I grew up, my tastes mellowed to a little less sweet.” Chris Aigner continued, “I would sneak down early Saturday morning, before the store was open, and get a chocolate pop, and then go upstairs to my grandparents and watch cartoons with a glass of orange juice and chocolate pop.” Pia Aigner said, “I was so impressed how Americans loved chocolates, coming from a country where chocolate was so expensive, that people would buy one to two pieces. I came to America and they would buy it by the pound.” 

Pia Aigner, Chris Aigner, Mark Libertini, Rachel Kellner, Peter Aigner, Thomas Grech 

The Aigner family feels they made the perfect choice after interviewing Mark and Rachel. Peter said, “Very few businesses in New York manage to survive that long. Our customers were very loyal. We always maintained a high quality product, and Mark and Rachel are excellent heirs. They took it seriously and learned it from the ground up and continuing the tradition with the same recipes and manner that we ran it, but with a little more artistic flair, and we are very happy for them. Customers continue to have the high quality they’re accustomed to.” Chris continued, “Ninety years is three full generations of families that probably touched five generations of families that had chocolate in their homes on holidays and centered around it on their most intimate family moments. It is wonderful to be part of a business that touched so many lives.” Pia continued, “We are very happy that Mark and Rachel are continuing making chocolates at that location, and they’re doing it very well.” 

Peter, Mary, John & Grandpa Aigner

One must wonder if there are any life lessons from running a chocolate shop. Chris said, “Being in service, you’re in a very special position in the world. You can change people’s experiences. Being kind and treating them with respect and dignity regardless of how short your interaction is an important life lesson.” Peter agreed and said, “We have been taught by my parents and passed that on.” 

When seeing Mark and Rachel operating the business in 2020, it reminds Peter and Pia of their younger selves. He said, “We had a lot of people who wanted to buy the business, but their heart wasn’t really in it. When we came across Mark and Rachel, there was this enthusiasm, which we felt was very important. Mark loves making chocolates, and Rachel has excellent people skills! Those are two important ingredients, and it’s similar to the talents that my wife and I had.”

Chris Aigner served as the broker in the sale. “The first year was the tricky year, since my parents and Mark and Rachel worked together nearly every day. They wanted to learn the recipes well and make sure that the transition was seamless. Then they re-branded slightly and added artistic value to the products. It has been a great experience to see them grow and take the business to the next level.” Peter continued, “When you sell a family business that has been with you for three generations, it’s a bittersweet experience. On one hand, sad, but yet it’s very happy.”

His father is one of his largest inspirations. “I would go in with my dad since I was 5 years old. I first learned how to lay out cups for nutcrackers. I would spend almost every Saturday making chocolate. Since I was a very young boy, I wanted to be a chocolatier.” Peter continued, “My dad was an Austrian confectioner who taught me the trade from a very early age. No one will teach you like your own father! My parents worked for another confectioner, since it wasn’t easy to get your own business in Europe.”

Chocolate production has evolved tremendously, according to Peter. “It helped the small manufacturers like us a lot. When I was a kid, basically all of the machinery was developed for big factories, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Over the years, machinery was developed, geared towards smaller manufacturers. When I was a kid, every single piece had to be rolled, cut, and dipped by hand. Over the years, we invested in machinery that automatically cut and formed chocolate.” 

Peter & John Aigner

Chris shared a story that his parents would tell him. “My great-grandfather would help out. They had professional dippers who dipped piece by piece, all day long, and set the pieces onto wax paper, fill up the tray, and put it on a rack. They would produce a whole rack in a day’s work, whereas today we can do it in a few hours. After a day’s work, he squeezed into the cooling room to get a piece of chocolate, but knocked over an entire rack. As the dipper started to scream ‘My work, my work,’ the first thing out of his mouth was ‘It wasn’t me!’ You can really picture what it was like back then.” 

The Aigner family and Kellner and Libertini are humanitarians. The tradition of raffling off an over 3-foot chocolate Easter bunny named Harvey originated in the 1980s. Most recently, it was donated to Elmhurst Hospital, the “epicenter of the epicenter” during the pandemic. Chris recalled, “My maternal grandma passed away from Alzheimer’s, and when she was sick, we started a raffle with Harvey The Bunny and gave all the proceeds to a research foundation.”

Many notables once entered Aigner’s showroom. Peter said, “I remember my father used to enjoy seeing celebrities such as Ralph Bunche, Dale Carnegie, Geraldine Ferraro, and Louis Armstrong, as well as his sister. He wouldn’t eat any other chocolates, so she would later buy it for him and send it out to Hollywood.”

