Few residents in the borough have the kind of passion for preservation and landmark issues as native Forest Hills resident Michael Perlman, who some say “lives and breathes” preservation.
In recognition of his tireless activism and service to the community, the Historic Districts Council, a leading citywide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods, recently honored Perlman with a 2014 Grassroots Preservation Award.
The award honors and celebrates activists and groups who work to preserve the city’s historic neighborhoods.
Simeon Bankoff, executive director of HDC, said in a statement that it was an honor to be able to shine a spotlight on neighborhood leaders like Perlman.
“These advocates are the foundation of the preservation movement and their efforts benefit everyone who lives, works or visits New York City,” Bankoff said.
As the chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, tasked with preserving the architectural and cultural history of Forest Hills and Rego Park, Perlman’s accomplishments are almost too numerous to count.
Some of Perlman’s most significant preservation efforts include his 2010 campaign to preserve and reuse the nearly demolished Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, now reborn as a concert venue, as well as his continued efforts to save and/or landmark numerous civic, religious and venerable Queens’ neighborhood locales from theatres and fire houses to diners, synagogues and churches.
The HDC noted that Perlman earned the nickname “Diner-Man” after several efforts to save and relocate a number of historic, freestanding diners.
Perlman recalled that he founded committees and brokered deals to save both the Moondance Diner in SoHo and the Cheyenne Diner on 9th Avenue and 33rd Street in Manhattan from demolition.
“Respectively, [the diners] were transported on flatbed trucks to Wyoming and Alabama,” Perlman said.
Asked about the award, Perlman said that he was both honored and encouraged.
“I hope that more neighborhood residents will take inspiration, and become community leaders and advocates who coordinate preservation causes to help obtain NYC Individual Landmark, Interior Landmark, and Historic District status, as well as State and National Register of Historic Places status for significant and character-enriching sites,” Perlman said.
Perlman has also helped to preserve historic structures in the borough including The Ridgewood Theatre, The Rego Park Jewish Center, The First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, The Forest Park Carousel and the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.
On Perlman’s Facebook page, several friends wrote messages of support.
Jo Anne, a CUNY student, wrote that “he is a person who wants to make the world we live in a better place, he devotes his time on social and environmental issues and historical events.”
As for Perlman’s motivation to doggedly ensure that historic city structures and landmarks are not forgotten, he said that it’s really a matter of keeping our history top-of-mind.
“Without advocating for the preservation, creative reuse, and restoration of sites which exhibit architectural and cultural significance, our historic and character-enriching sites would undergo demolition and insensitive alterations,” Perlman noted.
“A community without landmarks or one that experiences the loss of potential landmarks impacts our quality of life, property values, and our understanding of how our community and city originated.”
Looking to the future of preservation in the city, Perlman said that while progress is being made, there is still much work to be done.
“We lost many theaters in recent years, including the UA Brandon Cinemas (Continental Theatre) on Austin Street for a predictable medical establishment,” Perlman noted.
“In addition, a demolition permit has been approved for the former Drake Theatre on Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park, and a typical condo is slated to rise in its place. The theater’s architecture needs to be preserved as well.”
Moreover, Perlman said that Austin Street’s small businesses and buildings show Tudor, Neo-Renaissance, Colonial, and Art Deco details that are at risk of undergoing demolition.
He would like to see a Forest Hills BID formed to work with the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce and Dadras Architects of the Downtown Revitalization Group.
“The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission needs to assist us in the preservation of our neighborhood’s character. If not, our charm and history will forever be lost, and mundane condos and more chains will rise.”
By Alan Krawitz