2015–Year of the Taco–Again?

Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge viewed from Roosevelt Island.

Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge viewed from Roosevelt Island.

I guess you could say it started with that bridge, which connected the borough of Queens to the island of Manhattan and points west in 1909. The zenith was reached last week, when the world’s largest travel guide publisher, Lonely Planet, released its 2015 recommendations, naming Queens (and “worth a detour” Rockaway Beach), as the number one tourist destination in the U.S.  Not just AMONG the top destinations, as you might think if you had only read the N.Y. City Parks Twitter feed. THE number one place.

Yahoo headlined with: “From the Experts—10 Must See Destinations in 2015.” Their post featured a stunning photo of the deck at Thai Rock, facing the Cross Bay Bridge and a picturesque Rockaway sunset. Unfortunately, the LP guide (and the “Local Knowledge” box) mentions only one seasonal eatery on the Rock, leaving out Thai Rock and other choices for good dining and views.

As in the past six years, for the herds of Rockaway visitors, it’s all about the taco.  Perhaps someone wants tourists to think they’ll be on that deck overlooking the bay, with the taco. Instead, you are usually standing in line on a sidewalk for over an hour just to hold that yummy little tidbit in in your hand.  If you are lucky enough to get a seat, it’s on a barrel with the thing in your lap.  Don’t get me wrong, food stands and food trucks are delightful and kitschy. But can we go beyond the taco, for a change, and support the local businesses that endure, year round, to serve everyone in the community, as well as summer tourists?

Dining Room at the magical bay-front venue, Thai Rock. Copyright 2011 Robert F. Carter

Dining Room at the magical bay-front venue, Thai Rock. Copyright 2011 Robert F. Carter

Is it possible for a visitor to actually experience the unique vibe throughout the 80-some neighborhoods of Queens?  Does the appeal of Queens go beyond the diverse, inexpensive ethnic foods to be had? Can you explain to a tourist why many Queens residents, unlike those in nearby Brooklyn, prefer to live in a place that has so many unique neighborhoods?

Although their reviewers like the food in Queens, LP recommended mostly Manhattan hotels, concluding that the “prevailing industrial setting” in Queens makes it far less charming than Manhattan and Brooklyn. Quite a broad generalization to make about what is, in terms of geographic area, the city’s largest borough, and second-largest in population.  If you only have a day trip, and spend most of it seeking out food, you will come away with a less than complete introduction to Queens.

Peach tree, Ozone Park, summer 2014

Peach tree, Ozone Park, summer 2014

Before it opened its gaping arms to millions of immigrants and developers, the Queens mainland was once sparsely populated by the operators of farms and small businesses, who served up fresh produce and other goods to Brooklyn, Manhattan, and points beyond, long before the hipsters arrived and started planting lettuce on the roofs in Williamsburg. From Flushing to Ozone Park and the Rockaways, fruit trees still abound due to our mild night-time winter temperatures along the ocean and bays. Trees bearing persimmons, peaches, pears and apples thrive in our gardens. If they can ever get to light and water, amidst all the development.

Persimmon tree, Flushing, summer 2014.

Persimmon tree, Flushing, summer 2014.

Speaking of development, it’s been wildly overdone in Flushing, in my opinion. Important historic sites like the Quaker Meeting House and the John Bowne House are surrounded by some of the tackiest buildings imaginable.  It would be a tragedy to completely obscure these physical remnants of the early colonial community and the Flushing Remonstrance, one of the key chapters in the fight for religious tolerance in pre-revolutionary America.

Lonely Planet advised tourists interested in Queens to hop on the ferry from midtown Manhattan to Long Island City. That ferry, coupled with the subway, can get you to a huge swath of the borough, including Astoria, Corona, Flushing, Forest Hills and Jamaica (both of which were completely ignored in the guide). But those train lines won’t get you to Rockaway Beach, JFK Airport, the rest of Southeast Queens, or to the glitzy, hugely popular, Resorts World International Casino.  For that, wait a decade or so, and maybe the powers that be will make an intelligent decision to restore the old Rockaway Beach train line, which would reunite the entire borough, linking Rockaway to Rego Park. Just a thought…

Egret in Broad Channel home, summer 2014.

