Last month, some of the earliest signs of development in Forest Hills were demolished at 108-15 and 108-17 72nd Avenue to make way for a seven-story apartment building.
Prior to that, a commercial building was built at 108-21 72nd Avenue, butting up against the windows of the Chatham apartment building. That leaves only two largely intact rowhouses at 108-11 and 108-19 72nd Avenue.
Michael Mancino lives in the Tudor-style Alberta at 108-22 72nd Avenue, one of the earliest apartment buildings outside Forest Hills Gardens.
“We need to see what we can do as a community to have the remaining ones saved, and I also feel that my building deserves a chance to be landmarked,” he said. “The architecture and overall feel of my block is changing for the worse.”
A plaque on the façade of 108-19 72nd Avenue reads “This marker denotes the first assemblage of residential structures, still extant, erected in Forest Hills. Built in 1906, they were the beginnings of this historic, beautiful community.”
The Central Queens Historical Association, headed by Jeff Gottlieb, led a dedication ceremony in May 1991 for the 85th anniversary of their construction.
In August 2006, the site, which was home to the first plumber, electrician and carpenter in Forest Hills, was re-dedicated to commemorate the 100th anniversary.
“I always hoped to have a home in Forest Hills for when I return to the city, but I honestly don't want to anymore since it’s just not the Forest Hills I remember,” said Connecticut resident Dana Wilson, who was born in Forest Hills in 1963. “Forest Hills was the most architecturally beautiful location in Queens.”
The rowhouses were erected in 1906 by Cord Meyer Development Corporation and designed by architect Benjamin Dreisler, who was prominent in his time, designing brownstones in Brooklyn but very few Queens properties.
Distinctive features are low-rise stoops, bowed fronts, a lion gargoyle, and a variation in cornice and lintel detail, which made no two exactly alike but harmonious with each other.
Similar rowhouses were prevalent in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but with traditional high stoops.
In a March 1931 New York Times article, George Meyer reflected on the early Forest Hills development.
“Roman Avenue [now 72nd Street] between Queens Boulevard and Austin was the first street to be cut through, and on it the company started its first building operations,” the article read, “ten two-family brick homes and offered them for sale at $5,500 each,”
Roman Avenue was selected due to its convenience to the now-defunct Austin Street stop of the LIRR and the planned Continental Avenue Station.
“It brings sadness to know of the recent changes,” said Long Island resident Emily Affrunti, who once lived with her family at 108-11 72nd Avenue in the 1940s and 1950s. “It was reminiscent of where my father came from in England with rowhouses, parks, wide boulevards, houses of worship, and small cobblestone streets, making it understandable why he choose to live and work in Forest Hills and raise a family.”
North Carolina resident Richard Delaney was raised in the nearby Holland House and continues to visit periodically.
“I feel very bad seeing the structures demolished,” he said. “This is destroying its charm, character and integrity, and I don’t know if I would refer to this section as The Village anymore.”
Regina Judith Faighes moved to Forest Hills with her father in 1995. Ten years later, she spotted a wooden fence around a rowhouse opposite the one with the plaque and a permit for renovations. Then while having lunch nearby a few days after, she met two individuals.
“They were covered from head to toe with plaster dust and explained that they were demolishing a 100-year-old house,” she said “I told them I only knew about a house that was being renovated. It took incredible self-control for me not to burst into tears.
“Fast-forward to 2018, there’s the demolition of all but two rowhouses,” Faighes said. “The text on the plaque, which references the houses on both sides, no longer applies.”
Last week, Forest Hills resident Emily Vieyra-Haley and her husband Alan walked past the rowhouses to have another look.
“I was astonished when I saw the demolition notices and wooden boards,” she said. “I thought this strip of Forest Hills history was landmarked, and it upsets me that anyone would want to destroy these emblems of Forest Hills’ early architecture.”
Vieyra-Haley plans to circulate a petition in support of the preservation of the remaining rowhouses.
“I will demonstrate how much these buildings mean to the community,” she said. “If we can at least allow people to say they support and value these two buildings, maybe future developers will hesitate to destroy them and engage in a dialogue with the public where everyone can benefit.”