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Celebrity Walk, A Forest Hills Mystery Partially Solved

Since 2015, a dedicated group of preservationists have been searching for long-vanished cement slabs featuring the handprints, footprints, and autographs of tennis and music stars that were once part of Celebrity Walk.
Celebrity Walk was located in front of Forest Hills Inn in Station Square. Before being converted to a co-op, the inn was the center of a classy social life, and Celebrity Walk was the local version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When searches of the tunnel-like Forest Hills Inn basement turned up no results and with no known photos, some people assumed it was just an urban legend.
But rumors circulated that a sidewalk reconstruction led to their relocation. Some people recalled seeing them placed in the inn’s basement in a potentially concealed tunnel for safekeeping, possibly in the late 1970’s.
After intense networking, over a year ago this columnist discovered five Celebrity Walk slabs in a garage at a home near Puritan Avenue and Greenway North. The slabs were left behind by a previous homeowner.
Last Friday, Forest Hills Stadium concert manager Mike Luba and Mitch Cohen, president of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, arrived at the home with a crew. They took the fragile concrete slabs to Forest Hills Stadium, where they will be restored and displayed.
The rescued slabs feature comedian Buddy Hackett, trumpeter Herb Alpert, actor Trini Lopez, director, Woody Allen, and Australian tennis player John Newcombe.
There are more slabs to be discovered, and the goal is to find the full collection. A few years ago, another homeowner donated a slab to the West Side Tennis Club featuring the signatures and handprints of tennis players Jack Kramer, Bill Talbert, and Manolo Santana.
“It’s a work in progress and I want to be part of it,” said crew member Wilson Brito. “We’ll get there. We’ll bring all the history back to where it belongs, and once we maintain that we can pass it on to the next generation and let them take care of it.”
Celebrity Walk originated in the mid-1960s and was the brainchild of Mark Fleischman, owner of the famed Studio 54 nightclub. From May 1965 to 1968, he also co-owned the 300-room Forest Hills Inn and adjoining apartments
“I loved coming up with press-generating ideas, including the creation of Celebrity Walk in front of the hotel’s sidewalk cafe,” he said. “Marketing seemed to come easily to me.”
At the time, the inn included cocktail lounges, a formal dining room known as the Windsor Room, sidewalk cafe, the Tea Garden, and four social rooms accommodating 400 guests.
“The Inn was a venerable hotel that looked like an English country manor,” said Fleischman. “It was a real coup when we got Frank Sinatra to put his handprints into a block of wet cement when he headlined the Forest Hills Music Festival at the nearby tennis stadium.
“As soon as other celebrities heard about Sinatra’s handprints and signature, they agreed to be included in our Celebrity Walk when they performed,” he added.
“The Forest Hills Inn has Frank Sinatra’s and Barbra Streisand’s handprints imbedded on their sidewalk pavement, but it had to get them the hard way,” read an article from 1965 in the Long Island Star-Journal. “Both stars agreed to make the imprint, but refused to do it at the sidewalk. So wet cement was sent to both stars, the imprints made, and the hardened blocks were then inserted in the pavement.”
West Side Tennis Club is always looking for items from the club’s long and storied history.
“These past few years, some wonderful items have been donated to the club, both solicited and unsolicited,” read a statement from the club.

If you have historic WSTC/Forest Hills items, email [email protected]

