A 1927 Forest Hills Map with A Story To Tell
A Historic Treasure That Shows Up on Your Doorstep
By Michael Perlman
Highly stylized maps depicting Forest Hills are few and far between, and it is a good possibility that authentic copies do not exist in high quantities. Most recently, history buff Jody Wilner Moran, a resident of Portland, Oregon and a former longtime Forest Hills resident, mailed this columnist a surprise package to support the community preservation ethic. Inside was a grateful handwritten note accompanying a framed original map that reads “Forest Hills Gardens, 1927,” which is considered to be a primary source. This is among the most picturesque local maps ever designed.
Some historic documents contain a mystery. This map features the initials N.M.F., presumably an unidentified cartographer with superb artistic capabilities. There are animated-like whimsical illustrations in cartouches surrounding the street grid, which celebrate the variety of cultural and recreational activities and “landmarks” that pertain to Forest Hills Gardens and Forest Hills, founded in 1909 and 1906, respectively. The caricatures are reminiscent of flapper-age artist John Held, Jr. (1889 – 1958), an animator who was recognized for epitomizing the 1920s-jazz age.
“The map is fascinating, since every time you look at it, you find interesting things you missed the last time,” said Moran. Her sister, Stephanie, who was an artist, gave their father, Bob Wilner, this work of art many years ago, and her stepmother had it framed. When her stepmother passed away last year, she inherited it. She continued, “It was special because of the location and the year 1927, the year of my dad’s birth. We grew up in Forest Hills and my dad lived nearby after my parents’ divorce. He owned Austin Photo, which originally was on Austin St., but moved to Continental Ave. between Anderson Florist and Lorilil Jewelers.”
The map also includes Austin St., the boundaries of “Queensboro” Boulevard from Union Turnpike to Backus Place (now 69th Rd.), and Metropolitan Ave. It also features West Side Tennis Stadium & Club, completed four years prior. Although the Queens Boulevard trolley was still in existence, only two automobiles are parading along “Queensboro” Boulevard. Nearby is the Masonic Temple nearby on Continental Ave., later acquired by Sterling National Bank. A hand points toward Manhattan and notes department stores “Lord & Taylor, Macy, Saks, Altmans, Hearns, & Woolworths.” Far to the east, a swimmer is taking a plunge “To Long Beach.”
Long-decommissioned street names can be found between the boulevard and the LIRR, including Herrick Ave (now 70th Ave), Shelbourne Pl. (70th Rd), Roman Ave. (72nd Ave) and Rosebery Pl. (76th Dr). However, in Forest Hills Gardens, street names are preserved.
Now into the caricature highlights… A most prominent illustration is a cartouche surrounding a depiction of the Davis Cup, which was an international team competition based at the West Side Tennis Club from 1914 to 1959. This event helped raise funds for erecting Forest Hills Stadium in 1923, which became America’s first tennis stadium and would accommodate 14,000 spectators. Nearby is a wreath featuring tennis balls and stars, with a tennis player in the middle of the stadium with a leg in the air and a racket held high, and appearing larger than the stadium.
There is a caricature of a cowboy with a lasso, symbolic of performer Will Rogers (1879 – 1935), who was a much-admired comic cowboy that resided in Kew Gardens. He is remembered as a vaudeville performer who made 50 silent films and 21 talkies, and was the highest paid in Hollywood film. Another accomplishment was his 4,000-plus nationally syndicated news columns.
A parchment paper depiction of a worker holding up an elaborate letter “G” is a representation of Grosvenor Atterbury (1869 – 1956), the principal architect of Forest Hills Gardens, an earliest planned garden community in America, inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City movement.
The map showcases the Gardens Players by depicting actors on stage with a director. This organization was founded in 1916 and performed traditionally in locations including the Tea Garden and the Church-in-the-Gardens Community House. This musical theater organization is going strong 107 years later, and for the past 21 years, has participated in the production of original musicals.
A writer alongside a quill is likely reminiscent of Robert Burns Mantle (1873 – 1948), a writer, theater critic and producer who resided at 44 Seasongood Road. He founded “The Best Plays Theater Yearbook” in 1920. Through 1947, he edited a series which would become known as a significant contribution to the American stage. He also wrote for the New York Evening Mail and New York Daily News as a drama critic.
An artist in front of an easel can be found, holding a large brush. This depicts none other than Herman Rountree (1878 – 1946), a 176 Slocum Crescent Forest Hills Gardens resident. He was among America’s best-known wildlife illustrators and also considered to be a most brilliant poster artist, a painter, and magazine and newspaper artist. His humorous and festive posters promoted the community’s annual Fourth of July day-long festivals, a tradition originating in 1914. His 1916 poster, “Yes Mule – It’s The Greatest Show on Earth!!” captured the astonished faces of children watching a clown that embraced a mule. The bottom further captured the Gardens’ festive and playful spirit with a lineup of a frivolous clown, a dog act with a carriage being pushed, a ballerina on a horse, boxers, acrobats, as well as a dog playing an instrument while balancing on a ball adjacent to a woman holding a baton. His1917 poster featured the Forest Hills Inn and Station Square as a backdrop of Village Green, where bystanders witnessed the raising of the 48-star American flag.
