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.”