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Queens Chronicle

A Pyrrhic victory for Forest Hills civics?

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Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 10:30 am

The Yellowstone Oval provided great memories for kids in the late 1940s and early ’50s, as they could romp over 11 acres of open fields and play baseball or football until nightfall.

In February 1949, area civic groups mounted a campaign to defeat the construction of Bulova Watch Co. headquarters on the site, where light manufacturing would take place. Arde Bulova (1889-1958) sought a zoning variance to build a beautifully landscaped building designed by Aymar Embury II, the same man who gave us the stunning 1939 World’s Fair New York City Building, now the Queens Museum of Art. Bulova also would sell 150,000 square feet to the city, at cost, to build a junior high school, JHS 190.

Bulova claimed his building would be a lovely addition to Forest Hills. Civic groups claimed there would be too many trucks and possibly too much noise coming from it.

On Sept. 7, 1949, Mayor William O’Dwyer blocked any zoning change. He agreed to buy two acres for a junior high school and two acres for a park with playgrounds and athletic field. In 1954 the school went up but the park and playgrounds never happened.

In 1952, Robert Moses got Bulova a variance to erect his building, which resembled the Federal Reserve Bank, at 25th Avenue and 77th Street in East Elmhurst, then referred to as part of Jackson Heights. The art deco masterpiece, now housing many entities, can be admired from the Grand Central Parkway near Astoria Boulevard. Bulova itself moved to Woodside and was bought by Citizen for $250 million in 2008.

In the end the residents of Forest Hills lost. Developer Jack Parker announced he had bought the land and would build three of the tallest apartment houses in Queens. Parker Towers brought in more noise, pollution and vehicles than Bulova’s proposed building ever would have.

Welcome to the discussion.