Egret in Broad Channel home, summer 2014.

If you decide to come to Southeastern Queens and stay a bit, you could book an overnight rental in a Broad Channel home that sits directly on Jamaica Bay, where an egret might walk in the door looking for a meal. Then, you’d understand the appeal of Queens a bit better.  You’d be even more surprised to learn that Broad Channel and Rockaway Beach, which adjoin each other and share a zip code, are vastly different neighborhoods.   Both have rich and interesting histories of colorful bootleggers and prohibitionists, and in its heyday, the world came to Rockaway Beach for fun.   Rentals in private oceanside homes are available, on occasion.  Come, and stay for a walking tour of the area, which will be offered at this webpage in the spring of 2015.

Last Flight of the Concorde, Oct. 24, 2003 (c) Vivian R. Carter 2003

Last Flight of the Concorde, Oct. 24, 2003 (c) Vivian R. Carter 2003

If your flight is out of JFK and you’d like to visit the beach and sample Resorts World, there are many hotels near the airport.  That would give you a taste of “plane spotting,” touted by LP’s local knowledge expert.  In my opinion, plane spotting is only amusing in movies.  When you are trying to sleep or have a conversation in your home, being awakened or interrupted by plane noise is not charming. Yet, with public transit to Rockaway often taking two hours each way outside of weekday rush hours, your transit time and taco wait can eat up a good part of a day trip.  So overnight lodging is a good idea, if you can afford it.

My guess is that well-informed tourists short of time or money will head for Flushing, which the LP Guide touted as “Chinatown without the tourists.”  Not quite true, since many NYC tourists hail from Asian countries, not just Ohio and Pennsylvania.  But thank you anyway, LP, for letting the world in on this closely held, local secret. My daughter’s favorite Korean eatery, Kimganae on Union Street, is populated almost exclusively by Asian locals. The entire New World Mall food court, on Roosevelt Avenue, with over 60 vendors, where we grabbed some good, cheap, authentic Asian food on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, had exactly two Caucasian diners that day among the hundreds we observed.  Next year, the tour buses will arrive, the place will get even more crowded, and sooner or later, someone from Iowa will ask:  Is there a McDonald’s in here?

Text and photos copyright Vivian R. Carter 2014, unless otherwise noted in captions.

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Long-time Brooklynite Scores U.S. Attorney General Nod

Late on Friday, November 7, CNN announced that the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, had been tapped by the White House to serve as the new Attorney General of the United States.   By noon on Saturday, President Barack Obama had formally nominated Lynch at a Roosevelt Room press conference.  To be frank, she is not much of a partisan, and did not have the inside track to the job, prior to the mid-term elections.  But by November 5, it seems that ‘non-partisan’ had become a key qualification for the A.G. candidate, and Lynch was at the top of the list.

After the news leaked out on Friday, praise began pouring in for this classy, fearless, capable, yet unassuming woman who has toiled mightily for years to ensure justice for the people of Queens, Long Island, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.  She received a standing ovation at the press conference.  As the President noted, she “might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists, and still has the reputation for being a charming ‘people person.'”

Friends and colleagues congratulate Loretta (in white dress) after her 2010 installation as U.S. Attorney.

Friends and colleagues congratulate Loretta (in white dress) after her 2010 installation as U.S. Attorney.

Obama thanked Loretta’s family for agreeing to share her with the people of the United States a bit longer.  The residents of the outer boroughs she served so well (and where she lived for decades) will miss her presence, as well.  I was privileged to work at the same law firm with Loretta in the late 1980’s, and we have remained friends ever since.  With fierce dedication to her brilliant career, she put marriage and children on the back burner for a really long time.  The rest of us had spouses and children; Loretta was a big law firm partner and Federal Reserve Board member, instead.  Eventually, she did wed Steve Hargrove, when she was well past the age of forty, and now enjoys being stepmother to his two grown children.

