Death of the Last True Hero: Goodbye, Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger Wows All Generations

Pete at the 2011 Great Hudson River Revival.

His aura was exceptional.

His voice had failed years ago, but that aura remained.  Few can render an old-time folk song these days without attracting snickers.  Pete never needed to worry–he practically perfected that musical genre in his lifetime.  If you were privileged to have sung with him or for him, as I did at the 2011 Great Hudson River Revival, it was an unforgettable experience.

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Pete’s death on Monday, January 27, 2014 has left a gap that can’t be filled. He was the last of my great heroes.  He lived what he believed, and he never seemed to stop believing that things could be better.  That the air and water would be cleaner, that people would consume only what they need, that the arc of history would bend more quickly towards justice.  Pete had carried out a campaign to draw attention to the real meaning of the holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, just weeks before his death.  A joyous line of singers chanting civil rights hymns paraded through Beacon, New York, on Monday, January 20.  Sadly, Pete was unable to attend, a possible signal that his remaining life was slipping away.

The loss of his beloved wife, Toshi, in 2013, must have been overwhelming.  No matter what he was able to achieve after her death, it wouldn’t be the same without her.

We will miss you, magnificent hero.

Note to readers: A proposal to rename the Tappan Zee Bridge in honor of Pete Seeger has been proposed by an elected official, and is gathering steam.  Please add your voice in favor of this most appropriate honor, at  https://www.change.org/petitions/gov-cuomo-name-the-new-tappan-zee-bridge-for-pete-seeger.  Also, it is no longer certain that the landscape along the northerly stretch of the Palisades will remain pristine and undeveloped, as Pete would have wished.  To learn about an alarming proposal in the works by LG Electronics to build a huge office tower atop the Palisades near the George Washington Bridge, visit: http://www.protectthepalisades.org.

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Article copyright Vivian R. Carter 2014.  Photo of the Palisades copyright Vivian R. Carter 2010. Other photos (including header photo) copyright Vivian R. Carter 2011.

Posted in Meet Your Fellow Man, The Arts and Entertainment, Water and waterways | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A Year Later–and Yes, We’re Still Here

 

cccMore than a year after nature’s damaging blow to the peninsula, I continue my peripatetic existence, traveling back and forth between New York’s upstate and downstate counties. Peripatetic is really the right word, hearkening back to the wandering teachers of Greco-Roman times. Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Dutchess—if there’s an after-school program or SAT prep class in need of an instructor, I’ll travel…Thanks to those who have persistently inquired as to my whereabouts.

Still a mortgagee on a beach block house, I visit regularly and enjoy my family and friends on the Rock.  It was great to see neighbors at the polls on election day, to savor those balmy August and September evenings at Rockaway Civic’s Beach Flix, and to shed some nostalgic tears seeing my daughter head off to her freshman year at SUNY Purchase.

I now have a little abode in Dutchess County in the shadow of the Fishkill Ridge, a place steeped in mostly forgotten, Revolutionary War history.  Why, just this past week, over protests from preservationists, the Village of Fishkill allowed the demolition of the Jackson House, one of the original stagecoach hotels that dotted Route 9 between Albany and New York City. The village’s mayor said the beautiful structure was about to fall down and injure residents, which brought to mind what Mayor Giuliani said about the Neponsit Home over a decade ago. Hasn’t fallen down yet, has it?  

This past weekend, it was a thrill to attend the rededication of the sanctuary of Breezy Point’s Christ Community Church, rebuilt by the steadfast and cheerful Jim Killoran and his Habitat for Humanity staff, plus numerous volunteers from all over the country.  Although Jim hails from Westchester, he has truly dedicated his voluminous skills over the past year to helping out—from Breezy Point to Far Rockaway, plus places in between.  Congratulations to Jim, Habitat, the church, and the entire community!

On Thursday, December 5, from 6-11 p.m., I will be at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club’s Holiday Boutique, selling and signing copies of Images of America: Rockaway Beach. I will be offering the book for $20 at this event.  Admission to the event is free. There will be over 20 vendors, plus raffles and refreshments.  BHYC is at 533 Beach 126th Street (at Beach Channel Drive).

On Friday, December 6, I also hope to make it for the Rockaway Theatre Company’s production of “Inspecting Carol,” the droll holiday comedy which is being staged from Dec. 6-15 (Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.). Tickets can be reserved at www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org.  

Article and header photo copyright 2013, Vivian R. Carter.

Posted in Philosophy, Religion and Philanthropy, The Arts and Entertainment, The World of Human Beings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rock-Rock Rockaway Bard

Hip to Hip Theater Company performs at Riis Park Bathhouse, July 2012.

Hip to Hip Theater Company performs at Riis Park Bathhouse, July 2012.

As these beastly hot days of summer arrive, some residents have decided to walk away– for now, or forever.  Rent a U-Haul and drag it all behind.  Others have sought out counselors from Project Hope.  Many of us talk incessantly about our storm experiences until we (or our listeners) are bored, or exhausted.  Or we try to bury the pain with food, drink, sex, or drugs.  I always try to follow the advice of the immortal Mark Twain whenever possible: “Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.”

