Birnbaum & Kaskel's legacy in Forest Hills
by Michael Perlman
Sep 23, 2014 | 11576 views | 1 1 comments | 206 206 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alfred Kaskel and Philip Birnbaum hold an award from the Queens Chamber of Commerce for one of their many buildings.
Alfred Kaskel and Philip Birnbaum hold an award from the Queens Chamber of Commerce for one of their many buildings.
The population of Queens continues to grow, but how often do we take a moment to appreciate the novelty and distinctive characteristics that contributed to its diversity and appeal?

Meet the award-winning duo of architect Philip Birnbaum (1907-1996) and builder Alfred Kaskel (1901-1968) of Carol Management, a pair of noteworthy community visionaries. They sensed opportunity in Forest Hills in 1939, when they realized its accessibility and growing population, resulting from the development of the IND subway line in 1936 and the 1939 World’s Fair.

Their numerous apartment houses within the confines of Yellowstone Boulevard and 108th Street uniquely merge Colonial and Art Moderne styles. From 1939 to 1942, they built the Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson and Benjamin Franklin.

Their buildings were marked by detailed large lobbies with picture windows overlooking a central courtyard with sunken fountains. They are also noted for curved brick corner terraces and exposures that maximize sunlight and fresh air. Some of their lobbies were furnished with antiques collected in Europe.

“My father worked with Alfred Kaskel for perhaps more than 30 years,” said Dara Birnbaum, a video artist and professor. “They were amazingly close with much mutual respect.”

The majority of their buildings stand unaltered and exhibit unique architectural features, and were often recognized at the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s annual building awards.

In 1949, they continued their presidential trend with the George Washington and Grover Cleveland. Between 1953 and 1955, they introduced the Woodrow Wilson and James Monroe in Forest Hills, and the Martin Van Buren in Rego Park.

West of the presidential developments, they built the 13-story garden-style Howard Apartments on 66th Road in 1952, which was named after Kaskel’s son. The Birnbaum family occupied the penthouse at 99-72 66th Road.

“My father worked closely with landscapers and landscape architects to place trees and plants and to decide what the overall feeling of the landscape would be,” Birnbaum said.

The Anita and Carol apartments in Rego Park were named after Kaskel’s daughters. Dara Gardens in Kew Gardens Hills was named after Birnbaum’s daughter.

Also in 1952, the award-winning Metropolitan Industrial Bank (now Bank of America) at 99-01 Queens Boulevard was completed. It was distinguished by its colonnade corner with curved glass, Swedish granite fins and interior mural commemorating colonial scenes in Queens.

“I am enamored by the Metropolitan Industrial Bank, which has a very positive and progressive design, especially for that period,” said Birnbaum.

Birnbaum and Kaskel varied from the neighborhood’s typical six-story apartment house with the towering Kennedy House at 110-11 Queens Boulevard, which features a large crystal chandelier in the lobby and a roof deck with a swimming pool. Completed in 1965, it memorialized President Kennedy.

“He wanted lobbies of buildings to feel somewhat grandiose, to give a type of prestige to the then-rising middle class,” Birnbaum said. “He also wanted the blue lights on each terrace to read like an airport runway.”

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November 02, 2015
ii-i a lot of interesting buildings. I try to get a list together, for a tour.

It would prove fun on an early sun filled spring sunday morning.