Forest Hills banks await new lease on life
by Michael Perlman
Sep 02, 2020 | 4544 views | 0 0 comments | 154 154 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Three Forest Hills banks designed to echo the neighborhood’s aesthetic recently became vacant. Community residents are hopeful that their unique period details will be preserved, whether the buildings continue to operate as a bank or are adaptively reused.

A “for sale” sign was posted on the façade of Forest Hills National Bank of New York at 99-00 Metropolitan Avenue, which most recently operated as a branch of Chase. This Greek Revival-meets-Colonial façade remains mostly intact. It opened in December 1928 to serve the growing community of south Forest Hills.

Daniel J. Flynn, vice president of commercial real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle, said they are currently under negotiations with a buyer. The façade’s few modifications include the uppermost arched section of the windows covered with aluminum siding, new windows, and the building’s original etched name also covered with aluminum.

“I love the look of the building,” Flynn said. “It captures a bygone era in which materials and labor were disproportionately less expensive. At this point, the buyer fully plans to utilize the building and not modify the exterior.”

The HSBC branch at 107-15 Continental Avenue was originally home to The Williamsburgh Savings Bank when it was built in 1975. In the 1970s, the bank hired an architect to design the façade in the Tudor style, a hallmark of Forest Hills architecture along Austin Street, Continental Avenue, and in Forest Hills Gardens.

The façade remains mostly intact, and includes signature half-timbering, ornamental brick and stone chimneys.

In November 1921, Corn Exchange Bank received permission from the State Banking Department to open a branch at 106-24 Continental Avenue. Now it is home to Boston Market and the recently shuttered Aldo, which is the space for rent.

Built in 1922, it is a prominent Tudor-style building at a major intersection. It features a pitched sweeping roof with terra-cotta tiles and a spire harmonious to the nearby Forest Hills Inn, as well as tall windows with motifs of crops and flowers.

The bank’s name, etched in stone, reportedly exists underneath Boston Market’s signage. As renovations were underway in Aldo ten years ago, the removal of a faux ceiling revealed a much higher curved ceiling with period details, but was only witnessed by the modern eye briefly.

“Part of the lure and rewards of exploring New York’s history is how every neighborhood has its own character,” said Riley Kellogg, an adjunct lecturer in history and a licensed NYC tour guide. One of the most visible marks of that character is architecture. The evidence of who Forest Hills has been is seen in the mix of Tudor and Classical, humble and grand, commercial and residential buildings. These former bank buildings each reveal one of the faces of this ever-growing, ever-evolving neighborhood.

There are good reasons to keep our older buildings,” he added. “We needn't obliterate our past in order to grow our future. In fact, the future will have stronger roots, and be sounder and more truly ours, if we build with the past, rather than demolishing and forgetting it.”

Helen Day, vice president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, was surprised to learn of Chase closing its Metropolitan Avenue branch.

“It is a lovely building that I would really like to see preserved with a new use,” she said. “Each one of these buildings contributes to the character and appeal of their location. It is unfortunate that the businesses are no longer there, but this is an opportunity for another business to make good use of them.”

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