Parkside Chapel, a modernist gem, now endangered
Sep 09, 2020 | 726 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last spring, Parkside Memorial Chapels at 98-60 Queens Boulevard merged with Schwartz Brothers funeral home in Forest Hills, which left the Rego Park property abandoned.

Rumor has it that a developer has plans to demolish it for a residential high-rise, but preservation organizations are now working to save Parkside Chapel. The effort coincides with Rego Park being designated a “Six To Celebrate” 2020 community by the Historic Districts Council (HDC), deeming it a preservation priority.

The unique building, which earned listings in the noted American Institute of Architects Guide To New York City, remains largely intact. It was designed in 1961 by Viennese architect Henry Sandig and architect Robert I. Kasindorf. Kasindorf founded Habitech, which provides space planning, interior design, and architectural design services.

Sandig worked for the notable firm Emory Roth and Sons. He attended the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and the Vienna School of Architecture, and founded an independent firm in 1954. Sandig was Kasindorf’s mentor and his first employer after the latter graduated from Pratt Institute in 1951.

Parkside Chapel is considered one of their most significant buildings. It consists of Jewish star-patterned walls and concrete screens with exposed steel beams. On Queens Boulevard, between the outer facade grill and inner façade, is a walkway that leads to striking abstract metal sculptural fountain that spans the height of the building. A landscaped area accommodates a mature weeping beech tree.

On April 9, 1961, a New York Post ad announced the dedication of the new chapel, where fraternal organizations, societies, family circles, temple groups, and the general public were invited to inspect ultra-modern facilities.

“My father was recognized as a renaissance man as an artist, architect, inventor, visionary, philosopher, and a generous patron of and collaborator with talented artists and artisans,” said his daughter, architect Denise Kasindorf Brooks of Brooks Design Associates. “He was able to seamlessly integrate function and modern art into the designs of architectural environments.”

Large architectural fenestration to bring natural daylight to the exterior and interior environments was a “new modern” concept for this type of building.

“A new vision of an ‘urban respite landscape’ complemented the transition between exterior and interior experience,” Brooks explained. “The elegant exterior bronze sculpture, monumentally scaled yet gracefully suspended in the air, featured the soothing sounds of flowing water cascading down over-scaled abstract stylized floating leaves.”

The chapel’s warm welcoming environment incorporated glowing custom wall panels of cream-colored Jerusalem stone, a material rarely used at the time.

“The architecture is sensitive to the human scale of this Queens Boulevard cultural landmark,” Brooks said.

Notable artists contributed to the project. Sculptor Arnold Stone of Long Island designed the large sculptural fountain. David Jacobs, a sculptor, painter, and educator, designed the Eternal Flame in the Chapel and matching light sconces throughout.

Brooks’ sister, Amy Kasindorf of LivArt Inc., designed, fabricated, and installed the art glass window appliques on the chapel’s glazed wall and the wall graphic on the monumental interior staircase’s landing.

“As a child I fondly remember sitting on the steps in the garage at our Glen Cove home and in his Manhasset office, amazed as my father and his partner Richard van Tieghem painted all the custom sand wall art originally installed throughout,” Brooks said.

Jewish funeral homes as a service and building typology were not established parts of American society until the mid-20th century.

“As part of the larger story of Jewish assimilation into America during the 20th Century, particularly in the years following the devastation of WWII, Jewish funerary practices moved out of the realm of immediate family networks and moved into the professional sphere,” said Kelly Carroll, advocacy and community outreach director of HDC. “As Judaism changed as a culture and a religion, these purpose-built, full-service Jewish funerary facilities proliferated.”

She noted that such buildings help define the modern face of Queens.

“They and the stories they tell deserve to be recognized and preserved,” she said. “Remnants of the mid-century dot the backdrops of most peoples’ lives in Queens, but for how long?”
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