The Aigner family has much to be grateful for. Since much revolves around chocolates, Chris explained, “We were able to experience the holidays in a very special way. We were surrounded by Christmas the whole month of December, and the same with Easter and Thanksgiving.” Pia added, “I will always be thankful to our customer’s loyalty.” 

Owners Rachel Kellner & Mark Libertini with the NYPD, Photo by Michael Perlman

Friday, September 4, 2020

Historic Forest Hills Banks Merit New Lease on Life & Not Demolition!

 By Michael Perlman

Banks were traditionally erected as freestanding buildings with solid construction comprised of high ceilings and classical architectural features, to instill a sense of financial stability, integrity, security, and commitment, and were regarded as community centerpieces. In Forest Hills, three bank buildings became available over the past year, echoing the neighborhood’s past, as they were designed in harmony with their surroundings. Now community residents and visitors are hopeful that their unique period details will be preserved, whether the buildings continue to operate as a bank or are adaptively reused, which has been accomplished countrywide. 

A “For Sale” sign was posted on the façade of Forest Hills National Bank of New York at 99-00/02 Metropolitan Avenue , which most recently operated as a branch of Chase. This Greek Revival meets Colonial building style building’s façade remains mostly intact, retaining its brick and stonework consisting of pilasters, a door surround, arched windows, and a pediment. It opened in December 1928 to primarily serve a growing community of south Forest Hills which was 22 years old at that time, whereas Rego Park was 5 years old. The Queens Chamber of Commerce’s “Queensborough” publication stated, “The capital stock of $200,000 is held for the most part by Queens Borough business men who believe in the future of the borough. The bank starts with a surplus of $50,000.” It also explained that the bank operated a Special Interest department and a Christmas Club.

Daniel J. Flynn, Vice President of Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate services company, explained that he and his colleague is currently under negotiations with a buyer. The façade’s few modifications include the uppermost arched section of the windows covered with aluminum siding, replaced windows, and the building’s original etched name also covered with aluminum. The interior has dropped ceilings, but can be eliminated to reveal distinctive details from 1928. While examining the façade, he said, “I love the look of the building. It captures a bygone era, in which materials and labor were disproportionately less expensive. At this point, the buyer fully plans to utilize the building and not modify the exterior.” Considering its ideal location, he continued, “This part of Queens serves a very important function in housing and commerce.” 

The longtime location of HSBC Bank at 107-15 Continental Avenue was home to The Williamsburgh Savings Bank in 1975 to benefit Forest Hills’ growing community. It is now available for lease and its use remains to be seen. In the 1970s, the bank appointed an architect to creatively design the façade in the Tudor style, a hallmark of Forest Hills architecture, which complements the harmonious ambiance along Austin Street, Continental Avenue, and Forest Hills Gardens. A few decades ago, the commercial district was still referred to as “The Village” by community residents. The façade remains mostly intact and includes signature half-timbering, ornamental brick and stone chimneys, a slate pitched roof, a finial, Roman numeral clock, and flagpoles. 

A leasing opportunity advertises an available 6,500 square feet with an additional mezzanine and basement. It also references heavy daytime traffic and the space’s excellent condition which remains fully built out as a bank.

As of March 1975, The Williamsburgh Savings Bank, which was incorporated in 1851, increased in resources to over $1.7 billion. An ad featuring a façade rendering read, “Get a free gift at our new Forest Hills office only for opening a new savings account of $5,000, $1,000, $500 or $200 or more during the opening celebration.” Weekly door prizes ranged from a G.E. cassette recorder or a Polaroid SX-70 camera to a Raleigh 10-speed bicycle or a Panasonic 16 in. solid state TV. Grand door prizes included a trip for two to Bermuda or Las Vegas, a choice of grandmother’s or grandfather’s clock, a G.E. washer & dryer, a Panasonic Quadruplex stereo, or a Sun Fish sailboat. Nineteen prizes for a new account of $5,000 or more included a Caravelle by Bulova, a Manning-Bowman stainless steel rotisserie broiler, and a Corelle 20-piece Livingware set by Corning. For over $1,000, 14 options included an ICP AM/FM portable radio, a Sankyo digital alarm clock, and a flight bag. 

In November 1921, the Corn Exchange Bank received permission from the State Banking Department to open a Forest Hills branch at 106-24 Continental Avenue. Now it is known as Boston Market and also consists of the recently shuttered Aldo, which is being advertised as a store for rent. Around 1922, patrons were welcomed to a prominent Tudor style brick and stone building at a major intersection. It features a pitched sweeping roof with terra-cotta tiles and a spire harmonious to the nearby Forest Hills Inn, as well as tall windows with motifs of crops and flowers. The bank’s name, etched in stone, reportedly exists underneath Boston Market’s signage. As renovations were underway in Aldo nearly ten years ago, the removal of a faux ceiling revealed a much higher curved ceiling with period details, but was only witnessed by the modern eye briefly.