A man standing with his elbow against a water tower is symbolic of Forest Hills Gardens resident Homer Croy (1883 – 1965), author of “West of the Watertower.” His books commonly explored fiction and non-fiction storylines about life in the Midwest, in addition to writing biographies on Will Rogers, film director D.W. Griffith and outlaw Jesse James. He was a friend of Forest Hills resident Helen Keller and wrote an essay on her, titled “The Happiest Person I know.”
A sculptor with a hammer and a chisel depicts Adolph Alexander Weinman (1870 – 1952), who owned a studio at 234 Greenway South and a home at 236 Greenway South. Locally, he is most famous for sculpting the WWI Soldiers & Sailors Memorial on Village Green/Flagpole Green, which recently underwent restoration work. This bronze and granite masterpiece commemorates 102 Forest Hills men serving in the Great War. His other notable achievements consist of designing the silver Mercury dime and Walking Liberty half-dollar, the 1904 Louisiana Purchase World’s Fair Exposition medals, and The Rising Sun and Descending Night allegorical scenes. Architecturally, Weinman’s commissions included the Pietà on Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church and his Civic Fame sculpture atop Manhattan’s Municipal Building.
A pianist in front of a grand piano, with a ray of sunshine display of music notes, depicts Edward Abbe Niles (1894 – 1963) of 14 Beechknoll Road. He was also noteworthy for his expertise on music copyrights and as a lawyer, and was a WSTC linesman at the national amateur tennis championships. He was a foremost figure who brought blues music into the American spotlight, exceeding other successful music journalists. Along with W.C. Handy, he co-authored “Treasury of the Blues.” His wife, Katherine, served as coordinator of the Forest Hills Gardens Debutante Cotillion and could be found arranging ballroom dance classes at the Forest Hills Inn.
Within a crest is an orator with a declamation. This is none other than actor Albert Sidney Howson (1881 – 1960) of 34 Tennis Place. He appeared in 21 plays for major names, including Shubert, Frohman, Belasco, and Proctor. He appeared in Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It. Wearing another hat, he was president of Forest Hills Gardens Celebrations Association. On Flagpole Green, he applied his drama skills to Memorial Day speeches and quoted Shakespeare and wore a cape. He was also president of the Community House in the early 1930s, and was a scenario editor and censorship director under Warner Bros.
Also featured are the award-winning rowhouse and communal assemblages of Arbor Close (1925) and Forest Close (1927), which were developed by Cord Meyer Development Company. Designed by the prolific Robert Tappan of 28 Whitson St., it is regarded as a foremost example of urban planning. Homes have fronts along the street with landscaped lawns, but if residents walk through an arched gateway, they encounter private gardens around an interior communal garden with courtyards. This emphasizes the romantic Arts & Crafts style and English manor concept, while fostering neighborliness for gardening and private events. Brick facades are embellished with stucco, rubble and half-wood timbering trim, motifs, leaded glass, archways and pitched slate roofs.
Forest Hills in its heyday had many more private social clubs. The map features the long-forgotten Closians’ Club for Arbor Close and Forest Close residents, which made their way into a clubhouse and also enjoyed two tennis courts and golf on Austin St., opposite the Closes. The caricature depicts jitterbuggers with a dancer in the air. This was a frequent meeting spot for the Studio Art Club, which held a bal masque on a Friday evening in 1930. The following year, another ball featured rooms decorated for Valentine’s Day.
A conductor with a music note references James Hal Kemp (1904 – 1940) of 53 Continental Ave. He was a composer, radio orchestra conductor, clarinetist and jazz alto saxophonist. He founded Hal Kemp and His Orchestra. Notable recordings were “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Got A Date with an Angel, and he could be found conducting at Hotel Pennsylvania and Hotel New Yorker.
A man axing radio image depicts pioneer engineer John Vincent Lawless Hogan (1890 – 1960) of 239 Greenway South. He originated the first high-fidelity radio station, W2XR, which would be licensed as a 250-watt experimental station in 1934. He also invented single dial radio tuning for AM/FM. He founded the Institute of Radio Engineers and his facsimile transmission system transcribed a four-column page newspaper illustrated page at 500 words per minute.
Other unique imagery includes a compass atop a large tennis racket and small tennis ball, a woman wearing a hat and blowing a “north wind” towards the street grid, a parrot and monkey, a honeymoon couple, card players, a ribbon around a flapper with a spire-adorned Forest Hills Inn silhouette, fireworks marking the annual Fourth of July celebrations in Station Square, Olivia Park, Greenway Terrace and Village Green, and a diner holding a pitchfork under a bell. Commuters can be seen running to Forest Hills Station, Christmas carolers in Station Square, and a bus reading “no seats,” hence a population boom.