Ruhling: The Woman who takes History to Heart

As a historian, Heather Nicole Lonks Minty is used to telling stories.

Other people’s.

So that’s where we start.

We’re in England, where in 1909 two suffragettes, identified as a Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan, find a novel way to draw attention to the cause.

They mail themselves to the prime minister at No. 10 Downing St. so they can advocate, in person, for the right to vote. (The postal charge is 3 pence, and the “human letters” are unceremoniously returned when the recipient refuses to sign for them.)

Heather starts a new job next month.

“A delivery boy had to actually walk them there,” Heather says, smiling at their audacity and cleverness. “During the mailbox bombing and arson campaign of 1912 through 1914, one woman used to hide explosive devices in her wheelchair.”

In the United States, the women were not so militant. In 1917, they merely chained themselves to the fence around the White House to get President Woodrow Wilson’s attention.

Heather, a tall woman with glamorous gold-rimmed spectacles, tells these and other stories about everyday people to make history come alive.

Whether you’re talking about women picketing to get the right to vote or young men protesting the draft, the stories resonate because “it could be you or someone in your family,” she says.

That’s why she finds walking tours so thrilling: You get to stand in a space where history took place.

As far as Heather’s own history, it starts in Flushing, where she was born 32 years ago and where she spent most of her childhood and young adulthood.

At LIU Post, she earned a bachelor’s degree in TV and radio (she loves watching historical documentaries, and her thesis was a video walking tour of the Civil War draft riots) then proceeded to earn a master’s in public history at Royal Holloway, University of London.

“Public history is all about getting history to the public,” she says. “These days, there are many engaging ways to tell stories that are not just exhibitions in museums.”

After returning to New York, she landed a job at the New-York Historical Society, a move that would change her own history in ways she never imagined.

It was there that she met Chris Minty, a “cute” Scotsman fascinated with U.S. history who had a fellowship with the museum.

“We actually were in London at the same time, both frequenting the same research libraries when I was in college, and I did take some day trips to Scotland, but our paths never crossed,” she says.

They were introduced at a staff meeting, but Heather wasn’t impressed enough to pay much attention to him.

It was Tinder that kindled their romance.

“I swiped right, but I still didn’t recognize him,” she says, adding that the people on fellowships like Chris had separate work areas so she never saw him. “He sent me a message saying he thought we worked in the same building.”

Heather thought it was a pickup line until she verified the information.

On Nov. 4, 2014 – Heather, ever the historian, remembers the exact date – they met for coffee.

“Our love of history connected us,” she says. “We spent five hours talking – it’s probably the longest coffee date known to man.”

Their relationship deepened their appreciation not only for each other but also for their respective areas of study.

“He opened my eyes to parts of American history I had never seen before,” Heather says.

Although they had been dating only a couple of weeks, Chris traveled all the way from Morningside Heights to Flushing to have Thanksgiving dinner with Heather and her parents.

“The holiday, of course, is not celebrated in Scotland, so he really didn’t know what he was getting into,” she says. “My mother sent him home with so much food – and he discovered corn bread.”

Heather makes history come alive.

They married and moved themselves and their voluminous collection of history books to Boston, where Chris had been offered a job.

Heather took a position with the Boston Athenaeum and later worked for the Boston Arts Academy Foundation then Respond, whose mission is to end domestic violence.

At the end of 2020, during the pandemic, they returned to New York to be closer to Heather’s family.

Heather was working for Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit that focuses on New York City’s and state’s finances and services, when their daughter, Isla, was born.

(For the record, the only reason Isla, who is 6 months old, has not visited a museum yet is because of covid restrictions.)

Next month, after taking a short break in her career, Heather’s starting a new job as the development director of an institute in New Jersey whose mission is gender equality, which syncs with her keen interest in women’s rights.

“Having a daughter makes this even more exciting because instead of fighting only for myself now, I’m fighting for her and her generation,” she says. “That makes it easier for me to leave her and go back to work.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected];  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Perlman: Celebrating Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.’s 200th Birthday

By Michael Perlman

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Most recently at the Church-in-the-Gardens Community House, local residents among scholars celebrated the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., “the father of American landscape architecture.” His other titles are social critic, journalist, and public administrator. Guests gave a champagne toast to Olmsted’s legacy and enjoyed a cake bearing his photo. This event was coordinated by the Forest Hills Gardens Foundation, and furthermore, Olmsted’s anniversary is being celebrated in parks and communities countrywide.

