Eyeing Less Discussed Historic Buildings on Saunders Street

Visits: 283

A Look into More Rego Park Treasures on the Centennial

By Michael Perlman

Enter another installment in a series of Rego Park centennial stories. One of the earliest developed streets in the newly named Rego Park in 1923 by the Rego (REal GOod) Construction Company is Saunders Street. The spotlight shines on the three most historic and earliest buildings that the firm developed, consisting of the Tudor-style Remo Hall (1927) and Spanish-Mission style Jupiter Court (1927) and Marion Court (1929); all designed by Constantinople native Benjamin Braunstein.

Steps away along the same street, other treasures are often overlooked, despite offering distinctive architecture, history, and a model of urban planning. They capture Rego Park life in the 1930s to the early 1940s, but their story is seldom told.

Rego Park is home to a Tudor medieval castle in the form of an apartment building, initially known as The Savoy, and later known as Savoy Gardens at 62-82 Saunders Street. Early listings referenced it as 62-30 Saunders Street. It was erected in 1936 by Resnikoff and Eig of Brooklyn, who operated under Lena Holding Corporation. The recessed façade features unique turrets and battlements, an ornamental chimney, a pitched roof with flagstone, cartouches, stone accents, stepped brick, curved fire escapes, and a decorative stone and arched entryway.

Prospective residents hoped to make a life in Rego Park and picked up The New York Times. A February 21, 1937 ad read, “Forest Hills West, New 6-story Bldg., Rego Park, The Savoy, 62-30 Saunders St. Now renting, 2, 2 ½, 3, 3 ½, 4 (2 baths), $50 to $90; March 1 occupancy; concessions; 4-minute walk from Woodhaven Av. station on new 8th Avenue subway (1 block south Queens Blvd., east to building); near school, churches, stores.”

According to The Daily Register’s March 22, 1937 edition, “The first new apartment house to be opened along the Queens Blvd. extension, Municipal Subway, the Savoy, at 62-30 Saunders St., Rego Park, is now 30% rented, three weeks after renting began. The Savoy has sixty apartments ranging from two to four rooms. The building has a frontage generally used for buildings of eighty-four to ninety-six families, the extra space having been put into the apartments.” 

Debra Sencer Du Chateau of Pennsylvania was a Savoy resident from 1959 to 1984, the first 25 years of her life. She reminisced, “As a child it felt like a castle. The back courtyard was very appealing as a play area to us children, and it felt fairly large. It was two steps down from a walkway that ran back of the building, and there were trees and honeysuckle. There were lots of children growing up, and we made believe that we were princesses. Our apartment faced the main center courtyard, the back of the building, and the smaller courtyard on the left.” Some buildings offered many amenities. “Each line of apartments was unique and has at least one walk-in closet, which was unusual for the time period. The basement was huge, with a fallout shelter and many storage areas and hidden alcoves,” she continued.

Saranac Lake, New York resident Marilyn Bigelow also cherishes her childhood at The Savoy. She moved away in 1964, but her mother continued to call it home until 2007. She reminisced, “In the 1950s, the foyer had furniture, where you could sit and wait, but as time went on, out went the furniture. There was always someone to play with. In the courtyard, my friends and I would play hopscotch, ride our bikes, and create silly plays. I can still hear the laughter. In the spring, when the trees were in bloom, it was beautiful. I can recall different cooking aromas, as there were a variety of nationalities.” She admits that as a young girl, she did not pay much attention to the architecture, but now she said, “Looking at photos, The Savoy is a unique building.”

The Savoy became even more desirable a few years after completion, since it would face a private park, accessible from the street, which residents referenced as “The Circle.” This was achieved by the completion of the three-building, 360-family Saunders Gardens apartment group in 1941. Owned by Saunders Park Estates, Inc, it consists of Saunders Gardens West at 62-65 Saunders Street and Saunders Gardens East at 62-95 Saunders Street, surrounding the park, as well as The Douglas, further east of 63rd Avenue at 63-25 Saunders Street. This was the era of the increasingly popular garden-style apartment house, sometimes designed in clusters, and Saunders Gardens was a pinnacle achievement. The style is a collective Colonial meets Art Moderne. Bowed facades, quoins, lintels, and courtyards leading to Art Deco entranceways. A classic example is the stonework of Saunders Gardens West featuring two-story pilasters, a frieze, and lobby windows with vertical, horizontal, and circular motifs, likely inspired by Art Deco fountain elements.

Chelzetz, Austria (now Poland) native Hyman Isaac Feldman (1896 – 1981) was its architect, who earned a degree at Yale in 1919, and would design 2,500 apartment buildings in the New York metropolitan area throughout his illustrious career. He developed his practice in 1921 and was influential in designing Art Deco buildings along the Grand Concourse, in addition to Brooklyn. From the 1950s through the 1970s, he left his mark in Manhattan with many residential high-rises. He served as president of the New York Society of Architects.

