Perlman: Rediscovering local postal treasures

Exploring the mail chutes you’ve always wondered about

By Michael Perlman

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An ornate Cutler mail chute at 42 W 48th St.

Most people have passed decorative brass, bronze or stainless-steel mail chute systems in the lobbies and floors of office buildings and some residential buildings, but sometimes they are not given much thought.

Mail chutes have an impressive history that dates to the 1880s and are prized for their diverse stylistic craftsmanship, with inscriptions of the manufacturer in distinctive typography.

Most predate the 1970s.

Mail chute with unusual medieval typography, 48 W 48th St.

As for younger generations, sometimes they scratch their heads.

Many mail chutes have been decommissioned and are now a conversation piece, but some remain in operation as a lobby letter box, or in fewer cases they remain in full operation throughout a building.

Mail chutes were an innovative work to ensure ease and rapidity, and it became an American success story in no time.

It all began in Rochester, NY, where it was invented by James Goold Cutler in 1883 and installed in the Elwood Building.

Art Deco Cutler mail chute in harmony with elevators, 71 W 47th St.

The patent indicated that the lobby mail chute needs to consist “of metal, distinctly marked US Letter Box” and the “door must open on hinges on one side, with the bottom of the door not less than 2’6’’ above the floor.”

Initially, mail chutes were largely installed in public buildings and railways, and the metal and glass shafts made their way throughout ceilings and floors.

James Goold Cutler, who was born in Albany in 1848 and passed away in Rochester in 1927, lived a diverse life.

He received his education at The Albany Academy and is remembered as a mail chute pioneer, an architect of prominent buildings, an entrepreneur and the 48th mayor of Rochester, where he served between 1904 and 1907.

In 1927, a bequest of $2,500,000 to the University of Rochester was made in his will, in addition to bequests including St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Rochester, hospitals, the Social Welfare League of Rochester, Hillside Home for Children and the YMCA and YWCA.

He was philanthropic in character.

A Council adopted a memorial which read, “Mr. Cutler was always a most interested observer of public affairs, and his kindly nature and keen insight into the needs of the citizens early attracted him to and fitted him for rendering marked public service.”

A Rochester report dated 1888 read, “In the present age of multi-storied buildings, no builder or owner of such an edifice has all the needful and convenient appliances until the Cutler US Mail Chute is in use therein — a device necessary for the businessman as the elevator.”

The skyscraper was being born, and mail chutes were a means of large-scale efficiency.

As of 1905, the Cutler Manufacturing Co. installed an estimated 1,600 mail chutes worldwide.

An excerpt from the 1909 edition of Hendrick’s Commercial Register stated, “Our business has grown with and has been an essential feature of the development of the tall building. From the Produce Exchange, seven stories, in 1885 to the Metropolitan Tower, forty-one stories, in 1908, all the important buildings, making steps in this advance, are built around Cutler Mail Chutes. Without the elevator, this growth would have been impossible, without the mail chute thousands of business men would have been too far from the Post Office.”

James Goold Cutler, Jan. 1, 1895.

In Forest Hills, a mail chute’s style reflects the architecture and period of the buildings, ranging from Art Deco to Mid-Century Modern.

Elsewhere, more elaborate styles include Beaux-Arts, Medieval, and Art Nouveau.

Eye-catching examples can still be found citywide in numerous destinations including the Diamond District, the Flatiron Building, Woolworth Building, the St. Regis, Empire State Building, Fred F. French Building and the Chrysler Building.

The Cutler Manufacturing Co. would team up with notable architects including Cass Gilbert, Daniel Burnham and Shreve, Lamb & Harmon.

Some significant Forest Hills apartment buildings that feature mail chutes throughout are The Leslie at 150 Greenway Terrace (1942), Booth Plaza at 67-76 Booth Street (1949), Park Crest Terrace at 101-06 67th Drive (1949), The Park Briar at 110-45 Queens Boulevard (1951), Birchwood Towers consisting of The Kyoto, The Toledo and The Bel Air on 66th Road to 67th Avenue between 102nd Street and Yellowstone Boulevard (1964), Lane Towers at 107-40 Queens Boulevard (1965) and Cord Meyer Office Building at 108-18 Queens Boulevard (1969).

Another site is a commercial-turned residential building, Lefrak Tower, renamed The Contour at 97-45 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park (1962).

In relation to Booth Plaza’s Capitol mail chute system, Gloria Piraino, a resident of the building, said, “I love those old mail chutes, and in our building, they still work.”

Capitol model at Booth Plaza. (Photo: Gloria Piraino)

Tammy Jacobi, board president of The Park Briar explained, “The ambiance of the hallway looks so special with the Art Deco Capitol mail chute, which meets the criteria of the Art Deco lobby. A lot of visitors have admired it.”

She pointed out that its bronze color receives treatment twice per year in conjunction with all other brass elements in the lobby.

Capitol mail chute at The Park Briar.

At The Leslie, the lobby’s Cutler mail chute depicts a rare Art Deco style eagle, but unfortunately its eyes and beak is covered with a sticker, although the etched detail is making its way through.

In addition, the fine quality surface is covered with layers of paint. Residents have expressed interest in seeing its detail restored.

It is rare to have a Cutler mail chute installed in Forest Hills, since residential buildings that were erected later on in the 1940s to the 1960s more frequently have a Capitol mail chute, although the prospect of having a mail chute is few and far between.

An original framed notification on the Cutler mail chute near the elevator along the floors is dated Dec. 23, 1937, predating The Leslie’s completion.

An excerpt reads, “U.S. Mail Cutler Mailing System – Mail letters one at a time. Do not fold or attempt to crowd large or bulky letters into the chute.”

For the collections category, it states “Collection schedule card posted on receiving box in ground floor.”

“Air mail may be deposited in this chute. For any specific information consult post office,” it continued.

Vandalism and theft was seemingly rare.

It says, “$1,000 fine or three years imprisonment is the penalty for defacing this box or the chute attached thereto, or tampering with lock or contents.” Residents were advised to “mail early.”

Despite the few manufacturers that followed, the Cutler Co. is regarded as the king of mail chutes.

Cutler mail chute in need of restoration at The Leslie. (Photo: Alan Tullio)

A 1955 Capitol Mail Chute Corporation catalog reads, “This corporation is part of an organization of skilled bronze manufacturers who have been doing distinctive aluminum and bronze metal work since its inception in 1905, and mail chutes since 1931.”

As decades passed, the size of mail increased, and mail chutes would increasingly become clogged.

Brass details would sometimes be obscured with paint rather than polished, and in other cases the systems were removed for profit rather than valuing historic artistry.

Perlman: On a Mission to Reintroduce Local Weeping Beech Trees

By Michael Perlman

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A rare Weeping Beech in front of the now demolished Parkside Chapel. (Photo: Michael Perlman)

Every community has at least one tree that is the talk of the town, although all varieties uniquely contribute to a larger audience of trees, and every resident has their favorites.

Since 1961, a rare, healthy and most graceful Weeping Beech tree has stood in front of Parkside Memorial Chapel at 98-60 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park.

As this American Institute of Architects-recognized mid-century modern chapel was demolished in January despite a movement to preserve a tributary site to the Sinai desert of Moses, the Israelites and the Ten Commandments, workers assured residents that the Weeping Beech tree would remain.

Then one day, they cringed to observe their favorite tree being chopped down.

Months have passed, and Rego Park resident Jennifer Verdon courageously launched a fundraiser to plant five new Weeping Beech trees throughout the community in its spirit, while restoring a native species that is a novelty.

The goal is to raise $10,000, since each tree accompanied by precise planting costs an average of $2,000.

“I live behind what was the beautiful landmark-worthy Parkside Memorial Chapel designed by the Viennese architect Henry Sandig and Robert Kasindorf, and bore witness to its destruction for overdevelopment, which was devastating. I went outside to speak to the crew weekly, and they assured me that this rare Weeping Beech tree would be safe,” she said.

“I watched for a couple of months as the tree was teetering on the edge of the demolition site, hoping for the best. One day I came home, looked out my window, and burst into tears when I realized it was gone. I felt so betrayed and upset, that I knew I had to do something.”

The once cherished Weeping Beech tree.

The Weeping Beech, known as “Fagus Sylvatica,” is characterized by its shape with sweeping, pendulous branches. The distinctive Pendula variety comes in mushroom and fountain forms. Green leaves become yellow-gold in the fall. Come winter, the fractal nature of its branches is a showstopper.

Whenever Verdon would pass by Parkside Chapel and the tree, she felt fortunate to see it daily.

