A Forest Hills map with a story to tell
by Michael Perlman
Feb 26, 2020 | 1649 views | 0 0 comments | 65 65 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An illustrated Forest Hills street map from 1926 in a prospectus for Forest Close tells the story of an award-winning Arts & Crafts-style village of rowhouses developed that same year by Cord Meyer.

At the time, Forest Hills was only 20 years old, while Rego Park was just three years old. Ernest Clegg was a respected pictorial cartographer, graphic designer, and calligrapher.

Today, he is long-forgotten, but his extensive inventory of artistic maps serve as a testament to his skills.

Clegg’s creative illustrations include Forest Close, West Side Tennis Club Stadium, Forest Hills Theatre on Continental Avenue, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs on Austin Street, and the Queens Valley Golf Club, which would have been located in today’s Kew Gardens Hills.

One of the cartouches features the original Georgian Colonial style real estate office for Cord Meyer Development, which stood where Midway Theatre is located.

The map also notes the location of other significant sites, including the Forest Hills Masonic Temple, which later became Boulevard Bank and Sterling National Bank.

Opposite Forest Close and its sister community of Arbor Close were tennis courts on Austin Street facing the LIRR.

Numerical streets did not exist, but rather alphabetized from Atom Street on the east to Zuni Street on the west, that ran perpendicular to Queens Boulevard.

Atom Street became 75th Avenue, De Koven Street became 72nd Road, Pilgrim Street was renamed 67th Drive, Sample Street turned into 66th Road, and Zuni Street is now 63rd Drive. Jewel Street retained its name, but became an avenue.

Some street names are preserved in building names, such as the Kelvin Apartments, Livingston Apartments, and The Portsmouth. These three properties are the earliest Cord Meyer apartment buildings still standing.

The Balfour at 112-20 72nd Drive memorializes Balfour Street, while Quality & Ruskin Apartments on Yellowstone Boulevard and 108th Street pay tribute to Quality Street (67th Road) and Ruskin Street (67th Avenue).

South of Queens Boulevard, the map features Backus Place named after the Backus family farm, one of the major farming families in the area at the time of the Civil War.

Further east, the name Ascan Avenue was retained. It was named after Ascan Backus, one of the most successful commercial farmers in the northeast.

Clegg lived a diverse life. He was born in the suburbs of Birmingham in the United Kingdom and attended King Edward VI Grammar School and the Birmingham School of Art. His work was highly influenced by the Victorian Arts & Crafts Movement.

As a calligrapher, he was inspired by the Medieval period’s gilded and illuminated manuscripts. During WWI in 1914, he was commissioned with the 7th Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment. In 1916, he earned the rank of major and was a temporary commanding officer.

He became well known as a graphic designer and calligrapher in American and British veteran communities in New York. When he worked with William Edward Rudge, the New York Fine Art publisher, he illustrated and lettered a limited edition of Canadian war poet John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.”

Another highlight of his work was an illuminated manuscript for Princess Mary on her wedding in 1922. A pictorial map from 1925 in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York features a chronology of part of New York City depicting six locations of Brooks Brothers since its founding in 1818.

Another masterpiece was his “Great War Map of Battle Lines in France and Belgium on September 25, 1918,” which was copyrighted in 1926. It was presented by Marshal Sir Douglas Haig to the Old Guard of New York. The insignia of 42 American divisions that served is depicted on it.

In 1928, a large map commemorated aviator Charles Lindbergh’s first independent flight across the Atlantic Ocean a year prior, and was published by the New York John Day Company.

That same year, he produced a rare jigsaw puzzle map captioned “Firestone reaches around the world to give most miles per dollar,” which features factories and plantation buying offices of Firestone in the United States, Mexico, Russia, China, and Africa.

His pursuits as a yachtsman led him to create a series of decorative printed charts that recorded three America’s Cup competitions off Newport in the 1930s. After a request from the British Ambassador, Lord Halifax, he returned to England in 1944, and began producing decorative county maps.

Clegg passed away in 1954.
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