Ring For Tea Stand Replicated at Historic Tea Garden
Tea Ceremony Rings In Restoration & New Traditions
By Michael Perlman
“Tea time, anyone?” Nestled behind an ornate gate on Greenway Terrace bearing the Forest Hills Gardens logo, and around the corner from the iconic Forest Hills Inn and behind Jade Eatery & Lounge is a long-forgotten Tea Garden from 1912. Peeking through, there are monumental trees, Tudor architecture, a stone gazebo, and a non-operational central brick fountain. Despite the need for extensive restoration work, a unique sense of history, architectural beauty, and much charm unfolds, enabling passersby and patrons to realize its great potential.
It was history-in-the-making on March 31, when preservationists were first to witness the replication of the highly stylized “Ring For Tea” stand, after the original vanished at least 75 years ago. It made a dramatic entrance through the Greenway Terrace gate from the Noble Signs van, and marked a first significant step toward the Tea Garden’s restoration.
The Tea Garden was designed by Forest Hills Gardens principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. It once accommodated Forest Hills Inn guests and their friends with afternoon teas, dinner dances, plays by The Gardens Players, wedding receptions, dog shows, flower shows, and July 4th events. However, when the Forest Hills Inn underwent conversion into a residence in 1968, the Tea Garden gradually became underutilized and neglected.
The July 12, 1924 edition of The Forest Hills Bulletin read, “The Tea Garden of the Forest Hills Inn is a veritable fairyland, when lighted with Japanese lanterns, with the trickling fountain heard in the background, and a new moon shining overhead. There is no more delightful place in Greater New York for one to spend the dinner hour.” Every evening during the warmer months between 6:30 and 9 PM, a delectable dinner was served, to the music of the Inn Trio, such as Dvorak’s “Humoresque,” Nevin’s “A Day in Venice,” Godard’s “Canzonetta,” and Albeniz’s “A Night In Seville.”
This columnist founded the Tea Garden Restoration Committee, coordinated the Ring For Tea stand replication, and led a ceremony in collaboration with Jade Eatery owner Kumar, preservationists and cinematographer Alan McIntyre. The agenda consisted of presenting the replication process and the Tea Garden’s history. After asking who would be first to have the honor of ringing the bell, all attendees took turns and were surprisingly served green tea by Kumar and his staff. Then early 20th century Tea Garden photos fostered much dialogue, which included an ad of couples dancing, the umbrella-adorned tables surrounding a fountain in full swing, a cascading wall fountain that flowed into a pond with turtles and iguana sculptures, and construction workers erecting the garden in May 1912.
“It was nice to have patrons and preservationists at our ceremony. After everyone rang the bell, I enjoyed serving hot cups of tea on saucers, reviving a tradition from long ago,” said Kumar. He felt that the stand seems as if it never left the historic spot, which he is grateful to have behind Jade. “It is beautiful and looks authentic. I thank everyone for their support and would like to see the Tea Garden restored further,” he continued.
The project originated after this columnist acquired a Tea Garden postcard featuring the tea stand alongside rocking chairs. Since the original tea stand could not be located, the next step was to build a replica, after selling a large collection of jigsaw puzzles donated by local resident Ronald Gentile, among a few other supporters. Puzzles were sold at Jade Eatery and at the Forest Hills Festival of the Arts on Austin Street.
The process involved a series of Tea Garden history tours, drafting blueprints, fundraising, and an exceptional team of skillful craftsmen. This columnist consulted with civil engineer Bea Hunt. “I was sent the Tea Garden postcard and provided dimensions for the tea stand. With a little reverse engineering, I developed dimensions for the manufacturers. The workmanship and authentic quality of the tea stand exceeded all my expectations,” she said.
Flushing Iron Weld (Paula Munoz, Nelson Santander and colleagues) was appointed to produce the steel framing, as well as Noble Signs (co-founders David Barnett and Mac Pohanka, among colleagues) to replicate signage. A vertical sign reads “Ring For Tea” and bears a teacup logo, and the reverse sign reads “Tea Garden, Est. 1912.” The stand’s color is Olympus Green, harmonizing with Forest Hills Gardens lampposts. The sign’s calligraphy is accurate and the color scheme features a historic cream, brown, and black.