Olmsted was born on April 26, 1822, in Hartford, Ct., and passed away on August 28, 1903, in Belmont, MA. Among his most significant accomplishments are the landscapes of Central Park, Riverside Park and Drive, Prospect Park, Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Long Island, Ocean Parkway and Eastern Parkway, Morningside Park, Downing Park in Newburgh, the U.S. Capitol, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. His son, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr, designed Forest Hills Gardens, along with principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury.

“Frederick Law Olmsted was a Renaissance man,” Justin Martin, a Forest Hills Gardens resident and author of “Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted,” a definitive biography, said. He delivered a slideshow presentation and engaged his audience of over 50 attendees with his encyclopedic style approach.

Martin explained an early experience that would shape Olmsted’s achievements. “When he was growing up in Hartford, his family was in the habit of taking horseback excursions into the countryside. He would sit up in front with his father on a saddle. For hours on end, his family would travel through the countryside, in silent contemplation of nature.”

When Olmsted was 14, he dropped out of school and began seeking a profession. A solid one was being a surveyor, but he did not take it seriously. Martin explained, “pretending to learn the profession, he was in the habit of sneaking off, going hiking, and wandering around in the woods.” Then his father decided that it was time for his son to settle down. Martin continued, “he arranged for him to move to NYC and get a job at a milkshake firm, but he hated the 9-to-5 hours.”

Olmsted also explored farming. “It made sense, since 70 percent of the population in this era was involved in agriculture. He bounced around from state to state and farm to farm, before encountering a very attractive situation in Staten Island,” Martin said.

That is the site of Olmsted’s farmhouse at 4515 Hylan Boulevard and farm, which was home from 1848 to 1855. Tosomock Farm is where he began experimenting with landscaping and agricultural techniques, resulting in improvements that influenced his later countrywide designs. Today this rare survivor is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is awaiting significant restoration. Martin serves on the board of an organization committed to restoring it. He said, “we are also hoping to open it as a museum dedicated to agriculture and its most famous resident.”

Olmsted pointed out that England was in the seat of scientific farming, and he could learn some agricultural best practices that he could bring home to Staten Island. His father always had a soft spot for farming. Back at Tosomock Farm, he encountered George Putnam, who later published “Walks and Talks of an American Farmer,” Olmsted’s book, which chronicles his England walking tour.

In autumn 1852, Olmsted as a farmer, set off to the south, spoke everywhere, and produced a superb series of dispatches that placed the new New York Times on the map. Martin said, “He recently visited model farms of England and had his own operation in Staten Island and paid people to work for him, in contrast to slavery. He found the south to be an image of surpassing natural beauty.” After leaving Staten Island, he relocated to Manhattan and acquired a position as an editor and writer for Putnam’s Monthly.

After the Crash of 1857, he was jobless. He continued, “Olmsted was forced to take a modest job, where he was to drain swamps on a scruffy piece of land, very prosaically named for its position in the middle of NYC, called Central Park. He was to clear this piece of land for someone else’s design.” The original plan for Central Park dates to 1858. The amateurish design was eventually scrapped.

Olmsted would team up with his senior partner, landscape architect Calvert Vaux, who explained that in his native country of England if one wishes to have the best design, hold a public competition. “There were 33 contestants, and 32 rated somewhere between a B minus and a flat F, but the Olmsted and Vaux design received an A+,” Martin explained. It was a massive undertaking. “As each section would open to the public, people from various backgrounds were mixing and mingling in the park,” Martin said. In Olmsted’s generation, people came of age in the 1840s and were very committed to social justice. As for landscape architecture, Olmsted finally found a worthy means of addressing a generational mandate via social justice, and he described Central Park as “A democratic development of the highest significance.”

During the Civil War, Olmsted made his way to Washington D.C. and headed the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a predecessor to the American Red Cross. “This organization supplied immeasurable aid to wounded soldiers,” said Martin. He oversaw the creation and operation of field hospitals and medical boats and established quarantine procedures.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, communities countrywide began clamoring for parks to be built. He explained, “Communities wanted their ‘Central Park.’ It was like a dam bursting. The natural team to turn to was Olmsted & Vaux, and they produced a series of masterpieces across the country. Their sophomore initiative was Prospect Park.”

