Its 4 a.m. in the neighborhood that never sleeps.
With the decibels rising faster than the temperature, a woman tosses and turns trying
to muffle the clatter outside by burrowing deep into the comforting folds of her pillow.
If the disturbance were merely a momentary thunderclap, she might have drifted
peacefully back into dreamland, but the steady and pulsating rhythm of the bass line,
combined with the piercing percussion of slamming car doors, beeping horns and constant
conversation make this yet another in a series of sleepless summer nights.
Outside her bedroom window two women argue, trying to remember where they parked.
"Girl, why do you always have to do this," says the would-be passenger to the
"I cant help it," she replies. "All of these streets look exactly
Across the street, a man wearing a "F Giuliani" T-shirt stands on the
corner waiting for his friend. "Were just here to have a good time," he
says. "But if this were my neighborhood, Id be pretty pissed off too."
All Night Long
These usually tranquil residential streets in Forest Hills are being transformed three
nights a week into a nightclub parking lot, attracting thousands of guests, hundreds of
cars, and nerve-racking noise until as late as 5:30 a.m.
The parties are held at the Forest Hills Country Club, on 70th Road and Sybilla Street,
which by day is populated by women playing mahjong by the pool, swimmers, sunbathers, and
a summer camp. Every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and sometimes Monday night, the club is
rented out to various party promoters and transformed into an after hours bar and
Standing by his patrol car, in the early morning hours of July 11, about a hundred feet
from the entrance to the "African Pool Party," a police officer characterizes
the situation. "This is a neighborhood where people eat dinner at three and are in
bed by seven," he says. "For them, this is going to be one long summer."
Unable to sleep, several neighbors congregate on a nearby stoop, as the flashing lights
of police cars and fire engines contribute to the neighborhoods dizzying disco
"This administration keeps pounding quality of life issues," says one of the
neighbors, pointing out that beer bottles were strewn across a nearby driveway. "But
its 4:30 a.m. and I am standing out here in my pajamas being interviewed by a
reporter. Where is my quality of life?"
After the July 4th weekend brought over 4,000 people to the neighborhood over a three
night period, neighbors say they could no longer stand the aggravation.
On Tuesday, July 6, the frustrated residents went to Assemblyman Michael Cohen asking
him to wash the neighborhood clean of their laundry list of complaints, which ranged from
"people urinating on their lawns," to "people running over their
"Generally when there are problems in the neighborhood, only several people
actually bother to make complaints," said Cohen. "In this case, more than half
the people that are effected walked into this office this is an extraordinary
Assemblyman Michael Cohen says that weekly parties
until 4 a.m. are too much for the neighborhood to bear.
That weekend, Assemblyman Cohen made a point of inspecting the scene first hand.
Cohen informed the 112th Precinct of the scope of the situation, and the following night
newly appointed Captain Lavelle joined the Assemblyman at the scene, where both the
Department of Buildings and the Fire Department conducted on-site inspections. "The
residents near the Forest Hills Swim Club are not being permitted to sleep so that the
owner can make a buck," said Cohen.
The problem, according to most residents, is not so much the noise of the parties
themselves, but the thousands of people going to and from their cars throughout the night.
"These are legitimate complaints," said Captain Lavelle, of the 112 Precinct.
"It is sad that they have been living with this nightmare. I will see what I can do
to help out." Lavelle added that the police have issued summonses for parking and
moving violations, and that only one crime has been reported during the parties.
The owner of the club, Michael Ricatto, says that they have been renting the facilities
out for parties for nearly two decades. The only difference, he says, is that the patrons
of the recent events were black and not white.
"A few years ago, we had the Hells Angels here and there were few
complaints," said Ricatto, whose family has owned the swim club for 30 years.
"The real problem isnt noise, its racism. We want to get along with the
community, but we do not want to stop doing black parties."
But residents disagree, arguing that the issue is not color but number.
"They used to have parties only a couple of times a summer," said one
neighbor who is also a member of the club. "But now we have this nightmare three or
four times a week and are kept up past three or four in the morning."
"It does not matter to us if the kids are Italian, Korean, Australian or
Dutch," added another neighbor. "We just want to get some sleep at night."
However, while neighbors discounted "racism" as a defense on the part of the
ownership, according to several party patrons, the racial divide between the residents and
the party guests has been a problem.
"One of my friends had the word nigger scratched on their window when
they got back to their car the other night," said one guest.
Swim Club owner Michael Ricatto says the
complaints have less to do with noise than racism.
"People keep asking me why I am letting those people in the
neighborhood," added Ricatto.
"This is more about the color of our skin than the noise," said one of the
promoters, noting that far fewer complaints were made when the club has had predominantly
white parties on Monday nights. "Parking is a problem, but we have increased the
security patrol to 25 people, and they make sure that people expeditiously get to their
In The Zone
The party promoters charge a $15 admission fee at the door, and all of the profits from
the bar go to the swim club, said Ricatto, stressing that the after hours parties are
necessary to keep the swim club in business.
"We think [Ricatto] is full of cheese," said one member of the club. "He
just wants to make a fast buck at our expense."
"He does not seem to care about the community," said Cohen. "I would
think that in 1999 in New York City, entrepreneurs would have a more responsible
In the past, Ricatto has sought to convert the site into a nursing home and a
condominium, but was turned down by the community board.
The swim club was "grandfathered in" to a residential zone, when the zoning
laws were established in 1961, said Cohen.
"They are listed as a membership-only recreational facility," said Cohen.
"But they are operating as a non-membership entertainment facility. Councilman [Tom]
Ognibene is working with the Department of Buildings to determine if this constitutes a
nonconforming use and is cause to shut the parties down."
Calling the attacks on the parties "anti-business," Ricatto feels that the
treatment from city agencies and the police is bordering on harassment.
"Last night we had a helicopter with a spotlight hovering over the party," he
said. "We have made every effort to minimize the disturbance to [residents].
"For instance, we make sure that the music cannot be heard by people in their homes
and that all exits are final so that people cannot go back and forth between their
Ricatto added that if he could he would have parties every night, but if "we are
unable to continue with the parties and have to close the place down, then we will build
low-income housing on the site and have the last laugh on the neighborhood."
Borough President Claire Shulman told the Tribune that she has asked the
Department of Buildings and the State Liquor Authority to look further into the matter.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani has also taken an active role in addressing the problem.
"The Mayors Community Assistance Unit is well aware of the situation and the
complaints that it has generated," said Matt Higgins, a spokesperson for the Mayor.
"Enforcement action has already been taken to address some of these quality of life
complaints and we will continue to keep an eye on the situation."
Until something is done, as one resident put it, "Well just have to sleep
with our heads under our pillows."