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Perlman: A Prom to Remember

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

By Michael Perlman
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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.”

 

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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