July 4, 1924: A Festival To Be Remembered! A Grand Patriotic Spirit Sweeps Forest Hills How Celebrities & Residents Once Celebrated Independence Day

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By Michael Perlman


Annual 4th of July Festival, children’s games in Station Square circa teens, Courtesy of Forest Hills Gardens Foundation

Originating in 1914, Forest Hills Gardens committees and residents coordinated annual Fourth of July Festivals in an exquisitely decorated Station Square, often with additional activities at the Forest Hills Inn and Tea Garden, Olivia Park, Hawthorne Park, and along Greenway Terrace and Flagpole Green, formerly Village Green. Among the most historic Forest Hills events transpired on July 4, 1917, when Colonel Theodore Roosevelt delivered his “One Hundred Percent American” unification speech on a lavish platform affixed to the LIRR Station in front of 5,000 guests, addressing WWI. A year earlier, the official Forest Hills Gardens flag was raised for the first time on the Fourth of July.

Today, patriotism continues to echo in a modified form through Children’s Day and Flag Day festivities, although a century ago, no expense was spared when it came to approximately 15-hour Independence Day celebrations, frequently on the actual day. Now it is time to turn back the clock to July 4, 1924, which marked the 148thanniversary of America’s independence. The Celebrations Association of Forest Hills Gardens Inc. was ready to offer a most memorable experience.

Throughout much of Forest Hills Gardens’ history, local residents have included celebrities, who found delight in the idyllic Tudor and Arts & Crafts ambiance. Residents caught the eye of Station Square’s highly detailed decorations, designed by John Almy Tompkins, who was also the notable architect behind the Clubhouse of the West Side Tennis Club and The Community House. Builder James Hayden fulfilled his plans. Beginning at 7:30 AM, residents awoke to the sounds of town criers under the direction of Chairman Irving H. Hare. At 9 AM, a parade was underway from Station Square to Village Green, with a band in the lead.

They arrived on the Green at 9:15 AM. On Village Green, the Declaration of Independence was recited by actor Albert Sidney Howson, and a chorus of fifty local children performing patriotic hymns under the direction of Corinne Greene, alongside the flagpole. Reverend David Latshaw gave an invocation and a flag-raising exercise was performed around 9:30 AM under the direction of the Forest Hills Post of the American Legion, where Homer A. Yates served as first vice-commander.

The agenda also called for children dancing in costume in Hawthorne Park at 10 AM, under Dorothy Whyte’s direction. Hawthorne Park would be revisited with a ballgame around 2:15 PM under Chairman M.M. Davidson.

Around 10:45 AM, Congressman Arthur M. Free, who came from California, delivered an address in Station Square, which called for loyalty to the American flag and the U.S. Constitution. While explaining the objectives of the Reds, he protested against the “Slacker’s oath” and urged that the Red flag have no platform in America. Rather, Old Glory should only be exalted.

In retrospect, The Forest Hills Bulletin captured American spirit and the crowd’s personalization. “Julius Tannen entertained the crowd, Hollis Davenney sang a solo, six Forest Hills girls in red, white and blue, danced with spirit, and then the surprise came – (performer) Will Rogers appeared and in his droll, original way humorously paid his respects to the Democratic convention. The people went wild over this erstwhile fellow-townsman, who, they hope, will come to live in our town again. Greetings were received from Theodore Roosevelt, who regretted that he could not be present.”

Slated for 11:45 AM in Station Square was children’s games under the direction of Dr. William F. Saybolt. Several children were winners in the traditional Fourth of July Festival games, and their descendants may continue to call Forest Hills Gardens home today. They were Kathleen Copp, John Alevek, Sistine Attardo, Edmund O’Shea, Jr., Maria Attardo, Sandy Davenport, William Colton, Walter Simon, Herbert MacNeal, Jane Cavenaugh, Robert Luneborg, Theodore Endres, Sylvia Mather, Reta O’Shea, William J. Cavenaugh, Ellen Luneborg, and Margaret Leach. The Bulletin also referenced Mrs. G.B. Williamson as the best egg racer, S.W. Eckman as victor with the wheelbarrow, and Dr. Ward J. MacNeal surpassing all entries in the “three-legged race for fat men.”

Around 4 PM, Olivia Park, a naturally formed amphitheatre, was filled to capacity. This became the setting of the famed Fred Stone, who sang and danced, in addition to his daughter Dorothy Stone. This also marked Paula Stone’s debut stage appearance with her father in a dance and song, and a young Carol Stone danced with other children of the Gardens. Forty children of Forest Hills took the stage and danced in an act titled “The Gardens of Versailles.” Walter Hartwig, director of the Gardens Players of Forest Hills, led the entertainment program.