In January 1928, readers of “Queensborough” learned that the firm, which began business on February 1, 1853, had eight of its more than 60 branches in Queens. It stated, “The bank has a capital of $11,000,000 and surplus and undivided profits of $16,527,000. The bank entered the Queens field on August 28, 1899, when it absorbed the Queens County Bank.” The Forest Hills branch manager was Edward L. DeForest.

“Part of the lure and rewards of exploring New York’s history is how every neighborhood has its own character,” said Riley Kellogg, an adjunct lecturer in history and a licensed NYC tour guide. My hometown’s rich history teaches us about all the people who have been drawn here for myriad reasons, and how all have contributed to building the New York City we know and love. One of the most visible, and we hope lasting marks of those characters, are a place’s architecture. The evidence of who Forest Hills has been, who it is now -- who we are now -- is there to be seen in the mix of Tudor and Classical, humble and grand, commercial and residential buildings. These former bank buildings each reveal one of the faces of this ever-growing, ever-evolving neighborhood. There are good reasons to keep our older buildings. We needn't obliterate our past in order to grow our future. In fact, the future will have stronger roots, and be sounder and more truly ours, if we build with the past, rather than demolishing and forgetting it.”

Helen Day, Richmond Hill Historical Society VP, is also concerned about Forest Hills’ historic buildings. She was surprised to see Chase closing its Metropolitan Avenue branch. “It is a lovely building that I would really like to see preserved with a new use. It is large enough for a restaurant or another bank.” She continued, “The Tudor style buildings on Continental Avenue also fit well with the neighborhood. They don’t need to go to the expense of tearing a building down or doing a complete renovation of the façade. Each one of these buildings contributes to the character and appeal of their location. It is unfortunate that the businesses are no longer there, but this is an opportunity for another business to make good use of them.”

She explained a case in point. “Many period features get covered up, but that doesn’t mean you cannot uncover them. I know of a hair salon in Ridgewood, where the owner pulled out all the modern stuff and found tin ceilings and great details that she incorporated into her décor. The interiors should have as much character as the exterior! Preserving something unique will give a special look to whatever they will open at those three Forest Hills locations.” 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Preservation Call: Forest Hills Jewish Center, A Community Cornerstone!

 By Michael Perlman  

Forest Hills and Rego Park are home to a vast collection of historic buildings that bear architectural and cultural significance. Among them is the sanctuary building of Forest Hills Jewish Center at 106-06 Queens Boulevard, situated on Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser Square, named after the congregation’s prior and longtime rabbi, who was highly influential in Conservative Judaism in the U.S. It has an adjoining religious school, recreation center, and senior center. Collaboratively, it boosts the community’s quality of life. Each period of architecture offers distinctive buildings meriting preservation. Without education, history and architecture is sometimes misunderstood and undiscovered. 

Forest Hills Jewish Center was designed by Architect Joseph J. Furman, and represents a fusion of the International Style and earlier Art Moderne style. Today, the firm operates as Furman & Furman Architects. The convex front façade bears a relationship to the street. Limestone steps with modernistic brass railings lead to varnished carved wooden doors with brass handles. Etched in limestone above the entryway is “They Shall Build Unto Us A Sanctuary” and “That I May Dwell Among Them.” Limestone surrounds hold sleek stained glass windows that depict the Burning Bush on the front and side façades. The crab-orchard rock façade, quarried from Tennessee, is reminiscent of the stone pattern of the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem; the only surviving remnant of the destroyed Holy Temple. On December 6, 1949, the synagogue received an Honorable Mention award for its excellence in design and construction in the Queens Chamber of Commerce's public buildings category. 

“This new building, raising its hands to heaven, is more than a sacred structure. It is an example of the type of thinking that will bring universal peace and solution of the problem that faces all mankind” were the bold words of New York City Mayor William O’Dwyer to 5,000 attendees on the steps of the newly dedicated Forest Hills Jewish Center on September 18, 1949. He then stated, “Sacred institutions embodied the democratic ideal and principle.” 

For the synagogue, the prospectus read, “The heart and soul of the community. Beautiful and inspiring – soaring heavenward, lifting the aspirations of our congregation.” It also introduced a chapel, main auditorium, school, library, bridal chambers, social halls, club rooms, committee rooms, a kitchen, gymnasium, and lounge. 