Olmsted, with his stepson John Charles working in the firm, designed masterpieces including a park system for Boston known as the Emerald Necklace, Cherokee Park in KY, and the grounds for the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1895, Olmsted’s final major commission was the Biltmore Estate. “The client was George Washington Vanderbilt II, the wealthiest person on earth,” said Martin. That was when his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. collaborated on this project, serving as an apprenticeship. “He urged him to review and train yourself, and if you don’t get it now, you never will,” continued Martin.

A few years later, Olmsted passed away, and sons John Charles and Flo, Jr. stepped into a ready-made profession. They coined a landscape architecture firm, the Olmsted Brothers, and followed in their father’s footsteps by designing 20th-century countrywide masterpieces encompassing parks and private estates. Flo, Jr. became the firm’s public face. Martin said, “They refined and refurbished their father’s parks. Parks are like living artwork that are never really completed.” With the advent of automobiles, they repurposed horse-drawn carriage roads. They also focused on new areas that were unexplored by their father, such as corporate campuses.

Whereas Olmsted Sr. produced a manifesto calling for a national park service, Flo, Jr. helped shape its mission statement. His excerpt read, “Promoting public recreation and public interest through the use and enjoyment by the people of natural scenery and objects of interest.” Flo, Jr. was involved in the design of national parks including Acadia, The Everglades, and the Great Smoky Mountains, which included creating pathways to scenic overlooks and enabling hiking. Martin said, “The Olmsted Brothers was much more involved with urban planning for cities and their future direction. Flo, Jr. would draw up plans for Utica, Detroit, Rochester, and New Haven, and famously be involved in the McMillan Commission, which was an effort to beautify public spaces in Washington, D.C., known as the National Mall.”

In 1908, the Russell Sage Foundation embarked upon its first major project to create a model community in Queens, it was natural to turn to Flo, Jr. Martin said, “For the Forest Hills Gardens, he would closely apply his father’s design principles, such as intense attention to detail and a real commitment to nature and democratic spaces.”

Martin explained, “As you travel through our neighborhood, bear in mind that with Olmsted and his grand 19th-century designs, you can draw a direct line to Forest Hills Gardens, designed by his son.” Bruce Eaton, Forest Hills Gardens Foundation president, presented a Forest Hills Gardens video drawing the eye on outstanding characteristics and featured vintage and recent photos of the earliest planned English garden community. He pinpointed a lasting impact of the Olmsted’s, such as curved streets and shared green spaces. He also cited Martin’s article for “Cottage Living” in 2007, where he explained, “While Flo designed Central Park for a much larger geography, Flo, Jr. incorporated small parks into the Gardens. He believed that the larger the park, the more likely that visitors would not connect and move about behind a veil of urban anonymity.”

Some communal spaces are Station Square, the Tea Garden, Greenway Terrace and Flagpole Green, Olivia Park, and Hawthorne Park. The clip also featured the irregularity of intersections, so visitors will not know what to anticipate. In some cases, homes do not face a main artery. Curved streets with Tudor and Arts & Crafts homes, appealing vistas, and diverse monumental trees and plants are everlasting trademarks that reflect the Olmsteds’ legacy.

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The Tea Garden Restoration Committee At Work

By Michael Perlman

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Since last fall, the Tea Garden, nestled behind an ornate gate bearing Forest Hills Gardens’ logo on Greenway Terrace, and accessible through Jade Eatery’s party room, has been subject to a series of fundraising history tours, led by this columnist.

Over a week ago, the Tea Garden Restoration Committee, comprised of industry professionals including an architect and designers, local residents, and Jade owner Kumar, toured this long-forgotten treasure, where architectural and landscaping features meriting restoration and replication were pinpointed.

Step back to May 1912The iconic Tudor-style Forest Hills Inn once featured several elegant social spaces including a Tea Garden designed by Forest Hills Gardens principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury, in partnership with the prominent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. An August 1923 ad read, “an excellently appointed American Plan Hotel, catering to a discriminating transient and permanent clientele.”

It also referenced “exquisite cuisine, most attractive rates, dining room accommodations for motorists, and afternoon tea in the English Tea Garden.”

The Windsor Room, which was the inn’s main dining area, is today known as Jade Eatery, and the Tea Room which overlooked the Tea Garden, would later become the Terrace Room, adorned with murals for private dining, prior to becoming a commercial space.

