BY JON CRONIN
Forest Hills is the most sought after, quietly idyllic suburban neighborhood existing in Queens today.
It is a transportation hub, an entertainment destination, and a historical district, which gives the upscale neighborhood the cosmopolitan chic that is not often found so far east of Manhattan.
The town was given its name for their proximity to Forest Park at the beginning of the twentieth century when the area was mostly farmland.
Michael Perlman, a local historian and author of ‘Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park’, noted that a large portion of the farmland was developed by the Cord Meyer Development Company in the early 1900s. The Russell Sage Foundation bought 142 acres south of today Long Island Rail Road station, from them and developed what is now Forest Hills Gardens, the oldest planned garden district in the U.S.
After the LIRR station was built in 1911, the community grew exponentially, boasting a now half hour commute to Manhattan. By the end of the 1920s , apartment complexes began to rise along Queens Boulevard then in 1936 the subway was constructed and with it the need for more apartments to be built.
By late 1940s the area was primarily middle-class Italian and Jewish residents. Over the next 40 years the area became mainly immigrant Asians, Russian Jews, Hispanics, which mingled with Polish, Iranian, Italian, and Germans.
When moving south in Forest Hills towards Union Turnpike, the neighborhood throws away the hustle and bustle of the many boutiques, restaurants, bars and bakeries of Queens Boulevard and Austin Street and features the more tree laden streets of Forest Hills Gardens. There the streets are narrow quiet streets with large single family homes, and beautiful landscape architecture.
Hidden within this European like community is the West End Tennis Club where the U.S. Open was played until 1979. According to the club’s website, tennis stars such as John McEnroe, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, and Jimmy Connors have played there. Inside the tennis club is the Forest Hills Stadium, which has seen the likes of the most iconic musical acts of the last 60 years; The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, The Monkees, Barbara Streisand, Bob Dylan, The Talking Heads, Diana Ross, and The Who have all played to sold-out concerts.
The stadium closed in the 90s when it became too expensive to keep open, but was re-opened in 2013. The summer of 2016 promises to be their biggest one since their return, with Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Mumford and Sons, and the New York Pops orchestra playing this summer. Some long-time residents may remember that Paul Simon grew up in Forest Hills and attended Forest Hills High School.
The alternative Punk-Rock band, The Ramones also attended Forest Hills High School before they were discovered. The famous ‘Jumpin’ at the Woodside’ drummer, Buddie Rich, also called Forest Hills home in the late 60s. Broadway performer Carol Channing also once lived in Forest Hills. Caroll O’Connor, who played television’s favorite armchair racist, Archie Bunker from ‘All In The Family’ went to PS 33.
Perhaps the most iconic eatery in Forest Hills is Eddie’s Sweet Shop, which has been an ice cream parlor at its 105-29 Metropolitan Ave. location since 1925. It was originally called ‘Witt’s Confectionery’ but was renamed ‘Eddie’s’ after it was bought by the Citrano family in 1968. According to Perlman, some of the classic features that the parlor has retained are the mirrored wooden built-in tables, a Frigidaire freezer, tin ceiling and a mahogany and marble counter. Upon walking into the ornate shop, patrons feel like they are transported to a simpler time.