The Park Briar Becomes a Forest Hills Historic Site
By Michael Perlman | [email protected]
It was history-in-the-making at the Park Briar co-op, which was honored with a “Forest Hills Historic Site” bronze plaque that was unveiled on its marble entranceway. On June 4 at 11:30 a.m., Park Briar residents, preservationists, and citywide organization representatives were ready for a ceremony featuring guest speakers at 110-45 Queens Boulevard.
Rewinding to Dec. 2, 1952, this Art Moderne meets Mid-Century Modern treasure earned a 1st prize bronze plaque by the Queens Chamber of Commerce for “excellence in design and civic value” at the annual Better Building Awards competition. The Park Briar was developed by Fisher Brothers, a firm that remains in existence. The principals were brothers Zachary, Larry and Martin. It was erected by Saxony Construction Company, and Cooper Union alumnus Lawrence M. Rothman and Samuel L. Littman were skillful architects. Today, the Park Briar sets high standards as a luxury address with preserved architecture, a most scenic Queens Boulevard landscape, and neighborliness.
This columnist and Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council partnered with Academy Engraving founder and president Frank DiBella, and founded the Forest Hills & Rego Park Historic Plaque Initiative. Then a proposal was presented at a Park Briar board meeting in December 2021 and a partnership was formed with board president Tammy Jacobi. The plaque became a reality due to a team effort of residents who contributed to a fundraiser. It was co-designed by this columnist and Academy Engraving. The plaque features Park Briar history, vintage photos of its developers and the building, and an architectural description. Façade features were sampled and became plaque design elements.
A goal of the Forest Hills & Rego Park Historic Plaque Initiative is to commemorate and help preserve a wide range of historic buildings and stretches of each neighborhood, to educate owners and residents, increasing the likelihood of preventing demolition. A heritage trail of plaques is envisioned. The consensus is that the built environment and architectural details offer a history lesson and convey a distinctive aura. Without buildings such as the Park Briar, the community would become a predictable “Anytown USA.”
Academy Engraving designs the Broadway League’s Tony Award, in addition to numerous signs and plaques throughout New York City, ranging from memorial tablets to NYC park plaques. Notable clients include Baccarat, Lalique, Rolex and Bulgari.
A statement was presented on behalf of DiBella: “When asked to come up with a paragraph, I drew a blank. There’s not much to say about cast bronze or etched bronze, since it’s pretty basic stuff. You give me the wording, you choose a font and a border style from a catalog, we cast it, and six weeks later the tablet is done. But then you showed me images of the architectural features of these buildings and what made them so unique and it interested me, and I thought, ‘why don’t we try to incorporate those features into some kind of decoration specific to that building?’ I’m glad I was able to create a tablet that would complement and enhance the building’s history and beautiful architecture. I look forward to more projects and appreciate the knowledge I gained.”
According to the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s 1952 “Queensborough” publication, “Numerous angles of elevation in the 163-apartment structure afford maximum light and ventilation. An imposing marble entrance façade leads into a deftly-decorated lobby. Apartments ranging from 2 to 6 rooms contain exceptionally large picture windows, cross-ventilation throughout, and walk-in closets with lights.”
Whimsical winding pathways with a colorful landscaped front, draw one’s eye to streamlined brickwork with floral motifs on curved and angular facades with large terraces, offering a striking appearance. An Art Deco lobby features rectangular columns, moldings, steps and a balcony with detailed brass railings, an illuminated geometric dome, and an ensemble of beige and brown terrazzo floors bearing a motif. Near the elevator is an Art Deco Capitol mail chute, a residential rarity.
The Park Briar is a superb example of soundproof and fireproof reinforced concrete construction. Early marketable features were 18 layouts, 13 x 26 living rooms, railed dining alcoves, a master TV antenna, GE automatic dishwashers, a 24-hour doorman and heated underground garage.
Tammy Jacobi, board president of the Park Briar opened the ceremony, followed by this columnist. She said, “We are gathered here today to celebrate the exciting, historical ceremony, unveiling the Park Briar plaque. It is such a pleasure to see so many honorable people participating in this event. I have been a longtime resident, and it has been my pride and joy, along with my fellow board members, maintaining and preserving this building.” She referenced upcoming speakers as distinguished guests.
Guest of Honor Jamie Rose Fisher, great-granddaughter of Larry Fisher who co-founded Fisher Brothers, delivered an eloquent speech. Then she pulled a curtain to unveil the plaque, and the crowd cheered.
On behalf of the past and present Fisher family, she felt deeply honored to pay tribute to a remarkable building with rich history. She explained, “It fills my heart with immense pride to be a part of this momentous occasion. The Park Briar holds a significant place in the history of our family’s legacy. Built by the visionary founders of Fisher Brothers, Martin, Larry and Zachary, this architectural gem represents their exceptional hard work and unwavering commitment to world-class design.”
