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A hidden treasure crumbles under the weight of time

Preservationists are brewing a plan to revive the long-neglected Forest Hills Tea Garden.
TimesLedger Newspapers

It might seem impossible during this hurried modern era, but there was a time when a Victorian tea party was quite the norm in Forest Hills.

Just beyond a large ornate gate and overgrown greenery at 1 Station Square there sits a century-old tea garden behind the Forest Hills Inn. With the cracked ground now giving away its age, the tea garden once bustled with weddings and plays — with violins and cellos filling the atmosphere.

A victim of neglect, the abandoned garden is now in a static state waiting for a rebirth.

Rego-Forest Preservation Council Chairman Michael Perlman said the Tea Garden, situated on Greenway South, started going downhill when the Forest Hills Inn became apartments in the late 1960s.

“It’s very sad to see an artfully configured property go neglected for all these years,” he said. “I’ve passed through the iron gate, gazed inside, and despite the weeds and broken stones, I can visualize its potential.”

Perlman envisions an aesthetic restoration at minimum, with wedding ceremonies recalling those of yesteryear revisiting the space, but Perlman believes this to be a farfetched idea, given the residential nature of the neighborhood.

The Tea Garden borders the Forest Hills Inn and 20 Continental Ave., and the lease on the space is held by Jade Eatery & Lounge, a Thai restaurant. Jade manager Raymond Taylor said the restaurant would like to see a restoration of the Tea Garden with the help of outside funding.

If the space is revived, Taylor said he would hold community events and allow the co-ops to use the space as a common area.

“Jade has met with some resistance from residents,” he said, adding that the restaurant will consider the sentiments of the residents in any plans. “We want to be a good neighbor.”

Forest Hills is home to a number of historical buildings currently entrenched in landmark limbo. The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, once the site of the US Open and concerts featuring the likes of The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, now crumbles behind a fence.

The Trylon Theater, at 98-81 Queens Blvd., which featured classic movies in Forest Hills from 1939 through 1999, lost most of its Art Deco features in a 2005 jackhammering witnessed by Perlman.

And Engine Co. 305/Hook & Ladder Co. 151, at 111-02 Queens Blvd., which operated in Forest Hills between 1922 and 1924, is currently being considered for landmark status.

When the US Open left Forest Hills for greener pastures at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in 1977 and the musical acts opted for less residential surroundings, spots like the Tea Garden were forgotten.

But Perlman believes the time is right to slow down and revive hidden beauty for the sake of history.

“These spots help us understand where we came from as a city, a borough and a neighborhood,” said Perlman. “These structures exhibit beautiful craftsmanship that is rarely matched today. We are seeing less and less of that type of craftsmanship. My goal is to preserve what remains so future generations can feel inspired by the architectural and cultural patterns.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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