Some of the best healing through the arts is around, in the next few weeks, here in our own community.  Stop by a Queens park (yes, even one here in Rockaway) and enjoy a free performance of one of William Shakespeare’s great plays, presented by Hip to Hip Theatre Company.  Or get yourself a ticket to the Rockaway Theatre Company’s new production at the Post Theater in Fort Tilden, which is worth far more than the $15-20 you pay at the box office.  And for just $1 extra, you get a home-made cookie baked by distinguished pastry chef Cynthia Peithman, as well.  Take that, Kew Gardens Theatre!

Despite the threat of rain, Hip to Hip squeezed their production of "A Comedy of Errors" under the walkway at Riis Park Bathhouse in July 2012.

Despite the threat of rain, Hip to Hip squeezed their production of “A Comedy of Errors” under the walkway at Riis Park Bathhouse in July 2012.

I am greatly anticipating the opening of Hip to Hip’s summer season at the Unisphere in Flushing Meadow Park this Wednesday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m., with the premiere of The Tempest.  Nothing like enjoying a great theatrical performance in the shadow of an iconic city sculpture silhouetted against the night sky.  I always inform audiences that these are traditional, richly costumed shows—not modernized or “hip hop” versions.  Saturday evening the same show will come to O’Donohue Park on Seagirt Avenue at Beach 17 Street in Far Rockaway, with its picturesque, rolling, hillside seating.  If you are a Shakespeare junkie like I am, you will want to see the shows more than once.  If you have never been to the much-heralded, new incarnation of O’Donohue Park, what are you waiting for?  It seems to me that the park made it through the storm with only minor damage.  If you have young children, be sure to arrive at least a half-hour early, as the company is adding a pre-show segment for the youngsters this season, called “Kids and the Classics,” which includes theater games and an introduction to the play.

The two plays chosen by Hip to Hip for their first post-Sandy season are inspired:  many audience members will no doubt relate to the storm-tossed shipwreck, magic, intrigue, and romance of  The Tempest.  The sheer silliness of the second play to be performed, Love’s Labor’s Lost, will appeal to others of the view that laughter is the best medicine.  Although only the first of the two plays will come to a Rockaway venue this year, the latter will be premiered at nearby St. Alban’s Park on Wednesday July 31 at 7:30 p.m.

But if you live by the lyrics of The King and I, and choose to “whistle a happy tune” to conquer your fears, then you should also proceed directly to the RTC hotline for your reservations to the Rockaway Café—can’t find a better selection of nostalgic, evocative musical selections to set you on the road to recovery than this one!

Cleanup of the Post Theater began in December 2012.

Cleanup of the Post Theater began in December 2012.

As in shows past, a large cast and crew of over 80 of our talented neighbors have been laboring for weeks to polish this song and dance revue, which bursts out of the opening curtain with a huge ensemble belting the ever-popular Ramones’ hit, Rock-Rock Rockaway Beach.  The selections continue, representing diverse musical genres and eras.  The opening of Act I—The Darkness, features a video montage of morning-after-Sandy destruction accompanied by the classic 60’s quartet The Lettermen, harmonizing on Smile (Though Your Heart is Aching).  The opening of Act II—The Light, was a slow video trek along the sidewalk on the west side of Beach 116 Street after storm recovery efforts had begun to flower, set to Barbara Streisand’s incomparable version of Happy Days Are Here Again.  The juxtaposition of Streisand’s sublime voice with the everyday scenes of our downtown business strip was arresting. Simple, yet surprisingly moving.  I found myself choking back emotions on many occasions throughout the show, experiencing mixed feelings of hurt, pride, disappointment and hope for the future.

There are over 40 numbers in the show, and each audience member will have their favorites.  Gems of the highest order in my estimation include the show-stopper, It’s Raining Men (famously recorded by The Weather Girls), an acoustic Carole King medley dating to the 1970’s that really pushes the nostalgia button, and the full-out gospel choir in robes for Let the River Run (remembered as the opening theme accompanying shots of commuters on a Staten Island ferry at the start of the 1988 film, Working Girl).  I also appreciated the good taste and chutzpah of the show’s creators, who capped off the show by pairing Home (the Mumford & Sons sound-alike ballad that helped Philip Phillips win the American Idol competition a year ago) with Let the Sun Shine In (a fine, 45-year-old monster hit from the musical, Hair).

Seats lost at Post Theater.

Seats lost at Post Theater.

Forget the 12/12/12 rock concert with its big-arena stars, and the relief groups and government agencies sporting hundreds of thousands in grant money.  We must be heroes of our own lives.  Our friends and neighbors who endured the past year’s experiences with us are the best candidates to understand and interpret our pain and pride with such passion.  RTC is our top-notch, Broadway-calibre community theatre company, here in the trenches for over 15 years.  I am proud to be a supporter.

Damaged RTC props artfully arranged in the parking lot of the Post Theater, December 2012.

Damaged RTC props artfully arranged in the parking lot of the Post Theater, December 2012.