She felt privileged to have known her great-grandfather. “Although I was young when he passed away, his dedication and passion to our business continues to guide and motivate me to this day. Martin, Larry and Zachary possessed an extraordinary foresight that set them apart from their peers – most notably their continuous pursuit of excellence. The Park Briar exemplifies their visionary mindset, embodies the values they held dear and is a testament to their legacy, which has been carried forward through future generations of our family.”
She felt it is unfortunate that they are no longer with us to enjoy a special moment. “I can only imagine the profound sense of pride that would fill their hearts, knowing The Park Briar is still a beloved home to so many families all these years. Spanning over a century, the Fisher Brothers business remains a family-owned real estate company with a commitment to creating exceptional spaces for current and future generations to live and work. As we honor the Park Briar, we reiterate our dedication to upholding this important legacy of our founders.
As we unveil this plaque, I stand before you all to remember and celebrate the extraordinary achievement that is the Park Briar.”
She extended a special thanks to the organizers and said, “I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that Michael also helped us secure a replica of the historical plaque, which will be proudly displayed in the Fisher Brothers office for all to see.”
President Thomas Grech of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, which originated in 1911, then took the stand. Architect Raymond Irrera, who is 92, served on the Building Awards Committee in 1952, and is presumably the only surviving member. However, he was unavailable, but Grech relayed his excitement. He explained, “When I look at this building, its bricks, and the beautiful nature of them, and I look at the floor as I walk in, it’s pristine. They don’t build them like they used to, and this is a testament to that; to the Fisher family and the folks that keep it up and running, and desirable for everyone who lives here.”
Author Jason Antos, executive director of the Queens Historical Society, felt honored to share a special occasion and said, “Some of the most exciting and dynamic architecture is here in Queens. I always marvel at how some of these buildings were constructed and how beautiful they are. It is an awesome occasion to come here and celebrate its architecture.” He asked the crowd, “Isn’t that a beautiful plaque?” and then called it amazing.
Frampton Tolbert is executive director of Historic Districts Council, a citywide advocate for historic neighborhoods. He said, “The Park Briar represents the type and era of architecture that gives Forest Hills its unique character. Today it is unfortunately being erased, whether it’s the demolition of the Trylon Theater or Parkside Chapels. It’s good that we are here to celebrate these buildings while they are with us and tell their stories.”
Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, said “Buildings such as this one are so important for keeping Forest Hills the community that it is. It is wonderful to see how the plaque organizers, the building, and the board came together.” She also extended an invite to the June 11 Forest Hills Festival, which will feature a fundraising table for such preservation projects.
Rachel Kellner became a guest speaker spur of the moment, and told how she and her husband Mark Libertini were fortunate to become co-owners of what was formerly Krause’s Candy Kitchen, founded in 1930. “Like this building, I am incredibly honored to carry on the legacy of Aigner Chocolates,” she said.
After the guest speaking opportunity, in the value of neighborliness, everyone was invited into the historic lobby to enjoy “Tammy (Jacobi)’s Kitchen Delights,” which were prepared from scratch and included lox, cheese and grapes, and a large variety of pastries.
Ceremony attendees also spoke fondly about the occasion. “Being an urban history buff, it was a thrill to be part of the ceremony, honoring such a beautiful building,” said longtime Park Briar resident Sharon Weinman. “It was very touching that the great-granddaughter of one of the developers was present to share the experience.”
Susan Varo, a local visual artist, was proud to learn about the generations of families associated with the Park Briar. She said, “I learned about the Fisher Family and their business. My impression was that of the comradery of family and friends coming together and sharing memories, and what has been a lifestyle of pride for their community.”
“I had friends who lived in this exceptional property, and when I visited them, I would enjoy looking at the view from their balcony,” said nearby resident Bernadette Vermersch. “How wonderful that Jamie Rose Fisher was a guest of honor to unveil the magnificent bronze plaque, and she was clearly moved. The lovely ceremony brought me back in time.”
After learning about the ceremony, Richard Delaney, who was raised in the nearby Holland House and resides in North Carolina, feels that its architectural beauty will continue to grant inspiration for years to come. “When I was very young, we used to play on the large lot where the Park Briar now stands. When I was in my sophomore year of high school, it officially opened for leasing in March 1952, and it remains as impressive today as it did back then. It’s hard to believe that it’s 71 years old.”
In the near future, a bronze plaque unveiling ceremony will also be held at the nearby Tudor-style Sutton Hall at 109-14 Ascan Avenue. To have your building honored with a plaque, email [email protected]