“I loved the whole corner so much, and felt it was really rare and special. Now I need to take a trip over to Weeping Beech Park in Flushing to get my Weeping Beech fill. That tree was rooted there over 151 years ago,” Verdon said.

She began brainstorming about a variety of potential local sites, where they would be highly visible and planting conditions would be most suitable.

She said, “I need to speak with the Parks Department, arborists, dendrologists and horticulturists who know a lot about these types of trees to find the best accommodations. They need a lot of sun and can grow very large. I’d also love to take suggestions from our community, as they know the area best.”

Verdon is also calling for the preservation and stewardship of other trees.

“Trees improve the quality of water, soil, and air by removing pollutants, help with noise reduction, and lower the temperature,” she said.

“They also reduce the amount of stormwater runoff, which reduces erosion and pollution in our waterways, and may reduce the effects of flooding. They also provide food, protection and homes for many beautiful birds and animals.”

The movement to restore Weeping Beech trees to the local landscape is already gaining traction.

“It’s sad to see a nice tree, especially a rare Weeping Beech, being destroyed,” Forest Hills resident James Civita said. “They supposedly all came from the one in Flushing that had landmark status in Weeping Beech Park.”

A prominent horticulturist, Samuel Bowne Parsons (1819-1907) obtained a seedling from a nobleman’s estate in Belgium and transported and planted it on his nursery’s grounds.

This 60-foot high and 80-foot diameter tree gave birth to generations of Weeping Beeches nationally, and potentially the tree that was in front of Parkside Chapel.

“When I used to walk by that beautiful Weeping Beech tree of Rego Park, it made my heart sing, as it was an elegant lady,” Forest Hills resident Philomena Rubin said.

She envisions having the new Weeping Beech trees planted in MacDonald Park, Parker Towers and at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.

“Having trees helps keep us shaded and gives the birds a home. They are lovely to look at especially since we live in a concrete jungle,” she continued.

Rubin was first to donate to the fundraiser, and encourages anyone who can to pitch in.

Rego Park resident Irene Schaub said, “I not only enjoyed the beautiful tree’s form for the two decades I lived here, but I literally would dash under it because of the cool shade it provided on that sunny stretch of Queens Boulevard. I am so saddened to see it go.”

She proposes the Horace Harding and Junction Boulevard vicinity for Weeping Beech trees, after learning about its development plans.

Additionally, she envisions any spot along Queens Boulevard that is overly sunny as a perfect candidate. “Considering climate change, there should literally be a law that includes greenery in every project built in our urban environment, as well as provisions made for the maintenance of trees,” she added.

Another fan is Emily Otalora of Forest Hills. She said, “There is a calming serenity Weeping Beech trees provide when the gentle breeze tickles their vine-like branches creating a natural soothing soundtrack. A peaceful rhythm washes over you, and for a brief moment blocks out the cacophony of the city noises, making you forget that you are not in the middle of the woods, but in New York City.”

Otalora is from the school of thought that if a tree is healthy, it should be preserved.

Referencing the larger picture, she explained, “As someone who has experienced two sewer backups in 15 years, and tedious rebuilding as a result of all our greenspace getting paved over with concrete, it saddens me to see plant life being considered an afterthought, when long-term green spaces do a lot for the community. Let’s also bring back native plant life, especially if it can survive the longhorn beetle.”

For Crystal Ann, who works in Forest Hills, she smiles if she passes a Weeping Beech tree. She said, “They’re very majestic. I love their fullness and their color. They have a very magical feel. I think Forest Hills Gardens would be a great place to plant these beautiful trees, along with Forest Park and Union Turnpike, where the big patches of grass are.”

She continued, “These trees, along with other trees, help fight global warming and produce oxygen and much needed shade and beauty to our neighborhood.”

The public can donate to Verdon’s fundraiser by visiting https://www.gofundme.com/f/weeping-beech-fundraiser-replace-demolished-trees or https://gofund.me/76df45dd.

Kweller Prep: An educational center with a unique mission

By Michael Perlman

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Kweller Prep at the Midway.

Kweller Prep has not only been a major draw for tutoring and educational services, but a beacon in the name of the humanitarian spirit.

With a local center situated above the Midway Theatre at 108-22 Queens Boulevard on the second floor, owner and founder Frances Kweller of Forest Hills and general manager Ben Z. Davidov of Kew Gardens have tirelessly been making a difference for younger generations.

Remarkably, Kweller Prep teaches and mentors an average of over 1,500 students per year, which adds up to over 10,000 students in the past 15 years.

Kweller explained, “Kweller Prep has a very intentional, dedicated mission to help immigrant and minority children advance to higher education, including placement in highly competitive environments that build their careers. We are a targeted program that hires tutors who reflect the students we serve, placing them on track for success.”

As of July 2022, Kweller Prep was recognized by New York Family as among “The 7 best kids afterschool programs in Queens.”

Kweller is an attorney who came from an immigrant family, and graduated from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education and Hofstra University School of Law.

She is regarded as an education news expert, and is a regular when it comes to interviews on national TV.

Davidov, a native of Israel, achieved a BBA in entrepreneurial management from Baruch College in 2019. Backtracking, at Forest Hills High School, he pursued advanced courses, enabling him to complete the high school curriculum at the end of the 11th grade, and take AP and college classes as a 12th grader.

Among his leadership roles, he was president of Hillel at Baruch and also achieved the Henry Wollman Prizes award for outstanding contributions to student life.

Kweller originated a very successful organization as a result of her frustration with the school system.

Throughout high school and college, she felt that the system did not offer her enough beneficial information or guidance.

Davidov said, “Frances launched Kweller Prep to be a community resource and provide insight into the application and testing process, along with teaching students test-taking skills that they would need for their academic careers.”

He proudly joined the Kweller Prep team in 2014 after experiencing the same frustrations.

Part of Kweller Prep team with Frances Kweller, third from left & Ben Davidov, fifth from left.

“Being an immigrant, I had a hard time navigating the NYC Department of Education system, and I learned as much as possible from my mentor, Frances Kweller, so I could also serve as a resource to our community,” he said.

Today, they are both members of the National Association for College Counseling.

In 2015, Kweller Prep was government certified as a 100 percent Women-owned Business Enterprise in NYC and NYS.

Throughout many years, Kweller Prep established community partnerships with Place NYC and the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, in addition to building relationships with diverse educational institutions.

They include Stuyvesant High School and its PTA, Townsend Harris High School and its PTA, Forest Hills High School and its PTA, Brooklyn Tech High School, Bronx High School of Science, York High School, Richmond Hill High School, Arts and Business High School, Academy of Finance and Enterprise, and the First in Family Fund, which is Kweller Prep’s non-profit.

The Kweller Prep approach varies from alternate supplemental educational programs, as it specializes in preparations for competitive junior high schools, high schools, colleges and graduate schools.

Classes are limited to 10 students and are offered in person and via Zoom.

Besides focusing on minority students, Davidov explained, “We resort to customizing groups and ensure that each student leaves our center more prepared for the exam. Our strategy is to over-prepare and offer a bunch of resources, so there are no surprises, come the day of the exam.”

Kweller continued, “We meet with most of our families before the start of a course, to understand the needs of every single student.”

Kweller, Davidov and their colleagues are recognized for their ability to identify early talent and focus on holistic learning approaches.

“Families seek us with hopes that their child will one day attend a top tier school or an Ivy League school. We offer support from the 3rd to 12th grade to assist students every step of the way. We guide students through what is needed each year, in order for them to achieve the results that they envisioned,” Kweller said.

Davidov added, “Families begin planning for Ivy Leagues as early as the 6th grade, and often have meetings with management to create a great college application. At the start of 12th grade, Kweller Prep offers a college application service that assists from A-Z in preparing applications for universities nationwide.”

One may wonder about a typical day at Kweller Prep, which is not so typical after all.

After a full-time security guard opens, 80 students per session attend their daily or weekly class.

“Students come to their assigned classroom, where they generally receive 4 hours of instruction. They are provided with an abundance of resources relating to their exam and the steps that follow, after completing our program,” Davidov said.

“Students receive our tests, homework packets, textbooks, and related materials, as well as snacks to keep them engaged. We order breakfast, lunch, and dinner depending on the session, and order all food from local small businesses to support our surrounding community.”

Students take exams at Kweller Prep every four weeks during the school year, which pertain to weekend fall and spring classes, and each Monday during summer camp classes.

“Once their session is complete, they are escorted by staff and security, and staff meet with parents to let them know about their child’s progress, which is followed by emailing progress reports,” said Kweller.