Since October, a fundraiser has been underway, where the community is purchasing diverse high-quality jigsaw puzzles, donated by Ronald Gentile followed by Julie Marie, and continue to be available at $25. This will finance small yet very meaningful restoration projects, to enable the community to participate as visionaries. One such project is the replication of an 11-foot moderately ornate “Ring For Tea” stand, complete with an antique bell and cord, and a hand-painted sign bearing a teacup logo to be produced by Noble Signs. The stand is already in production by Flushing Iron Weld and principal Nelson Santander, after this columnist discovered a postcard depicting rocking chairs in front of the stand. Committee member Bea Hunt drafted the initial blueprint by applying her engineering skills.

Nature caused the monumental trees to flourish and produce a natural Gothic archway, but cast a toll on decorative features. The cascading fountain and pool amidst an arched wall that featured iguana sculptures high above have vanished. Turtles once swam below, and rocks and colorful rhododendrons were alongside the perimeters. The “Ring For Tea” stand and rocking chairs were replaced with tables and umbrellas but also vanished. Later additions include a no longer operational tiered central brick fountain and cracked flagstone and a rusty pergola. The original series of graceful pergolas featured colorful floral planting areas. However, after moments of exploration, the magic of what was and could be resurrected becomes evident.

In 1967, the Forest Hills Inn underwent conversion into apartments and is a co-op since the 1980s. In 1977, the U.S. Open relocated from the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium to Flushing Meadows, and with the change of inn’s occupancy and fewer celebrities, the Tea Garden was gradually forgotten.

The Tea Garden occasionally became the town center for community-wide events, such as a stop for the annual 4th of July Festival. In 1915, a local publication read, “Ice cream and cake was served all the children in the Tea Garden, and in the evening a pre-Revolutionary pageant was followed by dancing in the Station Square to the music of the 7th Regiment Band.”

Dogs even felt at home in the Tea Garden, such as on a Saturday afternoon fete for Boston Terriers. In July 1915, The New York Sun stated, “It will be in the nature of a classified match for trophies and ribbons, with Vinton Breese as a judge. The unclassified specials are the judge’s cup, for best bred by exhibitor; Inn cup, for best in the show; Cord Meyer cup, for best of the opposite sex to Inn cup winner, and trophies from Mrs. A.S. Whitesell for the best local dog and the best dog from NYC.” There were over 100 entries, with a very large crowd of spectators.

“The Gardens Chapter of the Women’s Club of Forest Hills Gardens is to hold a flower show at the Forest Hills Tea Garden, Wednesday, June 21,” read another early 20th century article. Some proceeds benefited the $500 playground fund. Another special event was a Strawberry Festival held by the St. Luke’s Women’s Guild on June 10, 1922, from 2 to 6 PM. Homemade ice cream was served with strawberries, as well as lemonade, and garden hats were sold. The Tea Garden also hosted early productions by The Garden Players, such as “Prunella” in 1921, prioritizing its natural setting. Another was Rostand’s “The Romancers” on June 9, 1916, at 8:15 PM for $1.

The July 12, 1924 edition of The Forest Hills Bulletin read, “The Tea Garden of the Forest Hills Inn is a veritable fairyland when lighted with Japanese lanterns, with the trickling fountain heard in the background, and a new moon shining overhead. There is no more delightful place in Greater New York for one to spend the dinner hour.” Every evening during the warmer months between 6:30 and 9 PM, a delectable dinner was served, to the music of the Inn Trio, featuring selections such as Dvorak’s “Humoresque,” Nevin’s “A Day in Venice,” Godard’s “Canzonetta,” and Albeniz’s “A Night In Seville.” On September 19, 1924, the Forest Hills Choral Club held a reception and dance in honor of its new conductor, Alfred Boyce.

“The Enchanted Gardens – Coolest and most delightful spot on Long Island” read a 1924 ad featuring couples in elegant attire, dining with tablecloths and dancing under a forested scene. At the time, M. Lawrence Meade was the Forest Hills Inn general manager. Special buffet lunches were served from 12 to 2:30 during tournaments, as the inn had its own tennis courts, accessible through a long-gone landscaped arched entryway from the Tea Garden, predating the Forest Hills Inn Apartments annex at 20 Continental Avenue. The inn was open for dinner daily, and dancing was held on Wednesday and Saturday evenings with no cover charge.

In a circa mid-1950s brochure, the Tea Garden was referred to as the Patio-Garden, and its glory continued. It offered “a bubbling fountain, candlelight, large umbrellas, and tall trees” with “violin strings in the spring and summer.”