Rockaway Café—The Comeback, will be presented on Thursday July 25, Friday July 26, Saturday July 27, Friday August 2, and Saturday August 3 (all at 8 p.m.), as well as Sunday July 28 and Sunday August 4 (matinees at 3 p.m.).  Tickets can be reserved via the phone hotline, 718.374.6400, or online at www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org.

Hip to Hip’s production of The Tempest premieres in the shadow of the Unisphere at Flushing Meadow Park, on Wednesday July 24 at 7:30 p.m., and the second performance is at O’Donohue Park in Far Rockaway on Saturday July 27 at 7:00 p.m.  The full schedule of additional performance dates and venues for the summer season can be found at www.hiptohip.org

Promotional photo courtesy Hip to Hip Theatre Company. Text copyright 2013 Vivian R. Carter, photos (including header photo) copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter.     

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Yes, There Were Once Double Dunes…and Triple Dunes…

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We can’t find any vintage photos to document what Rockaway Beach looked like when it was first settled in the 1860′s.  The closest we have to a visual image is a fisherman’s map, circa 1900, that marks natural features such as marshland, dunes, and trees. That map can be found on page 2 of my book, Images of America: Rockaway Beach.

We also have written accounts from the first two decades of the twentieth century, which tell us that even into the 1870′s, “the entire beach was covered with groves of fine cedar trees.” This is found on page 104 of the 1917 book, Bellot’s History of the Rockaways.  Page 52 of Seyfried and Asadorian’s out-of-print Old Rockaway, New York in Early Photographs, adds:  “until the second half of the 19th century most of the Rockaway peninsula, especially the western section, lay fallow, an uninhabited land of sandhills, dunes, and marsh grass. “

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Perhaps the most personal commentary came from Fannie Holland’s grand-daughter Isadora, who recorded her childhood memories of early Rockaway Beach in an unpublished 1932 memoir, stating: “Sand hills all along the ocean front, just a soft sand trail called ‘the road’ to Far Rockaway; the waters of Jamaica Bay coming up to the road and meeting the ocean on high tides…There were only a few scattered houses here….[At Beach 80th Street and road was] a little house where Captain and Mrs. Baker lived, and where I was born, on August 25, 1870. Three or four years later my uncle took me up to visit the little house, and Aunt Mellie Baker filled my little pinafore with pink roses from her garden.”

There is a series of 1899 photos of the Seaside section (see pages 57 and 58 of the Seyfried and Asadorian book), documenting that numerous groves of cedar trees remained, even after popular amusement rides had been constructed, and after the Great Seaside Fire had ravaged the area in 1892.  This is confirmed by an 1881 publication, Guide to Rockaway Beach and Progress of Popular Favor to the Sea, available online from public domain sources, which glowingly described the offerings of at least twenty “select” hotels, including Seaside House, Atlas Hotel, Surf Pavilion, and the Egbert Emmet House.  Thanks to this guide, we know that Otto Huber’s lager (brewed in Williamsburg, thank you), was drawn “fresh and cool from the wood” for serving in the “large picnic grove” at the Seaside Walk House on Remsen Street (between today’s Beach 102nd and Beach 104th Streets). A large and beautiful grove at Atlantic Park Hotel (Beach 75th and the oceanfront) allowed guests to gather “under the shade of the fragrant cedars…[to] enjoy the full benefit of the cool sea breezes.”  There are also references to establishments constructed to take advantage of the superior views and cooling breezes afforded by heightened elevation.

So, the first wave of Rockaway Beach settlers developed the land with at least some semblance of respect for the importance of trees and dunes.  However, as the numbers of visitors increased exponentially, it appears that the land was flattened for tent and bungalow colonies (generally constructed quite close to the beach, photos show).  Then, these gave way to beachfront high rises, playgrounds, roller rinks and handball courts when Robert Moses left his mark on the peninsula from the 1930′s through the 1960′s.

I think it’s past time to reestablish dunes and vegetation on Rockaway Beach.  Double dunes, triple dunes, heck, why not quadruple dunes?

In the post-Stupid Storm Sandy world, we need all the protection we can get.

Text copyright Vivian R. Carter 2013. Photos copyright Vivian R. Carter 2012.           

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Again, We Celebrate the Earth!

unknownbird4-30-12It’s Earth Day–April 22, 2013.  The planet and its creatures continue to fascinate.  The past half year began by wowing millions with the wind, waves, and fires of Superstorm Sandy.  It’s continuing to impress on us the extremes of cruelty that can be caused by humans wielding not only assault weapons in elementary schools, but pressure cookers in backpacks.  For those of us in households with children, that is a truly weird confluence of objects to contemplate.  For how long will parents think of the troubled Boston Marathon jerks when they cook a corned beef or place a bag lunch or permission slip into their kids’ school bags?

kinzualakecroppedFor today, the planet is front and center.  I’m including above a view of Kinzua Lake near Warren, Pennsylvania, which I snapped on Good Friday, 2013. The story of this gorgeous landscape (can you imagine how beautiful it is in the fall and summer, when the trees have their foliage?) is a bittersweet and compelling tale of our times.  The Seneca Indians were thrown from their ancestral lands near the border of Pennsylvania and New York in the 1960′s to build the huge hydroelectric Kinzua Dam, which came online in 1970.  The U.S. Supreme Court had dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of Quaker activists attempting to block the removal as a violation of early U.S. treaties with the Indian tribes.  THESE EVENTS OCCURRED IN THE 1960s, FOLKS!  Not in the 1860s.

