Touring Rego Park At Its Centennial

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Seeing Historic Rego Park in a Renewed Light

Attendees take pride in award-winning Metropolitan Industrial Bank Building, Photo by Michael Perlman

A passionate group of residents from Rego Park, Forest Hills, and other communities were ready to tour Rego Park, celebrating history and distinctive architecture for its 100th anniversary. On October 21 from 11 AM to 1 PM, they discovered why it was a “REal GOod” community and expressed hopes for establishing Individual Landmarks and Historic Districts. Other commemorative events are now anticipated.

On October 14, 1923, The New York Times announced that Rego Construction Company/Real Good Construction Company was chartered for $75,000. When Rego Construction Company acquired farmland in Forest Hills West in 1923, Rego Park was named after their advertising slogan, “REal GOod Homes.” The founders immigrated from Germany and included president and builder Henry L. Schloh, and secretary, treasurer, builder, and president Charles I. Hausmann, as well as builder Joseph F. Thone. Other partners included Franz Muller and Hermann Timmerman.

The tour was led by Historic Districts Council Executive Director Frampton Tolbert. The HDC is the city’s largest advocate for preserving historic neighborhoods, which toured sections of 63rd Drive, Saunders Street, and Queens Boulevard. In 2020, the HDC honored Rego Park as a “Six To Celebrate” community meriting preservation.

With recent increased development pressure, the community, including Rego-Forest Preservation Council, has been advocating for preservation of significant sites encompassing the Spanish Mission, Tudor, Georgian Colonial, and Art Deco styles, as well as rare modernist buildings. 

“The tour of Rego Park at 100 reinforces the significant history of the neighborhood and helps share it with a wider audience. The hope of HDC and Rego-Forest Preservation Council is that events like this will demonstrate the need to preserve the built fabric of Rego Park for future generations,” said Tolbert. 

The tour began on the corner of 63rd Drive and Queens Boulevard, which feels like a gateway to Rego Park. The thoroughfare consists of a few rows of unique harmonious Art Deco facades from the early 1940s, which once featured attractive window displays, showcasing goods. Some early tenants included McCrory’s, Woolworth, Rainbow Shop, and Corsetorium. “We are really lucky to have these early storefronts and they’re in great shape,” said Tolbert, who believes that they were designed or influenced by the style of the famed Morris Lapidus, architect of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. 

Tolbert pinpointed that in 1925, the firm developed 525 eight-room single-family “Rego Homes,” railroad style Colonial frame houses with enclosed porches between 63rd Drive and Eliot Avenue along Saunders, Booth, Wetherole, and Austin Street, which sold for an approximate $7,500. “In the 1930s, there were subway stations, which really develop the area,” he continued. In its early days, there were German and Italian immigrants, and Judaism was among the dominant religions. “People were living in other boroughs in tenements and small apartments, and this was their first home. They were saving up to have a house with a yard for their families,” said Tolbert.

P.S. 139 at 93-06 63rd Drive was Rego Park’s first public school as of 1929 and was erected near the new homes within four years. “It was designed under Walter Martin, who had just become the Superintendent of Buildings for the Board of Ed. It has beautiful Renaissance and Colonial Revival details, and originally had capacity for 895 students.” The school underwent a couple of expansions since.  

Our Saviour Lutheran Church, with its 1931 cornerstone, was built by the Real Good Construction Company. “A Lutheran congregation from Elmhurst started meeting at a few places around the neighborhood. The company donated the land to have the church on the main strip of 63rd Drive, and Benjamin Braunstein designed a country church with a wood frame. He loved the Colonial and Tudor Revival styles,” explained Tolbert. 

The Spanish Mission-style Marion Court (1929), with its roof garden, archways, terra-cotta animals, and stained-glass depictions of castles, is at 62-98 Saunders Street. On its steps, a presentation was delivered by this columnist, chairman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, in memory of the honorable Marion Legler (1932 – 2023). She was the granddaughter of Joseph F. Thone, and her memories of Rego Park were quoted, enabling her voice to come alive. 