The management and administrative staff hold daily meetings with parents and families to customize courses, devoted to each student’s needs.

For Kweller and Davidov, running Kweller Prep is a gift.

In a joint statement, they explained that the benefit includes having 10 students or less per class, providing uniforms, materials, syllabi and a safe space to work.

Kweller Prep staff appreciation event.

“We collect some of the brightest minds in NYC who aspire to bigger and better achievements. The friendships created among staff lead to the creation of study groups, new business ventures and access to major-specific opportunities outside of working at the center. We mentor all staff members and help them pursue other opportunities outside Kweller Prep, as we are firm believers in supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship.”

Kweller explained their goals: “Our short-term goal is to help every student that comes to our center achieve their academic goal. Our long-term goals are in the works, and we hope to be sharing good news soon. We foresee in the future that we will be working towards creating a school for students to get ahead of the NYC DOE curriculum, and be able to years ahead upon entering high school and college.”

In the spring, not long after the community’s beloved Chinese food delivery worker and longtime Forest Hills personality Zhiwen Yan was killed, Kweller leaped forward.

She launched a GoFundMe via her First in Family Fund, Inc. non-profit, to support his three children.

Miraculously, over $100,000 was raised within a 24-hour period, which increased to $154,160. It attracted a total of 2,600+ donors.

Exhibiting a good heart for students, parents, staff and the community at large makes Kweller and Davidov true humanitarians, and a mobilizing force in the name of innovative education.

Perlman: Reviving the chimes in Station Square

By Michael Perlman

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History will be made in Station Square beginning on August 1, as Forest Hills Gardens residents and visitors will hear chimes from the tri-clock tower on the hour at 3 p.m. with three chimes, and 6 p.m. with six chimes, complementing traditions in European villages and cities, as well as in Colonial towns.

This will mark the rebirth of a tradition that began decades ago, but is long-forgotten by most, and unknown by newcomers.

Forest Hills will once again be on the map, reminiscent of the charm and grandeur of London’s Big Ben, Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin, and St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.        

In recent years, the iconic Forest Hills Inn underwent weatherproofing and roof restoration work.

Then in 2018, Station Square underwent a large-scale restoration initiative encompassing its utilities and the historic brick roadway, situated in a signature Union Jack pattern, as well as a median reconfiguration, transforming it closer to its roots.

In the recently enhanced regal wood-paneled Forest Hills Inn lobby, with period furniture, a fireplace, and “Pub Room” in gold leaf stenciled in the background, this columnist spoke with Aaron Bitic, project manager and founder of home improvement firm Das365 Inc, as well as George Hoban, board president of Station Square Inn Apartments.

At 33, Bitic, who is a shareholder of the Forest Hills Inn, emphasized his pride in being born and raised in Forest Hills.

He said, “I admire the Tudor and Arts & Crafts style, and there is no other town in New York that looks like this. I feel very fortunate and honored.” The neighborhood’s ambiance motivated him to initiate the chimes in Station Square.

Hoban explained “Through Aaron’s company, he can provide technical skills and advice to complex applications that can be done electronically or through a computer. He is very kind to be able to donate his services.”

Bitic continued, “I donated the equipment for the sound and a computer for its programming.” In mid-May, Bitic approached Hoban, who recalled, “He said that he would like to explore this at no cost, and I said, ‘Great. It would be consistent with the aesthetics of our neighborhood.’”

Chimes restoration expert Aaron Bitic behind a clock in the tower.

Precisely when and why residents stopped hearing the chimes is a mystery.

Two years ago, Bitic’s vision of restoring the clock tower and the chimes originated.

“I learned that it used to chime, but some of the crucial parts went missing,” he said.

Hoban made his home at the Inn in 1997.

He reminisced, “The chimes were working then. They would go off from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and ring on the hour. Many times, they were very helpful, since I would be getting ready for work. There was a beauty to it, whether it is European or the sound of a quiet Sunday in the city, mid-day. I feel as if I’m in an old German town somewhere in Europe on a snowy night or day.”

George Hoban & Aaron Bitic near the clock tower.

Beginning in 1912, when guests and prospective residents picked up a copy of “Forest Hills Inn,” an early 20th century illustrated pamphlet by philanthropic organization Russell Sage Foundation’s subsidiary, Sage Foundation Homes Company, they learned about Forest Hills Gardens’ benefits of location, education, and business, as evident by the planning of parks and open spaces alongside homes embodying architectural treatment.

It read, “Grouped around the arcade, through whose arches may be seen the Common, the groves, and the homes of Forest Hills Gardens, are attractive stores and shops that supply every normal want. In the center of the Square, the play of a fountain adds to the vivacity and charm of the scene. The architecture and plan of Station Square have been designed to provide an attractive spot for the common use and pleasure of residents. Beauty, harmony, and utility are here combined in a unique way.”

Inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement, this model residential development was designed by principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

Station Square accommodated a classy social life, particularly at the spire-adorned Forest Hills Inn, which opened on May 1, 1912 and offered 150 rooms, adjoining the Raleigh apartments on the east and the Marlboro apartments on the west.

The LIRR Station, accessible from the Inn through arcades and bridges sheltering residents and visitors from the weather, enabled a 13-minute commute to Manhattan.

Historic events transpired, including annual Fourth of July celebrations, such as Col. Theodore Roosevelt’s “100 Percent American” speech on July 4, 1917 at Forest Hills Station.

In 1968, the inn was converted into a residence.

Bitic is an all-around hands-on man of determination, who recognizes the value behind restoration, volunteering, and a cleaner and more appealing environment.

Among his diverse projects included cleaning the velvet chairs in Radio City.

Das365 Inc. is Green Seal certified and offers cleaning specialty services consisting of brush vacuum shampoo drying, steam cleaning, carpet and upholstery, mattress deep cleaning, drapery fabric leather, wood floor cleaning and conditioning, and stone tile cleaning and sealing.

Bitic explained the chimes’ restoration process, which spanned a month and required an estimated 45 hours of work. “Since crucial parts were missing, the challenge was trying to find what may be the original sound (which Hoban recalled as Westminster). I am able to edit and extract tones from mp3 sound files and repeat them every 4 to 5 seconds, and produce new sound files. We were also missing a computer. The receiver was old and didn’t work well. It was from Radio Shack. When I turned it on, it didn’t have enough power, so I donated my own receiver, offering high definition sound. I was proud to also donate my know-how.”

Residents can now anticipate the chimes to go off to the second, based on an algorithm that he programmed.

One may wonder about the associated restoration costs for other projects.

Bitic explained, “If there is an original sound system, but the receiver doesn’t operate or the computer needs to be revamped or updated, it could be $8,000. If there is a clock tower with no system or speaker and they wanted it to be installed, it would cost $10,000 to $25,000.”

This is Bitic’s first project of its kind.

“If I had another opportunity to restore a clock tower with chimes, I can do it,” he said.

Hoban commended Bitic as “an example of the residents who are very proud of this building,” and said, “I’ve lived here for 25 years, and I have never walked out that door and not been impacted by the beauty of Station Square. Anything that we can do, within reason, to enhance that, we will jump all over.”

Bitic continued, “Volunteering is crucial to spread positivity in a mysterious world of negativity and positivity. Maybe you can change someone’s mind and heart from negative to the neutral and positive sides, and maybe they can contribute to something in their lives, as in a ripple effect.”

Hoban began dissecting the word “cooperative,” as per his role on the board. “My board members volunteer their own time, as well as plenty of other residents.”     

This project is also an example of how it is significant to preserve and restore America’s clocks and its chimes. It also makes one wonder how many clock towers are analog with a bell and how many consist of a sound system with speakers.

Clocks restoration team, Sept. 1992

Bitic explained, “I feel it’s very important to bring back history to the present time, since someone else will do that in the future. Otherwise, it will be forgotten.”

The visit to the Forest Hills Inn continued with a walk up a winding staircase into the clock tower for a demonstration and a few test runs, but within days, the public will experience the Real McCoy of the chimes, as the clocks keep on ticking in the name of a timeless garden community.

For more information about the services Bitic offers at Das365 Inc, please visit their website: www.das365inc.com

Perlman: Remembering restaurant favorites through vintage postcards

By Michael Perlman
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There is a good chance that you mailed a postcard to family and friends, but may not realize that picture postcards date to 1893, and the majority, where a good percentage feature handwritten messages and vintage stamps, still exist. Deltiology is the collection and study of postcards, which derives from “deltion,” the Greek term for a writing tablet or letter. Therefore, a deltiologist references a postcard collector.