The Tea Garden was the center stage for ceremonial events. The wedding reception of Luicina Gaiser’s parents, Frederic Harry Gaiser III and Julianne McCaffrey, was held on August 31, 1963, in the Tea Garden and former Garden Room of the Forest Hills Inn. A memoir read, “Were led down the walk about a block to the Garden, where there was an orchestra and tables and trees, and waiters serving tidbits and drinks. Stayed there for about an hour and a half. Fun prevailed. Pictures of wedding party and parents taken.” Luicina reflected, “As a child and to date, it was a lost garden or dreamland. There is a quiet peace that breathes life in this garden, that can’t be stifled by having been forgotten.”

For Eve Galvez, Forest Hills has always been a place that she could call home, and now her wish came true. She feels fortunate for the Tea Garden, a distinctive destination that could once again become a community asset. She said, “The Tea Garden is a beautiful space that has been abandoned for so long, but was once a place that created lasting memories. Our goal is to bring that to the present day with the help of industry professionals and residents. I am excited for this project, and hope to help in any way that I can.”

Francesca Victoria feels it is a stereotype that New Yorkers are always looking towards the future in favor of glass skyscrapers. She explained, “I believe that most are interested in preserving the past, and especially beautiful landscapes within their communities. Seeing so many people come together to stand up for a local landmark, and speak out not just for its preservation, but for its continued use for the community, gives hope for Forest Hills’ future. Most people are familiar with Station Square and the Forest Hills Inn, and I’m sure that most people have peeked behind that gate at least once or twice and wondered what it was and if it has any current use.” She ponders as to how it was once so well-known but is now much forgotten among inhabitants. “I hope this campaign will not only preserve the Tea Garden but spread historical awareness.”

OP-ED: I Have Seen the Future and It’s in Queens

By Vincent Kish

On October 17, 1965, I took the bus to Flushing Meadows to attend the last day of the New York World’s Fair. As was my usual pattern, I went straight to the pavilions in the Industrial Area. First stop was Coca-Cola for a mini world tour including stops in Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro, then to Travelers Insurance for a walk through history at “The Triumph of Man” exhibit.

The Better Living pavilion seemed pretty lame, but they had a number of free samples, including a new grapefruit soda, “Wink.” Then I went to Bell Telephone for a tour through communications history, “From Drumbeat to Telestar,” and to beep away at the many new models of push button phones and, a real treat in pre-video game days, to play electronic tic-tac-toe against a computer.

Equitable Life Assurance had an outdoor exhibit that included a giant tabulator which tracked population growth in the U.S. In what I found to be a little creepy, their signage indicated that on average, a baby is born every seven-and-a-half seconds, a person dies every 18-and-a-half seconds, therefore the population grows by one person every 11 seconds. As best as I can recall, on that day the total was up to about 193,000,000.

For good luck, I tossed a penny into one of the fountains at The Pool of Industry. There was an urban legend going around that some kid had run away from home and was living at The Fair, fishing coins out of the fountains at night for food money. If so, his income source was about to dry up and it was time for him to return home.

I then walked directly to the Transportation Area, skipping the International and the Federal and State Areas, in which I had no interest, and the Amusement Area, for which I had insufficient funds.

The line at The Ford Rotunda was long, and I didn’t want to spend an hour waiting around just to see some animatronic dinosaurs. So I settled for looking at fiberglass versions at “Dinoland” at the Sinclair Exhibit.

At the Transportation and Travel Building, there was a guy demonstrating The Wonder Knife, a blade so sharp it could cut tomato slices thin enough to see through. When I forked over my two dollars, he assured me that the knife would never need sharpening. Although I sensed he was a huckster at heart, he proved to be quite a prognosticator. My mother would use that knife almost daily for the next 50 years, as would I for the last seven, and counting.

My favorite spot of all was General Motors. Everything about the Futurama Ride was cool, from the comfortable contour seats, the haunting lighting and atmosphere, to the hypnotic narration provided by actor Alexander Scourby.

And although this was my 14th visit, the exhibits were still captivating, although far from realistic as it turned out. The only thing they got right was lunar exploration, then just four years away. But they overplayed their hand by including things like regular commuter spaceship landings. There are still no farms in the desert or underwater vacation resorts, or weather stations beneath the Antarctic ice. And predictions for the City of Tomorrow, a tomorrow already long in the past, seemed to have been based less upon science or urban planning than on viewing episodes of The Jetsons. There are no roadways in the sky, high speed buses, or underground freight conveyor belts. And the only times I’ve been on moving sidewalks have been at airports, and, ironically, at Freedomland in the Bronx in 1962. But, accurate or otherwise, it was all great fun. And like so many other things at The Fair, it did much to warm my 13-year-old heart.

