Last week, local residents and LIRR commuters observed workers reinstalling the historic brick surface along Continental Avenue. At a time when many buildings across the city that merit preservation fall victim to the wrecking ball, Station Square’s restoration is a rare sight.
It also marks one of the largest restoration projects to ever take place in Forest Hills history.
Station Square is the gateway to Forest Hills Gardens, America’s earliest planned garden community.
Founded in 1909 and inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement, the residential development was designed by principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.
Station Square accommodated a classy social life, particularly at the Forest Hills Inn, which opened in 1912 and offered 150 rooms, adjoining the Raleigh apartments on the east and the Marlboro apartments on the west.
The LIRR Station, once accessible from the Inn through arcades and bridges sheltering residents and visitors from the weather, offered a 13-minute commute to Manhattan.
Over the years, Station Square played host to annual 4th of July celebrations, including one that featured Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s “100 Percent American” speech in 1917, as well as Helen Keller’s address to over 1,200 soldiers of the Rainbow Division.
In order to upgrade utilities to meet 21st century standards, the overwhelming majority of original bricks were carefully salvaged and stored in facilities in and around Station Square.
“We have cleaned and replaced every brick with either the original brick or custom-tailored bricks 100 percent to match the originals,” said Tony Barsamian, a member of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation board of directors. “We’ve padded them with the same sand in terms of how we lay them down.
“We don’t use mortar, since it cracks when it is icy or snowy, or water gets into it and then it freezes,” he continued. “We have gone out of our way to maintain it to hopefully last another 100 years.”
In addition to addressing the roadway’s sinking elevation, Barsamian said, “we made improvements in the center island in terms of bringing it back to its original form.”
“When you dig underneath Station Square, you see that some of the lines and infrastructure elements were dated,” he added. “Between National Grid and Con Edison and some other service providers, they came in and upgraded their connections to the homes and our community at large.”
Routine maintenance has been conducted annually, but never a restoration of this magnitude.
“This is a unique project that should garner great support from historians, since it will bring to life something that could have disappeared,” Barsamian said. “We will probably be finished in February, but a ribbon-cutting ceremony or party may take place in March to welcome everyone to the beautifully restored Station Square.
“When I watch bricks being put down in 2018, I imagine what it must have been like in the early 1900s,” he added. “What were the original construction workers and masons thinking? Did it occur to them that they were involved in something so monumental that it has become a model throughout the country and the world?”
Station Square’s restoration is not only marked by the most recent roadway project, but also its Tudor facades.
“Over the past 10 years, our corporation has spent over $7 million restoring our three buildings, and I don’t think people realize that it was funded entirely by less than 100 owners through assessments,” said George Hoban, president of Station Square Inn Apartments Corporation. “People may also not realize that out of the hundreds of brick patterns throughout the buildings, each and every pattern is unique.”
Hoban also extended compliments to the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation and Friends of Station Square for their commitment to restoring and beautifying Station Square over the years.
“The planning and logistics behind this project were obviously challenging, but they have come through flawlessly,” he said. “I still feel a sense of joy each and every time I come home and see the beauty of the Square.”
Dan Ziegler, who is owner of Station Square Fight Fit at the Forest Hills Inn, is also very pleased with the restoration.
“When I come home, I almost feel like I'm in Europe,” he said. “Famous people used to stay in my building, and I love how we can go for a stroll in the Gardens and look at mansions or walk to Queens Boulevard for more of a city vibe.”
“Visitors may not realize that when you get an aerial view of Station Square, it looks like a map of England,” said Gigmy Bista, manager of Jade Eatery & Lounge. “I cannot wait for the restoration to be complete. We would always have locals, commuters, and tourists taking pictures and hanging out, and it was really good for businesses.”