Forest Hills and Rego Park advertising postcards were once available for free at local restaurants, but today can sell anywhere from $10 to $50. Facades and interiors were often photographed from a unique perspective in postcards, complementing their architectural details and artistry, which extended a warm welcome to patrons.

Early 20th Century postcards featured black and white printed photos that were hand-colored and often seemed true to life. They were followed by linen-era color postcards beginning in the 1930s, followed by natural color chrome postcards as of the 1950s.

Mama Sorrento’s

A chrome postcard, published by Adchrome Pdts. Corp. of 509 Madison Ave., read, “To make dining out a real pleasure, be sure to visit Mama Sorrento’s.” Mama Sorrento, a most distinguished Italian restaurant and pizzeria, was situated at 107-02 Queens Blvd., along a retail strip completed in 1947, facing MacDonald Park.

Beyond a well-appointed Colonial façade, it featured cozy green booths, tables, and high ceilings, along with scenic artwork, a view of the kitchen, and a bar area. Deco green walls were offset by a brick wall. This popular restaurant served genuine Italian dishes that were recognized by patrons for their wonderful presentations. Accommodations were made for all social functions, and air-conditioning and free parking were additional attractions.

 

Joan Rizzi was a local legend, better known as “Mama Sorrento,” who would prepare traditional Neapolitan family dishes, making the restaurant a Queens favorite. She told The Long Island Star-Journal in May 1961, “cooking is an art in my family, and the policy that we have is to satisfy the people who come into our restaurant for the finest in Italian-American dishes.” One signature dish was Chicken Rollatini alla Parisienne.

This is also where actor, comedian, and voice-over artist Marty Ingels once had his signed headshot on display, likely prior to achieving stardom. This notable spot was a phone call away at Virginia 6-9277, where the postcard features a long-forgotten vintage prefix.

Tutto Bene Restaurant

Some postcards feature the evolution of restaurants—if you are fortunate enough to find them.

Such is the case with the chrome postcards of French Italian cuisine establishment Chez Pierre at 110-50 Queens Blvd., which opened around the early 1940s, and was later the site of Tutto Bene Restaurant, an Italian classic cuisine spot, circa the late 1960s. Both restaurants featured elegant murals, which were a mainstay of restaurants that made patrons feel as if they were on a getaway for the evening.

Checkered tablecloths in one restaurant, eventually made their way to double red and white tablecloths in another, hence the eras. The latter business featured warm wood-paneled walls and elegantly framed artwork, with small ornate chandeliers. “Tutto Bene” translates as “everything good,” and among the patron favorites were Lobster Fra Diavolo and Assortimento Tutto Bene.

 

La Stella

Several Italian restaurants were documented in postcards. La Stella, under the management of “The Taliercio Bros.” Joseph and Jack, was at 102-11 Queens Boulevard and featured fine Italian cuisine, wine, and liquors.

The chrome postcard displays its ambiance, consisting of orange walls, high ceilings, chandeliers and sconces, traditional Italian picture frames, and white tablecloths. The zig-zag patterned floor added much character. The angular art deco storefront featured classic illuminated script signage.

Aside from its popular menu, this is the site of the notorious September 1966 luncheon that resulted in the arrest of 13 top members of organized crime, which The New York Times called “Little Apalachin.”

Another chrome postcard featured Monte’s, a fine Italian restaurant and pizzeria at 71-51 Yellowstone Blvd. It offered home delivery and parking in the rear and was advertised as being 3 blocks from Parker Towers.

Monte’s

Looking into the restaurant, a curtained window made it resemble a showroom, and tall candles with ornate holders in each booth added to its elegance. A recessed ceiling with a chandelier, a checkered floor, and an Italian wall sketch also contributed to its mood. This restaurant would later become the cherished Da’ Silvana.

A linen postcard features the Ideal Spot on Burns Street and Yellowstone Boulevard, where patrons would “dine and dance in comfort” near a bandshell where there was “always a cool breeze” under the trees. It also featured a beer garden at 66-20 Thornton Pl., and an early ad read, “a hard place to find, but worth the effort.”

In April 1938, a license was issued to the Ideal Spot to sell beer, wine, and liquor. Living up to its name, patrons would sit at tables with checkered tablecloths under a tree canopy of Maples, where they could be acquainted with nature and keep cool under a starlit summer’s night. Open year-round, patrons could also dine and dance nightly, and games were coordinated.

Community functions included the Kew-Forest Kennel Club’s all-breed match show in 1938 and the Annual Dinner Dance and Revue of the Forest Hills Homeowners Association in January 1942.

The Ideal Spot

The jazz scene consisted of regulars Art Hodes on piano, Rod Cless on clarinet, and Joe Grausso on drums. Bill Reid’s Dixieland Band also took the stage. In 1940, patrons welcomed a new air-cooled room, where the seating capacity increased to 500, with an extra-large indoor dancefloor.

 

In its early days of operation, the family business consisted of Terry, Anne, Ernie, and Pop Nuerge, who helped define the neighborhood’s culture.

Patrons often walked or took their cars to the Ideal Spot, but during World War II, the clientele began to decrease due to gas rationing and the ban on pleasure driving. Thanks to the creative management in 1943, patrons rode safely in a covered wagon, which would meet at the subway stop every hour on the hour and depart from the Ideal Spot at half-hour intervals.

The tree bark-inspired menu consisted of a canapé of anchovies or a fruit cocktail for 25 cents and Soup du Jour for 20 cents. “Blue plates a L’Ideal” offered choices such as a sirloin steak for $1.25. For a quarter, patrons could order a cold sandwich of Limburger cheese or liverwurst, and for 50 cents, order a caviar sandwich. The Ideal Spot closed in 1962, and then the property accommodated a series of Yeshivas.

Topsy’s

Topsy’s Cabin Fried Chicken, also known as Topsy’s Chicken, a southern-style culinary landmark that also served corn fritters among its most popular options, opened in 1937 in a one-story Colonial building at 112-01 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills, which later became a two-story Colonial building. The Topsy’s façade was initially depicted in a linen-era postcard.

The Topsy’s slogan was “Eat It With Your Fingers.” A Topsy’s billboard once caught the eye of community residents and read “m-m-m one block ahead” and also stated “famous for chicken,” with a tempting plate. Examining postcards, often makes one conduct further research. In this case, it was replaced by Seymour Kaye’s in 1971, which specialized in Jewish dining. In 1989, the site became The Pinnacle, as we know it.

Diners once dotted the tri-state area. One can see from a George Hollis Diner linen Colourpicture postcard a classic example of art deco, which was a highlight of many sites, thanks to the influence of the nearby 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows. Mr. Hollis was at your service at this freestanding railway car-inspired diner, which was in existence potentially into the late 1950s. It featured striking curved corners of glass blocks and sleek horizontal and vertical details.

The George Hollis Diner

It was located at 109-23 World’s Fair Blvd., which was temporarily renamed Horace Harding Boulevard, and was near 108th Street. The postcard read, “In the Shadow of the World’s Fair” and “dine here and enjoy the finest food in a rare atmosphere of beauty and distinction. Counter and booth service. Always open.” Numerous fairgoers’ palates were enticed! The Fair’s symbolic spire-like Trylon monument was evident in its path.

 

Rego Park postcards are a novelty since far fewer views exist than Forest Hills postcards. One features a colorful sketch of Howard Johnson’s at 95-25 Queens Blvd., which was advertised as “the largest roadside restaurant in the United States,” coincided with the 1939 World’s Fair and won first prize from the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

It sat 1,000 patrons. The Georgian Colonial mansion-like façade featured sculptures, ornamental cast stone, pilasters, a portico, dormers, shutters, and terraces, and was topped off with a cupola. A freestanding art deco sign boasted 28 ice cream flavors such as chocolate chip and burgundy cherry ice cream, as well as a grille and cocktail lounge. Weddings were held in the “Colonial Room” and “Empire Room.”

Regal appointments included crystal chandeliers, a winding grand staircase, and murals by the famed Andre Durenceau. The 1939 World’s Fair’s esteemed seafood chef Pierre Franey was on-site. It is also where chef Jacques Pépin worked and was later the recipient of an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 1974, this unofficial landmark was demolished, but it is forever etched in the heart of many New Yorkers.

