While looking from the exterior like every other red brick mid-century apartment building, the award program write-up tells another story. The description claims that Roosevelt Terrace was the first building in the country to employ terraces on both facades of each apartment, offering cross-ventilation for every unit. Primary access to units is also provided by the terraces eliminating the need for some interior hallways. No surprise that the architect for this innovation was Philip Birnbaum, the prolific apartment designer, largely forgotten today but responsible for hundreds of major scale residential buildings across the city.
The architecture of this apartment building speaks much more to architect Jack Brown rather than his co-designer Jerome Perlstein. Whereas Brown, the LeFrak’s in-house architect, was largely responsible for large commercial and residential towers in brick or metal, Perlstein’s designs tended toward showy facade materials such as stone veneer, decorative screens, and enamel panels. The site here is a steep slope so that the front includes private concrete slab balconies whereas the back includes a communal patio space overlooking an athletic field below.
The building is one in a series of apartment houses by Birnbaum named for past presidents. Here the white painted ironwork gives this nine-story building a graceful, patrician air. Similar to many other buildings in this part of Forest Hills, the Woodrow Wilson is clad in red Colonial brick and many apartments have large cantilevered balconies. There is also a large two-story parking garage, an amenity that became de rigueur in 1950s apartment living.
While the main architects of The Highlander were the Kesslers, the lobby was designed by none other than architect Morris Lapidus, most well known for his exuberant Miami modern hotels. Lapidus was a prolific interior designer as well, creating high-style lobbies and lounges for his hotels as well as commercial establishments in New York City. Not much is known about what the lobby originally looked like here. The Highlander’s entrance is down a set of rambling stairs and originally had meandering paths and rock gardens flanking it. The apartments themselves were open plan to accommodate modern living. Fred Trump was the developer of the property.