The Past Is Present
By SARAH HARRISON SMITH
Outside is the Queens you know, with all the amenities and hubbub of contemporary city life. But inside, Forest Hills Gardens is another world. Just through an arched underpass, the community’s expansive entrance plaza, Station Square, unfolds with arcaded sidewalks, a domed tower and what could be some sort of Anglo-German manor house in subtly colored and intricately patterned brickwork. It is a disorienting transition, like stepping into a blurred fantasy of the past.
THIS 175-ACRE COMMUNITY of more than 800 houses and 11 apartment buildings, of churches, parks and storefronts, began in 1909 when the Russell Sage Foundation commissioned the architect Grosvenor Atterbury and the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to plan a new town on a plot in Queens. They looked for inspiration to the new British “garden cities,” nostalgic experiments in urban planning intended to be self-sufficient enclaves for working people — even if they did not embrace the egalitarian ideal.
OLMSTED AND ATTERBURY’S DEBT to the past is evident everywhere, in the grand avenues that branch out from Station Square, and in the mullioned windows, Norman-style turrets, and tiled and gabled roofs of the detached homes. But as Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker write in “The Architecture of Grosvenor Atterbury” (2009), there was modernity as well as imitation here. Atterbury was innovative, creating prefabricated wall slabs to increase the speed (and lower the costs) of construction, particularly when building row houses, like those on Burns Street.
ATTERBURY BUILT 8 MARKWOOD ROAD, the biggest of the properties, in 1920, and its first owner was Philip Gillette Cole. The asymmetrical walled garden and brick, stone and half-timbered facade are the peak of picturesque Gardens style. Other architects designed houses in the Gardens as well, but Atterbury vetted them first.
JULES GRINGOS DESIGNED 239 Greenway South in 1925, a lovely house with open porches, French doors and patios half-hidden behind a bank of hedges. Gringos’s client was John Vincent Lawless Hogan, a man who was both forward thinking (he invented the facsimile machine) and backward looking (he was a founder of the classical music radio station WQXR).
FOR DECADES, FOREST HILLS meant tennis; the West Side Tennis Club played host to the United States National Championship, later the Open, for about 60 years, until 1977. The club’s name dates from its first home, on Central Park West. But 10 acres at the edge of the Gardens offered more elbow room, and in 1914 the club moved into a new, Atterbury-designed clubhouse. The Tudor style was a perfect match for a game Henry VIII helped to popularize.
THE 1923 STADIUM needs repair, but there are 38 courts for members to play on, with surfaces including Har-Tru, red clay, Deco Turf and grass. The club will open its grounds to the public for a carnival on June 30, and this Sunday a flag-raising ceremony marks its 100th year in Forest Hills.