Perlman: Restoring communities, one fire alarm pedestal at a time

By Michael Perlman
[email protected]

One-man dynamo John S. Colgan, a.k.a. the “fire alarm box guy,” may soon be coming to a street corner near you. With originality and creative energy, precision, long-term dedication, and a civic mind without taking a penny from politicians, his aim is to restore and accentuate historic, but long-forgotten Beaux-Arts meets Art Nouveau fire alarm call box pedestals that read NYC all over it. As residents observe Colgan’s unique talent and become an audience, it becomes evident how volunteering is the cultivation of the soul, as preserving a lost art form is nourishment for the soul.

For the past year, one of his many projects is the soon-to-be complete restoration of the neglected 67th Avenue and Queens Boulevard fire alarm pedestal in Forest Hills, which dates to 1929, and even predates the opening of the local IND subway by 7 years. Sometimes late at night, layers of paint were meticulously stripped away, gaps and rust vanished, and primer and layers of traditional red paint were applied. Now its ornate craftsmanship, consisting of vine-like designs and a torch, is continuing to be accentuated in layers of gold.

Today, there are an estimated 15,077 fire alarm boxes, where a majority of the ornate models date to 1913, 1921, and 1931, whereas non-descript models date as far back as 1957. “I don’t really know how many fire alarms I’ve painted in total, but it could be around 100 or 200,” said 46-year-old Colgan, a handyman, and painter from Woodside who began restoring alarms in 2012. He accentuated the details in gold of approximately 30, consisting of six in Bayside Hills, one to date in Forest Hills, at least five in Long Island City, two in Sunnyside, five in Woodside in various stages of repainting and repair, five in Astoria, and others at random throughout Queens.

Besides the 67th Avenue alarm, he has his eyes set on painting nine others before summer’s end, which include two in Douglaston, two in Bayside, two in Bayside Hills, one in Whitestone, and two in Woodside. In 2021, this columnist led Colgan on a survey of Forest Hills and Rego Park fire alarms, and through Facebook, residents also suggested alarms to restore.

Fire Alarm box pedestal restored and enhanced by John Colgan

Above all, Colgan is a man of gratitude. He said, “My mother and I originated this project, so she is my inspiration. She taught me to ‘fight till the end and never give up,’ so I’m on a mission to save as many FDNY fire alarms as possible. Every alarm painted is one saved. My mother instilled a sense of community within me.”

At that time, he was unemployed and his mother suggested that he “paint the neighborhood” and “give back by leading by example.” He reminisced, “I began by covering the graffiti on lampposts, and then hydrants and sign poles, followed by mailboxes. Then I ran out of things to paint. One day while sitting on the front steps of my mother’s house, I noticed the ugly condition of the fire alarm on the corner of 32 Avenue and 54th Street, so I went to Gleason’s on 69th and got a gallon of Maxtech Gloss Red. After I painted it red, I thought the lace work might look nice with some gold on it, and then Bam! I stepped back, looked at it, and the rest is history.”

Colgan loves restoring fire alarms for free, as his gift to the community. He explained the intricate nature of the restoration process. “You have to be dedicated and tough. I’m out in all sorts of weather, but mostly when it’s hot. In the winter, I use an old wood chisel to chip off the paint, since it saves time, and the acid paint remover does not work when it’s too cold or wet. The painting is always the restoration’s easy component. It’s very relaxing, and I go into a trance, where nothing else matters other than the little square I’m working on.”

As significant and picturesque as the alarms are, Colgan considers the 67th Avenue alarm the most challenging and poorly manufactured model that he worked on in ten years. He explained, “This 1929 alarm does not appear on the official fire alarm blueprints. Through my own observations, I surmise that the FDNY tried to save money by taking the alarms away from the craftsmen and giving them to an assembly line with regular workers. Not only are these alarms of poor craftsmanship, but the metal is a low grade. I had to fix the crumbling cast iron. The lace work is also missing pieces, so technically it’s incomplete.”

It is also the “busiest alarm” that Colgan ever restored. He explained, “Most of the time I’m in front of someone’s house on a lonely Queens street, but on 67th Ave, I met and spoke to at least 1,000 people since I started last September. I’ve had great conversations with a ton of elderly people.” At least one resident usually sits on the corner, as they watch the paint dry, and others show up routinely to witness his progress and offer moral support.

Colgan is interested in establishing a Facebook group poll on color schemes, since gold accents are sometimes offset by hints of black for contrast, or the placement of colors varies. He said, “The plan is for the community to get involved in the final stages of paint. After all, you have to look at it, but I will be moving on to the next alarm.”

John Colgan restores the 67th Ave fire alarm
(Photo by Michael Perlman)

Additionally, there are five other alarms that Colgan is considering restoring in Forest Hills and Rego Park. “They are in bad shape, so I don’t think I will get to them this season,” he said.

Much is still being discovered about the history of fire alarm pedestals. Colgan explained, “The first fire alarms were acquired and improved by John Gamewell from the 1850s to the 1880s. The original alarm was based on the Morse Telegraph system. After the Civil War, the US government stole all of the patents from southern inventors and sold them for nothing on the Capitol Steps. Then one of Gamewell’s employees brought his fire alarm patents and started the company back up in Hackensack. He sold the patents back to John Gamewell for $1. From there, the company erected a huge factory (still standing) in Newton, Ma. At one point, Gamewell Co. had a 95 percent share of the fire alarm market. The alarms changed very little since the 1900s. The real difference in my opinion is that the signal is a little more efficient, but the overall design is the same. Gamewell was very good at perfection.”

Preserving the remaining historic fire alarms on-site is essential since unfortunately, some received mundane rectangular replacements. Colgan said, “It took years for me to figure out how to get the paint to stick to the alarm for seven years, and I’m just a painter. I cannot imagine the level of skill that was required to produce just one alarm.” Today, alarms are being repurposed. “They act as a landmark for the FDNY technicians looking for an FDNY manhole,” he continued.

Colgan is a humanitarian on many levels. “My only goal is to honor my mother by doing nice things for people and expecting nothing in return. The only person responsible for your neighborhood is you. Less government and more volunteer work is the solution. If you don’t expect anything in return, then you will get tons of love from fellow New Yorkers,” he said.

“John is truly a magician with the magic that he performs to restore these works of art and history,” Ivy Chait-Skow said. “Forest Hills has such wonderful architecture and historical features, and we need to preserve what we can.”

CVS supervisor Jason Biddle is proud to see a familiar site undergoing restoration. “John Colgan took hours upon hours of his time to bring it back to its original form. It looks very authentic, and I feel that he deserves a lot of credit.”

Early on, it caught David Edelman’s eye. He explained, “Witnessing John Colgan devote extreme time and effort to painstakingly restore a fire alarm in the heat, rain, and darkness evokes a sense of community pride and ownership over our neighborhood that is so desperately needed, especially now, to counteract the forces of neglect that is too often the norm. When an old firebox is restored to majestic condition, it draws attention, perhaps enough that it invokes a desire to learn more and do more to continue to improve our neighborhood and city. I wish every neighborhood could have a restored firebox.”

Restoration expert John Colgan with surveyor Michael Perlman during the restoration of the 67th Ave alarm restoration

“The restored fire alarm is a sign of hope and resilience for the whole community after 2 years of Covid and a criminal spike,” said Vania Martini. “It gives a sense of reassurance that great humanity is out there in the form of John. Everyone can apply their talent towards community service, so I hope more people will get inspired.”

For Kevin Sanichara, seeing this rare act of restoration brought immense joy. He explained, “John did an amazing job! It’s a step in the right direction of bringing back order and cleanliness. We cannot sit around and wait for others to create the positive change we seek. Those fire boxes from the 1920s have a wonderful architectural design, and I want to see more of that and other local restorations whenever possible.”

“I tip my hat to John Colgan,” Elana Kirschbaum said. “Volunteering and historic preservation are huge since, without either, we won’t have anything left of our neighborhood that we know and enjoy.”

Perlman: A Discovery Elicits Rego Park & Forest Hills Memories

While longtime Rego Park resident and history buff Carl Godlewski was helping his neighbors organize their family’s apartment, he unearthed a time capsule from 1955… a small yellow-gold address and phone book, where each page spotlighted among the best Rego Park businesses, and fewer Forest Hills businesses as of that year. It also featured 1955 and 1956 calendars. All businesses were located in tasteful storefronts, often Colonial or Art Deco, with attractive window displays.

Sometimes while cleaning out a residence, treasures can be found in an attic, basement, cabinet, or in this case, in a desk, hidden behind a drawer! It is important to consider not tossing possessions, but thinking of how it can benefit someone else or a community. He decided to donate his unique find to this columnist’s collection of local memorabilia, to further document and preserve cultural, commercial, and architectural history.