BlackHistoryMonthposterTen years ago, after Loretta had completed her first stint as U.S. Attorney during the Clinton administration and was a busy law firm partner, she graciously agreed to be the subject of my daughter’s third-grade Black history month poster.  Selection for the “African American Achievers’ Hall of Fame” on a bulletin board at PS 114 in Belle Harbor was just one small honor along the way, for a woman who has never sought the limelight. In fact, she is so low-key and non-political that when the Presidential election debates were held at Hofstra Law School in Hempstead, Long Island in fall 2012, two years into her second term sitting as U.S. Attorney, she did not even appear on the podium, or near the front, as you’d expect of a dignitary.  Instead, she sat in the upper tier of seats.  Quite a statement about her humility.

If she is confirmed by the Senate, Lynch will take her place in history as the first African-American woman ever to head the U.S. Department of Justice.  She stated at the press conference that it is the only cabinet department named for an ideal.  Obama summed up the ideal of justice quite eloquently as “whether we can make an honest living, whether we can provide for our families, whether we feel safe in our communities and welcome in our own country.”  Our first president said: “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.”

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Feeling safe in our communities? Lynch has done far more for Long Island and the three outer boroughs she serves than many people realize. We have a healthy share of corrupt politicians in these parts, and Loretta Lynch went after them all, regardless of their party, including Pedro Espada and Michael Grimm.  Drug gangs are sadly, endemic to Rockaway–she shut many of those down, too.  Until her office came in to investigate and prosecute, one group of dealers was ensconced for years on the very block of Beach 87th Street in Rockaway Beach that is now home to the Rockaway Beach Surf Club.  Just three years ago, a walk down that block was a slightly scary proposition.  Today the hipsters can wander safely from beach to bay along that stretch, thanks in part to the federal prosecutors of the Eastern District.

I often think back to summer 2012–remember the cache of weapons and explosives found in a garage in Rockaway Park, and the string of three bank robberies at the spanking-new Arverne Chase Manhattan bank branch? The Eastern District prosecutors sent all of those characters to jail, as well.  Just days before Superstorm Sandy, I sent an email to Loretta complimenting her but expressing concern that she and her staff must be seriously sleep-deprived, having accomplished so much in such a short period of time.

Loretta’s extraordinary intelligence, sensitivity, and poise will serve her well in this position.  Her tireless work to insure justice for the people of New York always fills me with pride and a sense of hope for the future.  I have faith that the Senate will see it the same way, when they are asked to confirm her nomination.

Justice.  What an ideal.

 

Text copyright Vivian R. Carter 2014.  Photo of courthouse (in header and within post) copyright Vivian R. Carter 2011, installation photo copyright Vivian R. Carter 2010, poster copyright Elizabeth M. Carter 2004.

 

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People Marching (and Standing) for Something

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Central Park West near 81st Street. Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Central Park West near 81st Street. Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Well, at least you can call it a victory in this sense–410,000 people in New York City were NOT watching football on Sunday afternoon.  With apologies to my family and friends in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis–I must say, that’s something I would celebrate!

doginmarchThe People’s Climate March, which snaked slowly around the west and south sides of Central Park into midtown on September 21, 2014, was a huge success in another way.  Whatever you may have seen or heard about it, and I’m sure pundits will critique whether a clear and urgent message was sent, the march was important because there was such an outpouring of individuality and grass-roots passion in the diverse messages participants delivered.  Sure, there were a few mass-produced products, but even those were inspired.  If you came to the march without a banner, you could pick up an orange cardboard template that read “I’m marching for…” and fill in the blank.  You name it–penguins, maple syrup, polar bears, horseshoe crabs, sunrises, roseate spoonbills. People got very creative.marchpanoramaviv

Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, walks the walk every day, not just on 9/21/14...

Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, walks the walk every day, not just on 9/21/14…

Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 classic, “The Prophet,” advised us to “Say not, ‘I have found THE truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found A truth.'”  There was so much truth to be found in these simple, yet clever, signs and banners.  I’m including a collection of the best I was able to see while standing (and briefly, moving) with the singing participants from the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater group (we had our subgroup label as well–categorized with the nuclear-free, carbon-free contingent)!  All of us were frozen in position for more than 2 hours in front of the legendary Dakota at 72nd Street and CPW, where we observed the memorable minute of silence, which I guessed would never happen.  I was wrong.  Stunning how quiet it got at 12:59 pm, as everyone raised their hands to the sky.  Then a minute later, a cacophony of sound broke loose.  Well planned and executed.

