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Thread: Forest Hills Gardens, Queens

  1. #1

    Default Forest Hills Gardens, Queens

    August 15, 2003

    In a Pocket of Queens, 'City' Meets 'Garden'


    The homes along Greenway Terrace in Forest Hills Gardens show the hand of Grosvenor Atterbury, the supervising architect on the planned community, which was begun in 1910.

    The careful eye catches a wealth of details at Forest Hills Gardens, like this lantern bracket at Station Square, with its umbrella-clutching commuter dashing for the train.

    Audio Slide Show: Forest Hills Gardens

    The commercial clutter at the intersection of Austin Street and 71st Avenue in the heart of Queens is lively but ordinary. It's hard to imagine that one block away lies the verdant, precisely planned community of Forest Hills Gardens. Not to be confused with the surrounding sprawl known simply as Forest Hills, this 147-acre enclave has a population of about 4,500. It remains, almost a century after its founding, the most successful and durable American example of the "garden city" movement, which took hold in England in the late 19th century as an antidote to the grimness of factory towns.

    Until 1977, thousands of tennis fans poured into Forest Hills Gardens each August for the United States Open at the West Side Tennis Club. Now that the event has moved to Flushing, the Gardens, with its privately owned streets, sidewalks, parks and even sewers, has receded into year-round seclusion, almost as if it were a gated community. Yet the Gardens, less than 30 minutes from Manhattan by subway or 15 minutes on the Long Island Rail Road, beckons anyone interested in experiencing what was accomplished, beginning in 1910, when a free hand was given by the Russell Sage Foundation to the visionary duo of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., landscape architect, and Grosvenor Atterbury, supervising architect.

    Walk two blocks south from the subway stop (the E, F, R, G and V lines) at 71st Avenue-Continental and pass under the railroad trestle. As you arrive on the red-brick-paved Station Square, the natural starting point for a walking tour of Forest Hills Gardens, the familiar is left behind. With its quirky high and low towers, half-timbered facades, steep, terra-cotta-tiled roofs, arcaded walks and covered bridges, Station Square evokes a medieval town platz in Germany. The architect Robert A. M. Stern calls this public space "the finest of its kind" in America.

    The square, completed in 1911, is anchored by Atterbury's train station, perched beside the elevated tracks, and his Forest Hills Inn, whose nine-story main tower, topped with a spray of small windows and a dome shaped like Kaiser Wilhelm's helmet, is the tallest structure in the community. (A needlelike tower, rather like an off-center spike on the helmet, is currently in storage.) The inn was converted to apartments in 1967 and became a cooperative in 1981.

    The sharp eye will be rewarded by quirky Arts and Crafts Movement details on Station Square and beyond. Midway up the steps of the railroad station, for example, silhouettes on the lantern brackets show a full-skirted mother pulling her recalcitrant child and the Long Island Rail Road's signature dashing commuter clutching briefcase and umbrella. Above each figure, a crow peers down.

    Forest Hills Gardens can be said to owe its existence to the miserliness of Russell Sage. Upon his death in 1906, the unphilanthropic financier left his intact $70 million fortune to his elderly wife, Olivia Slocum Sage. She created the Russell Sage Foundation. Her interest in creating affordable housing resulted in the purchase of several tracts, including, in 1908, one adjacent to the recently improved railroad line.

    Olmsted Jr., a worthy successor to his illustrious father, and Atterbury, a pioneer in modern building methods and the designer of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were hired by Mrs. Sage's lawyer, Robert de Forest. Their charge was to show that suburban development geared to modest wage earners need not be haphazard. Development of the Gardens would be controlled right down to the width of home setbacks, the precise color of exterior trims, even the placement of oriel windows.

    Forest Hills Gardens was not meant to be a nonprofit enterprise. In a 1908 letter to Olmsted, who was then investigating the best of town planning in Europe, de Forest wrote, "I believe there's money in taste." But not in overtly expensive taste. In keeping with the Arts and Crafts ideal, a sense of visual modesty was to rule the design. In a sharp-tongued, lengthy article in Scribner's Magazine (July 1916), Atterbury wrote that "model towns in America most closely resemble the renowned chapter on snakes in Iceland; for, with but one or two exceptions, there are none." And he warned against those "who would deck out our modest villages in Paris finery and ruin their complexions with architectural cosmetics."

    Beginning the Walk

    In the center of Station Square are two sturdy police kiosks erected in 1916, when the nearest precinct house was in Elmhurst. Now they serve as storage for the gardening supplies of the Friends of Station Square, a volunteer group formed in 1991 to fend off the railroad's plan to tear down the station, which had fallen into disrepair. From its steps, on Independence Day, 1915, Theodore Roosevelt gave his "100 percent American" speech, castigating conscientious objectors.

