Forest Hills Jewish Center facing demolition
June 27, 2018
In 1949, before construction was complete, the Forest Hills Jewish Center received an award for its design from the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Built by architect Joseph J. Furman, the structure is documented in the Queens Modern https://queensmodern.com/project/forest-hills-jewish-center/ database. It is described as “more restrained Modernism…with a slightly convex front facade faced in a warm stone block and featuring a center, three-door entrance topped by tall stained glass windows. There is very little overt detailing, only small Jewish symbols and phrases above the entrance doors.” An equally Modern five-story school building is located at the rear. Unfortunately, the center is on track to be demolished, with a 10-story building replacing it, sometime next year. Additional significant building features include façade stones from Jerusalem and a desecrated temple from the Holocaust, crab-orchard rock reminiscent of Jerusalem’s Western (Wailing) Wall, and the Holy Ark designed by Arthur Szyk, which resembles an ornate Torah breastplate and is considered to be one of the greatest works of 20th-century Judaic art.
According to the center’s executive director, Deborah Gregor, this plan has been in the works for 20 years, but recent zoning changes allowed the congregation to move forward. The developer will pay for construction of the new building in exchange for the land. As to why a new building is needed, the organization cites issues common to aging religious buildings: maintenance, a shrinking congregation, and financial viability. According to the congregation’s April/May 2018 newsletter, a developer and an architect have been chosen and approvals are making their way through internal committees. Jonathan Rose Companies was commissioned to complete a feasibility study. Some of the significant pieces of the current building, such as the stained glass windows, may be incorporated into the new design. The plan must be approved by the New York State Attorney General’s office before work can begin. The building is not protected by any historic or landmark designation.
“Changes ahead at Forest Hills Jewish Center,” Queens Chronicle, January 25, 2018.
“Forest Hills Jewish Center to Redevelop its Site, 10-story Building that will include Synagogue to Replace it,” Forest Hills Post, January 17, 2018.
“Reconstruction Planned at Forest Hills Jewish Center,” Times Ledger, January 28, 2018.
“New Developments Concern Residents,” Forest Hills/Rego Park Times, January 17, 2018.