Forest Hills home shares its past

“If only walls could talk” may be a cliché, but for 41-year-old Erica Lyn, who lives in a home at Continental Avenue and Nansen Street that dates back to the 1920s, her walls began to tell a story.
Two days into a renovation project in her bathroom last month, she discovered nearly ten 100-year-old letters, one photo, and a handful of magazines in the walls.
“I turned on the light and noticed a letter on top of the light switch,” she said. “It was a letter from a mother to her dearest son. When I saw the date, I thought ‘Oh my goodness, this letter is almost 100 years old!’
She asked the work crew where they found the letter.
“They said there was a lot more paper that they found,” Lyn said, but they threw it all in the trash. “We searched through 40 bags of debris to find two bags filled with the letters and such.”
Lyn noted there is an unfinished attic above the bathroom.
“I’m thinking that at some point the bag filled with letters fell through the attic, although when you’re in the attic you don’t see anywhere where it could fall through,” she said. “It’s kind of an enigma to me. I don’t think they were intentionally hidden.”
Lyn believes the letters were meant to be found.
“We came so close to not even renovating the bathroom, and it was just the timing of it all,” she said. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for that one letter on top of the light switch, I never would’ve known that any of this existed, since the workers threw everything else in the garbage.”
One of the letters was from Rose to Fred Jacoby, Jr.
“Did you meet any girls on your trip?” it read. “I meant to ask you before you went away, if you were angry because I went with those fellows, there was many other things I wanted to ask you, but I didn’t have chance to see you alone. You see if I thought you would have cared to go out with me, I wouldn’t have gone with those fellows.”
The magazines included issues of “Camera Art Photo Classics” “French Frolics (La Vie Parisienne)” from March 1925.
Lyn learned that Fred was a young man at the time who did some traveling and was also in the air corps.
“I saw one photograph where there is a picture of a man next to a plane,” she said. “I also learned that the family probably immigrated from Germany, since there is a list that is written in German.”
Beside the content, the fine penmanship transported her back in time.
“Truth be told, many of the letters are not the easiest to read only because the cursive is extremely fine, and the way they wrote was a little bit different than how we speak today,” Lyn said. “I’m still trying to decipher many of the letters.”
Lyn may donate the items to a museum or try to find the descendants and pass them along.
“I would definitely like to scan everything, especially the letters, and I wouldn’t be opposed to donating them to a museum of art and design,”she said. “If the family really wanted them, then I would give it to them.”
The power of social media has been integral in the memorabilia’s journey. Lyn has already reached out to one of the descendants, who expressed interest in meeting.
“I’m hoping to have her over once the mess is cleaned up from the renovation work,” she said. “I also found another number of a descendant and will be calling her this week.
“I’ve always loved history, puzzles, and figuring things out,” Lyn added. “So this has been an exciting journey trying to piece together who this family was and trying to get in touch with the family now.”
Lyn believes her house has more discoveries for her.
“I’m going to be pulling up some floorboards in the attic and try to figure out how in the world a whole stash of letters got to where they were found in the bathroom wall,” she said.

‘Armageddon Time’ films to Forest Hills

Forest Hills was the backdrop for some recent scenes of “Armageddon Time,” a coming-of-age drama about being raised in Queens in the 1980s.
On October 8, some scenes was filmed along Burns Street between Continental Avenue and Tennis Place in Forest Hills Gardens.
Commuters exiting the Long Island Railroad might have noticed 1980s-style vehicles and young cast members.
The autobiographical drama was written and directed by James Gray and produced by Brazilian producer Rodrigo Teixeira. The cast features Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Donald Sutherland, Oscar Isaac, and Cate Blanchett.
Gray is known for his films “Little Odessa,” “The Yards,” “We Own The Night,” “Two Lovers,” “The Immigrant,” “The Lost City of Z,” and “Ad Astra.”
Based on Gray’s childhood memories, it offers a window into loyalty and friendship, as well as racial tension and bigotry, at a time America was poised to elect Ronald Reagan.
Twelve-year-old Paul Graff is raised in a warm and raucous family, where his grandpa encourages his artistic goals. His best friend, John Crocker, is an African-American student.
“I’m anxious to make something that is very much about people, about human emotions, and interactions between people,” Gray told Deadline in 2020. “In some sense, yes, it’s about my childhood, but an illustration of familial love really on every level.
“I got in big trouble when I was around 11, and the story is about my movement from the public education that I got into private school and a world of privilege,” he added. “This film is about what that meant for me and how lucky I was, and how unlucky my friend was.”
After a drug-related incident, Paul’s parents transfer him to The Kew-Forest School, a private prep institution in Forest Hills. At that time, the best friends devise a scheme to escape their lives and flee to Florida.
“It’s symbolic about what the school represented at the time, entrenched in this white protestant ethic,” Gray said. “It’s about that transition, and how it reflects on what the American society was and sadly still is. How we are separated along the lines of class and ethnicity.”
Other shows that have recently filmed in Forest Hills include “Mildred Pierce,” “The Americans” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Rose Chin-Wolner nearly wandered onto the set last week.
“Forest Hills Gardens was modeled after an English village, and is therefore a desirable setting for many movies and TV series,” she said.