Right to left: Rabbi Ben-Zion Bokser, Building Committee Chair Fred Katzner, Huntington Bache great grand-nephew of Benjamin Franklin in center, Mayor O’Dwyer, & Building Committee members Emanuel Roth, John Turk, & Harvey Pearls

Photo: Architect Joseph J Furman & Rabbi Ben-Zion Bokser overlook the 1947 FHJC cornerstone

The first synagogue was organized in 1931 in a frame house on Kessel Street, and then a 2-story synagogue was erected on site. Later on, the Queens Boulevard cornerstone was laid in 1947, and incorporated one stone from the Holy Land and another from a desecrated synagogue’s ruins in Frankfort on the Main, Germany. The cornerstone reads, “That The World May Be Perfected Under The Kingdom Of The Almighty (1947/ 5708).” The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by Rabbi Ben-Zion Bokser, Chair of Building Committee Fred Katzner, Huntington Bache; great grand-nephew of Benjamin Franklin, Mayor O’Dwyer, and Building Committee members Emanuel Roth, John Turk, and Harvey Pearlstein. 

Stepping into the synagogue’s 1,400-seat sanctuary, the charming ambiance is embellished by stained glass windows and the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark). The over 20-feet high elaborate golden ark depicts Judaic traditions and holidays, and was designed by the famed artist Arthur Szyk. This was his first 3D creation for a synagogue, and resembles the breastplate of a Torah scroll. It is considered unique how a Torah design element can serve as an inspiration for a larger than life model, which houses the Torah. Historians and critics consider the Ark to be one of the greatest works of 20th century Judaic art. Two of Szyk’s candelabras sit adjacent.

According to the Arthur Szyk Society, Szyk’s art was his means to promote ethnic and religious tolerance, human dignity, and social justice. Syzk worked in the tradition of 16th century miniaturist painters utilizing text and illustrations. The famed Szyk Haggadah was given to Forest Hills Jewish Center. It became a work of hope and courage during Hitler’s rise. It addressed the era’s politics paired with earlier oppression. Referring to WWII, Szyk told the New York Daily Mirror on April 10, 1941, “The Revolution America fought was an ideal that any artist could thrill to. Today art must be almost negatively directed against a force that destroys all ideals. But no true artist has the right to avoid using his strength to strike at the darkness." The Times of London referred to his work to be “among the most beautiful ever produced by the hand of man.” Szyk is considered by art critics to be the greatest illuminator of the past four centuries.

In the late 1940s, a synagogue building boom was underway, especially in the suburbs. Religious persecution and tragedies of the Holocaust were fresh in the consciousness of Americans, resulting in renewed interest in Judaism, and Forest Hills Jewish Center is a physical example of how they persevered with forward thinking and community-oriented faith. The year 1948 also coincided with the new state of Israel, tying into religious pride. The December 1948 issue of “Interiors & Industrial Design” referred to Forest Hills Jewish Center’s style as “a radical departure from the usual Moorish and Oriental style of synagogue architecture.”

Mitchell Grubler, president of Queens Preservation Council, called the synagogue a prime example of post-WWII modernist synagogue architecture. He explained, “After the Second World War, the design of synagogues moved away from traditional Old World influences and embraced a modernist aesthetic. The Forest Hills complex embodies the spirit, design and social philosophies of midcentury Judaism. The temple complex was intended to not only serve a growing suburban Jewish population after WWII, but also to benefit and be open to the wider community with recreational services.” 

Forest Hills Jewish Center is often a subject on Forest Hills history and Mid-Century Modern walking tours. Architectural historian and tour guide Frampton Tolbert also had much to express in the name of preservation. He founded an innovative website, “Queens Modern,” to largely chronicle the period of 1948 to 1970, when the Queens Chamber of Commerce recognized nearly 400 Queens buildings at its annual building awards program. He said, “Forest Hills Jewish Center is a jewel of the neighborhood. The restrained Modern design, including Crab-Orchard stone cladding across a convex facade, is highly visible from MacDonald Park. I have been pleased to include the building as a featured site on my annual tour of Forest Hills architecture.”

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Patriotism Forest Hills Style, July 5, 1920

By Michael Perlman

Forest Hills Gardens town crier
Back in 1914, the annual Independence Day festival was launched in the Forest Hills Gardens. This set off a tradition where committees, residents, and friends participated in a day-long program for all generations and interests in an exquisitely decorated and uniquely illuminated Station Square, as well as the Forest Hills Inn and Tea Garden, Olivia Park, and along Greenway Terrace. A most historical Forest Hills event was on July 4, 1917, when Colonel Theodore Roosevelt delivered his “One Hundred Percent American” unification speech at the LIRR Station to address WWI. Today, patriotism and tradition continue to echo in a modified form through Children’s Day at Flagpole Green in June. Let’s turn back the clock to July 5, 1920, which marked the 144th anniversary of America’s independence.