Later that afternoon, I was saddened to see that a number of visitors were beginning to vandalize the grounds, including digging up flowers. I really didn’t want to see or remember things like that happening at this special place. It was time to leave. On the bus ride home I proudly wore my GM “I Have Seen the Future” button. It was one of dozens of souvenirs I had collected over two years including maps, guidebooks, 45 RPM records, Unispheres, a Ford Pavilion badge indicating that I was from England (I was a big Beatles fan), and an autographed (paw print) photo of Lady Greyhound. I still have it all. When my time comes, I’ll leave the collection to my grandchildren. But, I predict, that day is far away, off somewhere in the future.

Community leaders celebrate Women’s History Month

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, Queens residents came together at C Restaurant and Lounge in Kew Gardens to celebrate and honor women’s achievements.

Rahana Rampershad, co-founder of WE RULE, and Rose Deonarine, founder of ReadySetRose, collaborated to make the event “I am Every Woman, We are Every Woman” a safe space for women in the community to network, celebrate other women’s milestones and self-reflect on their own journeys.

Both hailing from Richmond Hill, Rampershad and Deonarine’s respective organizations focus on highlighting stories of female founders and inspiring and educating the masses, which is what motivated them to localize those missions through the event.

“The goal of our event was to inspire and encourage each other to be better versions of ourselves. The name itself ‘I’m every woman, we are every woman’ and the lyrics by Whitney Houston represent that we as women are the embodiment of so many beings,” Deonarine said. “So when we say that phrase, it’s to be inclusive of all the other women in the room.”

“We did not want it to be about us or government officials, we wanted to make sure it was very inclusive. Everybody had a little piece to play in the room,” Rampershad said.

“There were people at the event that we met for the first time, and they were the first ones to message us and ask when the next event was,” she continued. “It was very powerful.”

Ebony Young, Queens deputy borough president; Vjola Isufaj, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar; and Mone’t Schultz, deputy chief of staff for Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson showed their support at the event.

Jyoti Bindra, owner and manager of Vikhyat USA in Richmond Hill, was presented with a citation from Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar’s office to honor her contributions to the community during the height of the pandemic.

While the main specialty of Vikhyat USA is providing customers with customized Indian attire, Bindra and the shop’s 70-year-old seamstress worked together to sew masks and distribute them around the U.S. for free during a time where they were in high demand.

“It was so encouraging for her, and it brought her to tears,” Deonarine said of Bindra. “She runs this business with her mom and they depend on it for survival, and yet she did this out of the goodness of her heart and possibly saved lives. That’s why we had this event in March, to celebrate women, whose rights have been oppressed for several years. We’re finally getting our voices heard and we have a long way to go, but on that day we just wanted to celebrate us.”

New Plaque Program To Commemorate Local Historic Buildings

By Michael Perlman

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Sutton Hall, 109-14 Ascan Avenue.

At a time when historic buildings are being demolished or insensitively altered, a new bronze plaque program has been born in Forest Hills and Rego Park. Founded by Rego-Forest Preservation Council, this program will spotlight architecturally and culturally significant buildings by explaining their history and distinctive architecture on a plaque that will be installed on their façade.

Architectural features will be sampled and serve as a border or motif on a plaque to further celebrate its history, and vintage photos of the architect and the buildings will also be included. In some cases, buildings that lost their historic names will once again be appreciated. It is a belief that once property owners and residents are aware of a site’s unique characteristics and history, properties will be well-maintained and preserved.

Forest Hills was named in 1906 by Cord Meyer Development Company, whereas Rego Park became official in 1923 by the Real Good Construction Company. Early to mid-20th century buildings granted a personalized experience for residents, newcomers, and visitors, with unique craftsmanship pertaining to styles that ranged from Tudor and Colonial to Art Deco. Stately apartment buildings, religious sites, theaters, and commercial sites were designed by architects who were often raised in Europe, and they were built to last.

Now Academy Engraving is partnering with Rego-Forest Preservation Council to produce a trail of bronze plaques. The firm designs the Broadway League’s Tony Award for the past 29 years, in addition to numerous signs and plaques throughout New York City from memorial tablets to NYC park name plaques. Notable clients include Baccarat, Lalique, Rolex, and Bulgari. “We are proud to be a sign, awards, and custom engraving vendor based in Manhattan,” said founder and president Frank DiBella.