End overcrowding

Dear Editor,
As a graduate of Forest Hills High School (Class of 1957), I was shocked to learn that 4,000 students now attend my alma mater. That’s nearly four times the number when I went there, and many of them live far from Forest Hills.
Parents complain that students don’t have enough room for the social distancing required by COVID-19 protocols.
The reason for overcrowding at FHHS and other high schools is a change in admission policy that occurred under former mayor Mike Bloomberg. Students were enrolled in the high school closest to their home for more than a century.
That changed in 2004, when the Department of Education introduced a school choice program requiring all 8th graders to submit a list of 12 high schools they
wish to attend, no matter where they lived.
The DOE would match student preferences with each school’s attendance capacity. The intent was noble, but the results are a nightmare.
Schools with a high rate of college admissions, like FHHS, are flooded with students, while under-performing schools lose students and funding, which is based on enrollment. Thus they have fewer resources to improve.
The DOE must restore the zone-based system of high school enrollment except for the eight specialized high schools that require a rigorous admissions test.
This will create a fairer balance of enrollment at all high schools and a better education for all of our city’s students.
Sincerely,
Richard Reif
Kew Gardens Hills

Forest Hills Green Team works for a more sustainable neighborhood

From August 21 to August 29, the Forest Hills Green Team (FHGT) hosted multiple free events to engage community members on environmental initiatives.
The events included How to Take Care of Neighborhood Trees, Progressive Potluck Picnic, Composting 101, Tree Care and Flower Planting, Urban Farmer Primer, and Voter Registration Climate Protection.
Formed in 2018, the FHGT is an organization of volunteers dedicated to the environmental health of Forest Hills and the surrounding areas. The FHGT worked with the Parks Department and Democracy NYC to host the events, which included voter registration drives.
“Our goal is to encourage grassroots support in mitigating the challenges we face in dealing with climate change,” said Mark Laster, co-chair of the FHGT.
Past FHGT projects have include partnering with MELS High School to develop a school garden, partnering with Forest Hills High School to create a community garden, creating a compost scrap drop-off site, and beautifying and maintaining Yellowstone Boulevard.
Former advocacy projects include testifying in support for safe NYC shoreline protection and hosting presentations and meetings with politicians about supporting the OFF Fossil Fuels Act.
Laster said that the advocacy projects really come into play more than the on-the-ground work when trying to make a difference in the fight against climate change.
“I think there is a growing awareness of these issues in our area, but there still needs to be a continued push,” said Laster, “There are plans afoot for groups like 350 NYC to work together to try to promote climate legislation and organize rallies, and I think that’s how we’re beginning to see how we can really have an impact.”
More recently, the FHGT beautified Yellowstone Boulevard with funding from a grant they received in 2019.
“We had a big project in 2019 where we got a grant and we brought basically 30 volunteers and cleaned up that whole area,” said Laster. “We planted some trees and flowers, and we’ve been going back on a regular basis to maintain it and plant more.”
The FHGT also recently introduced a food drop-off site in MacDonald Park. The farmers market in the park used to have a composting site before the pandemic.
Once things started to open up again, there wasn’t enough funding for composting, so the FHGT jumped in to fill the gap with help from the Queens Botanical Garden. They started with one bin and now regularly fill four.
The FHGT used to have monthly meetings in the library, but when COVID hit they stopped and switched to virtual meetings. This was just one of the many adjustments they’ve had to make during the pandemic.
“Most of our activities were outdoors so we couldn’t do anything, because at the height of the pandemi] nobody could be outdoors,” said Laster, “When things began to open up again we began to do more outdoor events.”
The FHGT’s weekend voter registration event took place during the drop-off site hours.
“We just want people to realize how important it is to vote,” said Anisia Ayon, a FHGT volunteer who was present at the event, “We make people more aware about climate change, which is very important because it’s affecting a lot of things in our life. Our goal is to educate our community.”
Surrounding the compost bins and voter registration table were other volunteers from Friends of MacDonald Park. They were picking up litter, sweeping, and weeding.
“I want more funding for this park,” said Stephen Melnik, volunteer organizer and nine-year veteran of FHGT. “We need a new watering system, better and more garbage receptacles, and trees to be maintained. We’re just trying to get the park in order.”

