Monday, March 2, 2020

A Forest Hills Map with A Story To Tell

1926 Forest Hills map by Ernest Clegg for Cord Meyer Development Company, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
In a dusty old box, if we look beyond the surface, there may be more to discover than what meets the eye. With a curious mind, one is bound to encounter a couple of surprises. This is the case with a highly illustrated Forest Hills street map from 1926 in a prospectus for Forest Close, an award-winning Arts & Crafts style village of rowhouses developed that same year by Cord Meyer Development Company. At the time, Forest Hills, which was named by the firm, was only 20 years old, while Rego Park was 3 years old. Cord Meyer’s client was Ernest Clegg (1876 – 1954), a largely respected pictorial cartographer, graphic designer, and calligrapher. Today, he is long-forgotten, but his extensive inventory of artistic maps serves as a testament.

Clegg’s creative illustrations include Forest Close, the West Side Tennis Club Stadium which was three years old, the “new” Forest Hills Theatre on Continental Avenue which opened in 1922, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs two years prior to developing the parochial school building on Austin Street, the Queens Valley Golf Club which would have been located in today’s Kew Gardens Hills. At the time, the Queensboro Bridge and Queens Boulevard had a trolley line, and commuters could either hop on a 30-minute trolley or a 20-minute bus. North of Queens Boulevard, thoroughfares included Yellowstone Avenue (renamed Yellowstone Boulevard), Continental Avenue (now 108th Street), Colonial Avenue (now 110th Street), and Seminole Avenue (now 112th Street). Further north was a proposed park, which would become Flushing Meadows Corona Park, as well as a sketching of Flushing Creek.

One of the cartouches features the original Georgian Colonial style real estate office for Cord Meyer Development, which stood where the Midway Theatre is located. The map also notes the location of other significant sites including the Forest Hills Masonic Temple, which later became Boulevard Bank and Sterling National Bank. Opposite Forest Close and its sister community of Arbor Close were tennis courts on Austin Street, facing the LIRR.

Numerical streets did not exist, but rather alphabetized Atom Street on the east to Zuni Street on the west, perpendicular to Queens Boulevard. A majority of unique streets have been renamed such as Atom Street as 75th Avenue, De Koven Street as 72nd Road, Pilgrim Street as 67th Drive, Sample Street as 66th Road, and Zuni Street as 63rd Drive. Jewel Street has been retained as Jewel Avenue. Some street names are preserved in building names, such as the Kelvin Apartments at 69-40 108th Street and Livingston Apartments at 68-60 108th Street. In other cases, building names based on streets are forgotten such as The Portsmouth at 72-22 Austin Street on Portsmouth Place, reserved for south of Queens Boulevard, now 72nd Road. These three properties are the earliest Cord Meyer apartment buildings standing.

Another category is buildings that pay tribute to street names that were no longer in circulation. A later Cord Meyer building, The Balfour at 112-20 72nd Drive memorializes Balfour Street. Quality & Ruskin Apartments on Yellowstone Boulevard and 108th Street pay tribute to Quality Street known as 67th Road and Ruskin Street as 67th Avenue.

South of Queens Boulevard, the map features Backus Place named after the Backus family farm, one of the major farming families, especially at the time of the Civil War. Further east, Ascan Avenue was retained, and named after farmer Ascan Backus, who was one of the most successful commercial farmers in the northeast. Between those boundaries, heading east, were streets including Herrick Avenue, Shelbourne Place, Continental Avenue, Windsor Place, Roman Avenue, and Portsmouth Place.

Clegg lived a diverse life. He was born in the suburbs of Birmingham in the U.K. and attended King Edward VI Grammar School and the Birmingham School of Art. His work was highly influenced by the Victorian Arts & Crafts Movement. As a calligrapher, he felt inspired by the medieval period’s gilded and illuminated manuscripts. During WWI in 1914, he was commissioned with the 7th Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment. Then in 1916, he earned the rank of Major and was a temporary Commanding Officer.

In 1919, he increasingly became well-known as a graphic designer and calligrapher in American and British veteran communities in New York. When he worked with William Edward Rudge, the New York Fine Art publisher, he illustrated and lettered a limited edition of Canadian war poet John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.” Another highlight was his illuminated manuscript for the British Princess Royal, Princess Mary on her wedding in 1922. A pictorial map from 1925 in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York features a chronology of part of New York City depicting six locations and buildings of Brooks Brothers since their founding in 1818. Another masterpiece was his Great War Map of Battle Lines in France and Belgium on September 25, 1918, copyrighted in 1926. It was presented by Marshal Sir Douglas Haig to the Old Guard of New York. The insignia of 42 American Divisions which witnessed service is depicted.

In 1928, his large map commemorated aviator Charles Lindbergh’s first independent flight navigating the Atlantic Ocean a year prior, and was published by the New York John Day Company. That same year, he produced a rare jigsaw puzzle map captioned “Firestone reaches around the world to give most miles per dollar,” which features factories and plantation buying offices of Firestone in countries including the United States, Mexico, Russia, China, and Africa.

His pursuits as a yachtsman led him in the direction of creating a series of decorative printed charts that recorded three America’s Cup competitions off Newport in the 1930s. After a request from the British Ambassador, Lord Halifax, he returned to England in 1944, and then began producing decorative County maps. It proved beneficial for the Women’s Land Army Benevolent Fund that offered post-war support for thousands of female volunteers who helped sustain British food production during WWII. Clegg’s Kent: Battle of Britain, 1940 – 1941 pictorial map was among many other highly recognized accomplishments.

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