Forest Hills - Visitors GuideThere's No Place Like Forest Hills
The Heart And Soul Of Queens
By Leslie Brown
"A modern Garden of Eden, a fairy tale too good to come true "wrote architecture critic Herbert Croly in 1914. Forest Hills Gardens is still one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Queens today. Forest Hills was settled in the mid 1600's and was known as Whitepot. English settlers bought the land from Native Americans for three white clay pots and the name stuck. The present history of Forest Hills was begun in 1906 when successful businessman Cord Meyer purchased 600 acres of farmland in Whitepot. Meyer re-named the area Forest Hills in deference to nearby Forest Park and because the area was the highest point for miles around.
In 1909 Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, founder of the Russell Sage Foundation bought 142 acres of the land from the Cord Meyer Development Company. Mrs. Sage's foundation's original mission was to build good low-income housing and improve living conditions of the working poor. She did not follow along those expectations however, and proceeded to commission a modern garden city. Margaret Sage built along Garden City principles and she built to recognize a profit. The project was to be well designed and it also turned out to be costly. "The Forest Hills Gardens are a high-class suburban residential community conducted along business principles", Margaret Sage stated. The area was now catering to people of "moderate wealth and good taste", and who could afford the mortgage payment of the then pricey sum of twenty-five dollars per month.
Grosvenor Atterbury renowned architect was given the commission to design the Forest Hills Gardens. The neighborhood was planned on the model of the garden communities of England. The Forest Hills Gardens were the first and are the oldest of the planned communities. The Gardens are credited as the leading American contribution to the Garden Cities movement and one of the most recognized. This new science of city planning allowed commuters to have country living in the city. This was their alternative to cramped New York City flats. No industry was to be allowed. Atterbury designed elegant, substantial Tudor and Colonial style homes. Throughout the Gardens you will see towers, spires, fancy brickwork; Tudor exposed half timbers and red tile clay roofs. The Arts and Crafts style was very popular in the 1920's and Atterbury designed many of the neighborhoods homes in this style as well. Wrought iron streetlights were designed to resemble Old English lanterns. These Harwich port blue lampposts add to the English village atmosphere.
Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. son of the landscape architect of New York City's central park was the landscape architect for the Forest Hills Gardens project. He planned curving streets lined with stately trees, closes, two small parks, Flag Pole Green, and Station Square. In 1919 Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. stated, "a local park adds more to the value of the remaining land in the residential area which it serves, than the value of the land withdrawn to create it." Olmstead's design for the Forest Hills Gardens offered open space and relaxation which people living in Forest Hills still benefit from today.
The Long Island Rail Road built a link to Forest Hills and it opened on August 5, 1911, enabling residents to commute to Manhattan in less than 20 minutes. Sage and Cord Meyer joined together to help build Station Square, at a cost of $50,000.00. The Tudor style touches, two staircases, cobblestone streets, and Bavarian Tower create an elegant space for visitors and residents alike. The station also has unique inside walkways for access to the railroad, leading from the Forest Hills Inn, located directly across from the Station. Time had taken its toll on historic Station Square. At this railroad station, where President Theodore Roosevelt delivered his famous "One Hundred Percent American" speech, was in need of major renovations to restore and preserve it as one of Americas most beautiful train stations. The not for profit organization Friends of Station Square was formed to do just that. After a lot of hard work funds were raised and the restoration began. Great attention to all the details and surface finishes were paid to maintain the integrity of the project. The results are a wonderfully preserved landmark for all to enjoy today.
Today the Forest Hills Gardens is the only private community in Queens. The distinctive charm of the area is thus preserved by the guidelines established by the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation. Any plans to build or make exterior changes on the homes must be reviewed by the corporation and must maintain the architectural standards of nearly one hundred years ago, set forth by its architects Grosvenor Atterbury and Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr.
Forest Hills was as famous for the U.S. Open as England is for Wimbledon. The U.S. Open was held here for more than 70 years until 1978 when it moved to the larger National Tennis Center in Flushing. The Westside Tennis Club is still a prestigious tennis club today.