The mayor that once lived in Forest Hills

Forest Hills has had a lot of notable residents over the years. Among them is former mayor John Francis Hylan, who resided in a charming stucco Mediterranean Revival home at 2 Olive Place and Continental Avenue in Forest Hills Gardens.
In May 1932, The New Yorker reported that two white light globes were installed in front to symbolize his mayoral terms.
Hylan was raised on a 60-acre farm in Greene County in the Catskill. With $3.50 in his pocket, he made his way by stage coach and boat to New York City. In 1918, he would become the city’s 96th mayor, serving until 1925.
In 1921, his re-election bid was a success after defeating a mass transit fare increase and founding a commission to reconfigure the transportation system. He played an integral role in the creation of a subway owned and operated by the public, the Independent Subway System, which began operations on March 14, 1925.
A complete city-operated subway would come to fruition 15 years later, when the ISS/IND merged with the IRT and BMT.
Before becoming mayor, a young Hylan was employed with the Brooklyn Union Elevated Railroad, which was renamed the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company and operated streetcar trains in Brooklyn and Queens.
It joined forces with the Interborough Rapid Transit System to launch a dual contract system of unregulated and privately controlled transportation. Hylan’s eventually became a lawyer who fought Tammany Hall’s advances, but eventually became their loyal candidate.
Incidentally, the earliest known sound recording of a New York City mayor features Hylan’s 1921 speech accepting the nomination for mayor.
During his tenure, Hylan focused on the need for home rule, opposing the governor’s appointed transit commission, which he emphasized holds the power to “nullify subway contracts and take away the five-cent fare.” He advocated for taking away subway leases from private companies.
In 1920, the 19th amendment granted citizens the right to vote regardless of gender. In Hylan’s acceptance speech, he stated, “In the conduct of municipal affairs, the women of this city have been a most potent factor. This administration acknowledges the splendid and efficient service which they have rendered.”
If one looks closely for signs of Mayor John F. Hylan in Forest Hills, his name is inscribed on a plaque from 1923 at the landmarked Engine 305/H & L. Co. 151.
Hylan was active in local community life. He was a judge at the Forest Hills lady popularity contest in 1930 at the Forest Hills Theatre, which featured Agnes Geraghty of Olympic swimming fame and musical comedy star Dorothy Stone.
In the early 1930s, he served as Justice of the Queens Children’s Court.
At the time of his passing, the Associated Press reported, “Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia ordered flags on all public buildings lowered to half-staff and instructed Police Commissioner Valentine to mobilize a uniformed escort for the funeral.”
His final resting place is in St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village.
In 1922, “Mayor Hylan of New York: An Autobiography” was published.
“In order to succeed, one cannot be selfish,” he wrote. “If you make rosy the path for another, your own path, beyond any doubt, will be bright. The lesson involved in this message applies equally to rich and poor, to the city lad as well as to the farmer’s son.”

Chaplain’s recovery celebrated on one-year anniversary of crash

Staff at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills celebrated the one-year anniversary of the recovery of it’s chaplain, Fr. Radu Titonea.
One year ago on August 5, Fr. Radu and Dr. Orlando Santandreu, chief of Obstetrics/Gynecology, were on jet skis when a four-foot wave caused Fr. Radu to suffer a near fatal crash.
Fr. Radu shattered his face and neck in the crash. Dr. Santandreu was 100 feet behind the chaplain when he saw him fall.
“The water was very choppy and I think that he slipped forward, and as he was coming down the jet ski was coming up and then they crashed,” said Dr. Santandreu.
“It looked like he was just jumping off and going for a swim,” he said. “I drove up to him and he was face down. I turned him over and he was bleeding.”
After getting Fr. Radu to shore, Dr. Santandreu attempted to resuscitate him with backward chest compressions. He worked on him for 20 minutes and was beginning to lose hope when a tugboat appeared and transported the pair to the hospital.
“I was literally looking for some sign, and that’s when I saw the tugboat,” said Dr. Santandreu.
Fr. Radu was intubated on a bed where he would lay unconscious for three weeks, fighting for his life. He endured three strokes.But six months later, the chaplain returned to work without any memory of the accident .
Fr. Radu credits his recovery to the power of prayer. During the time when he was unconscious, hospital staff from multiple religions came together and prayed for his recovery.
“Because of everybody’s prayers and support, I am the way I am today,” said Fr. Radu. “I consider LIJ Forest Hills my extended family, you guys were there for me.”
Fr. Radu and Dr. Santandeu had only been jet skiing together once before.
“I thought he needed more of a break than me because it was the middle of COVID, he was working a lot of hours, and he liked it and I knew that was an escape for him,” said Dr. Santandreu.