There was some topical self-promotional flair, though not quite as grand as the Macy's balloons.  A documentary, "Cowspiracy," wanted everyone to get their message.

There was some topical self-promotional flair, though not quite as grand as the Macy’s balloons. A documentary, “Cowspiracy,” wanted everyone to get their message.

GhostbusterschurchBy 2 p.m., we were crawling slowly down CPW, so I got to savor the experience of passing 55 Central Park West, infamous Spook Central of the 1984 film, Ghostbusters.  There were police barricades and cops, just like in the movie!  It was a priceless moment for me, treading in the destructive footsteps of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and recalling that great line–“nobody steps on a church in my town!”  I may have been off-task, but my inner tour guide knew there would probably never again be a chance to photograph that classic Gotham film shoot site in broad daylight from the middle of the street.

55 Central Park West

55 Central Park West

 

Joe Wachtel, right, displays his creative and eco-friendly message on a re-useable shopping bag.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel, right, who displays his creative and eco-friendly message on a re-useable shopping bag.

My neighbor, Joe Wachtel, started in the march further uptown near Zabar’s, with the foodie contingent. He kindly agreed to share some of his photos.  Enjoy the pictures below, and don’t forget to keep conserving resources, treating the planet gently, and trying to hold politicians accountable.

Text copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter.  Photos above and below copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter, unless designated as courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel. Save the birds or the bears--your choice!

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel. Save the birds or the bears–your choice!

Soldout

Who knew?  Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Who knew? Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Match the colors of your sign and your shirt, and wear a backpack with a cool design, for maximum effect!

Match the colors of your sign and your shirt, and wear a backpack with a cool design, for maximum effect!

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

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Posted in Air, Business and Economics, Creatures of the Planet (Non-Human), Meet Your Fellow Man, Planet Earth, The Built World, The Land We Share, The World of Human Beings, U.S. Government, Water and waterways | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Ferry Nice World, Long Ago

Beers Rockaway Beach Map of 1886

Beers Rockaway Beach Map of 1886

I often try to imagine a world without cars, and vintage maps are helpful.  This week, I am gazing at two examples–(1) the Beers 1886 map of Central Rockaway Beach, New York and (2) a sepia drawing of Staten Island as it appeared from 1775-1783.  Both maps predate the invention of motor vehicles, and depict two neighborhoods surrounded by water, with nary a bridge in sight.

Staten Island in Revolutionary Times

Staten Island in Revolutionary Times

The largely agrarian land mass of Staten Island (about 60 square miles in area), was criss-crossed with miles of wagon roads, terminating at seven ferry landings.  Four of these would ultimately become toll bridges (the Verrazano-Narrows, Goethals, Outerbridge Crossing, and Bayonne), and one of the others continues to the present day as the island’s St. George terminal for free 24-hour ferry service to Manhattan.

 

St. George ferry terminal on Staten Island's North shore, August 2014

St. George ferry terminal on Staten Island’s North shore, August 2014

Back to Rockaway Beach.  During tourism’s heyday, this small section of the peninsula, less than 20 blocks long in the 1880s, hosted five boat landing sites with regular service–the famed Iron Pier, where large oceangoing vessels could dock at Beach 105th Street, plus bayside landings at Hammels, Holland, Seaside, and Beach 108th Street’s Neptune House. While Staten Island had vast agricultural acreage (even well into the 20th century), the spine of the narrow, 11-mile long Rockaway Peninsula was one busy thoroughfare for wagons (called “Central Boulevard” in the early days), traversed by wooden pedestrian walkways, sand paths or dirt streets, depending on the location.  At one time, train lines also ran parallel to the Boulevard, along the beach and the bay.  So there were lots of transportation options for visitors and residents, even before the advent of trolleys, cars and buses.

