For visitors to Manhattan, the Borough of Queens is known primarily as the home of La Guardia and JFK airports with miles and miles of featureless apartments sandwiched in between. We all arrive there but then immediately set about leaving for the place we really want to be, hoping not to disturb the more than 2-million souls who call Queens home in the process.
So it came as a true surprise to find a shockingly beautiful hamlet that appears to have been plucked right out of the English countryside, tucked away in what may be the geographic center of Queens, amidst its sea of post-war apartment buildings. Dating back to 1909, Forest Hills Gardens was designed by architect Grosvenor Atterbury (whose resume includes several works that are probably great but none of which I’d ever heard of) and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (whose resume includes Central Park and the grounds of the 1893 World’s Fair…both sort of big deals).
The entire neighborhood covers around 150 acres and can probably be thoroughly explored in two or three hours of walking. In that time, you’ll see block after block of angular Tudor style homes with red roof shingles and lush gardens, situated along quiet, tree-shaded streets. As you walk, you’ll marvel at the idea that you’re a 20-minute train ride away from chaotic Times Square and a five-minute walk from the crassly commercialized Queens Boulevard.
After taking in the residential areas of the residential portion of The Gardens, you must experience the West Side Tennis Club. This gem is a beautiful relic of the classically iconic northeastern WASPy white-attire-required tennis clubs of old. Indeed, until 1977, it was home of the US Open. It’s easy to explore the grounds and even walk onto the stage of the recently renovated Forest Hill Stadium, which has hosted such acts as the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
Finally, experience the Forest Hills Inn and the rest of the area’s subtle commercial district, with its many arched, covered bridges spanning these quiet, paving brick-covered streets. I took a few minutes to review The Gardens’ architecture and construction guidelines handbook, the first edition of which dates back to 2013, and I was pleased to see that it’s very restrictive, meaning, the charm that defines this hidden treasure will most certainly be preserved for many years to come.
To arrive via train, take a Queens-bound R train to its final stop (71 Avenue). Walk south down 71st Avenue for about a block, passing under the LIRR train stop there. On the other side of those tracks, you’ll find yourself in another world.