The Forest Hills Bulletin captured the ambiance of the multifaceted program. “Marguerite Holt, soloist; Johnny Burke, monologist; Roy Hoyer, dancer and singer, and others, added much to the program. The 40 children who danced the stately minuet, and many others who appeared as butterflies and flowers, including the wonderful little Stone girls and gifted Betty and Jane Mitchell, all trained by Miss Dorothy Whyte, immensely pleased their neighbors and friends. A fitting and happy ending for this unusual program was the singing of ‘Peter Pan’ by Fred Stone and Dorothy.”

Community residents under 16 were scheduled to dance at their leisure at 7:30 PM, whereas adults had their spot to dance in Station Square under the leadership of Chairman F.M. Knowles. “The grand climax to a day of delight came in the evening when there was an open-air ball at Station Square, where the quadrangle formed by the Inn and the railroad station made a setting which was in itself a picture no other community in the United States can equal,” reported the Queens Borough edition of The Daily Star. “A great carpet of heavy canvas was laid on the pavement, and in the center, was an orchestra that kept the hundreds of dancers whirling until early this morning. The decorations and illumination transformed the scene into a bit of fairyland.” Hundreds of residents celebrated until 1 AM.

Some festivities would open the door to a “who’s who” in American culture. Fred Stone had a diverse career which ranged from being a circus performer to a Vaudeville actor, Broadway performer, and feature films actor. One of his major accomplishments was creating the scarecrow role in the 1903 Broadway production, “The Wizard of Oz.” In 1920, he resided at 50 Olive Place, and then moved to 150 Greenway North, where he lived until 1946.

Will Rogers (1879 – 1935) was a much-admired comic cowboy who resided in Kew Gardens. He is remembered as a vaudeville performer who achieved success with 50 silent films and 21 talkies, and was the highest paid in Hollywood film. Another accomplishment was his over 4,000 nationally syndicated news columns.

Forest Hills resident Julius Tannen (1880 – 1965) was one of the first Vaudeville stand-up comedians. The use of props, costumes, or sets was not his style, but became notable for his creative word games and clever improvisations. He took the stage of Manhattan’s Palace Theatre, the premier Vaudeville showcase. For 25 years, he would appear in films which include “Stranded” and eight works directed by Preston Sturges. In “Singin’ in the Rain,” he dramatized the technology of talking pictures. His stardom would contribute to the careers of Milton Berle, Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball.

Albert Sidney Howson (1881 – 1960) of 34 Tennis Place landed roles 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, his personality was most evident as he applied his drama skills to Memorial Day speeches, where he quoted Shakespeare and wore a cape. He would also become president of The Community House in the early 1930s, and was a scenario editor and censorship director under Warner Bros.

A Forest Hills Gardens celebration called for glorious expression, as in the case of author Gertrude Knevels (1881 – 1962), who wrote “Station Square – A Fourth of July Impression,” which read:

Old Glory from the Tower looks down.
To bless the folly of the town,
Lights, laughter, color everywhere –
Wise folks like happy children there,
At play in Station Square.
Far over all the clear night sky
Spreads tender hands – What hurries by? –
It is the train that grumbling goes,
Bearing the world and all its woes
Away from Station Square!

Another illuminated, high-spirited occasion was held on the grounds of the Seminole Avenue Clubhouse, north of Queens Boulevard on Seminole Avenue, which was later renamed 112th Street. This was the town center of tennis and a social life for villagers. This is where members of the Forest Hills Association and their families rejoiced. The committee consisted of President and Chairman Herbert Chase, George J. Campo, Richard A. Clinchy, James Galbraith, James McGill, Ferdinand Neumer, H. Clayton Smith, Reverend Albert Sheppard, Robert Turner, and Godfrey Von Hofe.

Club representatives made their way to the Forest Hills Gardens flag-raising and returned for exercises, children’s games, movies, and dancing. Forest Hills-based Dr. W. Leon Tucker addressed attendees.

Clock golf on an 18-hole course was among the recreational opportunities. A Forest Hills Bulletin excerpt read, “On the clubhouse tennis courts, a Gardens team composed of Dr. S.E. Davenport, Jr. and Jack Ortgies defeated an association team composed of Herbert Chase and John Guiler, and another Gardens team, Stanley Hillman and A. Cleland, defeated the Paton brothers. So the matches stood 2 to 0 in favor of the Gardens. Men over 40 years of age indulged in a baseball game on the playground in the Gardens, in which the Gardens men were victors over the association men with a score of 18 to 14.” Inside the Seminole Clubhouse, dancing was a major draw for adults, while children were being entertained on the lawn with movies.

“The celebration of Independence Day by the Forest Hills Association was highly successful and helped to increase the neighborliness and friendliness of that part of the village. The residents of that section universally reported a happy day,” read The Forest Hills Bulletin.



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