The Kennedy House was developed while the 1964–1965 World’s Fair was underway and not long after the November 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was designed by award-winning architect Philip Birnbaum (1907–1996) and developed by another award winner, Alfred L. Kaskel (1901–1968), president of Carol Management Corporation. The pair frequently partnered to introduce projects to the growing Forest Hills community.
In April of 1965, The New York Times featured highly stylized ads featured renderings of the tower and referenced a “new dimension of urban living.” Accommodations would include a landscaped park and gardens, banded terraces with turquoise lights, and central air with individual room controls.
Rents for a studio to a three-bedroom apartment began at $162, and included the use of two rooftop swimming pools, a sauna, sun deck, recreation room, 24-hour doorman, and attended garage. The owner called the Kennedy House “the tallest swimming pool foundation in the world.”
“Alfred is credited for constructing the first elevated pool on the rooftop of an apartment building,” said Florida resident and great-grandson Daniel Kaskel. “He experienced engineering issues, but resolved them by combining concrete and steel framing to support the heavy loads.”
To this day, residents enter through a colonnade marquee and across marble floors in a two-story lobby designed by Tom Lee.
“My father grew up in poverty on the Lower East Side, and it meant the world to him to be able to provide the rising middle class, post-WWII, with a sense of status, achievement and refinement,” said Manhattan resident and daughter Dara Birnbaum. “He paid utmost attention to the layouts of the apartments, yielding more open floor plans with less square footage dedicated to hallways, and instead added expansive living rooms and bedrooms.”
Her family lived on the 29th floor of what was then the tallest building in Queens.
“My birthday and my mom’s birthday are on October 29 and September 29, so that held meaning for us,” Birnbaum said. “My brother and I were a little intimidated by the height of the terrace, and we would tease about how people walking on the street looked like ants.”
Her favorite accommodation was the rooftop pool, which she took advantage of in the summer while pursuing her own degree in architecture.
“I could return home from college and swim as the sun set over Manhattan, which was magical,” she said.
Birnbaum said the entryways and lobbies were designed to be prominent, and her father and Kaskel would often fly to Europe seeking antiques and chandeliers, one of which hangs in the Kennedy House's lobby.
“It typified my father's desire that the rising middle class could identify with items of luxury, and while it can be seen as a status symbol, it is also a wondrous sparkling light to welcome one home,” she said.
Las Vegas resident Judith Becker’s grandparents, Jack and Pauline Schwartz, were among the first tenants and remained until the mid-1980s.
“I visited them weekly and when I became a parent, my son and I visited together,” she said.
Also among the first tenants were Forest Hills resident David Schwartz’s grandparents, and his most cherished memories included playing in the property’s small park with his grandfather.
“I loved being greeted by John the doorman who was there years later when I dropped off my daughter to visit her friend,” he said.
Since 1995, the Kennedy House has been part of resident Regina Judith Faighes’ harmonious experience. It faces Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, where she sings in the choir.
“It is set back from Queens Boulevard, and its grounds include spacious lawns and beautiful trees, including a majestic linden tree,” she said. “This year, they planted evergreen trees on which lights are hung, so they are living Christmas trees.”
James Griffin and his wife have called the building home for 15 years.
“It is superbly maintained and skillfully managed, and the location is a contender for the best in Queens,” he said.
A six-faced bronze sculpture by Bert Schwartz once captured the various moods of JFK set against a meteorite, but it was rejected for its small size. Its whereabouts today are unknown.
“I remember a bust of JFK facing fountains, which was removed soon after its installation,” said Forest Hills native Robert Rosner.