The trio of neighborhoods known as Rego Park, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, are truly the crown jewel of Central Queens, known as a prime location for which to consider moving in NYC, a bit of city and country life in the same area. All three neighborhoods offer easy and quick public transit options to Manhattan and Long Island. Many of the major highway interchanges are in the area, including the Grand Central, Long Island Expressway, Van Wyck Expressway, and the Jackie Robinson Parkway, making getting around Queens, Long Island, Brooklyn, and the Bronx a breeze. Also important to consider is that you are less than a fifteen-minute drive from both of the city’s biggest airports, LaGuardia and Kennedy. Schooling is also a major reason why families move to, and stay in, Central Queens.
Forest Hills was settled in the mid-1600s, and was known as Whitepot. The more contemporary story of Forest Hills was begun in 1906, by businessman Cord Meyer (whose company is still a prominent developer in the area, having designed the most recent new condos, The Windsor and The Aston). Meyer purchased six hundred acres of land, and re-named the area Forest Hills, due largely to nearby Forest Park (which was founded in 1895 as designed by the Frederick Law Olmstead firm; he was at the time the most prominent landscape architect in American history, and the planner of both Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn). In 1909, Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage (founder of the Russell Sage Foundation) purchased over one-hundred-forty acres of the area from the Cord Meyer Development Company, and built Forest Hills Gardens. The renowned architect Grosvenor Atterbury was commissioned by Mrs. Sage to design the Forest Hills Gardens, a neighborhood planned on the model of the garden communities of England.
Forest Hills Gardens were the first, and are the oldest, of the planned communities, and are credited as the leading American contribution to the Garden Cities movement besides one of the most recognized. This new science of city planning allowed commuters to have country living not far from Manhattan. Forest Hills is best known for having served as the location of the Forest Hills Open at the Tennis Stadium until 1978, which also served as a grand concert stage and hosted such acts as The Beatles, Barbra Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald to sold-out houses.
Beginning at the barest crest of 67th Avenue on the north side of Queens Boulevard, the neighborhood extends eastward to the very beginning of Union Turnpike.To the south of Continental Avenue, starting with Austin Street, we find the fabled Gardens. An absolute paradise in the spring and summer when the greenery and blossoms are in full bloom, it also boasts mansion-sized houses on a row of alphabetically-named streets extending all the way towards Metropolitan Avenue. There are a number of sections to the neighborhood; some of the boundaries are blurred, and the neighborhood zip-code of 11375 is rather jagged and irregular.
In an attempt to fully understand the neighborhood, one must consider its sections, shopping strips and aliases.
Austin Street is the major shopping corridor of Forest Hills. The street itself runs from Elmhurst to Richmond Hill, but when someone local says they are “going to Austin Street,” they are speaking strictly about the stretch in Forest Hills between Yellowstone Boulevard and Ascan Avenue. This comprises a half-mile of shops, restaurants, music clubs, bars, nightlife and more. Austin Street is one block south of Queens Boulevard, and the Long Island Rail Road runs right behind it. Forest Hills Gardens The historic village within the neighborhood of Forest Hills is actually a private community of seven-hundred-and-fifty homes in the form of a corporation, which allows outside traffic to travel on its streets, but one must be careful while parking, because it is only allowed via permit. The zoning is very stringent, and all alterations must be approved by the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, which has dedicated itself to keeping the historic community intact for generations to come. The overwhelming majority of housing in the Gardens are single-family large mansion-like homes; many have been in the same families since they were built. There are, however, some attached homes, co-ops and one rental apartment house in the Gardens.Station Square Is the gateway to Forest Hills. The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station is the most important feature. Teddy Roosevelt gave an impassioned speech on the presidential trail there, on the balcony of the train station. Forest Hills was rather a resort community when built, similar to the modern-day Hamptons as a getaway from city life, and the area was especially popular on the 4th of July. The Forest Hills Inn, connected to the LIRR station, was originally a hotel but is now a co-op complex. Station Square also serves as the small commercial section for the Gardens; it features restaurants such as Jade Asian Fusion (where customers clamor to try the Sashimi Pizza) and Dirty Pierre’s (whose mussels are a great local favorite), besides such services as a dry-cleaning establishment and a hair salon.