Godlewski explained, “I came across a lot of treasures dating from 1950s and 1960s Queens. It was amazing to see these snapshots in time, and learning about the stores that used to be in our area. It’s important to remember where Queens came from, and these keepsakes help with preserving our past.”

The booklet, published by Fox Advertising Co. at 166-05 Highland Avenue in Jamaica, read, “Welcome & best wishes. This phone index and directory was compiled with one thought in mind – Your convenience. You will find here a complete shopping guide to your immediate community. Listing the finest shops, services, churches and synagogues. Also a list of reputable business houses that are ready at all times to serve and assist you with the finest merchandise at most reasonable prices. Cultivate their friendship – It’s to your advantage.”

Field Drug, operated under Harry Berliner, Ph. G. was located at 94-04 63rd Drive, and offered a free pickup and delivery of prescriptions, if a resident would call IL 9-5326. In addition, this shop catered to baby needs, vitamins, and cosmetics, as well as a board of health station. Sperry & Hutchinson green stamps were free with each purchase.

Maisonette, whose slogan was “Hairstylists of Distinction” and featured an Art Deco logo, was once located at 96-39 Queens Boulevard. It was the end of an era when this longtime business closed around 2008.

There were a number of establishments for the arts, entertainment, and recreation. Among them was the Duo-Art Academy of Music and Dance at 107-50 Queens Boulevard, where patrons called BO 3-8585. This center offered training in all instruments, voice, and Dalcroze Eurhythmics for children 3 years and up, and a free loan of instruments up to 2 months. Dance courses included ballet, modern, tap, acrobatics, and teenage socials. As for the adult social dance scene, courses consisted of mambo, tango, merengue, foxtrot, and the waltz, with 10 one-hour class lessons for $10. On site was a large ballroom with a stage that could accommodate 235 guests, as well as a smaller social space for 45 guests. A catering service was offered. This center was ideal for meetings, dances, Bar Mitzvahs, and weddings, and discounts were offered to organizations on annual contracts.

For decades, one of the most popular dining and dancing entertainment venues was The Boulevard at 94-05 Queens Boulevard, formerly known as Boulevard Tavern. It opened circa 1929 and was in full swing through the 1960s. Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, and Sweet Sixteens were advertised as their specialty. Barbara Ann Vallely recalled, “My dad Howard Banks worked there for many years. They would have up and coming singers perform. I remember him bringing home signed photos of Connie Francis and Tony Bennett. It was more than a restaurant, but a nightclub that also catered weddings, including Martin Landau’s wedding reception in 1957.” Other performers were Patti Page and Buddy Hackett. “My parents, Jack and Eunice Selenow, had their 25th anniversary in 1960 at The Boulevard,” said Victor Selenow. “JFK did a swing through Queens during his 1960 presidential campaign, and made a speech at The Boulevard,” added Monte Kaplan.

“We always went to Shelly’s for the rye bread and sponge and marble cakes,” said Jeffrey Cymbler, who was a patron with his family in the 1960s. This was considered Rego Park’s finest bakery at 94-06 63rd Drive. “Everything in the baking line” was their slogan. Residents can still sense the taste of their classic Charlotte Russe.

Into the 1990s was Barbizon Studio, a go-to spot at 101-01 Queens Boulevard that is much missed. An engaging slogan read, “Our beautiful photographs and satisfied customers are our best advertisement.” Their specialty was children’s portraits, and other services included 3D, weddings, adults, restorations, photo supplies, custom finishing, and photostats. Patrons would walk along a wooden floor, spot a collage of frames lining their walls, and be greeted by amiable owners.

Another very engaging name is Talent Shop at 92-04 63rd Drive. An ad read, “Ladies! The smartest…. most glamorous fashions on the Island are located right in your own neighborhood.” Everyone felt like a star!

A perfect dating and family fun establishment was Rego Park Lanes at 96-42 Queens Boulevard, when bowling alleys were cornerstones of Americana. It also offered a restaurant and lounge, famous for Italian and American dishes. Visualize a 70-foot bar with television, a novelty in the 1950s, and most of all, 16 streamlined bowling alleys. Owners and staff often became an extended family for patrons, so today’s longtime residents may recall host Leon Fox and manager Bill Beck.

Another cornerstone of Americana was the classic Jewish deli, which today is few and far between. At 94-19 63rd Drive was Dav-Eds, the “Celebrity Delicatessen and Restaurant,” which offered kosher catering and hot and cold canapes, a specialty, luncheons and dinners, as well as home-cooked food to take out. Nearby was a kosher meat and poultry market known as Koslow’s at 97-22 Queens Boulevard. It was indeed “Where quality reigns supreme” and efficiency was key with a free delivery service by calling either TWining 7-0543 or 0544. Afterall, their slogan was “You ring – We bring.”

A needle, thread, and button became the basis of the name Goldin’s, an intelligent logo. Situated at 97-02 Queens Boulevard, it was advertised as “The home of the educated needle” and “Queens finest men’s store. Brands included G.G.G., Eagle, Austin Leeds, Hammonton Park, Worsted-Tex, Alligator, Forstmann, McGregor, Mark Cross, and Dobbs Hats. Patrons could view a distinctive collection of furnishings and sportswear and visit a style corner for men. Hours of operation were 10 AM to 10 PM. Similar in spirit was the Knitting Studio at 63-55 Booth Street, which offered free expert instructions and individual styling, with a complete selection of quality yarn.

A buzz around town was Philip Birnbaum’s award-winning mid-century modern Metropolitan Industrial Bank Building, which earned a 1st prize architectural award by the Queens Chamber of Commerce in 1952. Its anchor tenant was its namesake at 99-01 Queens Boulevard, which in 1955, was Commercial State Bank & Trust Company of New York, which operated 9 offices. Among the several mom and pop shops on the same block was Margo Chapeaux at 99-03, an exclusive millinery at moderate prices, with individually styled hats made to order.

“Where carpentry is still an art” was the slogan of Wohl Brothers at 92-10 63rd Drive. They specialized in cabinets, carpenters, contractors, unpainted furniture, formica, fixtures, painting, and staining. To continue your decorating needs, Kass Seigal at 97-09 Queens Boulevard was a unique service for the traditional, modern, or contemporary setting, and merchandise included fine furniture, draperies, and accessories.

Simple pleasures begin at childhood with pets and biking around town. At 98-08 Queens Boulevard, Queensway Aquarium & Pet Shop sold tropical and goldfish, exotic plants, and dog and cat supplies, as well as birds including canaries and parakeets. The popular Bill’s Bicycle Store at 63-52 Alderton Street offered new and refurbished bicycles, including Raleigh, Rudge, and Schwinn, as well as accessories and bikes for rent.

Sometimes shops take their names from their surroundings such as Walden Terrace. At 97-09 64th Avenue, Walden Food Center offered appetizing, dairy, and groceries under Marvin Uleis, proprietor. Joseph Miller managed the kosher M. & S. Meat & Poultry, and Sam Baclanic managed the fruits and vegetables.

Cleaning could not be beat! Leeds Cleaners offered same day service at 91-42 63rd Drive under Allen Dresser and Elliott Gitlin, and another popular shop was Jade Chinese Hand Laundry at 97-05 Queens Boulevard.

For every occasion, The Flower Basket at 96-08 Queens Boulevard was ready to serve the community. This exclusive shop was also located in the lobby of 535 5th Avenue and at the Chanin Building. An ad stated, “We deliver and telegraph everywhere.”

Perlman: Patriotism Echoes in Forest Hills on July 4, 1922

By Michael Perlman

[email protected]

Forest Hills Gardens once hosted lavish Fourth of July Festivals from morning until midnight in Station Square and the Tea Garden, along Greenway Terrace, and in Olivia Park. This tradition was organized and sponsored by the Men’s Club of Forest Hills in 1914. One of the most historic moments transpired on July 4, 1917, when Col. Theodore Roosevelt delivered his 100 Percent Unification speech. Festivals were under the jurisdiction of The Fourth of July Committee until September 13, 1920, when the Celebrations Association of Forest Hills Gardens was organized.

A century has passed, and now it is time to turn the clock back to July 4, 1922, the 146th year of America’s independence. Numerous Forest Hills Gardens residents were integral in community affairs, and the listed names are potentially ancestors of current residents.

In anticipation, Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin stated, “All over the country there will be merrymaking, family and community gatherings, when the greatness of the nation’s history will be recalled, and when anew the citizens will pledge themselves to more sincere devotion to the welfare of the people as a whole.” It later went on to say, “In Forest Hills and Forest Hills Gardens, there will be all-day celebrations which will show that the citizens of each section have worked hard to plan a day which will not soon be forgotten.”