The ceremony on Village Green now Flagpole Green
Keeping in mind that the 1919 celebration cost $3,057.90, Dr. Thompson Tyler Sweeny, who served as the Chair of the 1920 celebration, requested that every Gardens family contribute an average of $10. It was anticipated as the greatest of Independence Day celebrations yet! The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin published, “Not only were the birds singing cheerily to arouse the villagers from morning slumbers, but through the streets early on July 5 came the Town Crier calling lustily to all to come to the Green for the Flag-raising at 9:30.” The ceremony featured members of American Legion Post 630 and Boy Scouts Troop 2 under the direction of Harvey Warren, who served as Post president and scoutmaster. Uniformed servicemen and Boy Scouts assembled in Station Square and began marching to Village Green. After Warren played the part of a Colonial Town Crier, he changed into military garb. The flag was raised and a patriotic prayer was made. A chorus sang patriotic tunes under guidance of the famed Glee Clubs leader Bruno Huhn, with piano accompaniment by Mrs. Charles H. Scammell, who was considered “the foster mother of all good singing of Forest Hills Gardens.”

Children were ready to play games in Station Square at 10 AM, thanks to the direction of Dr. W. F. Seybolt.. The publication read, “There are between fifty and sixty very happy boys and girls who are wearing bronze and silver badges, won at the children’s games in canvas-covered Station Square between 10 and 12 o’clock.” It continued, “With kiddie car races, pillow fights, sack and relay races, a whole program of fun, speed, and skill was carried out.” The lineup also included games for adults such as a baby carriage race, football kicking and ball tossing, tilting matches, tug-of-war between easterners and westerners.

At 2 PM, Hawthorn Park became a baseball field where the “Inn Warriors” (the Inns) clashed with the “Station Square Cohorts” (the Outs). An umpire appeared in armor, while a batter wore petticoats. The Daily Star reported, “There will be no tennis this year, the committee having decided that tennis is so integral a part of the life of the community as to make a baseball game a greater diversion.” The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin stated, “The Outs came nobly from the rear and put the winning run over the plate to the accompaniment of the deafening plaudits of the assembled throng.” It later read, “It was a dashing game, and the narrow margin of one run by which the Outs won their victory shows how closely it was played.” The Inns’ captain was Ray Bell whereas Edmund O’Shea led the Outs. 

By 4 PM, attendees were in tune for opera at Olivia Park, a natural amphitheatre. Milton Aborn directed a company which performed “Pagliacci” by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1892) and “Cavalleria Rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni (1889). The Metropolitan chorus featured 24 vocalists and the Metropolitan orchestra featured 17 members. Scenery was minimal to maximize on the park’s charming ambiance.

Between 5 and 7 PM, festivities included a home-cooked supper by the Women’s Guild of the Church-in-the-Gardens social room for $1, where the proceeds would benefit the Community House fund.

At 7:30 PM, they made their way back to Station Square for a band concert and the community Choral Club that performed several patriotic airs comprised of nearly 75 vocalists. Another highlight was music at twilight by the Regiment Band of the 22nd Corps of Engineers, a 40-piece band under Master George Briegel. The evening continued with dancing in Station Square at 9 PM, lasting until midnight. The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin read, “The dance on Station Square, lighted by myriads of red, white, and blue incandescents, will fittingly close a happy family and community patriotic day – the Independence Day of 1920, long to be remembered”… “The decorations will consist of myriads of American flags interspersed with those of the Allies, all placed to produce the best effect.” It also stated, “All the lads and lassies, maids and matrons and escorts danced on the canvas covering until – well, why tell the hour – for the music was the best and the night balmy.” Over 3,000 people were in the audience and among the dancers, and Chairman Henry W. Hirschberg was commended for this final feature.

The festival offered a humanitarian aspect. Proceeds from the refreshment booth, which served ice cream cones, lemonade, iced tea, sandwiches, and cake, benefited the Big Sisters of Queens Borough. Based on the prior year’s partnership, the Big Sisters received over $200 and assisted seven children who would have traditionally ended up in institutions, and ultimately helped them find suitable homes. 

Reflecting on the festival’s success, the publication stated, “Our friends and relatives were here in such numbers that it was apparent that our village is growing, and that everyone likes ‘our party,’ as Dr. Sweeny, the chairman, called it.” It continued, “The most impressive and appropriate part of the program, in the humble opinion of the editor, was in the Flag raising and the singing of the newly christened Choral Club.”

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

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Coronavirus Relief Initiative – Local volunteers ready to serve our community!

Coronavirus Relief Initiative – Local volunteers ready to serve our community by offering services including supplies, food, & conversation. All volunteers are strongly advised to wear a face mask & gloves!