Previously developed by Rego Construction Co. were the Tudor-style Remo Hall (1927) at 61-40 Saunders Street and the Spanish Mission-style Jupiter Court (1927) at 62-64 Saunders, also designed by Constantinople native Benjamin Braunstein. A series of three properties were the earliest apartments. “All of these buildings have beautiful details, with entrances set back in a courtyard,” said Tolbert. He displayed several vintage photos and said, “As you can see with Jupiter Court, there was nothing else in front of it.” 

Our Saviour Lutheran Church, 2022 photo by Michael Perlman

Tolbert pointed to sites along Queens Boulevard, over a block from Marion Court and shared vintage photos of commercial properties that are no longer in operation, including the Georgian Colonial mansion-like Howard Johnson’s, touted “The largest roadside restaurant in the U.S.” and Boulevard Tavern entertainment venue, where Tony Bennett and Patti Page performed. “This was the earliest Rego Park restaurant, which opened in 1929 and designed in the Spanish Colonial style. It held over 500 people and was a very important gathering place. JFK and Bob Kennedy gave talks there,” said Tolbert. He also shared vintage images of Alexander’s department store and the spired Gulf Service Station building that existed on Horace Harding Boulevard, evoking the Empire State Building. 

Benjamin Braunstein also designed the 1939 Colonial Revival meets Art Moderne style Oxford-Cambridge apartments fronting Queens Boulevard and Saunders Street, a variation from his three earliest. “You would see these Colonial Revival Mount Vernon style doors (surrounded by an arched pediment and pilasters). They were trying to build upon an American motif.”

In 1938, the Works Progress Administration funded Lost Battalion Hall on Queens Boulevard, which bears homage to the 77th Division of the U.S. Army for its heroism in the Battle of Argonne in France during WWI. Over half of its 550 American soldiers perished and are remembered as members of “The Lost Battalion.” This is also where the Civilian Defense Volunteer Office welcomed enrollees for World War II. In 1941, 2,000 guests celebrated President F.D.R.’s birthday. The building was placed under Parks Department jurisdiction in 1960 and became a recreation center. Inside are two “Sailor, Soldier, Marine” WPA murals of the Lost Battalion in action, painted by Oscar Julius in 1938.  

Rego Park Jewish Center at 97-30 Queens Boulevard is one of the most significant synagogues in its style citywide. It was designed in the Art Deco and Bauhaus style by Frank Grad & Sons in 1948, and features a large roundel with a Star of David that can be spotted across Queens Boulevard. Tolbert explained, “When it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was noted that a lot was based on synagogues from Eastern Europe in the 1930s. A main detail is a mosaic mural by the prominent artist, Alexander Raymond Katz. Symbols include a Torah scroll, The Ten Commandments, and holiday depictions. Symbols on wooden doors also depict various Jewish holidays. Katz also designed the interior stained-glass windows. The mosaic was fabricated by the V. Foscato factory in Long Island City. They also produced Mid-Century mosaics around New York.” He also referenced Mayor O’Dwyer attending the dedication and congregants moving from other neighborhoods to found Rego Park Jewish Center. Besides the two sixties-era Lefrak commercial buildings across the street, the Lefrak family also invested in the synagogue. 

As for the former Trylon Theatre at 98-81 Queens Boulevard, where a high-rise is being erected, Tolbert explained, “The theater was designed by Queens architect Joseph Unger. It had a glass block tower, a rounded front, and a mosaic ticket booth that had a picture of the Trylon monument (in addition to the chevron mosaic and terrazzo floor with a Trylon), a fountain and murals; all inspired by the 1939 World’s Fair’s ‘World of Tomorrow’ theme. After that, it was a synagogue and the congregants tried to buy the building to preserve it, but were unsuccessful.” He also commented about the now-demolished adjacent Federal-style Tower Diner bank building with a cupola and clock, when an attendee said, “It was so beloved, that we were also protesting at community board meetings, to help prevent it from being torn down.” 

Nearby, once stood the Star of David-adorned Mid-Century Modern style Parkside Memorial Chapel, designed as a tribute to the Sinai desert, Moses, and the Israelites. The two-story “Floating Leaves” sculpture fountain by the notable Arnold Stone, was among the salvaged features.

