Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Rego Park Honored As A “Six To Celebrate” Historic Community

By Michael Perlman

HDC Six To Save 2020 Rego Park poster & HDC 50th anniversary pamphlet, Photo by Michael Perlman
Rego Park, founded in 1923 by REal GOod Construction Company, has been selected by a most influential citywide advocate non-profit organization, Historic Districts Council (HDC) as one of the 2020 “Six To Celebrate” communities. Annually, the Six To Celebrate program, launched in 2011, identifies six historic New York City neighborhoods that merit preservation as priorities for HDC’s year-long advocacy and consultation. Rego-Forest Preservation Council will collaborate with HDC and apply for Individual Landmark (façade) and Historic District status via the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for architecturally and culturally significant properties and sections, respectively, as well as coordinate walking tours among other initiatives. 

Friends of the HDC, Courtesy of Ron Caveglia
On January 15, a launch party attended by over 100 guests was held at the landmarked National Arts Club, also known as the Samuel Tilden mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South, which offered an ideal setting to celebrate this special occasion with speeches, food, a PowerPoint presentation, and HDC’s 50th birthday. Even LPC Chair Sarah Carroll was in attendance. Besides Rego Park, the other Six To Save preservation-worthy areas are East Flatbush, Center Park Slope, Bronx Preservation Committee, Todt-Dongan Hills, and Landmarks of the Future Citywide. To date, the program helped create 13 NYC Historic Districts, 50 Individual Landmarks, 5 National Register districts, and 3 National Register properties. Additionally, it has leveraged over $130,000 in private and public grants for these community-driven projects. 

Guests from the 5 boroughs united on preservation, Photo by Michael Perlman

HDC President Daniel Allen, Photo courtesy of Michael Perlman
HDC President Daniel Allen said, “­­­­Over our 50th anniversary year, let’s think back of all that we have done together and all of what’s meant to this city. We all have stories and some documentation. HDC is still collecting, so get in touch with us.” 

CM Ben Kallos, Courtesy of Michael Perlman
Council Member Ben Kallos (5th District, Manhattan), who calls himself “one of the strongest preservationists on City Council,” said “You don’t necessarily know who you’re going to be before you get elected, and when I did, I discovered that I’m a preservationist.” He explained, “You have to keep on going, and the price of preservation and our history is having the HDC and everyone in this room continue to fight for it day in and day out, since all it takes is the wrong person at the wrong place being able to level all the history that our city has.” He continued, “There are not enough preservationists in elected office. For 2021, I am optimistic to elect preservationists to City Council and have people fight for the Landmarks Committee.” 

HDC Executive Director Simeon Bankoff,  Council Member Ben Kallos, HDC President Daniel Allen, Photo by Michael Perlman
He presented a proclamation to the HDC. He stated, “The NYC Council is proud to honor the HDC for 50 years of outstanding service to the community, and whereas HDC is dedicated to preserving historic neighborhoods, buildings, and public spaces across the 5 boroughs, to upholding the integrity of the Landmarks Law, and to further the preservation ethic. Representing a constituency of over 500 community organizations across all 5 boroughs, HDC works directly with people who care about our city’s historic neighborhoods and buildings.” Since 1970, five years after the Landmarks Law was founded, HDC has played a significant role in the creation and preservation of 149 Historic Districts and extensions. 

CM Ben Kallos, Courtesy of Michael Perlman
Rego-Forest Preservation Council, founded in 2006 by this columnist, advocates for landmark status for significant sites in Rego Park, Forest Hills, and nearby Queens communities, and documents local history. Currently, Forest Hills has three official landmarks, Remsen Cemetery (designated 1981), Ridgewood Savings Bank (2000), and Engine 305 & Ladder 151 (2012), but Rego Park has none.

“We look forward to helping Rego-Forest Preservation Council to develop proposals for meritorious sites, which we bring to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and hopefully get designated,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of Historic Districts Council. “We are hoping to help organize and better project their knowledge and enthusiasm for the area to a broader audience; not only the public but decision-makers.” 