He explained, “I feel it is extremely important to add a marker or plaque that explains the architectural significance and history of historic buildings. It definitely helps to stress the importance of preservation with the property owner and neighbors.”

Since DiBella’s youth in Gravesend, Brooklyn, he has admired and respected historic homes and buildings. He said, “It was always exciting to discover a home built in the late 1700s and realize how many families came and went, and that home was still there after all that time. My favorite was Lady Moody’s home at 27 Gravesend Neck Road, which was famous in the neighborhood. My friends and I were proud it was in our own backyard. We also had the Wyckoff Bennett Homestead, a very interesting place built before the Revolutionary War.”

Some buildings began expressing interest in the new plaque program. Dorothy Schreiber is board president of Hawthorne Court at 72-34 Austin Street, a Georgian Colonial residence to 59 families since 1931. It was erected by Cord Meyer Development Company and features a court entranceway, a large decorative balcony, and dentil cornices, but the ornamental shutters are long-gone. She explained, “Just as important as our personal and family histories are, is our surrounding physical history. Familiarity with images from our past binds us and brings continuity to our lives. Memories unite us with those we lost and help ground us in the present.”

Hawthorne Court circa 1940, Tax photo courtesy of Municipal Archives.

Schreiber holds good expectations for the plaque program. “It will help illuminate the historical presence of certain buildings and hopefully induce building owners to maintain and restore the unique village-like ambiance of our area, since presently Austin Street looks more like a shopping mall than a quaint village. A plaque will bring something special to our building.”

Kenney Vairo manages the 6-story Forest Hills Towers at 71-50 Austin Street and its sister building, the 4-story Edna Jean at 71-58 Austin Street, which were completed in 1928 in the Tudor Medieval style. At “The Towers,” 1 to 5 rooms could be rented from $40 to $100 and was advertised as having good-sized light rooms and being a half block to Station Square and convenient to shopping. It is distinguished by battlements, a slate pitched roof, and brickwork. An anticipated attraction by prospective tenants was a direct stairway leading from the building to the LIRR station.

The Edna Jean & Forest Hills Towers, 2008 photo by Michael Perlman

“My grandfather, Edward P Kenney, developed the buildings on Austin Street,” said Vairo, who takes pride in his family history in Forest Hills. His mother, whose maiden name was Edna Jean Kenney, always went by Jean, which is how one of the two residences was named.

He said, “My grandfather was a real estate developer and a pharmacist. He also owned three stores down the street where Chipotle is located. He owned a well-known bar and restaurant called Kenney’s. When he retired, my mother took over the real estate part at 23. She attended PS 101, the Kew-Forest School, and Maryland College for Women. She was a philanthropist and always cared about people. She was also an arborist.” Later in life, she lived in Florida and passed away in 2006. Earlier this fall, his brother Peter Vairo, who was the landlord and a much-admired friend to many community residents, also passed away.

Coming home to Sutton Hall at 109-14 Ascan Avenue offers a grand and charming experience. Built in 1929 to 1931 by El-Walt Realty Corp, it is a foremost example of urban planning with English Manor design, evident by Medieval wood doors with stained glass bearing knights and shields, a cupola, a slate pitched roof, a half-timber and brick facade, battlements, and inner and outer landscaped courts and recessed facades to maximize light, air, and neighborliness. It was called “a revelation in modern living” in a 1932 edition of The New York Sun. It was designed by Benjamin Braunstein, a Constantinople native and award-winning architect, who was trained at the Hebrew Technical Institute and at the Beaux Arts Society. He also designed several nearby buildings including Valeria Arms, The Chatham, Marion Court, Remo Hall, Jupiter Court, the Holland House, Tilden Arms, and The Wakefield.

Sutton Hall, Photo by Michael Perlman

“It is very important and delightful to preserve the history of our beautiful community, and hopefully newcomers will pass it down to the next group of newcomers,” said Leslie Lowry, an over 40-year resident. “The plaques will show how proud and meaningful our homes are to us. When I enter my lobby, it makes me feel like I am entering an old castle, and my guests are always impressed. My apartment has very large and beautiful rooms with many archways, and several walls are stucco, which is very charming.”

To acquire a plaque in honor of your building, contact [email protected]

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