In June 1941, The New York Times featured a comprehensive ad with a rendering of the two buildings facing the park and stated, “Enjoy your own park – 7,000 sq. ft. for exclusive use of tenants.” An illustrated scroll of honor highlighted numerous firms and stated, “The builders sincerely appreciate the splendid cooperation of the contractors and craftsmen listed below, whose high standards and zeal made the erection of Saunders Gardens.” It included Bruno Depaoli & Co. of 314 11th Avenue for mosaics and terrazzo, interior decorations and lobbies by James S. Kuhne of 690 Gerard Avenue, and Julius Stone Contracting Corp. of 1910 Arthur Avenue for masonry.

An attractive pergola once existed in the park. The ad also featured renderings titled “Lovely gardens” and “Dropped living rooms.” “To those who are proud of where they live, these three new buildings offer all of the advantages that careful planning, excellent construction, and thirty years of experience in building and managing can give.” It also referenced all apartments having two or three exposures and many apartments offering glass door stall showers and (raised) dinettes. Doorman service was also an attractive accommodation. The ad stated that residents may “enjoy a lovely roof deck and recreation room” and “For photography fans, there is a darkroom in the basement.” Numerous features were available at what was considered an extremely moderate rental from $42.50 and up, ranging from 2 to 4 rooms.

Another unique site is the 120-suite Oxford-Cambridge apartment group at 95-08 Queens Boulevard and 63-07 Saunders Street, respectively. One encounters bronze plaques which bear each British-inspired regal name. For $175,000, it was erected at the time of the 1939 to 1940 World’s Fair, which contributed to an increase in garden style apartment buildings, sparking a population boom. The builder and owner was Forest Dale Realty Corporation, with Arnold H. Golding as president.

Oxford and Cambridge are the United Kingdom’s municipalities that are urbanized and an agricultural market town, respectively, and are synonymous with the earliest, wealthiest, and most famous universities. Both prestigious institutions were founded over 800 years ago and were the alma mater of Britain’s prominent individuals including writers, scientists, and politicians.

The apartment group was designed by Benjamin Braunstein (1892 – 1972), whose local achievements resulted in several awards for their architectural and civic value by the Queens Chamber of Commerce. He is also credited with designing Remo Hall, Jupiter Court, and Marion Court and buildings near Ascan Avenue in Forest Hills, including Sutton Hall, the Holland House, The Wakefield, and Tilden Arms. Braunstein trained at the Hebrew Technical Institute and at the Beaux Arts Society. He was influenced by ideas of the English Garden City movement and New York modern tenement movement, and envisioned finer living.  

The Oxford-Cambridge was one of Braunstein’s classic examples of merging traditional and current styles, as in Colonial meets Art Moderne. The buildings are harmonious with mirrored brick façades with dentil cornices, corner windows, recessed courts, bay windows, arched brick accents & quoins, stone bands, wooden entryways with arched pediments, Corinthian pilasters, and lanterns. Leaded glass is retained on one of two entryway transom windows. In 2008, residents watched in pride as black aluminum siding from the Oxford’s entranceway was removed, and the authentic regal details were restored and replicated, including an arched pediment and pilasters.  

In February 1940, The New York Times read, “Rental activity is expected to be speeded up considerably as a result of the completion last week of the lobbies in the buildings. These have been designed in the eighteenth-century style and furnished with Regency period furniture under the direction of Olga Thenen.”

Prospective tenants discovered several outstanding features, all for $42.50 rent and up. It read, “The building is situated on a park street and within sight of the (1939) World’s Fair grounds which will be the largest Public Park in the City of New York.” Attractions also consisted of roof gardens, uniformed door service, large and well-proportioned windows of casement steel, built-in bookcases to lend tone to foyers, an Otis automatic elevator, spacious rooms with ample closets opening off the foyer, radio outlets, Westinghouse refrigerators, streamlined bathrooms, a laundry in the basement, and a telephone announcing system to identify visitors. Transit included the 8th Avenue Independent Subway line, a bus to and from Manhattan, and a LIRR station on 63rd Drive.

Another noteworthy apartment house designed by Benjamin Braunstein is The Sterling at 61-41 Saunders Street. This Georgian Colonial building was erected in 1939 and owned by Rego-Coronet, Inc. of 1501 Broadway. Attractive features include a bowed and recessed brick façade with quoins and lintels, a courtyard, and a curved pathway en route to leaded glass windows, alongside an entrance with Corinthian columns and an arched pediment. The prospectus advertised special features, such as cross-ventilation, spacious foyers, four-room apartments with two bathrooms, radio outlets, exceptionally large closets, enclosed shower doors, G.E. refrigeration, clothes dryers, and colored tile bathrooms. Architecturally, The Sterling bears similarities to the Hampshire House and The Chatham in Forest Hills.

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