Ostensibly, the motivation to build the dam was flood control.  That has been a success, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which cites hundreds of millions in avoided property damage in downriver towns and cities.  We also enjoy breathtaking views of an enormous lake, added recreational opportunities, and lots of hydroelectric power for Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  But given our appetite for power, it’s never enough.  Lots of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to find natural gas supplies is going on up there in Northwestern Pennsylvania these days.  The Senecas are running their casino in Salamanca, New York.  The lights are on in the Walmarts.  Amen.

Is it progress?  The answer depends on whom you ask.  Robert Moses, the expert at Getting Things Done to advance the hegemony of the automobile, probably applauded the plans for Kinzua.   The activist song-writers and singers of the 1960s, including Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, did not.  Cash recorded (and Dylan reportedly once sang on stage) a ballad about the Kinzua Dam controversy written by Peter LaFarge, called “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow.” You can find the song and its lyrics in recorded tracks and videos online, if you are so inclined.

JoCo MarshIf you are looking for a good read for Earth Day, try Dr. Art’s Guide to Planet Earth, For Earthlings Ages 12 to 120.  It’s a light book (in ounces of paper), but not in content.  The author, Dr. Art Sussman, manages, in just 122 pages, to contribute a succinct and compelling explanation of how Earth’s natural systems work, and how they can be damaged.  It’s a wonderful paperback that, in my opinion, should be in every home and school classroom.  For interesting and dramatic charts and graphs, there’s also Al Gore’s book and website accompanying  An Inconvenient Truth.  Another graphic depiction of how climate change affects the Earth can be found at this link:  http://www.learnstuff.com/climate-change/

Here are a few things I’ve done in the past year to be ecologically conscious:

Since Superstorm Sandy, I’ve become the Queen of Layered Clothing.  Warm, fuzzy boot-slippers, socks, leggings, jackets, sweaters, blankets and down sleeping bags make it possible to turn down the thermostat in your home or office, day and night!  Be sure to open the blinds to let in warming, natural sunlight for as much of the day as possible…

I rarely touch chemical cleaning products anymore.  Nothing cleans much better than baking soda, white vinegar, and a vinyl scrubber sponge, anyway.  My kitchen and bathroom counters sport dish detergent squeeze bottles filled with vinegar, and snap-top containers of baking soda.  Much better for our water supply and all the creatures that inhabit the planet.

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Last, but not least, at the beginning of March, I purchased a 7-year old Honda Civic hybrid, which is getting 40-60 miles per gallon, 80,000 miles into its lifetime.

Hope you find your way to make this an enlightening Earth Day.

Text and photos of Kinzua Dam and Dutchess County llama, copyright 2013 Vivian R. Carter.  Photos of Jamaica Bay marsh grass and rare bird seen in Belle Harbor, copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter.  

Posted in Air, Planet Earth, The Built World, The Land We Share, U.S. Government, Water and waterways | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Is the Mailbox About to Become Obsolete?

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It used to be the largest employer in the United States.  Until Walmart began its explosive growth in the late 1990′s, the U.S. Postal Service, with a workforce of over a half-million (and, incidentally, the largest motor fleet in the world, as well), was on top.  The wages and benefits package and union protection offered made postal jobs a smart choice for those without college degrees, even if complaints of poor employment relations practices and actual incidents of workplace violence led to coining of the expression “going postal” to describe an employee violently reacting to workplace stress, in the early 1990′s.

The major taxpayer subsidy that allowed the postal service to deliver millions of letters, from coast to coast, for less than a quarter, seemed like an essential part of our democratic system.  It lasted until the early 1980′s.  It had a surprisingly long run, allowing political campaign committees and the American magazine industry to flourish at highly subsidized mailing rates.

In a world enamored of electronic communications, what does the future hold for U.S.P.S.?  Since before the Revolutionary War, it helped to pioneer not just mail delivery, but the concept of the postal road for carriers on horseback, the pony express, stage coaches, roadways, railroads, and finally, the wide use of motor vehicles for mail delivery, starting at the turn of the century.

