Take a stroll along the south side of Queens Boulevard past apartment houses and shops, and you may be surprised to encounter an Arts and Crafts style village of 1920s-era rowhouses mere steps away. It is known as Arbor Close and Forest Close, collectively, and one may now be closer towards preservation.
This year, the Historic Districts Council selected Forest Close as one of their “Six to Save,” after receiving a nomination from the Forest Close Association. The Six to Save program was founded in 2011, and provides hands-on preservation assistance over the course of a year, offering insight on documentation, research, and public outreach.
Forest Hills is fortunate that Arbor Close (which was not nominated by its association) and Forest Close survive not only in a largely intact state, but represent a legacy to its famed architect Robert Tappan, who also resided in Forest Hills.
Commissioned by Cord Meyer Development Company, Arbor Close was completed in 1925 and Forest Close in 1927. Cord Meyer envisioned developing more rowhouses easterly towards Kew Gardens, but the stock market crash of 1929 is rumored to have placed a damper on that vision.
In 1936, the opening of the IND subway in Forest Hills would then shift development patterns to mainly six-story apartment houses.
What has played an instrumental role in the well-preserved facades of Arbor Close and Forest Close is restrictive covenants, which are currently administered by their associations, and were introduced by Cord Meyer in the 1920s. Some windows and doors have been modified, and there have been a few incidents when a resident took the association to court, but the covenants always prevailed.
Arbor Close and Forest Close front Austin Street from 75th to 76th avenues, and when residents walk through an arched gateway, they come upon private interior gardens with courtyards. The inner garden feature is also found in the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District, which was designated in 2007.
The English manor concept of Arbor Close and Forest Close bear some resemblance to Rodmarton Manor in Gloucestershire, UK. Tappan also took inspiration from the prominent British urban planner Sir Ebenezer Howard, who initiated the Garden City Movement, which influenced the development of Forest Hills Gardens.
Tappan also designed Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Forest Hills Gardens. In the Cord Meyer section, he designed 13 English Medieval single-family brick homes from 108-15 to 108-39 67th Drive and 108-14 to 108-48 67th Drive, which are now endangered without landmark status.
As for innovation, Tappan was a strong advocate for the use of metal for small one-family homes, in order to reserve finances and construction time. He was recognized as an inventor in 1918 for his system of coordinated unit planning and construction.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) published a detailed survey of potential landmarks and historic districts throughout Forest Hills and Rego Park in January 1990, but never calendared any properties for a landmark designation hearing.
The LPC’s survey featured the “Arbor and Forest Close Proposed Historic District.” An excerpt referred to it as “an important example of the early 20th century planned suburban garden community in the borough of Queens.”
Both were also recognized in the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Better Building Awards competition; Arbor Close earned a first prize bronze plaque for its architectural and civic value in 1927 and Forest Close followed in 1928.
Tappan made his mark in Forest Hills and beyond, and now the case of preservation for Arbor Close and Forest Close is a test of recognition by the city.