Closer look at two significant neighborhoods
by Michael Perlman
Jun 11, 2014 | 1052 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On a warm Saturday morning last week, nearly 40 people gathered in Station Square to begin their weekend with a tour of Forest Hills Gardens and Forest Close. For many, it was their first encounter with historian Barry Lewis, Channel Thirteen television personality and author of “Kew Gardens: Urban Village in the Big City.”

This tour was made possible by the Historic Districts Council. It is part of the nonprofit’s “Six To Celebrate,” which offers tours of six areas the group deems worthy of preservation.

“These tours serve to highlight neighborhoods that many New Yorkers are unaware of to shine a light on unknown aspects of their history or built environment,” said Barbara Zay of HDC.

The Forest Close Association its neighborhood for the honor. Forest Close is a group of 1927 rowhouses bounded by 75th Road, 76th Avenue, and Austin Street.

“Townhome living in Forest Close and nearby Arbor Close allows for gardening, outdoor dining, or winter reading by the fireplace,” said Forest Close resident Elisa Barsoum Losada. “Each home has a private patio overlooking a shared common green space and doorbells on the patio. These features encourage a sense of community, and allow neighbors to live and work together throughout the seasons.”

“Contemporary architects and developers can take a lesson from the design of Forest Close,” said Joanne Wasti, who opened her Forest Close home to visitors for cookies and lemonade. “As people become more aware of their carbon footprint and green design, Forest Close is an example of a design emphasizing community. The shared garden area also helps with run-off and cools our homes in the summer.”

The Association maintains a covenant which regulates changes to its architecture and open spaces, similar to the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation. Established in 1909 and designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, the Gardens is America’s earliest planned garden community.

On the tour, Lewis highlighted the community’s history and clever design principles. Station Square was conceived as a town center, which merges residential space with an inn, shops, and the LIRR station.

“Atterbury’s walkway system around Station Square is brilliant,” Lewis said. “He figured, ‘why should people staying at the Inn have to schlep their luggage outside?’ He created over the street bridges and a walkway system that goes through the buildings.

“This is urban thinking, not suburban thinking,” he added. “It’s about civilizing the city’s way to live in the industrial era.”

Another stop was Atterbury’s 1926 Community House, which contains a theater, a social hall, and basketball courts.

“There was room for everybody,” Lewis said, relating it to the garden communities of nearby Jackson Heights and Kew Gardens. “It was very common in a quality community development to have a clubhouse.”

“Protecting places such as the Forest Hills Gardens and Forest Close is important for it is part of the fabric of New York City,” said Elmhurst resident Helen Chin. “It is unique not just in terms of community, but in architecture, design, and urban planning. What was incredible is how soothing and nurturing the environment was.”

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