If our elected leaders decide to get rid of the public post office concept, will the wealthy be the only ones who can afford to send a hand-written note or small box?  For about $3 per package, I am now able to mail a copy of my Arcadia book across the country by U.S. Post Office media mail, and it arrives in about 4-5 days.  It would cost much more to ship it by private carrier, no doubt.  The postal service still offers Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM), an amazing bargain for any business or other organization looking to communicate with residents in particular zip codes.  Without thinking about it too much, we have, as a society, been relying on inexpensive mail service as an economic engine for the communications essential to democracy and to maintaining the fabric of our family networks and other social units. Well, at least until Facebook and Twitter came along…

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The post office created jobs and built landmark architecture in cities and towns throughout the United States.  In many small towns, the post office is the only distinguished landmark building left in the downtown business district.  One of my favorites is in downtown Jamaica, Queens.  The Far Rockaway post office on Mott Avenue is also architecturally distinguished enough to have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, an honor shared with only a handful of other sites on the peninsula. The Post Office has already begun selling off some of these landmark buildings. For more information, visit this link: http://www.uspspropertiesforsale.com/ Also, don’t miss this great source of information culled by an NYU professor who loves the post office:   http://www.savethepostoffice.com/

Once the buildings go, job consolidation follows. Do bricks and mortar and good working class jobs still matter in our society?  I, for one, certainly hope that the public maintains its ownership of these beautiful buildings.  As to services, price increases would surely occur, with privatization.  It seems to me that the major competitors to the post office, Federal Express and United Parcel Service, will be able to charge even more if the post office goes away. No more birthday cards from Mom!

A “National Day of Action” rally to bring attention to the plight of the post office and its workers is set for Sunday, March 24, 12 noon, at the historic New York City General Post Office, 31st Street and 8th Avenue, NYC.  The rally is supported by numerous labor unions and other progressive organizations. Flyer with details is attached.  SA POSTAL DEMO NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION BEST.

I bet you didn’t get a copy of it from your mail carrier–now did you?

Text and photos copyright 2013 Vivian R. Carter

Posted in Business and Economics, The Built World, The World of Human Beings, U.S. Government | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Remember the Ouija Board?

DSCN0361 DSCN0360 DSCN0362 DSCN0364Here’s undoubtedly THE biggest news since Superstorm Sandy hit on October 29, 2012:

The first new FEMA flood maps in 25 years were issued yesterday. For a summary on the new maps and stunning photos, check out the Jan. 28, 2013 New York Daily News:

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/new-fema-flood-map-doubles-at-risk-buildings-city-article-1.1249555

The story contains a link to the website of Region 2 FEMA, where you can input your home address and view the map.  Residents interviewed for this story and other news stories of the past several months, comment on the unknown future risk of storm damage as a salient concern.  Those of us living on the peninsula since the storm know that many conversations with neighbors come around to this point, as well.  Was Superstorm Sandy just the “100 year storm” we can now put behind us and move on with our lives?  Do we need that fun game in a box, the Ouija board, to figure out the future risk?

For those seeking answers more reliable than what you’d get from a fortune-telling toy, it is interesting to view a February 2006 interview with Professor Nicholas Coch of Queens College, from the CBS News website.  Professor Coch speaks about the monumental 1893 hurricane that made a direct hit on New York City, shutting down the New York Stock Exchange and washing away the entire outer beach off of Far Rockaway.  He says the full six columns of the following day’s front page of the New York Times were devoted to the storm.  Here is the link to the interview:

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=1847560n

It would also be educational to review the following summary of important storms of the past 100 years, which I have culled from records of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE), the 110th Anniversary edition of The Wave, and other historical sources. It shows large gaps of time between some of these events.  Congratulations are in order, as we have just lived through the largest of these gaps, which was 19 years with no important storms of note, between the 1992 Nor’easter and Hurricane Irene in 2011.  Unfortunately, it also shows disturbing cycles of multiple storms in quick succession, including two years, 1954 and 1960, when there were two severe storms in one season.

Major Storms of the Past Century to Hit the Rockaways

Jan. 5, 1914–Bellot’s History of the Rockaways: Severe storm and fire tore up, burned and washed away the boardwalk built by private hoteliers in Arverne, prompting calls for a new boardwalk from Far Rockaway to Neponsit.

1920—Wave: storm damaged beaches, which were strewn with clams!

1936—Wave: no-name hurricane damaged beaches

1938—Wave: Long Island Express hurricane damage

1944—Wave: no-name hurricane damaged beaches

Nov. 1950—USACOE: Storm damaged Holland boardwalk and Broad Channel extensively

Nov. 1953—USACOE: Rockaway Pt. damaged heavily after storm

Aug. 31, 1954—USACOE: Two named storms, hurricanes Carol and Edna, damaged Rockaway.

July 30, 1960—USACOE: Storm caused flooding (particularly in Far Rockaway)

Sept. 1960—USACOE: Hurricane Donna flooded the peninsula again.

March 8, 1962—USACOE: Bad storm damage throughout peninsula

Dec.-Jan. 1963—Wave: 3-day storm caused much damage

Winter 1970-71—Author Lawrence Kaplan: Bad storms led to severe beach erosion. At least 14 blocks of the beach had completely disappeared by 1973.

Feb. 1972—Wave: heavy erosion and damage from storm.

April-May 1973—Wave: Rockaway’s beaches damaged severely from East to West. Heavy erosion and washouts all over during this period of time.

June 1973—NYC Parks photo archive: Mayor Lindsay inspected beaches with USACOE.

July 14, 1975—Long Island Press: Beaches filled in completely by USACOE

Sept. 1985—Wave: Hurricane Gloria strikes NYC and Long Island.

