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At The Garden's Gate

When entering the arch at Station Square you walk across cobbled stone streets into a turn of the century village, known as Forest Hills, with old English styled lamp posts, well kept gardens and English Tudor and Colonial homes. Architecturally, these homes have a distinctive charm, which has been preserved by covenants agreed upon by residents of the community. These guidelines are designed to preserve the beauty and uniqueness of the area. As a result, Forest Hills Gardens and its surrounding neighborhoods have continued to be one of the most stable and beautiful communities in the United States with homes of masonry construction and red tile roofs, planned to combine beauty and stability.Private parks are located throughout Forest Hills and are available for the outdoor enjoyment of all. Residents can be assured that they have made a sound real estate investment when they purchase a home in Forest Hills, where appreciation in value has far exceeded that of other sections of the country.

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In A Pocket Of Queens, 'City' Meets 'Garden'

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- By Peter Hellman, The New York Times

The homes along Greenway Terrace in Forest Hills Gardens show the hand of Grosvenor Atterbury, the supervising architect on the planned community, which was begun in 1910.The careful eye catches a wealth of details at Forest Hills Gardens, like this lantern bracket at Station Square, with its umbrella-clutching commuter dashing for the train.

The commercial clutter at the intersection of Austin Street and 71st Avenue in the heart of Queens is lively but ordinary. It's hard to imagine that one block away lies the verdant, precisely planned community of Forest Hills Gardens. Not to be confused with the surrounding sprawl known simply as Forest Hills, this 147-acre enclave has a population of about 4,500. It remains, almost a century after its founding, the most successful and durable American example of the "garden city" movement, which took hold in England in the late 19th century as an antidote to the grimness of factory towns.

Until 1977, thousands of tennis fans poured into Forest Hills Gardens each August for the United States Open at the West Side Tennis Club. Now that the event has moved to Flushing, the Gardens, with its privately owned streets, sidewalks, parks and even sewers, has receded into year-round seclusion, almost as if it were a gated community. Yet the Gardens, less than 30 minutes from Manhattan by subway or 15 minutes on the Long Island Rail Road, beckons anyone interested in experiencing what was accomplished, beginning in 1910, when a free hand was given by the Russell Sage Foundation to the visionary duo of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., landscape architect, and Grosvenor Atterbury, supervising architect.

Walk two blocks south from the subway stop (the E, F, R, G and V lines) at 71st Avenue-Continental and pass under the railroad trestle. As you arrive on the red-brick-paved Station Square, the natural starting point for a walking tour of Forest Hills Gardens, the familiar is left behind. With its quirky high and low towers, half-timbered facades, steep, terra-cotta-tiled roofs, arcaded walks and covered bridges, Station Square evokes a medieval town platz in Germany. The architect Robert A. M. Stern calls this public space "the finest of its kind" in America.

The square, completed in 1911, is anchored by Atterbury's train station, perched beside the elevated tracks, and his Forest Hills Inn, whose nine-story main tower, topped with a spray of small windows and a dome shaped like Kaiser Wilhelm's helmet, is the tallest structure in the community. (A needlelike tower, rather like an off-center spike on the helmet, is currently in storage.) The inn was converted to apartments in 1967 and became a cooperative in 1981.

The sharp eye will be rewarded by quirky Arts and Crafts Movement details on Station Square and beyond. Midway up the steps of the railroad station, for example, silhouettes on the lantern brackets show a full-skirted mother pulling her recalcitrant child and the Long Island Rail Road's signature dashing commuter clutching briefcase and umbrella. Above each figure, a crow peers down.

Forest Hills Gardens can be said to owe its existence to the miserliness of Russell Sage. Upon his death in 1906, the unphilanthropic financier left his intact $70 million fortune to his elderly wife, Olivia Slocum Sage. She created the Russell Sage Foundation. Her interest in creating affordable housing resulted in the purchase of several tracts, including, in 1908, one adjacent to the recently improved railroad line.

Olmsted Jr., a worthy successor to his illustrious father, and Atterbury, a pioneer in modern building methods and the designer of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were hired by Mrs. Sage's lawyer, Robert de Forest. Their charge was to show that suburban development geared to modest wage earners need not be haphazard. Development of the Gardens would be controlled right down to the width of home setbacks, the precise color of exterior trims, even the placement of oriel windows.

Forest Hills Gardens was not meant to be a nonprofit enterprise. In a 1908 letter to Olmsted, who was then investigating the best of town planning in Europe, de Forest wrote, "I believe there's money in taste." But not in overtly expensive taste. In keeping with the Arts and Crafts ideal, a sense of visual modesty was to rule the design. In a sharp-tongued, lengthy article in Scribner's Magazine (July 1916), Atterbury wrote that "model towns in America most closely resemble the renowned chapter on snakes in Iceland; for, with but one or two exceptions, there are none." And he warned against those "who would deck out our modest villages in Paris finery and ruin their complexions with architectural cosmetics."

Beginning the Walk

In the center of Station Square are two sturdy police kiosks erected in 1916, when the nearest precinct house was in Elmhurst. Now they serve as storage for the gardening supplies of the Friends of Station Square, a volunteer group formed in 1991 to fend off the railroad's plan to tear down the station, which had fallen into disrepair. From its steps, on Independence Day, 1915, Theodore Roosevelt gave his "100 percent American" speech, castigating conscientious objectors.

Beyond Station Square, gently curved residential streets and narrow lanes ribbon out toward the south, east and west. Tucked among them are an occasional secluded circle or close. Only the two "feeder" arteries, Continental and Ascan Avenues, run straight. Visitors accustomed to Manhattan's rectangular grids may well lose all sense of direction upon entering the Gardens. "When I call a car service," says Andreas Krueger, who lives on Middlemay Circle, "I always allow an extra half-hour for them to find us."

In keeping with the asymmetric plan, the village green called Greenway Terrace slants off from behind Station Square. While the hands of many architects are on homes and apartment houses in the Gardens, the residences along Greenway Terrace are all Atterbury's. The one at No. 65, with its roofed and trellised sidewalk entrance, once belonged to the actress Thelma Ritter, remembered for films that include "Rear Window" and "Miracle on 34th Street."

At the circular seating area of high-back benches at the head of the village green, residents still gather in the shade of chestnut trees to chat in good weather. Just beyond is Flagpole Park, dominated by the former mainmast of the yacht Columbia, America's defender of the America's Cup in 1898 and 1901. One hundred feet tall, capped with the figure of a seagull that is often mistaken for an eagle, it was an early 1920's gift from the Harriss brothers, residents of the Gardens. Also on the green is a World War I monument by the sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, whose "Civic Fame" caps Manhattan's Municipal Building. The "Mercury" dime and "Liberty" half dollar were also his designs. Weinman's former home at 23 Greenway South is dominated by the triple height window of his studio.

Distinctive Houses

Soaring land costs quickly pushed Forest Hills Gardens out of reach of the working families Olivia Sage hoped to house. But Atterbury did try to keep costs down by creating attached homes throughout. Their impact, however, is quite different from the dreary phalanxes of "side by sides" that define much of Queens. Where tiny Archway Street cuts through a group of attached homes on Greenway Terrace, for example, Atterbury designed paired apartments over the arch, with large bay windows overlooking the green.

Or consider the trellis-fronted cottage at 18 Park End Place. Viewed front-on, it appears to be free standing. From around the corner, one sees that the "cottage" is actually an end unit on a group of nine attached houses that face the one-and-a-half-acre Hawthorne Park, one of two private parks in the Gardens.

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