The Metropolitan Industrial Bank Building, now Mount Sinai Medical Center at 99-01 Queens Boulevard, was the recipient of a 1st prize bronze plaque at the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s annual building awards competition in 1952. “Alfred Kaskel, who developed many local buildings, worked with architect Philip Birnbaum, who designed this Mid-Century Modern bank as a showcase for modern industrial materials,” said Tolbert. It was the first of its kind regionally, and the opposite corner featured the famed Hollywood Lanes bowling alley. It features a corner colonnade, triple-height windows topped by a polished stainless-steel cornice, stainless steel fins bordered by granite, as well as Swedish blue granite planters. An interior teakwood balcony and terrazzo floors remain from its banking days. 

Tour attendees provided great feedback. Forest Hills preservationist Evan Boccardi, who attended with his wife and baby son, said, “I had amazing impressions from the gorgeous eclectic mixtures of Romanesque Revival and Mediterranean found at Marion Court, ‘the bedrock of Rego Park,’ to the amazing Art Deco Rego Park Jewish Center and the Mid-Century Modern Metropolitan Industrial Bank building. Now I wish more people put real value in our community, and step up to take action to ensure that preservation occurs.” 

Also from Forest Hills is Odette Wilkens, a nearly 40-year resident. “I became more aware of the Art Deco motifs on 63rd Drive. I also have a newly found appreciation for the mosaics of Rego Park Jewish Center, and I look forward to visiting the inside to see its architectural splendor.” She continued, “The tour gave me a wonderful sense of community, with others who share a similar appreciation for the wonderful architecture that is our own.” 

Ellen Weisman, a native of Rego Park and Forest Hills, explained, “As a real estate agent, I feel the knowledge that I gleaned will be most helpful when discussing the area with clients. As an example, I always wondered how Rego Park got its name. It was interesting to learn about the architects and how they acquired many ideas from British infrastructure. This tour made me feel closer to the visions of our ancestors, who shaped a neighborhood that was and still is a melting pot.” She feels it is unfortunate that some significant buildings were recently demolished. “Hopefully in the future, we will be more diligent at acquiring landmark status for buildings with a special design. Most new buildings have not been designed with the same warmth and feel.” 

Bryan Lei traveled from Nassau County. He found the 63rd Drive Art Deco shops to be simple yet elegant. He also felt that the former Trylon Theatre was compelling, in addition to the former Parkside Chapel with its beautiful fountain. “The Metropolitan Bank, where classicism was reinterpreted with modern materials was compelling, as well as Thorneycroft housing, which I explored after the tour and discovered a (circa 1939) roofline mural of people, animals, and trees, and also noticed Art Deco and mosaic address details.”

Lei continued, “I felt that the segment where Perlman was quoting Marion Legler and talking about the family of the founders was quite moving, and helped make the spirit and connection to the past a bit stronger, rather than considering it purely from a detached historical perspective. Also, while many of the businesses were before my time, the enthusiasm my fellow attendees had for these places also helped bring out that human element, and a sense of how beloved these places were.” 

The tour also inspired him to discuss the lack of official landmarks. “There is a hold development has on the city, and how it upholds profit over rationality and context. We also talked about the arbitrary and opaque nature of the landmarking process. Hopefully, there are ways to disrupt these patterns, creating better ways to preserve places that are important to people.” 

“Often grandeur is associated with mansions or buildings meant for a single family, but it’s wonderful to see communal living elevated to a similar elegance and meticulously detailed buildings sculpted with detail and flair,” explained David Edelman, a history teacher from Forest Hills. Analogous to Rego Park’s anniversary, he said, “It was wonderful to attend this tour with my three-year-old daughter, especially since both of us were also celebrating birthdays this past week.” 

Edelman learned that Rego Park was developed during the roaring twenties, on the precipice of the Great Depression. “I think that can still be felt within the architecture. I cannot imagine such a cute, pithy company name today, let alone it becoming the name of a neighborhood. It’s an endearing story and very New York. It’s also wonderful to think that the cityscape was formed so beautifully around the LIRR.” 

Looking ahead, he said, “I’d like to see more tours and exhibits dedicated to the history of our communities, so we can learn about history that is too often hidden in plain sight.” 

Howard Johnson’s with Trylon & Perisphere of 1939 World’s Fair

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