Forest Hills South celebrates 75th anniversary
by Michael Perlman
Jul 21, 2015 | 11207 views | 0 0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Forest Hills South, circa 1941
Forest Hills South, circa 1941
slideshow
Speakers Michael Perlman, Dara Birnbaum and George McGrath at Forest Hills South 75th
Speakers Michael Perlman, Dara Birnbaum and George McGrath at Forest Hills South 75th
slideshow
As the sun set over Forest Hills South on July 18, nearly 360 residents and 30 staff members participated in a 75th anniversary celebration of their seven-building apartment complex.

A garden party featuring a barbecue buffet, fopur commemorative cakes bearing historic and recent property images, live rock and pop music by The Kitchen, and speeches by longtime residents.

Among the special guests was Dara Birnbaum, daughter of the development’s award-winning architect, the late Philip Birnbaum. The celebration reinforced neighborliness, a testament to the historic community’s existence.

Coinciding with the nearby 1939–1940 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a growing Queens population was welcomed to Forest Hills South between 1939 and 1941, 604 apartments north of Queens Boulevard between 76th Drive and 78th Avenue.

On Saturday, residents expressed their pride in The Parkview, Meadowbrook, Beaverbrook, Girard, Dover, Dartmouth, and The Marlborough, which are stately Georgian Colonial buildings overlooking a park-like setting.

“I looked all over Forest Hills, and found one of the most well-maintained co-ops in the area,” said 16-year resident Gayle Richman. “I immediately loved its charm and European feel, and the huge rooms and high ceilings clinched the deal.”

Forest Hills South’s milestone convinced Birnbaum to return to Forest Hills. She called her visit “inspiring” after spending 40 years as a Manhattanite. She enjoyed its open areas connecting the buildings, beautifully maintained grounds with mature trees, vibrant foliage dotted with flowers, and wonderful fountains.

“There seems to be something so humane about the development, which made me endlessly proud of my father,” she said.

Birnbaum referenced her father’s main goal in architecture as “providing people with a better way to live” after explaining that his childhood in New York City was marked with poverty and persistence.

“He studied by street light and got potatoes for his family, but would put himself through the School of Architecture at Columbia University,” she said. “He wanted for the then-rising middle-class to have homes they could be proud of. Apartments laid out to eliminate the longer hallways of the tenements' railroad flat layouts, with wonderful windows, spacial floor plans with more closet area, and fantastic lobbies.

“People seem quite happy at the 75th anniversary celebration, and I feel that my father's dreams were fulfilled and are surviving even past his own expectations,” she added.

Former board president Charlotte Picot, an original resident, fled Belgium with her family during WWII and settled into The Marlborough, the last of the seven buildings, completed in fall 1941.

“There was no waiting list to get a garage space as not everyone had cars, and the landlord often gave tenants more than one spot for future use,” she recalled. “The front and side entrance doors were always open and no keys were issued. We had no air conditioning, but on hot summer nights, you could actually sleep with fire escape windows open to get cross-ventilation without worrying about would-be intruders.”

Picot also shared tales of her childhood.

“Children and parents enjoyed two playgrounds, one behind The Marlborough that had a sandbox and the other next to The Girard,” she said. “On weekends, my father took me and my brand new bicycle to the service road of Grand Central Parkway to teach me to ride a two-wheeler. We spent an hour in the middle of the road without ever seeing a car.”

While Picot has witnessed many changes for over seven decades, much of it was a step forward.

“Our trees are more mature and stately, our gardens more lush and manicured, and the property now has a community room and an exercise room,” she cited as examples. “Residents can enjoy sitting outdoors and children can play safely on our fenced-in property.

“Some things remain unchanged,” she quickly added. “Our staff has always been devoted.”

Forest Hills South Owners board president George McGrath discussed the camaraderie behind upcoming events, such as the Halloween parade, an annual bulb planting festival, and a holiday lighting ceremony.

“Kids and adults can march through our gardens in costume and have a party in our community room,” he said. “We also switch on the holiday lights in our gardens with a countdown, which is our own version of the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony.

“May we continue to preserve the warm, welcoming spirit that has been the hallmark of our community since the very beginning,” Picot added.

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