For the second year, the annual celebration by the Forest Hills Association was chaired by D. McKenzie. The Monarch Band, once known as the 15th Regiment National Guard, led committee members from the Club House to the flag-raising of Forest Hills Gardens neighbors. Greetings were extended by association president W.C. Mayer and Gardens Celebrations Association Chair John Messenger. Also of note was treasurer Homer Croy and secretary Scott Robinson.

The band led the committee and the Forest Hills Post of the American Legion to the Club House’s flag-raising ceremony. Then until 1 p.m., children had a field day with a variety of sports. Beginning at 2 p.m., a parade originating on Nome Street (now 68th Road) made its way throughout the village, and then Queens Boulevard, along Continental Avenue, and Forest Hills Gardens. Automobiles were a parade highlight, where P.D. Wright and Mrs. I.W. Backus earned first and second prizes, followed by Betty Lachman in a bicycle outfit.

Congressman Dr. J.J. Kindred addressed the challenges confronting the founders of the Constitution and requested a closer knowledge of national problems, with a will to remedy them. Afterward, a golf tournament and baseball match between married and single men was the center of attention, in addition to what was referenced as a “magnificent daylight display of fireworks.”

Tennis is synonymous with Forest Hills history. Many matches led to tennis finals, that would take place at the Seminole Avenue Clubhouse courts.

A grand march was assembled in an exquisitely decorated fairyland pavilion. Despite rain for the first in nine years of July 4th festivals, attendees enjoyed their experience overall, and the Forest Hills Masonic Temple (later Sterling National Bank) on Continental Avenue accommodated the largest crowd ever.

The Bulletin read, “After being aroused by the picturesque town criers, the villagers met on the Green and were inspired by the Flag Raising exercises (9:30 a.m.) and the eloquent address of Dr. Albert Sheppard, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills, who spoke of the way the really great men are maligned in their own day. With the (thirty-piece) band accompaniment, the Forest Hills Choral Club gave a program of patriotic music.”

Part of the festivities was a two-day event that was referred to as an exhibition of moving pictures of the 4th of July celebration in 1921.

A new 4th of July attraction in 1922 was a musical parade, led by Harvey Warren as the Pied Piper, which was followed by children dressed up as fairies and sunbeams among other costumes. This novelty was coordinated by Mrs. Donald G. Clark and S.W. Eckman, and participants received prizes. After the band marched, Uncle Sam, portrayed by Walter Hartwig and Columbia, portrayed by Ruth Davies, and a bicycle rider group and wheels and riders in patriotic colors followed. The Bulletin read, “‘Children of all Nations,’ interesting and colorful, was followed by an attractive group, the ‘Robin Hood Band’ of Exeter Street. The graceful Maypole Dance came next, pretty and attractive. The Audubon Society brought forth applause, led by a big crow and a number of little birds, the middle-sized ones carrying a birdhouse, which had been skillfully made by C.H.W. Hasselriis. This was followed by a group representing the Library Station, with a large book leading – the handicraft of Jules Gingras. The Community House float pulled by Boy Scouts elicited much praise for the makers of the model, (architect) John A. Tompkins and George H. Merrill. Last of all came Niels F. Holch pulling a small white model of the swimming pool of the Community House, and in the pool the Holch children dressed in red.”

The Tudor-style Station Square served as a backdrop for games that intrigued younger and older generations and tested prowess, endurance, and physical skill. Under Dr. W.F. Saybolt’s direction, children were happy campers, with prizes in hand. At 3:30 p.m., Olivia Park, the nature-inspired amphitheater that was often admired for its sylvan setting, hosted interpretative dances despite the rain.

The Bulletin stated, “The program consisted of a number of dances, beautifully executed by the pupils of the (notable) Chalif Normal School of Dancing, assisted by Joseph Kardos, pianist, Miss Irma Braver, soprano, Joseph Diskay, tenor, and Imerio Ferrari, baritone.” The traditional dancing in the name of patriotism in Station Square was abridged due to rain, so the ballroom of the Forest Hills Inn was in the spotlight.

Perlman: Lights… Camera… ‘Maestro’

The track record of Forest Hills’ cinematic and televised history continues to be more diverse, with writer and director Bradley Cooper coming to town!

Special delivery of classic cars (Photo by Pat Lannan)

From June 15 to June 18, Markwood Road, as well as Summer Street between Greenway South and Seasongood Road was transformed into the 1940s, with the addition of classic, colorful cars alongside Forest Hills Gardens’ historic Tudor and Arts & Crafts architecture and lush landscapes.

“Maestro,” which is also being referred to as “Rybernia” under Panthera Productions, may remain as its designated title.

It will be a Netflix biopic that chronicles the life of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, and particularly spotlights his love and marriage to Felicia Montealegre.

The cast features notable names including Cooper, who portrays Bernstein, Carey Mulligan as Montealegre, Sarah Silverman as Bernstein’s sister, Maya Hawke, and Batt Bomer.

The production team also features Josh Singer, who scripted this latest work, as well as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Todd Phillips.

Singer was the recipient of an Academy Award for “Spotlight” as Best Original Screenplay in 2015.

In “The Life of Leonard Bernstein” by Jim Whitting, Rybernia originated in the late 1920s when Bernstein was 10, and reflects a collaboration of his nickname and his neighbor Eddie Ryack. The biopic takes place in the 1940s, 1970s, and 1980s, and begins in black and white and transitions into color, hence the decades.

Tudor charm & a 1940s classic (Photo by Abraham Chuang_NYDeTour)

For Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series, Cooper told Mahershala Ali earlier this year, “I wanted to be a conductor since I was a kid. I was obsessed with it and asked Santa Claus for a baton when I was eight. Listening to music, falling in love with it, and being able to really know every single moment of a piece… I could do it as if I know everything about it without really being able to speak the language, obviously.”

The biopic began filming on the Upper West Side on June 6. It is set to be released next year, and will be the first film that Cooper co-wrote and directed since the remake of “A Star Is Born” in 2018.

Leonard Bernstein achieved stardom as a world’s greatest musician, and was notably the first American conductor to receive international fame.

Along with his family, he was a resident of the legendary Dakota in an eight-room apartment. Throughout his career, he was the recipient of seven Emmy Awards, 16 Grammy Awards including a Lifetime Achievement, two Tony Awards, and a Kennedy Center Honor.

Bernstein was the New York Philharmonic’s longtime music director, and achieved a legacy as the first American conductor to lead a major symphony orchestra.

With major international orchestras in his presence, it became the subject of a massive inventory of video and audio recordings. He also significantly revived the music of Gustav Mahler.

As a multi-genre composer, Bernstein pursued orchestral and symphonic music, opera, choral works, ballet, theatrical and film music, and chamber music among other works for the piano. “West Side Story” is his most recognized Broadway musical. His other signature theatrical works include “Candide,” “On The Town, “Wonderful Town,” and “MASS.”

Residents experienced the wow factor: “I love the fact that Forest Hills Gardens hasn’t really changed since the time period of the film, thanks to preservation efforts,” Pat Lannan said.

“I loved all of the cars that were used to reflect the period of time that the film will be set in. It really gave me a feeling of what it was like to walk in Forest Hills Gardens back in the 1940s, with the classic cars parked. It felt like a time machine.”

“Some things just happen, which is the charming part of living in the city,” said Abraham Chuang, the admin of the popular Facebook page NYDeTour, who noticed set location signs posted along Ascan Avenue, and then followed a trail through Seasongood Road to Summer Street.

Bradley Cooper. (Photo by Abraham Chuang_NYDeTour)

“Bradley Cooper was holding a cigarette in my photo, but I didn’t meet him face to face. There are more and more movies or TV series choosing Forest Hills and Rego Park for their scenes, and I am like, ‘What took you so long?’ Personally, I like the fact that the movie industry is starting to notice the beauty and uniqueness of Forest Hills,” he continued. “This is such a beautiful neighborhood that will alter the general impression to people who are not living in the city. Forest Hills Gardens is a fantastic secret garden with a nostalgic vibe that you can walk into, and what’s even more amazing is that every season has its own beauty.”

Upon encountering the film set, Roxana Eroxy said, “All cars talk to me, as they have stories and personalities. They are all beautiful ladies. Additionally, Forest Hills Gardens is heaven on earth, with a beautiful setting for filming old homes.”