** Annamaria Girardi: & 347-272-6149

** Thomas Mei: & 718-909-5874

** Peter Fleming: & 917-584-9900

** Anna Demetrashvili: & 646-775-1949 

** Nathania Horowitz:

**Marie DiBella:  

** Alexandra Kay:

** Tiffany Pierce:

** Gabriella Golan: 

** Roger Mashihi: (347) 489-6828

** Yvonne Scibelli:

** Cari Cohen:

** Elizabeth Stoddard:

** Patty Bugland: &  

** Amy Beth Goldman:  

** Paige Cragg & her husband:

** Christine Liem & husband Chris: 

** Astrid Munera & Elkin Verona:

** Madiha Zoobear: 

** Yael Yomtov-Emmanuel:

** Jessica Keller & Noel John: &

** Congressional candidate Sandra Choi: & 347-286-1140

** Bruce Goerlich: 917-592-8335

** Batya Kaufman:

** Dina Bouzier Murphy:

** Cristina Liparulo:

** Mickey Blume-Zacarias: 

** Marla Kleinman:

** Melanie Rudolfo:

** Helaine Lu:

** Jessica Crespo:

** Patricia Bernard:

** Yvette Jong: & 718-5444037 

** David C. Vitt :
Donating his time in honor of his employer, Farmingdale State College.

** Mike Arcati, Forest Hills American Legion Post Advocate: & 646-512-1359
“We want the community to know that the American Legion Post's members and building is available to help in the best capacity possible.  Our initial thought is to connect with a local hospital and make our location either a testing/vaccination site or a triage location.  As an alternative, it can be a location to collect supplies, for volunteers to meet & gather supplies to deliver to community members who cannot leave their homes.” 

** Kim Collins, The Bowery Mission:
In need of critical supplies and food as we feed and shelter those who have no home.

** Questions? Contact founder Michael Perlman, co-admin of Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens – “Our Communities”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A New Local Facebook Volunteer Unit To Help Those in Need

As Coronavirus cases surge, lending a helping hand as a community is essential. Over the weekend, this columnist, who is a co-admin of the 16,500+ member Facebook group, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens – “Our Communities” founded a new volunteer unit comprised of members who came forward within hours. The post reads, “Times of crisis can bring us closer together. Who would like to volunteer to help community residents in need? For example, we can run errands for seniors who are advised to stay home during the pandemic. We can commit good deeds that are small, while socially distancing ourselves among other precautions. As a large Facebook group, we can help some of our neighbors.”

Several members of a new growing volunteer initiative have spoken! “It’s always important to give back, but in this time of social distancing, it is imperative that those with stronger immune systems help those who cannot go out in public without risking their health,” said Batya Kaufman. “I have no family nearby, so I know how lonely and difficult it can be without a nearby support system. I also hope I will make some lasting connections that continue beyond this pandemic.”

“Volunteering in a time of crisis enables me to connect with my community and helps affirm my purpose,” said Melanie Rudolfo. She envisions picking up groceries for seniors.

A group member, Kris Supangkat of Kew Gardens, was able to help Forest Hills resident Barbara Glick, who was in need. “She offered to bring me eggs and face masks, and I never met her before. Our group changed overnight from simple posts to life-saving help for others who might die because they can’t get out or they don’t have money to buy stuff. We need to realize that we can be someone who needs others.”

Glick feels a “need to go back to the old Forest Hills and know your neighbors’ names.” She explained, “How can it be when you live in a building for 48 years that nobody knows who you are and nobody helps you? It takes a village, and more than ever that’s been proven. Giving back is great karma and receiving is love, but when it comes down to it, it’s about love and empathy. It doesn’t matter what religion you practice, or what political party you’re part of. Any of us could die from the Coronavirus!”

Alexandra Kay’s grandmother will always be a huge inspiration. “She is the definition of selflessness, and although she passed away, I will never fail to follow in her ways. I was raised around loving and giving people. I want to give back to the world everything that I got in my life, especially to people who need it and can’t always ask for help. I would like to see a significant amount of love and giving in a time where people and businesses are in a crisis. There shall always be light, even in the darkest of times.”

A crisis can particularly make people feel lonely, but Dina Bouzier Murphy hopes to make a difference. Her volunteerism is motivated by the recent loss of a neighbor. “We tried to help him as much as we can, since nobody ever came to visit. He passed away alone, and we realized that he had no surviving family or friends but us. He was grumpy at times, but now we understand why. For that reason, I really want to reach out to everyone that needs our attention.”

“No one is alone” is part of a Sondheim song, which is true, explained Marlene Meltz. “This is a crisis for all. The hydro- Christian teachings inspire us to reach out, so whenever people can share their time, do it.”