New hospital head seeks to reveal hidden gem

Long Island Jewish (LIG) Forest Hills recently announced that Queens native Lorraine Chambers Lewis has taken the reins as the hospital’s new executive director, a position she says she will leverage to provide quality care to the diverse community while growing the hospital’s profile.
A local hospital that has over the past year become well known for its efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic’s ravaging effects on the community, Chambers Lewis said her current priority is getting the word out to the community that the hospital has a plethora of other services.
“In terms of our vision in what we would like to do and continue to grow is our presence in the community,” she said. “For folks to really see us as that go-to place when they need acute care, but also addressing their chronic needs.
“We’re building our ambulatory presence in the area, and we really want folks to understand what we do here,” Chambers Lewis continued. “I think there are still so many folks who don’t understand the gem that is here in Forest Hills. We have a lot going on that we’re excited about.”
As a leader, Chambers Lewis brings decades of experience in a diverse variety of roles, many of which saw her serving on the front lines of healthcare, having worked in emergency medicine, critical care, internal medicine and occupational health.
Her first role in healthcare started as a nursing assistant at a skilled nursing facility when she was 18 years old, followed by work as an emergency medical technician on a college campus in an ambulance.
From there she became a physician’s assistant, a role she served in for 28 years.
In 2002, she became a supervising physician assistant for LIG Medical Center, where she oversaw the daily operations of the hospital’s emergency department fast track, before becoming a corporate director of Northwell Health’s Employee Health Services in 2007.
In that role, she helped develop and launch a COVID-19 employee vaccination program that has immunized more than 50,000 staff members, as well as Northwell’s first injury management and prevention program for employee safety.
Chambers Lewis said that having this diversity of experience, including working as a frontline and emergency healthcare worker, has given her a unique perspective on healthcare work, which enables her to view a patient’s perspective with a wider lens.
“I think that in my clinical career, I’ve had the honor of being a part of these different environments that give me a full 360 degree view to the experiences that the patient goes through,” she said.
In her new role, Chambers Lewis succeeds Susan Browning, who led the Queens hospital since 2015, but is now taking on the role of senior vice president of Business Development for Northwell Health.
“Our community has been a strong advocate and partner in all that we have thus accomplished at LIJ Forest Hills,” Browning said. “As we continue to move our many initiatives forward, including the broad expansion of our ambulatory network, this partnership will remain critically important.”
Touching on some of the challenges that she faced as the hospital’s administrative head, Browning noted that “LIJ Forest Hills serves the most diverse patient population in arguably the entire country.
“Add to it that the demographics of Queens is constantly changing and you can imagine the challenge of trying to meet the health care needs of patients coming into our hospital,” she added.
The community’s diverse population is an aspect that Chambers Lewis has a particular sense of connection with. A first-generation American born to Jamaican parents, Chambers Lewis said that she understands the trials that people can face when dealing with health issues in an unfamiliar environment.
“We prioritize being sensitive to what people are feeling and the differences in how everyone addresses healthcare or addresses pain, what they communicate, what they don’t communicate,” she said.
Serving the community is a nearly equally diverse workforce according to Chambers Lewis, which she believes is equal to the task of meeting those challenges.
“We speak hundreds of languages, from every corner of the world there is someone who works here,” she said. “Having a diverse workforce puts us in a really great position to meet the needs of the community best.”
While there are many priorities Chambers Lewis has set for her hospital, tackling the coronavirus pandemic that is seeing a resurgence remains at the top of the list.
After more than a year of hard-earned experience, however, she is convinced that her team is more than up to the task of doing so.
“This community was hit very, very hard and the team here had to learn and adapt in a time where there was no vaccine,” Chambers Lewis said. “We didn’t know where this was going, how contagious it was and the treatment has evolved so much.
“The team feels much more prepared and I think that’s what’s changed,” she added of potentially facing a second wave of COVID. “Even if something changes again, we know how to pivot. We won’t get caught off guard.”
Chambers Lewis said prioritizing the mental wellbeing of staff members is also a priority for her team.
“We have to prioritize and make sure that we are taking care of our team members,” she said. “We are going to get a better outcome and it is going to be better for them.”
COVID is still a top priority at the moment, but Chambers Lewis stresses that there are still other health issues that residents need to prioritize and encourages people avoid using the pandemic as an excuse to not tackle other needs.
“I worry about advanced illness and advanced diseases not being diagnosed, not being addressed,” she said. “We want to make sure that people know there are still things to take care of other than COVID.”
Chambers Lewis can often be seen roaming the halls of her new hospital, saying hello to patients and getting to know her staff members. She can also be spotted at various local events around the area.
“In Queens, I think it’s really important to be a part of the community, for people to see you,” she said. “I would like to learn more about this part of Queens. I think there’s always an opportunity to learn more, so I may ask a lot of questions sometimes and hopefully folks will see value in that.”

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