Forest Hills Garden

Written by C.J. Sullivan on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.



Turning
off of the earsplitting hustle of Queens Blvd. and walking down Continental
Ave. you see the urban oasis of Forest Hills Garden. When you pass underneath
the LIRR tracks there’s a sign: Warning! Entering Private Streets. Parking
by Permit Only
. There’s always a secret thrill in being somewhere you
aren’t supposed to be and are not wanted.


On a side
street I spot a gypsy cab under the shade of a poplar tree. The driver, Frank
Hedrick, sits and eats his lunch. Hedrick is old-school Queens. Pushing 50 and
tired of being a hack. I ask him if he’s courting trouble parked on a private
street.


"Nah,
they only bother you if you park the car and leave. Then they’ll throw
a boot on it and it’ll cost you $125 for them to remove it. Nice racket
if you can get it. I’m harmless. The security guards won’t bother
with me."


I ask Hedrick
for his impressions of Forest Hills Gardens. He puts down his sandwich and takes
a swig of soda.


"I
guess this is one of the last of the exclusive neighborhoods in Queens. This
borough used to be nice. Around here it’s still good, but the problem with
living in this private community is all the shit that’s around it. I mean
Queens ain’t America anymore. You’re lucky if they speak English here.
And they might be hardworking people, but they make a mess. Where I live [Richmond
Hill] they rent out every floor and no one takes care of the homes."


Forest Hills
Gardens is comprised of 880 private homes and at least 10 apartment buildings
that house about 6000 people. Real estate is hot here; a house can fetch anywhere
from $500,000 to $3 million. Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage incorporated the 142-acre
neighborhood in 1909. She was left a fortune by her husband, Russell, and with
her lawyers set up a private community in New York to show the rest of the rabble
how decent people could live in a crowded city. Fredrick Law Olmsted, Central
Park’s designer, put together the plan for the community; one of the stipulations
for owning a home here, still in effect, is that you cannot radically alter
the exterior of the house.


But time
is catching up with Forest Hills Gardens. I pass an abandoned restaurant called
the Melting Pot. The awning reads A Fondue Restaurant–a lost logo
from more affluent days. The streets are empty but for a few dark nannies and
nurses pushing lightskinned babies in buggies and a crinkly old man in a wheelchair.


Farther
into the community there’s a village green lined with massive trees. A
bronze and marble memorial off to the side is dedicated to the soldiers who
fought "in the Great War." A soaring flagpole stands at the end of
the green with a plaque that reads: "This towering spar was the main mast
of the yacht Columbia when it defeated the Shamrock I in 1899
and the Shamrock II in 1901 in defense of America’s Cup."


I walk down
Slocum Crescent, impressed with the huge brick colonial and Tudor homes. Old-fashioned
wrought-iron streetlamps line the pristine sidewalks. Huge willow trees hang
over manicured lawns. In here the clatter and hum of Queens cannot be heard.
The song of this burg is chirping birds and power mowers. The only thing missing
is people. These are the emptiest sidewalks in New York.


I turn down
Tennis Pl. and the homes get even larger. Lush lawns are holding up well during
the summer heatwave. Colorful pansies fill gardens. The driveways have Saabs,
BMWs and Mercedeses in them. I pass the tennis club that was once home to the
U.S. Open. Now middle-aged women jump out of luxury cars in tennis whites to
play a few sets. I turn onto Burns St., near the site of a 1977 Son of Sam killing,
and spot a mailman who will only give his name as Mike. I ask him if the streets
are always so quiet.


"Pretty
much. Everyone stays inside here. Keep to themselves, I guess. These homes…these
beautiful homes are huge. I mean you could fit two, three of mine in them. The
shame of it is that these mansions have like one person living in them. One
person in 20 rooms. It’s usually old ladies…widowed…everyone
gone. I’ll put the mail in the box and sometimes see them like little ghosts
behind the curtains. They wait till I leave."


I ask Mike
if that annoys him. He looks up at nothing and says, "No…it’s
just kind of sad is all. Like they all got left behind and they don’t want
no one to see them. See how alone they are."


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