    Beyond Station Square, gently curved residential streets and narrow lanes ribbon out toward the south, east and west. Tucked among them are an occasional secluded circle or close. Only the two "feeder" arteries, Continental and Ascan Avenues, run straight. Visitors accustomed to Manhattan's rectangular grids may well lose all sense of direction upon entering the Gardens. "When I call a car service," says Andreas Krueger, who lives on Middlemay Circle, "I always allow an extra half-hour for them to find us."

    In keeping with the asymmetric plan, the village green called Greenway Terrace slants off from behind Station Square. While the hands of many architects are on homes and apartment houses in the Gardens, the residences along Greenway Terrace are all Atterbury's. The one at No. 65, with its roofed and trellised sidewalk entrance, once belonged to the actress Thelma Ritter, remembered for films that include "Rear Window" and "Miracle on 34th Street."

    At the circular seating area of high-back benches at the head of the village green, residents still gather in the shade of chestnut trees to chat in good weather. Just beyond is Flagpole Park, dominated by the former mainmast of the yacht Columbia, America's defender of the America's Cup in 1898 and 1901. One hundred feet tall, capped with the figure of a seagull that is often mistaken for an eagle, it was an early 1920's gift from the Harriss brothers, residents of the Gardens. Also on the green is a World War I monument by the sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, whose "Civic Fame" caps Manhattan's Municipal Building. The "Mercury" dime and "Liberty" half dollar were also his designs. Weinman's former home at 23 Greenway South is dominated by the triple height window of his studio.

    Distinctive Houses

    Soaring land costs quickly pushed Forest Hills Gardens out of reach of the working families Olivia Sage hoped to house. But Atterbury did try to keep costs down by creating attached homes throughout. Their impact, however, is quite different from the dreary phalanxes of "side by sides" that define much of Queens. Where tiny Archway Street cuts through a group of attached homes on Greenway Terrace, for example, Atterbury designed paired apartments over the arch, with large bay windows overlooking the green.

    Or consider the trellis-fronted cottage at 18 Park End Place. Viewed front-on, it appears to be free standing. From around the corner, one sees that the "cottage" is actually an end unit on a group of nine attached houses that face the one-and-a-half-acre Hawthorne Park, one of two private parks in the Gardens. (Olmsted Jr. felt no need for more parks, as the 535-acre Forest Park is adjacent to the Gardens.)

    On a recent Sunday afternoon, Jane and Miles Siegel, former Upper West Siders who moved into 18 Park End Place four years ago, were gardening in their small but flower-filled yard. "The first time we walked under the trestle, it was like magic to find that this place could exist," Ms. Siegel said.

    The homes on Park End Place, like many in the Gardens, have hollow concrete walls that were precast off site. Atterbury used this technique throughout Forest Hills Gardens, sometimes mixing into the concrete "soup" broken shells, ceramic tile and pebbles to give color and texture. "Our walls are incredibly strong," Mr. Siegel said. "The only problem is trying to hang a picture."

    The fabric of life in Forest Hills Gardens — more small town than big city — is influenced heavily by volunteer committees. The Christmas Eve caroling on the train station steps, Santa's sleigh ride through the community and his home delivery of gifts to children are planned by the celebrations committee. An informal committee got the tower clocks on the inn back on time after a long hiatus. A temporary committee is now raising money to restore Flagpole Park.

    Perhaps the most onerous volunteer duty is the architectural committee, which tries to maintain the standards set down by Atterbury and Olmsted. Showing a visitor around the Gardens one recent evening, Elizabeth Murphy, president of the community association, made note of a driveway that had been widened without permission, white window frames in one unit of attached homes that should have been brown like the others, a newly surfaced entrance path to a house that should have been flagstone but wasn't, and a high hedge that was "unfriendly."

    Erring homeowners are asked by the architectural committee to bring their homes up to standard. "Some new people think our volunteers are just cute little things and that they can bully us," said Ms. Murphy, who grew up in the Gardens. "If they have that attitude, they will see us in court. Our right to protect the appearance of this place has always been upheld."

    Prominent Names

    Early on, Forest Hills Gardens was a white community that voted Republican. In recent years, Asians, Russians, Indians, Iranians and a few black families have moved in. An Orthodox rabbi lives on Dartmouth Street. Still, a surprising number of old-time families stay rooted in the Gardens. Robert M. Hof, president of a local real estate brokerage, and his wife, Susanna, president of the Friends of Station Square, can each trace five generations in the community: their grandparents and parents lived here, their daughter was married in the rose garden of the West Side Tennis Club, and their grandchildren are now growing up in the Gardens.

    The most imposing houses in the Gardens are on the broad arc of Greenway North. The Norman-style stone mansion at No. 123 once belonged to Trygve Lie, the Norwegian who was the first secretary general of the United Nations (1946-53). It faces a group of much humbler attached houses, about the same length as the mansion. No. 150, now split into two homes, was the home of the vaudevillian Fred Stone, who played the scarecrow in the 1903 Broadway production of "The Wizard of Oz." At stately No. 167 lived Michael Miranda, among those arrested at the infamous gathering of Mafia dons in Apalachin, N.Y., in 1957.