Cord Meyer The area known as Cord Meyer is more difficult to define, but many of the classic co-op mid-rise buildings on the north side of Queens Boulevard erected during the 1960s and 1970s, between 71st and 75th Avenues, are considered part of this portion, including the Continental, the Forest Hills, the St. Regis, the St. Moritz, and The Forrester.
71st Ave-Continental Ave Technically the same corridor but it changes names in Forest Hills Gardens as there are no numbered streets in the Gardens. It is also the name of the largest subway station in the area, 71st-Continental Avenue, has four subway lines (the E, F, M and R). Also, right outside the subway is a twenty-four hour taxi stand, and numerous stores and restaurants which remain open around the clock. The station now has an elevator making it much easier to travel with luggage and strollers.
70th Road between Queens Boulevard and Austin Street is the Forest Hills version of Restaurant Row. Whether you’re seeking sushi or a steak house, there are numerous places to sit al fresco and enjoy a glass of wine and dinner, either in the sun or under the stars. As a bonus, the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce closes the street to traffic on select Thursdays, and hosts open-air concerts in the evenings.
Ascan Avenue features some of the very best dining in the area, including Nick’s Pizza, and Jack and Nellie’s Tapas.The Bonelle Pastry shop has been serving up fine French pastries for over seventeen years, and the SS Natural remains the region’s high-end go-to food shop.
67th Avenue is the border station for Forest Hills and Rego Park. It has some of the best deals for space in the area, while still maintaining the Forest Hills feel. There are also numerous late-nite amenities and restaurants near the subway.
Metropolitan Avenue The long corridor of Metropolitan Ave stretches all the way from Jamaica to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. In Forest Hills it is known as the “locals strip,” and is further removed from Queens Boulevard and the subway. It features many of the higher-end restaurants in all of Queens, including Danny Brown Wine Bar (which is the only Michelin Star restaurant in Queens) as well as Eddie’s Sweet Shop, a popular ice-cream parlor established in 1929. Further down Metropolitan is the area’s only Trader Joe’s.
Presidential Forest Hills The buildings named after the presidents, many of which are the finest co-ops in the area, are on the north side of Queens Boulevard, specifically on Yellowstone between 70th and 68th Avenues. Many have doormen, and also have the biggest closet space and layouts of apartment houses in the area.
Van Cort A small two-block stretch of Tudor-style houses between Queens Blvd and Austin St, Van Cort is highly desirable but not always easily obtainable.
108 Street Technically in Forest Hills (but mistaken for Rego Park frequently) is 108th Street and 63rd Drive. This part of the neighborhood offers a lively commercial strip, with many Kosher restaurants.
Queens Boulevard is the largest thoroughfare in the borough, as wide as fourteen lanes in some parts, and creates a distinct division between the north and south sides.
Rego Park was originally known as West Forest Hills. The neighborhood got its name in 1923, when the Real Good Construction Company began rebuilding it for prime residences and gave it the name Rego as an abbreviation for Real Good. For a brief period, during the era of the 1939-40 World’s Fair when thousands were flocking to Flushing Meadows to experience the attractions there, it was called Trylon Park, an homage to the Trylon-and-Sphere which dominated the fairgounds and could be clearly seen from everywhere in the neighborhood, and marked why so many local businesses named themselves Trylon in those days (the Trylon movie theater, Trylon Liquors, Trylon Realty, Trylon Fruit, etc). Its parameters are slightly smaller than those of Forest Hills, extending westward to Woodhaven Boulevard, but it has two distinct sides, of which Queens Boulevard is the dividing line. Another division also exists on the other side of the LIRR tracks (there was once a Rego Park station on the now defunct Rockaway Branch) called the Crescents; the quiet and neat neighborhood is tucked away from the din of Queens Boulevard and are named so because the streets have a bend in them resembling said shape.