Dec. 11, 1992—Wave: Nor’easter causes major flooding on peninsula.

August 2011—Hurricane Irene causes major flooding on peninsula.

October 29, 2012—Superstorm Sandy causes massive destruction on peninsula.

I have only provided some important clues through this summary; I leave it to responsible officials of the city, state and federal government to fill in the historical details on the measured extent of damage from each of these storms of the past century, so we can make responsible decisions as homeowners on how to proceed.  I was told that two concrete structures (one of which is shown in the header photo), now visible on the sand in the Beach 130′s, had been submerged since at least the 1950′s.  That might provide another tantalizing clue.

Text and photos copyright Vivian R. Carter 2013.

Posted in New York City Government, New York State Government, Planet Earth, The Built World, The Land We Share, U.S. Government, Water and waterways | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Floor Space Only, as Beach Rebuild Plans Aired at CB 14

Not a reading rug in sight. Commissioner Dotty Lewandowski speaks to the crowd.

Not a reading rug in sight. Commissioner Dotty Lewandowski speaks to the crowd.

I bet that former New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (a fitness maven himself) would have enjoyed the scene. It resembled a gym class at the still-closed Beach Channel High School, except that there were adults in the floor spots at the Knights of Columbus on Tuesday, January 8, 2013.

By 7:30 p.m., it was questionable whether there would be a quorum of the  50 or so sitting appointees at the regular monthly meeting of Community Board 14. Yet over 250 members of the public had packed the room to hear Dotty Lewandowski, Queens Parks Commissioner, explain the plans to repair the Rockaway beach and boardwalk for the upcoming summer season. Eventually, a quorum of board members seemed to narrowly materialize, and the Commissioner’s informative slideshow was projected onto a wall in a recessed alcove at the back of the room. Unfortunately, only standees at the back near the door, and spectators with the will (and cushioning) to seat themselves on the floor were able to see. No reading rugs in this room!

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Gus Rosendale of NBC News Channel 4 covered the meeting for the 11 p.m. broadcast, and Lisa Colangelo of the New York Daily News provided a concise written wrap-up the next day.  Here are links to their publications:

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Sandy-Rockaways-Boardwalk-Beach-Reopening-Summer-2013-Community-Board-Meeting-186112382.html

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/rockaway-beachfront-recovery-plan-unveiled-article-1.1236822

From my perspective, after years of attending these meetings, the turnout was the big story.  When the Facebook crowd decides to show up in person (which isn’t often), they can overfill all the available venues quite nicely.  With a February 19 special election just announced to fill James Sanders, Jr.’s City Council seat this week, candidates also got to work. Jacques Leandre from Southeast Queens appeared, which was a sighting as rare as a white pelican in Jamaica Bay.  It was hard to tell who was lining the back walls, but Donovan Richards (Sanders’ protege) may have been there, as well.  Barry Grodenchik, a regular attendee, is now running to replace Borough President Helen Marshall at the conclusion of her term, so he made sure to take his place at the table.   Although Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder was in Albany for the following day’s State of the State speech, his press aide, Angelica Katz, was there, as were Jerry Sullivan and Sandee Doremus, staffers for City Councilman Eric Ulrich and State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., respectively.  Jerry and Sandee must have called or texted their employers, as Ulrich and Addabbo both showed up, by mid-meeting.  In what seemed like an ironic twist, both electeds announced that they are looking for new office space in Rockaway. Real estate broker alert!

CB 14 panel member Noreen Ellis, President of Rockaway Civic Association, asserts concerns on behalf of homeowners.

CB 14 panel member Noreen Ellis, President of Rockaway Civic Association, asserts concerns on behalf of homeowners.

Commissioner Lewandowski’s focus is clearly on securing the safety of the remaining structures and debris on the beach in the short term, and creating some limited access islands for next summer, to help keep the tourism spigot flowing.  There was a great deal of discussion about the replacement surface (wood vs. concrete vs. plastic), and the Parks Department plans to try a combination of these options that has not yet been firmed up completely. Some sections will remain as is, some will be repaired with similar wood surfaces, and a piece will be left where it floated, as a historical remnant.

Of the 30 or so individuals who signed up for 3 minutes of public speaking time, there were many homeowners concerned that the beach sand be replaced and secured in some way, so that a new storm does not inundate us with sand, debris, and water again.  Judging from past local controversies, there are not many willing to be vocal advocates for a natural vegetated dune system, but I spoke in favor dunes anyway, because it is clearly the right thing to do. At least I wasn’t booed or hissed.  That’s progress.

