Reviving history in a Forest Hills lobby
by Michael Perlman
Apr 26, 2016 | 7009 views | 1 1 comments | 122 122 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Board President Marc Moll addressing the crowd
Board President Marc Moll addressing the crowd
slideshow
A cow resting on Jurgens Farm
A cow resting on Jurgens Farm
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Darren Jurgens with his mother Veronica Jurgens
Darren Jurgens with his mother Veronica Jurgens
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A lobby has become much more than the entrance to a building at Thornton Arms; it has become a portal into the rich history of Forest Hills.

On April 19, co-op residents took part in a “lobby reveal” ceremony at 67-50 Thornton Place to mark the renovation and rededication of the building's lobby, a unique combination of rustic and industrial design.

In November, a board committee working on the renovations appointed this columnist to design a gallery bearing homage to Forest Hills’ past, which includes nearly 15 large prints of restored images spanning from the 1910s to the 1940s.

The scenes included Horton’s Ice Cream and the former Forest Hills Theatre on Continental Avenue, Forest Hills High School, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt in Station Square delivering his 100 Percent American Unification Speech, aerial views of Queens Boulevard, Austin Street, and Forest Hills Gardens, and a reflection of West Side Tennis Club history.

“After many months of planning, we not only shared the beauty of the decor, but the beauty and history of our neighborhood,” said committee member and longtime resident Mimi Pirozzi. “Residents were intrigued by the historic photos, where they recognized sites mostly unchanged from their original appearance.”

The building, which dates back to 1963, was developed on the former site of the Jurgens Farm, which came into existence when Forest Hills was still known as Whitepot prior to 1906.

Maspeth resident Darren Jurgens is the great-grandson of Germany natives Henry Jurgens (1864–1938) and wife Charlotte Jurgens (1871-1961), who were the farm’s operators.

He was inspired by his father, who would share stories about the family farm, so five years ago he began researching his genealogy.

“It was nice to stand on the property where my grandfather was raised, and where my father paid countless visits to his grandparents,” Jurgens said at the ceremony. “Since I never saw the farm, I could only imagine the property based on the few photos that exist.

Jurgens attended the ceremony with his mother Veronica Jurgens, who will turn 91 in May.

“The first time I came here was 1945, and Grandma Whitepot gave a party for a son who came home from WWII,” Jurgens recalled. “She served homemade wine and then cigars. The ladies waited in the kitchen until the men were finished.

“Grandma was a legend who prepared everything herself,” she added. “She had a little old pot belly stove to keep them warm upstairs. The living room and dining room were only open on special occasions, but the kitchen and the pantry closet were kept open.”

In 1957, Jurgens took her other son, Daniel, for a visit.

“Grandma tied up his left hand and wanted him to use his right hand, she said the devil was in that hand,” she said. “Fast forward, Daniel is 60 and still left-handed.”

On opposite sides of the entrance to the new lobby there are restored blueprints and a prospectus for Thornton Arms featuring the building’s original coat of arms, as well as restored images of the Jurgens Farm and its family.

“It was nice that the building recognized the history of the landowners and the Forest Hills community,” Mr. Jurgens noted.

Pirozzi said she relished hearing the stories of Darren and Veronica Jurgens.

“This is a true example of oral history that we will treasure,” she said. “Knowing that the family was able to return to the land where their family thrived will always give me a sense of linking the past with the present.”

Mara McEwin and her family moved to Thornton Arms in 2009 after the birth of her daughter.

“Since we do not have family close by, many of our neighbors are like our surrogate family,” she said, adding that inviting members of the Jurgens family to the event was an “incredible touch.” “As an avid lover of Forest Hills history, I was overjoyed to hear them speak.”

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Arthur S.
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May 12, 2016
There's a photograph of that Theodore Roosevelt speech on the cover of that wonderful book on Forest Hills! Images of America: Forest Hills!