As for volunteering to help the community and elders, Mickey Zacarias said, “When there is a need, you fill the need. We are a community and that’s what we do. It’s just like helping a family member.”

In a time of crisis, our most vulnerable populations are at highest risk, explained Elizabeth Stoddard. “My idea for helping seniors would be to divide a call list, where volunteers could call seniors on their list to offer conversation, see how they’re feeling and if they have any medical needs, and offer to pick up groceries or medications.” After learning that schools are closing citywide, she said, “If anyone can’t feed their kid breakfast or anything, I have extra unopened cereal boxes among non-perishable foods.”

Christine Liem was raised in Indonesia and moved to America 15 years ago. “In Indonesia, if someone needed help, we would provide money or food.” Besides her husband Chris, she does not have much family in the U.S. “I can relate when someone lives alone and needs help, so I will contribute my time and energy,” she continued. Looking ahead, she envisions opening a local food pantry for all.

Congressional candidate Sandra Choi describes Queens as a model for the world and a collective community. She said, “Now, more than ever, we have to look after one another and continue to build a community, so no one feels alone.” She visualizes innovative policy reforms to support the most vulnerable in our community, and especially those left behind by policymakers. She explained, “No one lives a single issue life, as we are all impacted by a number of factors. For example, a senior in our community who lives on a fixed income and depends on homecare service will undoubtedly be affected by COVID-19 since it can isolate them, limit access to a caregiver, or they may no longer perform the basic tasks needed including errands to the pharmacy, grocery store, or bank. We need more collaboration among federal, state, local agencies, and private non-profits to ensure our seniors are able to lead lives with dignity and independence.”

“When people say they have no time, no one really does, but we have to find some way to get involved and serve,” said Patty Bugland, who served on her Forest Hills building board for 14 years. “The sense of being part of a small town within a 105 unit co-op is very real, and we can all benefit by being on call for each other. During those years, I worked anywhere from 35 to 60 hours weekly between my job as a special ed teacher for the DOE and a speech and debate judge for a Long Island high school.” She is willing to prioritize for people in need within a radius of 72nd Road, Grand Central Parkway, and Queens Boulevard.”

A list of volunteers and people who need their services is underway. To participate, contact Michael Perlman over Facebook or at and provide your name, Facebook link, phone number, and email.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Annual Preservation Conference Unites Citywide Advocates

By Michael Perlman

Preservation conference panel, Photo by Michael Perlman
The Historic Districts Council (HDC), a citywide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods, hosted the 26th Annual Preservation Conference at John Jay College on March 7. Hundreds of preservationists from the five boroughs networked and discussed strategies in preserving historic buildings and districts that grant community distinction, with an aim of strengthening the preservation ethic through tools including Individual Landmark (façade) and Historic District status via the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, as well as the State & National Register of Historic Places. 

Rego-Forest Preservation Council at the preservation fair
Rego-Forest Preservation Council flyer, March 2020
An annual preservation fair offered an opportunity for organizations to present current initiatives and display posters, brochures, and petitions at tables. Diverse attendees included Rego-Forest Preservation Council, Docomomo, South Street Seaport Coalition, 300 East 25th Street Block Association, Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, NY Preservation Archive Project, Greenwich Village Preservation, Park Slope Civic Council, Iron Hills Civic Association, Save Chelsea, Bronx Borough Landmarks Committee, Mott Haven Historic Districts Association, and Hart Island Project. Networking continued over a buffet lunch. 

Iron Hills Civic Association & friends, Photo by Michael Perlman
Section of preservation fair, Photo by Michael Perlman
This event builds upon the success of the recent ceremony where the “Six To Celebrate” 2020 communities meriting preservation are Rego Park, East Flatbush, Center Park Slope, Bronx Preservation Committee, Todt-Dongan Hills, and Landmarks of the Future Citywide. Rego-Forest Preservation Council advocates for landmark status for significant sites in Rego Park, Forest Hills, and nearby Queens communities, and documents local history. Presently, Forest Hills has three official landmarks, Remsen Cemetery (designated 1981), Ridgewood Savings Bank (2000), and Engine 305 & Ladder 151 (2012), but Rego Park has no designations. 

Simeon Bankoff, executive director, Historic Districts Council, Photo by Michael Perlman

HDC President Daniel Allen, Photo by Michael Perlman
HDC President Daniel Allen explained their success since 1970. “We have produced hundreds of programs about New York’s history and educated thousands of people about how to protect their historic neighborhoods, worked on gaining designations of more than 125 of the soon-to-be 150 historic districts, and reviewed thousands of proposals to alter historic buildings.” He continued, “Since last year’s conference, preservationists fought hard to protect the city’s character.” Landmark designations include Bay Ridge’s first historic district and Tin Pan Alley. “Each advancement has something in common; a fierce group of preservationists holding rallies, sending e-blasts, writing letters, bothering elected officials, and testifying at hearings.” A short film of preservation stories proved what makes our city special, and also included Landmarks Lion award recipients such as historian Barry Lewis and preservationists Christabel Gough and Kitty Carlisle, and Grassroots Preservation Award recipients. 