Activist Joe Hartigan, who after years of dedicated advocacy helped bring the Seastreak Ferry to our shores, got big applause with a brief and impassioned pitch for the quick deployment  of HESCO barriers (used by our military in sandy battle zones).  You can visit http://www.hesco.com for photos and description. In my mind, there are questions as to the aesthetics of using these on our beach and I don’t know that they have been fully tested in oceanfront environments during storms.  Joe’s unorthodox proposed solution seems  flexible and promising, but has been ignored by city officials, so far.  Far be it from the city to consider a suggestion when it comes from an informed local resident…

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The regular meetings of Community Board 14 occur on the second Tuesday of the month.  In February, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be speaking about beach replenishment. Another large crowd is expected.  Due to the larger than usual attendance since meetings recommenced post-storm, Ulrich and Addabbo are not the only ones looking for a good real estate broker.  Anybody know of a nice, centrally-located meeting room on the peninsula with seating for 300 or more?  Booking school auditoriums involves  a lot of red tape these days, and many of the floors in the larger church halls (like St. Camillus, St. Francis and First Congregational) were heavily damaged by the storm.

Text and meeting photos copyright 2013, Vivian R. Carter. Dune photo copyright 2012, Vivian R. Carter.

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Should We Stick Our Heads in the Sand?

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We just lived through “the big one.” Hurricane Sandy was a more dangerous and destructive storm than 1962′s Hurricane Donna, and in terms of property damage, it far eclipsed the deadly 1938 Long Island Express, which catapulted a 30-foot-high wave over parts of the Jersey Shore. The most destructive storm to which we can compare Sandy is the late 1890s weather event that decimated Hog Island, an inhabited sand bar in Reynolds Channel (from Beach 17 to Beach 20 Streets). That storm also widened Norton’s Creek, the body of water that used to connect the ocean and the bay at Beach 35 Street, and undermined the grand, oceanfront Edgemere Hotel and all the structures around it, plus the iconic Iron Pier at Beach 105 Street in Seaside. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived on the peninsula thereafter by popular demand, although reports show that the Corps had conducted dredging in Jamaica Bay even before that time. The Corps bulkheaded and filled Norton’s Creek after the storm, forever connecting to the rest of the peninsula the island that then included Edgemere, Arverne, Rockaway Beach and points west. By 1902, about 100 “cottages” were constructed west of Beach 116 Street, and the development of the west end began to accelerate.

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We’ve seen first-hand what a really nasty hurricane can do to a developed barrier island/peninsula. Do we now explore every measure devised by man to protect our beaches and make our homes safer from the invasion of water? Methods that worked to safeguard individual homeowners and communities along the coast during Hurricane Sandy included a system of dunes anchored by discarded Christmas trees (in Bradley Beach, Monmouth County, NJ), and homes constructed on high concrete pillars (also in Monmouth County and in the Long Island Sound communities of Westchester County). In the Netherlands, experimental structures called amphibious homes look just like houseboats sitting directly on the water, except that they are supported by a stable platform fitted with a hydraulic lift that rises with the tide.

The carefully designed infrastructure of the new Arverne by the Sea community held up quite well against the ravages of the sea. Homeowners in other areas of the Rockaways should be watching for the new flood maps that should be issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency soon, to see how the elevations on their blocks compare to those at ABTS. Word is that nobody in that development needed to move a car from its normal parking spot or evacuate. Compare this to the residents who endured the storm in Breezy Point, Broad Channel and Rockaway Park, watching 6 feet of water climb the sides of their houses and set their vehicles afloat.  If you’d like to keep up-to-date on local storm-related issues, I’d recommend visiting the Hurricane Sandy webpage of Region 2 FEMA, at http://www.region2coastal.com/sandy. There is a wealth of information explaining map terminology like FIRMs and ABFEs. You can enter your address and download the map for your area, or sign up for an email newsletter, Twitter feed or RSS feed.

I think we need to take heed of these instructive examples. Alternatively, we could just spray sand on the beaches as we’ve done in the past, and stick our heads in it.

Text and photos copyright Vivian R. Carter 2012.  Note: all images in this post, including header photo, were taken at the 7 a.m. high tide during the no-name Nor’easter storm on Thur. Dec. 27, 2012, NOT during Hurricane Sandy.

Posted in New York City Government, Planet Earth, The Built World, The Land We Share, U.S. Government, Water and waterways | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

We Demanded the Sand–but THIS is Ridiculous!

What’s Left of the Vivino Residence on Beach 129 Street

Rock Viv is back!

The Harbor Light in flames, at about 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday, October 30. I took this photo from the rear window of my home on the 400 block of Beach 128 Street.

I survived Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Northeast coast of the United States at about 9 p.m. on Monday, October 29.  I sent a panicked text message to a friend a few minutes later that said:  “the entire basement and first floor is flooded, and the house is shaking.  My car is filled with water up to dashboard.  The whole 400 block here has water half way up first floors!”  That panic was nothing compared to how I felt a few hours later as I watched the embers of the Harbor Light Restaurant fire blowing hard to the north, landing on the Maroneys’ house, just across the back yard.  I only managed to sleep once I was assured that Bulloch’s gas station was not going to blow up, as tanks are always sealed off from such catastrophes, these days.  The risk of fire was something the OEM brochure on hurricanes didn’t mention. Something few of us had thought of.

Breezy Point Fire Site

My second floor apartment stayed dry, but not warm. I toughed it out without heat or lights for almost 10 days on the Rock, with flashlights and pots of steaming water on the stove.  Then, the Nor’easter blew in on Wednesday, November 7.  At that point, I knew that my attempt to stay was futile.

