Celebrity Walk, A Forest Hills Mystery Partially Solved

Since 2015, a dedicated group of preservationists have been searching for long-vanished cement slabs featuring the handprints, footprints, and autographs of tennis and music stars that were once part of Celebrity Walk.
Celebrity Walk was located in front of Forest Hills Inn in Station Square. Before being converted to a co-op, the inn was the center of a classy social life, and Celebrity Walk was the local version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When searches of the tunnel-like Forest Hills Inn basement turned up no results and with no known photos, some people assumed it was just an urban legend.
But rumors circulated that a sidewalk reconstruction led to their relocation. Some people recalled seeing them placed in the inn’s basement in a potentially concealed tunnel for safekeeping, possibly in the late 1970’s.
After intense networking, over a year ago this columnist discovered five Celebrity Walk slabs in a garage at a home near Puritan Avenue and Greenway North. The slabs were left behind by a previous homeowner.
Last Friday, Forest Hills Stadium concert manager Mike Luba and Mitch Cohen, president of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, arrived at the home with a crew. They took the fragile concrete slabs to Forest Hills Stadium, where they will be restored and displayed.
The rescued slabs feature comedian Buddy Hackett, trumpeter Herb Alpert, actor Trini Lopez, director, Woody Allen, and Australian tennis player John Newcombe.
There are more slabs to be discovered, and the goal is to find the full collection. A few years ago, another homeowner donated a slab to the West Side Tennis Club featuring the signatures and handprints of tennis players Jack Kramer, Bill Talbert, and Manolo Santana.
“It’s a work in progress and I want to be part of it,” said crew member Wilson Brito. “We’ll get there. We’ll bring all the history back to where it belongs, and once we maintain that we can pass it on to the next generation and let them take care of it.”
Celebrity Walk originated in the mid-1960s and was the brainchild of Mark Fleischman, owner of the famed Studio 54 nightclub. From May 1965 to 1968, he also co-owned the 300-room Forest Hills Inn and adjoining apartments
“I loved coming up with press-generating ideas, including the creation of Celebrity Walk in front of the hotel’s sidewalk cafe,” he said. “Marketing seemed to come easily to me.”
At the time, the inn included cocktail lounges, a formal dining room known as the Windsor Room, sidewalk cafe, the Tea Garden, and four social rooms accommodating 400 guests.
“The Inn was a venerable hotel that looked like an English country manor,” said Fleischman. “It was a real coup when we got Frank Sinatra to put his handprints into a block of wet cement when he headlined the Forest Hills Music Festival at the nearby tennis stadium.
“As soon as other celebrities heard about Sinatra’s handprints and signature, they agreed to be included in our Celebrity Walk when they performed,” he added.
“The Forest Hills Inn has Frank Sinatra’s and Barbra Streisand’s handprints imbedded on their sidewalk pavement, but it had to get them the hard way,” read an article from 1965 in the Long Island Star-Journal. “Both stars agreed to make the imprint, but refused to do it at the sidewalk. So wet cement was sent to both stars, the imprints made, and the hardened blocks were then inserted in the pavement.”
West Side Tennis Club is always looking for items from the club’s long and storied history.
“These past few years, some wonderful items have been donated to the club, both solicited and unsolicited,” read a statement from the club.

If you have historic WSTC/Forest Hills items, email [email protected]

Queens native runs NYC Marathon for a good cause

When the first New York City Marathon took place in 1970, a six-year-old Ceil Witherspoon watched runners cross the Queensboro Bridge from her window in Queensbridge Houses.
In awe of the runners’ dedication, stamina and tenacity, the marathon is something that’s fascinated Witherspoon for her entire life. But at the same time it felt unattainable due to her asthma, limited athletic experience and discouraging comments from others.
This year, Witherspoon went against all odds and achieved her lifelong dream of running in the New York City Marathon.
For some, the normalization of mask wearing during COVID-19 is a hassle, but for Witherspoon it was a blessing in disguise that inspired her to enter.
“Keeping my mask on helped with my asthma because I wasn’t inhaling any of the pollen, dirt or leaves,” she said. “This year, my lungs are completely protected and I got the breathing under control.
“A lot of people don’t know how to properly use a mask and breathe, so I found myself showing them,” she added. “I haven’t had a major asthma attack, I haven’t had to go to the hospital and I’m in perfect shape to do this.”
In addition to teaching people how to breathe again, Witherspoon actively shares her knowledge about food through her work with City Harvest, the city’s largest food rescue organization.
She was one of 75 City Harvest volunteers who ran the marathon with a goal of raising $250,000 to continue the organization’s effort of providing New Yorkers with nutritious food.
Witherspoon works at City Harvest’s Mobile Markets, in which she helps distribute fresh produce and participates in cooking demonstrations to educate visitors about how to utilize the ingredients in beneficial ways.
“One thing I like about City Harvest is that I get to pass on what I know to people,” she said. “Oftentimes when we’re giving away food, people don’t know what to do with it, they’ve never seen it or tried it before. I love telling people how to cook spaghetti squash or yams, plantains or potatoes.
“I’ve always liked to help people, but I’ve never had the outlet to do it,” Witherspoon added. “City Harvest lets me do it.”
Self-described as having zero athletic training in her early years, Witherspoon truly began to build her endurance in 1990 after she was hit by a city cab.
To bounce back from her injury, she walked to her job on 83rd Street in Manhattan from her Long Island City residence every day.
Eventually, she realized she could bike the 3.5-mile distance (where she still works today), which was what sparked her passion for bike riding. Witherspoon combined these two skills to train for the marathon
“I get up at five in the morning, walk the dogs, walk around my neighborhood for a mile or two and repeat it,” she said. “According to how you figure out the mileage, I’ve been biking 10k in a day and walking about 5k in the mornings, so I think I’m pretty good.
“I know I’ve got this,” she added.
And she was right. As one of the last runners of the day, Witherspoon crossed the finish line after 11 hours.
She attributes her achievement to her daily routine , along with the help of a bottle of water, three Life Savers and two Tylenol.
Witherspoon said that she’s had to deal with people underestimating her abilities, suggesting that her knees or body type might prevent her from completing the marathon.
“I’m not the skinniest person in the world, but I have a lot of stamina,” she said. “They don’t see that.
“If someone thinks they can’t do something and has people telling them they can’t, thank them for their opinion, but don’t believe them,” Witherspoon added. “The worst that could happen is you fail.”

You can donate to Witherspoon’s cause here.

Mickalauskas, 60, of Maspeth Press passes away

Anthony J. Mickalauskas, 60, the CEO of Maspeth Press, passed away on Tuesday, November 9.
The husband of Donna Mickalauskas and father of Anthony Mickalauskas and Alyssa Mickalauskas, was laid to rest on Monday, November 15.
Mickalauskas worked his entire adult life at Maspeth Press, a local printing company in the tight-knit Queens neighborhood. Maspeth Press was founded in 1928, and Anthony was hired in 1982. He took over the business in 2009.
His wife Donna said he modernized and expanded the printing business into the digital age.
“He loved his family and he loved his printing press,” she said. “He took that business from a small print company and built it up tremendously. He would help everybody as much as he could.”
In its 90 years of business, Maspeth Press strived to be a one-stop mom-and-pop complete printing facility. In his time with the company, Mickalauskas saw the rise of the internet and made the appropriate business changes to keep up, such as hiring a team of graphic designers and purchasing new equipment.

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