THE rocket-paced, exhaust-ridden artery that is Queens Boulevard slices through the neighborhood of Forest Hills. But to step into either side of this sprawling enclave and tour its grand homes and elegant apartment buildings is to forget the traffic and leave behind the ideas of what city living is like.
With an abundance of shopping, a surprisingly quick commute to Midtown and an ample stock of attractive housing, young families and couples from Manhattan and Brooklyn are getting wise to Forest Hills.
"You've got dense, populated areas if you're into apartment houses," said Kathleen Histon, district manager for Community Board 6 in Forest Hills. "Then you can walk a block or two and you have these lovely streets filled with beautiful Tudors."
And with a new luxury condominium tower, the Windsor, rising above the neighborhood, the real estate market in the neighborhood is poised to take off.
"It's having a definite effect on the market," said Jacques Ambron, principal broker of Madeleine Realty, referring to the Windsor. "They're seeing that people are willing to come here and pay the price, ever since they began selling."
Even before the Windsor receives its first tenants, the influx into Forest Hills from pricier parts of the city has begun. Melanie Fox and her husband, Glenn France, married for three years, were renting in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and decided last November that they wanted to buy their own brownstone.
They began looking at up-and-coming areas of that borough like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, but found the competition too fierce. For one house, they were trumped by buyers bidding $200,000 over asking. "And it wasn't even in pristine condition," said Ms. Fox, 34, who works at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
So when she and Mr. France, a specialist on the American Stock Exchange, accompanied some friends to explore real estate in Forest Hills, they were surprised at how nice everything seemed. They returned later for an open house at a three-bedroom town house on Fleet Street for $740,000, and soon after, they grabbed it.
What You'll Find
Forest Hills is essentially split into three parts, each with its own distinct feel. The centerpiece is Forest Hills Gardens, a private community south of Queens Boulevard with security patrols, wide curving streets and stately houses, which are protected by alteration guidelines and an approval process similar to those in historic districts.
The grand entrance to "the Gardens," as everyone calls them, is Station Square, adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road station, which greets visitors with cobblestone streets, quaint shops and graceful archways. Continuing into the neighborhood, the confusing Queens street grid ends and is replaced by a web of shaded, pleasant roads with names like Slocum Crescent and Summer Street.
To the immediate west, the streets straighten out and take on an alphabetical order (Austin to Olcott). Row houses and stand-alone houses prevail, though on streets closer to Queens Boulevard, some houses take on the grandeur of the Gardens.
North of Queens Boulevard, large apartment buildings dominate, the most desirable units located in prewar complexes named for George Washington, Grover Cleveland and other presidents. Between 108th Street and the Grand Central Parkway, the theme changes to single-family homes in an area some refer to as Cord Meyer, after the developer who built most of them and is also building the new Windsor tower.
What They're Asking
The pricing trend in Forest Hills is unquestionably upward, even to the extent that sellers cannot keep up...
"At this point, people who live here are hardly able to estimate what the value of their property is because the prices have gone up so quickly," ...
Still, there is some breathing room in the market, and prices of houses depend significantly on whether they are in Forest Hills Gardens. For stand-alone midsize houses within that area, the average starting price for an unrenovated house is in the $1.5 million range, with redone properties edging up to $2 million or $2.5 million. Larger houses in the Gardens, of which there are several, average around $3 million, with some selling for millions more.
"In the Gardens, there's a good demand around $2 million," said Mr. Ambron, who recently sold a five-bedroom unrenovated brick house for $1.5 million.
Town houses in the Gardens are less, hovering around $1 million or less. Earlier this year, Ms. Hof sold a 2,000-square-foot, 1915 town house for $960,000.
Outside the Gardens, sellers are getting up to $800,000 for renovated town houses and detached homes. On the north side of Queens Boulevard, where there is an increasing amount of teardowns and new construction, midsize houses average $1 million and range up to $1.7 million for complete renovations.
In apartment sales, one-bedrooms range from $250,000 to $300,000, and two-bedrooms from $370,000 to $450,000. Rental one-bedrooms begin at $1,350 a month, and two-bedroom, two-bath units start at $1,800.
Sales began last November at the Windsor, now towering above Queens Boulevard at 71st Road. Ninety percent of its condos have been sold, including all its three-bedroom units. Remaining apartments range from $820,000 for a one-bedroom to $1.2 million for a two-bedroom.
What to Do
Just as it has three distinct residential sections, Forest Hills contains three separate commercial areas, making for a comprehensive shopping experience.
On mall-like Austin Street, which runs parallel to Queens Boulevard, familiar chain stores like the Gap, Banana Republic and the Body Shop dominate. A large Barnes & Noble branch, complete with Starbucks Coffee, is a gathering place. Still, there is a smattering of local attractions, such as Nick's Pizza on Ascan Avenue.
To the south, Metropolitan Avenue offers just as many shopping and dining options, though many are more local in flavor. Eddie's Sweet Shop, a decades-old favorite at the corner of Metropolitan and 72nd Avenue, serves up its own ice cream.
And on the third strip, on 108th Street north of Queens Boulevard, the flavor is Russian, with electronics stores and food markets.
A campus containing several new schools, including two high schools, is in the early stages of construction on Metropolitan Avenue.
At Public School 101 on Russell Place, also known as the School in the Gardens, students can participate in a range of activities, from cooking to a gifted program. At P.S. 101, the number of students meeting standards on city and state math tests was 30 percentage points higher than city averages, according to its most recent city report card. On the state English test, it was 35 percentage points higher.
Junior High School 190 on Austin Street, also known as Russell Sage, has reduced crowding in recent years. A high number of graduating eighth-graders go on to such schools as the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School.
Forest Hills High School, which has received a Blue Ribbon Award from the United States Department of Education, has a biomedical and hospital science course and a public service academy. Students taking the SAT's scored 463 on the verbal test, compared with 497 statewide, and 508 on the math, compared with 510 statewide.
The neighborhood also offers a range of private options, including parochial schools and the Kew Forest School on Union Turnpike. Tuition there ranges from around $15,000 to $18,000 a year.
Getting to Manhattan is a light, pleasant commute, with the E and F express subway trains getting from the neighborhood's 71st-Continental Avenue station to Midtown in four stops, or about 20 minutes. Residents can also take the Long Island Rail Road into Pennsylvania Station, a 13-minute trip, and three major highways are less than a mile away.
Once called Whitepot, Forest Hills came into being in 1906, when the Cord Meyer Development Company bought the land from three local farmers. The company began installing streets and building single-family homes, and within 20 years the area had 20,000 residents and numerous apartment buildings.
During that time, part of the Cord Meyer land purchase was sold to Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, who commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to plan Forest Hills Gardens. Most houses there, designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, were built in the 1910's. Another prominent arrival was the West Side Tennis Club, which was host to the U.S. Open until 1977.
What We Like
There's a sense of quietude walking through the tree-canopied streets of Forest Hills Gardens.
What We'd Change
Despite recent traffic safety improvements, the autobahn that is Queens Boulevard still remains an unwelcoming central feature and a treacherous road to cross.