Chair Sarah Carroll, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, Photo by Michael Perlman
There are over 37,000 landmarked buildings and sites, including over 1,400 Individual Landmarks, 149 Historic Districts, 120 Interior Landmarks, and 11 Scenic Landmarks. HDC Executive Director Simeon Bankoff introduced keynote speaker, Chair Sarah Carroll of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). She explained, “NYC is a vibrant city whose history is revealed through its built environment. I believe that preservation is integral for the dynamism of this city and is a significant factor in NYC being a global destination. It was because of New Yorkers’ growing concern for the protection of the city’s history, that the Landmarks Law was enacted 55 years ago.”

During her time at the LPC for over 25 years in various roles, she has strived to initiate fairness and equity to the agency. She explained, “I firmly believe that preservation needs to represent and reach more communities, and that means representing our diverse history, and in the long-run, promoting preservation in all communities. We are working to ensure diversity in designations, making sure that we are telling the stories of all New Yorkers, and really looking at communities that haven’t had a voice in the past. We are working to ensure effective outreach for our regulatory work and garnering support for designations while recognizing NY’s incredible diversity, and ensuring fairness, transparency, and efficiency in regulations, so that proposed work is approved in a timely manner and that we are supporting property owners through technical assistance and improved guidance.”

She continued, “Preservation is more than just protecting our historic buildings, but about providing life to these buildings, so they can continue to be relevant tomorrow because as speaker Corey Johnson says, ‘In a city as dynamic as New York, the only constant is change.’”

A recent LPC goal is to identify newer buildings that reflect the more recent NYC history. She said, “It is vitally important that we think ahead and protect these properties that continue to represent the city’s changing nature, as well as the diversity of our social and cultural history.”

“In order to be equitable, we need to nurture preservation in less represented communities that may not have the architectural icons that earlier districts had, but have equally strong historic and cultural value,” said Carroll. 

Preservation session led by Simeon Bankoff, HDC, Photo by Michael Perlman
Participant-driven conferences are a component that differentiates this event from others. In classrooms, leaders delivered 45-minute sessions on NYC preservation topics which were voted upon by preservationists, and the winners were “South Street Seaport,” “Not Just Preservation,” “What About Penn South?,” “Lower West Side,” “Quarantine Island,” and “Preservation Manifesto.”

Simeon Bankoff’s presentation pinpointed that New Yorkers inherit the city and need to pass it down to future generations in a recognizable shape, and asserted that the government is the nurturer of citizens and must provide a healthy environment, safety, education, housing, and a stable economy. Additionally, equal access and the opportunity to utilize public resources are essential. Attendees proposed advocating for more preservation-friendly people in public office and offering training sessions, having buildings over a certain age become landmarks (similar to other municipalities), and having the full LPC body review proposed designations, the LPC holding public hearings at a certain threshold of community support, and every community having access to open space and protection of their historical resources. Suggestions also included implementing citywide planning which includes preservation and sensitive contextual development, modifying mayoral appointments of commissioners, instituting a demolition tax based on environmental factors and an EIS peer review, and strengthening community board oversight. A main point was that our historic city’s preservation is equally as important future housing and climate resiliency. 

50+ years of advocacy panel, Photo by Michael Perlman
Plenary sessions were inspired by HDC’s 50th anniversary. The first session, “50+ years of advocacy” reflected upon HDC’s preservation work and posed the question of what will advocates seek to preserve in the next 50 years. Panelists pinpointed current preservation challenges and proposed directions meriting exploration. It featured moderator Angel Ayón, Gregory Dietrich, Christian Emanuel, and Vicki Weiner. As a case in point for Queens, Emanuel, a real estate broker, was a dormant preservationist until his parents, commercial tenants at the Bank of Manhattan Company tower in Queens Plaza were facing eviction, and what was once Queens’ first skyscraper (1927), was threatened with demolition. They partnered with the HDC and rallied support from the community and elected officials, and the building was landmarked within a year. Today, Emanuel is on HDC’s board of directors. 

Designation tales panel, Photo by Michael Perlman  
The second session, “designation tales” largely focused on landmarking success stories told by advocates and offered advice on the process. Panelists were moderator Kelly Carroll, George Calderaro, Julia Charles, Jim Protos, and Keith Taylor.