David Barnett, co-founder of Noble Signs explained, “Our team designed an exact replica of the signage in the postcard. The lettering was drawn and painted by hand in the same tradition as the signs would have been originally produced. The colors were chosen by Michael and our team to evoke the history of the project. We are very excited to witness the Tea Garden’s revitalization, and send thanks to Michael, Kumar, and Flushing Iron Weld for being great partners.”
After an extensive eBay search, a circa 1890s bronze bell from a horse-drawn carriage was purchased and installed, bearing resemblance to the original. The bell was found in Ukraine and its sale supported a small business.
The Forest Hills Inn’s board supported the project. “The Ring For Tea stand’s replication came out perfectly, and it’s refreshing to know that a unique piece of the Forest Hills Inn’s history has been restored,” said George Hoban, president of Station Square Inn Apartments. “We look forward to the day when the Tea Garden is made safe and restored to its original beauty.” Board member Jim Ng envisions its future and would like to have the Tea Garden open to the public, potentially during specific hours of the weekend, and would also like Forest Hills Inn shareholders to have access. “In any event, we need to resolve the liability issue if someone gets hurt, whether it’s the public, Jade patrons, or shareholders,” he said.
Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, attended and offered her support. “I am so excited to see Tea Garden history beginning to come back to life. Forest Hills Gardens is steeped in so much history for our community and really for the whole city and it is fantastic that Michael Perlman has taken on this project to restore a magical place. Seeing the replicated Ring For Tea stand, complete with a vintage bell on top was a priceless step back in time, and it was just as priceless to be able to ring the bell and have cups of tea brought out for us.” She continued, “I am excited to see the next steps for the Tea Garden’s restoration.”
Residents from various parts of Forest Hills felt honored to ring the bell and began discussing the Tea Garden’s potential. “While so much of our past is ignored, Michael remembers, and beyond remembering, he makes every effort to bring it back and keep it alive,” said Alan Tullio. He visualizes a space reminiscent of the original. “Tea can be served in a relaxed, shady and elegant environment. We could have music recitals on the grounds and introduce a signature snack.”
“Everyone was kind and welcoming, and there was a real sense of community,” said Christine Barr, a newcomer to Forest Hills, who was grateful to make friends. She rehashed her encounter with Nelly Manzo. “During Michael’s presentation, she said that it sounded as if he lived in those times, and I agreed. When the ‘Coolest and most delightful spot on Long Island’ ad was brought out, featuring couples dancing on site, she referenced the Roaring Twenties, and then I heard 1924 being referenced.”
“After the bell rang, I joked that tea would be great ‘right about now,’ and out walks Kumar with green tea for all. It was chilly, so not only did the tea come perfectly on cue, but it hit the spot,” said Barr.
Nelly Manzo and her husband Gabriele attended a Tea Garden tour in 2021, so she felt the ceremony was not to be missed. “It would be another adventure in plain air and a historical and educational gathering,” she said.
For over 100 years of history to make a comeback, she anticipated ringing the bell of a majestic stand. She said, “We heard the sweet melody of the small bell, which brings people together with much joy. An important conversation can start with a ‘ring for tea.’ We all can embrace this serene spot to celebrate and bring this garden back to life, such as by working with a plumber to help restore the fountain, as well as a nursery to provide original plants, such as rhododendrons in pink and red.”
Kevin Sanichara was beyond pleased to be a part of history by helping with the opening for the Ring For Tea project. He explained, “A lot of our classic architecture is being replaced by many of the new high rises and commercialization of larger companies, which takes away from the history and aesthetic of the area. I was amazed by the Tea Garden’s beauty, and knew this area needed to be kept alive.”
Sanichara feels that by preserving history, current generations will understand their cultural and community impact, while also adapting with current times. “With the area becoming more diverse, a quiet and social meeting area would be nice for us all to enjoy and understand what made Forest Hills a famous area. I’m hoping our plan keeps our area peaceful, inviting and safe,” he said.