Jeffrey Carrasquillo also expressed much excitement: “Forest Hills has been my home for the last 30 years, and I love the fact it’s being used for TV and movies. I can’t wait to see the episodes and the films!”

“I love all old cars, but I liked what looked like a circa 1950 Jackie Gleason bus the best, with its olive-green color with a yellowish trim,” he continued. “It reminded me of when it was a dime.”

Historically, film enthusiasts can find “Sentimental Tommy,” a silent drama film in 1921, and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 psychological crime thriller “Strangers on A Train,” which featured key scenes at Forest Hills Stadium.

Scenes from the 2001 film, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” were also shot on the property. The historic Eddie’s Sweet Shop accommodated scenes from the 1986 film “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” the 2007 film “The Ex,” as well as the 2010 romantic drama film, “Remember Me,” which featured Pierce Brosnan and Robert Pattinson.

Some standouts in more recent years were the five-part HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce” starring Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce, an FX spy drama “The Americans,” and a comedy-drama television series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

In October, the autobiographical drama “Armageddon Time” starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, was filmed near 6 Burns Street, and transformed it into the 1980s.

Perlman: A Prom to Remember

P.S. 101 celebrates at the Historic Tea Garden and Jade Party Room

By Michael Perlman
[email protected]

With much anticipation, three 5th grade classes from P.S. 101 came together on June 11 to celebrate their success, with a prom at the historic Tea Garden and party room of Jade Eatery in Forest Hills Gardens.

Students dance with illuminated fairy, (Photos by Michael Perlman)

A total of 65 children were joined by a small group of parents, who not only helped coordinate the prom with this columnist, and restaurant owner Kumar, but engaged in a hands-on effort for days to sweep up, spruce up, and further restore the Tea Garden, which opened in 1912 behind the Forest Hills Inn. The event also focused as a garden fundraiser.

Behind an ornate gate along Greenway Terrace lies a forgotten Tudor style Tea Garden with monumental trees and a soon-to-be restored brick fountain, which was once a community cornerstone for afternoon teas, dinner dances featuring The Inn Trio, plays by the Gardens Players, flower shows, children’s festivals, dog shows, and weddings.

As the Inn became a residence in the late 1960s and restaurants on site changed hands, the Tea Garden gradually fell into a state of disarray. On Saturday evening, the prom became the first major event in recent history to utilize this somewhat hidden gem to its fullest potential, closer to the vision of architect Grosvenor Atterbury and urban planner Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. over a century ago. Parents donated the colorful flowers surrounding the fountain area, and Kumar arranged the planting of 40 Emerald Green evergreen shrubs along the perimeters.

Similar to traditional times, the gateway was open, and the children made their way along a red carpet with colorful accent lights and took photos in front of a backsplash bearing P.S. 101 The School In The Gardens mascots and 2022 gold balloons. A glitzy disco ball themed woman stood nearby, adding to the festive ambiance.

Graduation themed balloons were throughout the garden, along with a burst of colorful balloons on the central fountain area. There was plenty of space to socialize with longtime friends and perhaps make new ones from other 5th grade classes. Children also enjoyed the popcorn machine and a Boba tea station.

Making our way into the party room, which offers a Moroccan and Asian ambiance, as well as a very high vaulted ceiling and accent lights, it proved to be the ideal setting for several tables surrounding a dancefloor. DJ Leche played energetic and sentimental dance tunes, including line dances, and a sing-along was also a major highlight. An illuminated fairy danced with the children, and was an ever-changing light show within itself. Table balloons illuminated in gold. The menu included fresh mozzarella sticks, pizza bites, chicken tenders, french fries, chicken parmigiana, baked ziti, sautéed veggies with garlic sauce, bubble tea, and smoothies.

Students lined up for popcorn

This columnist delivered a presentation on the Tea Garden’s history and continued restoration project. A screen rolled down, and in a theater style seating arrangement, the children enjoyed a slideshow of memories, dating back to their early grades at P.S. 101, as “Graduation” by Vitamin C played. Then they continued to dance the night away, and the evening ended on a high note with a class of 2022 photo in the Tea Garden.

Children and parents shared what made the prom one to cherish.

“It was really fun,” said Bella Scarola. “There are so many things that I will never forget; one of which is dancing with the light dancer.”

Reflecting on her school, she said, “One value that PS 101 taught me was to have respect for each other. Respect is like a foundation of a house. If you don’t have respect, you can’t build anything else.”

She felt privileged to celebrate in the Tea Garden, and said, “I feel very excited for its future. It was probably used for a few decades, and then they just stopped using it. Since then, I guess no one cared to clean it anymore. I am very excited and grateful the people are willing to put time and effort into cleaning a historical space in our community.”

Another happy camper was Isa Rodriguez. She said, “We got to spend time with our friends and just enjoy the moment. P.S. 101 made me have more friends. My school encourages friendships and integration.” She was also thankful that the Tea Garden was selected. “I think it’s really cool, and I feel grateful we were there with our party, and I’m part of bringing the garden back to life.”

Her mother Maggie Rodriguez was one of the parent coordinators. “This was a very anticipated event for the children and parents, especially after dealing with the pandemic. We celebrated the kids’ accomplishments in elementary school and an upcoming transition to middle school. There was great energy and much joy from adults and children, but the most meaningful was children celebrating themselves and enjoying the moment, as well as being part of restoring the Tea Garden’s history.”

The red carpet was rolled out at the Tea Garden for the occasion.

She takes pride in how her clean-up efforts attracted lots of curious passersby. “It’s absolutely a hidden gem that unfortunately was forgotten, but it will definitely come back to life, and I’m happy to know I planted a little seed for this to happen. Let’s restore the beautiful fountain and the gazebo. This enchanting garden needs more to be used to its full potential and can serve as a setting for many more memorable events.”

Lexa Ocasio felt grateful to spend time with friends, laughing and dancing in such a beautiful space. She said, “The most memorable part was the light up dancing girl and the Boba tea station in the Tea Garden. It was amazing to learn its history. I am honored that we were the first children to enjoy this beautiful space once again, as it was meant to be. I pray that the Tea Garden can be restored, so we can once again enjoy its beauty! Thank you to all the parents that made our prom possible, and to Mr. Perlman for all you do to restore and preserve our community, and for teaching us a bit of history in our own backyard.” She continued, “P.S. 101 taught me to respect and embrace different cultures, and respect other’s differences. They have also implemented self-awareness of our emotions, and how to better deal with stressful and frightening situations.”

Her mother Wendy Medina, also helped beautify “a hidden gem.” She explained, “Towards the end of the evening a student, Luke Whitman, asked me if we were going to continue to restore the Tea Garden. I expressed to him that we will continue and try our hardest. He responded, ‘I hope so. I think this is such a cool place.’” She pinpointed another engaging moment. “Passersby exhibited joy when learning that we were attempting to restore it. A nearby resident shared a story, where she saw photos of her mother as a child attending a wedding in the Tea Garden, and also shared a bit of its history, and mentioned that many celebrities visited.”

Another event coordinator and volunteer Melissa Cruz called the prom momentous and felt the party room was elegant, and the Tea Garden was charming and beautifully decorated. She said, “Passersbys peeked in and seemed to be in awe at the lovely space that came alive that night.

The Tea Garden fountain is to be restored

It had such an old-world elegance to it, and I was imagining what it was like to have parties there in the 1920s. Knowing that our children were celebrating in a space where children played a century ago felt otherworldly.” She added, “Forest Hills has so much history, and as residents, we aren’t even aware of all that has taken place in some areas we walk by daily.”

Her son Dylan Cruz said, “P.S. 101 taught me the value of friendship, how to be creative and express my ideas. As a history enthusiast, learning about the interesting history of the Tea Garden and party room made our dance more meaningful. It’s so cool to know that we are living in such a historic neighborhood.”

Jade Eatery has continuously lived up to being a destination for parties, and is also complete with a patio and a large dining area surrounding a koi fish pond, leading to a bar and gallery. Reflecting upon the event, owner Kumar said, “I’m always here to help everyone. My team and I, along with parents, worked very hard to make this event successful. Chef Richard made great American food with all his love. All of the children were dancing, and what a great DJ!”

P.S. 101’s 5th grade class of 2022 in the Tea Garden.

Looking ahead, repairing water features and stonework, planting more evergreens, as well as colorful rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and azaleas alongside the original trees from 1912, could become a reality. The replication of a long-lost ring for tea stand by Flushing Iron Weld and this columnist is nearly complete.

Kumar continued, “Our community should approach the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation to help support the Tea Garden’s restoration. This event elicited over 100-plus years of memories.”

 

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