What Rego Park is most known for is its shopping, and most often on weekends; folks from all over the city come to take advantage of bargains to be had at Queens Center Mall (easily the size of small city, and giving space to over three hundred stores), Rego Plaza (which contains Marshall’s, Sears, Old Navy, Burlington Coat Factory and Bed Bath & Beyond), and Rego Center (the latter of which boasts one of the only Costco stores in the city, as well as Aldi’s, Century 21, TJ Maxx and other national chains). There’s also the dining to consider, because all three can proudly say that there is no dearth of restaurants that cater to exotic cuisines besides American. Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Greek, Turkish, Middle Eastern, Indian, even Peruvian, can all be found in Rego Park.
The housing stock is mostly pre-war buildings on the south Side of Queens Boulevard, while the north side has many large scale developments of post war construction. Walden Terrace, a modern development of co-ops, was built just after the war in 1947. Most others were constructed in the 1960s, including Park City Estates, Anita Terrace, The Howard, and Birchwood Towers and Argo Properties. There has been some new construction in the last few yearns including 99 Millennium and Novo 64. and some re-use of existing office space such as The Contour. Most of the area is still mostly co-op.
63rd Drive exists as the main thoroughfare for shopping, and is also where the local subway station exists for the R and M trains.
Kew Gardens a triangular-shaped area, which was named for the Royal Botanical Gardens in the London neighborhood of Kew. Its main thoroughfares are Union Turnpike, Kew Gardens Road, Lefferts Boulevard and Metropolitan Ave. The area is mostly populated with small apartment buildings, usually no more than ten stories high, and most of these are rentals or co-ops. Nonetheless, and because of the close proximity of access to the Long Island Rail Road station and the E and F subway, it remains a cherished location in which to live. It is sought out for its lavish old-growth trees, with access to Forest Park at a number of points in the neighborhood. The area has become a favorite for those currently living in Fort Greene, and Park Slope due to its green surroundings, proximaty to Forest Park. Not to mention pricing tends to be less than half of those areas of Brooklyn. There is the Kew Gardens Cinema multiplex on 81st and Lefferts, and also the Austin, just off the crux of Austin and Lefferts, which for years had been an “adult-movie” location and was then completely refurbished some years ago as a prime location for art films and independent movies. And before or after, it doesn’t hurt to grab a bite at the Austin Ale House right around the corner, one of the finest purveyors of steak and beer in the city. Kew Gardens, die-hard shoppers will always find something fun on Lefferts Boulevard just south of Austin Street.
The area is a mix of single family homes, low-mid-rise apartment houses and some doorman high-rises, and there is a section of Kew Gardens (mostly surrounding Forest Park), where you might think you were still in the private enclave of Forest Hills Gardens, although you will find more diversity in the style of the housing stock here where the Gardens is largely Tudor-style homes. High-rise buildings include the Silver Towers, Court Plaza, and Park Lane South. There is also some construction in the area on a smaller scale; Park Lane Tower is the tallest of the new construction at seventeen stories. On the smaller side, there’s the Classic. Nearby lies the enclave of Kew Gardens Hills, which doesn’t consider itself a part of Kew Gardens but a suburb of nearby Flushing/Forest Hills. Known for an observant Judaic community, there are many Kosher businesses in that area.
All three areas play host to street fairs during the summer season. For avid moviegoers, it’s sad to note that Rego Park has no movie theaters. But it’s merely a brisk walk to the Midway multiplex a little further up Queens Boulevard, on the south side just east of 71st Avenue in Forest Hills. Or the Continental/Brandon, on Austin just below 70th Road, as well as the Cinemart, on 71st Road and Metropolitan. Finally, there’s 108th Street, where after a good long walk to the east you reach the Lemon Ice King in Corona, which must be sampled and savored in the summer, to be truly understood for its greatness.
To sum up and to put it succinctly, there’s almost no better choice in the five boroughs that to consider relocation to Rego Park, Forest Hills or Kew Gardens, for those who want the quiet of the suburbs without the bustle of the city. But there’s still just enough bustle to keep things interesting.