    The finest house in Forest Hills Gardens is at 8 Markwood Road, just off Greenway North. Its setting on spacious rolling terrain is exceptional in a community devoted to efficient land use. The house's steep, multiple rooflines, its use of decoratively infused concrete divided by brick perimeters, its wrought-iron gates and fine carving make this house the essence of Atterbury. Indeed, local lore has it that the architect intended to move in, but there is no proof that he ever did.

    Separated from this house by a stone wall is that rarity in New York: a privately owned park that is open to all. Named Olivia Park in honor of the creator of the Russell Sage Foundation, this bowl-shaped green acre is where generations of local children first sledded. Facing the park, at 22 Deepdene Place, is the house where the family of Geraldine Ferraro lived until a few years ago. Nearby is the home where the journalist Jimmy Breslin and his first wife, Rosemary, raised their children. Olivia Park is an ideal spot for a walker in the Gardens to rest or even picnic.

    The most influential local person was not from the world of politics, crime or the arts, but from sports. Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940's, lived in the red brick house at 34 Greenway South. In October 1945, after two months of secrecy, the story broke that Rickey had signed Jackie Robinson, setting in motion the desegregation of major league baseball as well as of other professional sports leagues. (But decades would pass before the first black family moved into the Gardens.)

    Rickey was then a member of the interdenominational Church in the Gardens, a village-style church designed by Atterbury on Ascan Avenue and paid for by Olivia Sage. In a letter to Rickey that October, its minister, John Lawrence Casteel, wrote: "I noticed in the paper this week the statement concerning the signing of Jack Robinson to the team. This morning, as we were repeating the Statement of Faith, and you were standing just in front of the reading desk, we used the expression `the relation of human brotherhood' and I could not help thinking to myself, `Well, here is one man who has done at least one outstanding thing to make this come true.' "

    Pointing out Rickey's house, Jeff Gottlieb, president of the Central Queens Historical Society, said, "Nobody famous lives in the Gardens anymore." What does still live in this community, however, is Olmsted and Atterbury's vision of a model city, still fresh as it approaches its centenary.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Manhattan - South Village

    Default Forest Hills Gardens, Queens

    My sister's in-laws live here, the neighborhood is absolutely astounding. Nearby Austin Street is a cool neighborhood, too.

  3. #3
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    West Harlem

    Default Forest Hills Gardens, Queens

    I must go.

  4. #4


    Does anybody know the boundaries(streets/ave) of Forest Hills Gardens??(not Forest Hills)

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Long Island City, Queens


    Forest Hills (and Forest Hills Gardens) is beautiful. It's clean, busy, and close to the city. Transportation, stores and everything. Near by areas is Kew Gardens, Briarwood, Jamaica, Rego Park and some others.

  6. #6


    Quote Originally Posted by ilinka
    Does anybody know the boundaries(streets/ave) of Forest Hills Gardens??(not Forest Hills)
    It is located south of Queens Blvd. and the main LIRR line from just west of Continental (71st) Ave. east to Union Turnpike.

  7. #7

    Default Hey I put the houses for sale we have here

    Hey, I put the houses we have for sale here
    and then i made a message board for people to talk just about forest hills here it's for my family's office

    hope this is not off topic but i like our neighborhood. thanks. i hear a lot of people complaining the prices are too high. but this is a pretty good neighborhood.

  8. #8


    Quote Originally Posted by milleniumcab View Post
    It is located south of Queens Blvd. and the main LIRR line from just west of Continental (71st) Ave. east to Union Turnpike.

    oh yeah we have heard of unscrupulous realtors who pawn non forest hills gardens houses as forest hills gardens house to unsuspecting buyers. as long as you are inside the brick entry gates and have the private streets signs you are fine . otherwise it's not the gardens.

  9. #9


    There is another thread on Forest Hills real estate:

    I wonder why the threads have not been moved to the Queens Real Estate Sub-Forum?

  10. #10


    Passed by Forest Hills Gardens today and took some photos.

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  12. #12

    Default Wow really nice photos.

    hey i took this photo i hope you guys like it.

    i put others here

  13. #13

    Thumbs down

    I don't like FHH's photo ^^^ because:

    (1) It has handwritten orange scribble in the middle of it.

    (2) It is a murky distance photo take from Forest Hills Station.

    FHH's link categorizes the photo as such:
    Forest Hills Station Square Photos

    --- > "Foresthillshouses":
    How about starting a link titled something to the effect of "Forest Hills Station & Vicinity"?

  14. #14


    hm.. ok lemme try to take another shot at it again . i called it station square cause it's a shot from the train station into Station Square.

  15. #15


    Hehehe, nice, huh?. My ol' neighborhood!.

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