Forest Hills firehouse may become landmark
by Michael Perlman
May 02, 2012 | 14465 views | 0 0 comments | 96 96 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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Forest Hills has a 106-year history, but only two official New York City landmarks since the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s establishment in 1965. Now Forest Hills may get its third officially designated individual landmark.

On April 17, Engine Company 305/Hook & Ladder Company 151 at 111-02 Queens Boulevard was scheduled for a May 15th hearing by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), offering temporary protection from significant alterations.

The next step is a public hearing, where citizens, preservationists, and elected officials can testify. A public meeting will then follow, when the LPC will announce its decision.

According to Rego-Forest Preservation Council’s Freedom of Information Law request and an LPC visit in 2008, it was determined that the LPC's Survey Department conducted a Community Board 6 Survey in January 1990, comprised of Forest Hills and Rego Park.

The firehouse was one property recommended as a potential landmark, among a few hundred pages referencing other potential individual landmarks and historic districts. However, it is unknown why no designations were pursued at that time.

In recent years, architecturally and culturally significant sites - which offer a one-of-a-kind history - such as Eddie’s Sweet Shop, the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the Trylon Theater, and Bank of America (originally Metropolitan Industrial Bank, 99-01 Queens Boulevard), have not been given a public hearing by LPC, although some of those sites have been recommended for landmarking by earlier commission staff members.

Some sites were rejected, despite apparently meeting the LPC’s landmark provisions, based upon a site’s 30-year age requirement and architectural and cultural significance.

Queens residents hope that landmarking the firehouse will signify more designated buildings in Forest Hills and Rego Park at large. In 2000, the façade of the Ridgewood Savings Bank was landmarked, and the Remsen Family Cemetery was landmarked in 1981.

If the firehouse is landmarked, it would be the first Forest Hills property designated under LPC Chairman Robert Tierney's tenure.

LPC Communications Director Lisi de Bourbon would not comment on whether other Forest Hills properties have been surveyed by the commission due to policy issues, but did say, “The proposed designation of Engine Co. 305 is part of a wider effort to preserve New York City’s great municipal architecture.”

Mitchell Grubler, Chair of Queens Preservation Council, explains, “While we applaud the LPC for calendaring a Forest Hills building, this is a poor attempt at LPC recognition of the many deserving, but undesignated areas and buildings in Forest Hills,” said Mitchell Grubler, chair of the Queens Preservation Council.

“This is a case of picking-off the lowest-hanging fruit,” he continued. “It is a city-owned building, with no owner opposition. Landmark designation of city-owned buildings is advisory, since city agencies abide by LPC as a courtesy. This also seems to be somewhat of a thematic calendaring, in that a couple of Bronx firehouses were calendared at the same LPC meeting.”

During a time when the Bloomberg Administration has proposed firehouse closings due to budget cuts, Engine Company 305 has proudly served the community for nearly 90 years.

Built circa 1922-1924 and designed by John R. Sliney, it offers a distinctive and rare Neo-Medieval presence on Queens Boulevard. The firehouse has harmony with nearby Forest Hills Gardens, and its height and ecclesiastical nature is unique in the face of New York City firehouse architecture.

LPC’s statement of significance explains that the firehouse was “intended to serve the growing population of Forest Hills, which had seen a boom in residential construction following WWI.”

It then explains it is “clad in red brick laid in a Flemish bond, and enlivened with decorative limestone details and subtle patterned brickwork. The asymmetrical massing of the building is accentuated by steep gables clad with copper standing-seam roofs, two prominent square towers featuring round-arched window openings, and a slender chimney rising nearly a story above the western elevation.”

“It is exciting to know that the firehouse can be held to landmarking standards,” said FDNY spokesman Jim Long. “If it follows through, we will do everything in cooperation with the landmark guidelines, and adhere to requests and requirements.”

Commitment to the community is abundant. John DePierro is a senior firefighter who has been with Engine Co. 305 since 1969.

“What makes work enjoyable is the great camaraderie,” said firefighter John Cabrera. “This helps when we respond to a fire. There’s no emergency we don’t respond to, and no one has been shooed away from us. Some people knock on our door.

“There’s an officer who received a medal for saving a community resident,” he added. “We received Christmas cards and cakes from the community, and really appreciate their support.”

On September 11, Engine Co. 305 witnessed casualties. Peter Nelson was a senior firefighter who began his career with Engine 305, was transferred to Ladder 151, and then perished at Rescue 4. Joe Hunter worked up to a year at Engine 305, and also perished.

“I thought it was landmarked already,” said Lieutenant John Gleave. “There’s no other firehouse quite like it.”

Twelve-year Forest Hills resident James Griffin is a retired teacher and a volunteer photo archivist of the American Museum of Natural History.

“The firehouse is a noble expression of civic values, and a beautiful building gracing Queens Boulevard,” he said.

"Forest Hills and Rego Park have numerous iconic buildings that contribute greatly to the cultural history of our community,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi. “This well-known structure should be given landmark status, which would preserve its integrity and value for many generations to come.”

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