Simeon Bankoff addresses guests, Photo by Michael Perlman
After naming some altered or demolished properties that HDC fought for, Bankoff stated, “Part of preservation is remembering things that we lost, so we don’t lose things in the future. We cannot forget.” He also cited examples of designations HDC helped obtain such as Sunnyside Gardens and most recently Tin Pan Alley. “Designation is not the end, but just the beginning. We now entered into an eternal compact of making sure that those buildings continue to improve, are use, and preserved.”

Reflecting on the event’s success, Bankoff explained, “It was wonderful to see such a diverse group from all 5 boroughs gathering together to celebrate the work of HDC and community preservation. We saw lots of old friends and met new ones, and best of all were people across the city connecting with sympathetic and like-minded activists.” He pointed out that listening to community board members from the Upper East Side and Crown Heights discussing many shared concerns was a fantastic observation.

Historically, Rego Construction Company acquired land in Forest Hills West and named Rego Park after their advertising slogan “Real Good Homes.” The firm was founded by two natives of Germany; president Henry L. Schloh and secretary and treasurer Charles I. Hausmann in partnership with builder Joseph F. Thone. The firm began by developing 525 eight-room single-family “Rego Homes,” railroad style Colonial frame houses between 63rd Drive and Elliot Avenue along Saunders, Booth, Wetherole, and Austin Street, which sold for an estimated $7,500. 

Three apartment houses accommodating 70 families each followed. They were the Tudor-style Remo Hall at 61-40 Saunders Street (1927) and the Spanish Mission-style Jupiter Court at 62-64 Saunders Street (1927) and Marion Court at 62-98 Saunders Street (1929), which were designed by award-winning architect Benjamin Braunstein, a Constantinople native. Novelty features are recessed facades and courtyards to maximize fresh air, light, and landscaping, once marketed as an advantage over the urbanized city. As a case in point, Marion Court residents experience was personalized with architectural features including terra-cotta reliefs of animals, castles in stained glass, and a roof garden where residents would once recreate. 

Rego-Forest Preservation Council Chair Michael Perlman & Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Sarah Carroll, Photo by Ron Caveglia
“Now more than ever, preservation is extremely important, as it provides a visual history for younger generations to understand and learn more about our borough’s origins,” said Forest Hills attendee Ron Caveglia. “Seeing a photo or drawing of a decades’ old building is fine, but the physical presence of an original residence, business, or place of worship provides more of an impact for the observer. Attaining landmark status for our local architectural treasures is an excellent, indispensable tool in turning preservation’s goal into a reality.” Commending the HDC, he explained, “I was most excited to learn that Rego Park has been selected to benefit from generous resources ranging from private and public grants to walking tour brochures, landmarking strategies, and public outreach programs. The occasion reached its pinnacle when Queens’ native son Michael Perlman, Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, was recognized for his spirited, dedicated work in furthering local architectural preservation.”

Eric Schreiber of Kew Gardens has followed Six To Celebrate for years, as a supporter of preserving important historic buildings and neighborhoods. He considers Rego Park a bastion of middle-class America and a historic, unique, and diverse community. He explained, “Perhaps the most significant and unique areas would be the Crescents, an upscale enclave featuring tree-lined, curved streets with lovely pre-war single-family homes. Within walking distance of shopping and public transit, it has a vibe that is more suburban than most other parts of the city. The homes feature well-manicured front and back yards.” He continued, “If not landmarked, the possibility exists that developers and new residents, with no interest in the historical significance of the neighborhood, could come in and raze these beautiful homes, forever destroying its character.”

Barbara Ann Rogers came from Prospect Lefferts Gardens, a previous Six To Celebrate community. She said, “Preservation is important for retaining a sense of history and honoring the architecture designed to make spaces livable and accessible to all, but most importantly, it keeps neighborhoods affordable. Preserving Six To Celebrate neighborhoods means preserving our way of life as true New Yorkers, with respect for all.” She expressed her love for Rego Park. “It was built for working class people, but with care and attention to architecture and open spaces that one doesn’t often find any longer. This is what is threatened by overdevelopment.”

The landmarked National Arts Club at the Samuel Tilden mansion

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