The journalism professor’s book, “Images of America: Forest Hills” was released this week.
“I’m really excited to see how people are going to receive it,” Hirshon said. “Some people may say they’re not interested in history, but once they see an old photograph of the school they used to go to, or where they used to work, or where they once lived, it strikes something inside of them.”
Hirshon notes that this is especially true in Forest Hills, where many buildings have been around for a century or more, but their uses have changed throughout the years.
“We have a few photos in the book of the intersection of Austin Street and Continental Avenue and the buildings are pretty much entirely the same, except today it’s Cohen Fashion Optical and Citibank and back then it was totally different,” he said.
Forest Hills native, actor Ray Romano, was at the top of Hirshon’s celebrity wish list for writing the book’s foreword. After tracking down his manager, he mailed Romano a pitch that was accepted.
“In the foreword, Ray talks about his very first comedic performance in the basement of Our Lady of Mercy Church on Kessel Street,” he said. “He also describes going to Eddie's Sweet Shop, the P.S. 144 schoolyard and the Cinemart Theater on Metropolitan Avenue, where he was briefly an usher. I had the chance to interview Ray in the spring. It was very evident that he still cares deeply about Forest Hills.”
Indeed, Romano's feelings for his old community comes across loud and clear.
"My wife and I have raised our family in Los Angeles," the entertainer writes in the book's introduction. "While it's great here, I do miss my old block in Queens. I miss the sense of community I had with my friends and neighbors. I've been to a lot of places and done many things I never dreamed I could, and when I think of how I got to where I am, I always remember the people and the heart of my hometown, Forest Hills."
Months of research unearthed a few surprises for Hirshon, a longtime Forest Hills resident, including Topsy’s Cabin, a popular restaurant on Queens Boulevard that opened in the 1930s and whose logo depicted the restaurant’s namesake, a pigtailed slave from the classic novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
While today such restaurant décor would be considered offensive, Hirshon discovered that even in the late 1960s Topsy’s was the site of many events held by the political movers and shakers of the time, as well as Kiwanis and Lion club meetings; surprising in a liberal-minded city such as New York.
The history and development of Forest Hills is detailed in words and pictures generously donated by Community Board 6 and the Forest Hills Garden Association, along with others that were donated by private collectors.
Some other photos, which were vital to the book being published, were harder to come by and had to be purchased. For instance, the cover of the book is a picture of Theodore Roosevelt giving a 4th of July address at Station Square in 1917, and was purchased from the library archive at Harvard University.
The book is currently available on Amazon and can also be purchased through the Barnes and Noble website. Besides the Woodhaven Historical Society and a number of events in Forest Hills, Hirshon will also be visiting the Queens Historical Society in Flushing on Sunday, March 10, at 2:30 p.m. and the Richmond Hill Historical Society in April to discuss the book.
Hirshon was also the first guest on the re-launch of Radio Free Woodhaven, a weekly web-based radio show heard each Friday night at 10 p.m. You can go to the link on projectwoodhaven.com to listen to the show live, and you can even call in to speak your mind if you’re so inclined. Each show is archived, so if you miss it on the first run you can always catch it later.
Hope to hear you on the air, and hope to see you at the next meeting of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society.