Relief Center at SFDS.

There are so many people and groups to thank; it is overwhelming to even try.  Number one was the Catholic Charities organization, which arrived at St. Francis de Sales Church with canned goods and warm clothing on Day 2, followed by days and days of increased support and sustenance of various kinds.

The mission of First Congregational Church did not cease as a result of the storm. The historic sanctuary doubled as storage for donated clothing while worship services continued. AA meetings resumed on Day 3, despite heavy storm damage to the chapel floor, Sunday School and basement choir room.

Thanks to the many friends who offered me shelter, showers and rides, like the guys from the First Congregational Church AA meeting who rescued me from the sleet and cold, and drove me to the parsonage of the Ridgewood Presbyterian Church.  There, Pastors Vicki Moss and John Harris welcomed me into their lovely, fireplace-cheered “Mermaid Room,” which was a peaceful respite for a night. Also, I owe much gratitude to Jason and Joy Marr of Hip to Hip Shakespeare Company, who followed by offering me a week in their apartment in Woodside (with a well-appointed laundry room, which was a lifesaver).  Perhaps most memorable was the first opportunity to take a warm shower on Day 8, courtesy of The Hartigans. How did some people figure out how to get their boilers and heat running so early?  I guess you could say that luck favors the prepared, and the generator-owners…

The now famous Breezy Point Madonna was featured in New York Times this week. I snapped this photo on Day 3.

So many friends emailed or called to check in and express their concern–be assured that since communications were practically non-existent to those on the Rock during the first week, I would have responded sooner if I could have.  I was dying to post to this blog since the day after the storm.  I was so anxious about it, that I ended up misplacing my camera card with photos taken on Days 2 and 3, when I walked all the way from the Breezy Tip to Beach 94 Street to document nature’s mutilation of our community.  I regret that due to lack of transportation and sheer exhaustion, I couldn’t get further east on the peninsula to view all of the damage.   Now that Day 18 is here, I am finally organized and ready to tell my own story.  Yet, I feel so numb that I can barely write.

The view from the balconies of The Ocean Grande is significantly less grand, with this to look at!

I knew it was really bad when there was no Wave newspaper on Friday, November 2, or November 9.  The paper was founded in 1893, and I don’t think there had ever been a cessation of publication before this storm.  The first floor newsroom (with original bound copies of the paper from the 1890′s and on) was destroyed.  Much of the archives of the Rockaway Museum and Playland memorabilia–gone.  Another truly shocking vision was the sight of Dean Georges’ beachfront home, which held a huge collection of Rockaway memorabilia, flattened to the sand.  I hope the statue from Curley’s Hotel survived, Dean!

Award for best promotion and marketing as a result of the storm goes to Kenny Vance of the Planotones (and earlier, Jay and the Americans). When his beachfront home hit the sand, his entire collection of CDS, 45 rpm records, posters, and memorabilia dating back to the 1950s, was strewn about the lawns, sidewalks and streets of the west end, much of it landing several blocks from the house!

But ask anybody about the true punch to the gut, and most will answer that it was the sight of the entire Rockaway boardwalk lifted from its concrete supports and tossed like Tinker Toys against apartment buildings and homes.  In fact, I hadn’t cried at all until Day 5,  when my Grundig world band radio, tuned to the Bon Jovi-Springsteen fund-raising concert, picked up the first strains of the group of performers singing “Under the Boardwalk.”  I sobbed for 5 minutes straight!

One of the oldest buildings on the Rockaway Park beachfront took wear and tear, but survived. The Chai Home was a beachfront hotel during the peninsula’s heyday, but later became a social welfare facility.

But perhaps most disturbing of all, when I heard that the bridges supporting the shuttle train tracks to Rockaway Park had been completely wrecked, I got a chill.  It took 6 years to get the bridge rebuilt and train service restored, after the trestle fire of May, 1950.  Let’s not even think about it…

You need a caption for this one because you wouldn’t recognize it–what’s left of Ciro’s Pastry Shop on Beach 129 Street.

My truly unique perspective on all of this is not the loss of a car, or two broken windows in my home, or six neighbors who died as a result of the storm.  I devoted almost four years, from 2008 to 2011, to providing advertising support for the operators of the businesses of the west end of the peninsula.  I counted almost all of them as close personal friends. I helped from the first days with the launch of Rockaway Seafood Restaurant, Surfside Bagels, Thai Rock, and other successful start-ups.  Almost every one of them was wiped out for the time being.

Formerly Sunlites Stained Glass Studio

All five of the retail stores selling my book, Images of America: Rockaway Beach, sustained major damage, as well.  What an unspeakable loss.

The first to reopen, on Day 17, was Frankie Giambra’s barbershop on Beach 129 Street. Several other businesses on the east side of the street seem like they will be following, soon.  Hope of a recovery is there.

The Irish Circle, oldest building in Rockaway Beach, has survived the 1938 Long Island Express, Hurricanes Donna and Irene, and now–Sandy!

Let’s look on the bright side. We demanded the sand.  We sure got it.

Text and photos copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter

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