To this day, stately historic buildings grace the North shore of Staten Island.

To this day, stately historic buildings grace the North shore of Staten Island.

Staten Island’s farming and fishing businesses were later supplemented with several large factories during the 1900s, while Rockaway continued to thrive on tourism well into the 1950’s. Vast changes occurred in both places with the arrival of Robert Moses’ roads, bridges, parks, and housing developments.  Both communities eventually attempted to secede from the City of New York, although not at the same time.  That’s a bigger story for another day.  On this muggy day in September, as New York City seems ready to terminate regular ferry service to the Rockaway peninsula next month, I’m merely waxing nostalgic on the “ferry” nice world we have lost.

Text and photos (including header photo) copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter. Maps from public domain sources.

Posted in Business and Economics, Jamaica Bay, New York City Government, The Built World, Water and waterways | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Past and Future Tents in the Rockaways

Past tents of the Rockaways, at Beach 98 Street and the boardwalk,late 1930's.

Past tents of the Rockaways, at Beach 98 Street and the boardwalk,late 1930’s.

9/4/14 UPDATE: Camp Rockaway achieved its Kickstarter funding and will be showing off a model tent on Saturday, September 6, 2014, from noon to 5 p.m., at Beach 92 and Holland Avenue in Rockaway Beach.  The public is invited to this “Open Tent” event, to see what is planned and ask questions.  Thanks to all the backers who helped fund the project on Kickstarter!

Ahh, Camp Rockaway!  The first tent camping proposed for the Rockaway peninsula in over 75 years has taken off on Kickstarter.com.  The blogosphere has been chattering since the campaign was launched by sponsor Kent Johnson in mid-May.

Future tents of the Rockaways? Image courtesy Kent Johnson.

Future tents of the Rockaways? Image courtesy Kent Johnson.

The June 18 cutoff date is looming, and the project has achieved about 2/3 of its funding goal, so it certainly seems like an exciting and promising prospect in the making.

I have supported the idea of Camp Rockaway since Johnson first contacted me about it in February, and I applaud him and his partners in this venture for their careful research, trend-spotting, and willingness to take a risk on something that could really amp up local tourism.  After all, glamping (slang for “glamorous camping”) is all the rage right now.

You can't surf at Columbia County's Lake Taghkanic State Park, but you can boat, swim, and stay overnight in a rustic 2-bedroom cabin that rents for a little over $100 per night.

You can’t surf at Columbia County’s Lake Taghkanic State Park, but you can boat, swim, and stay overnight in a rustic 2-bedroom cabin that rents for a little over $100 per night.

Last summer, New York state parks introduced yurts (large, circular platform tents with beds and other furnishings inside), and they have been popular in California and Pennsylvania parks for awhile.  There are a number of well-reviewed privately owned glamping sites in the Adirondacks and the Catskills. Rates in New York run from about $75 to $200 per night, depending on the amenities.  You can’t do much better at Motel 6.

One misconception should be corrected.  Camping in Rockaway is not illegal, as asserted by some critics of the Camp Rockaway concept.  There is a rule prohibiting camping in New York City parks, but both federal and state parks in New York have camping facilities, and private landowners may do as they wish.  I’ve slept under the stars in the Rockaways twice­—on the grass in Riis Park during the Relay for Life cancer fundraisers, and in my front yard in Belle Harbor when the lights (and air conditioning) blacked out in the entire city on that muggy night of August 14, 2003.  It’s kind of cool to live in a city neighborhood where sleeping outdoors in your yard or local park is even an option.

The Knights of Columbus have always anchored the all-night horseshoes tourney at the Relay for Life cancer fundraiser, Rockaway's annual group tent camping event at Riis Park.

The Knights of Columbus have always anchored the all-night horseshoes tourney at the Relay for Life cancer fundraiser, Rockaway’s annual group tent camping event at Riis Park.

The original tent camping on the Rockaway peninsula existed from about 1900 to the late 1920’s, when bungalows began to ascend in popularity.  These sites were all privately owned, but the owners eventually lost their tent sites when the areas near the beachfront were taken over by NYC Parks Department in the 1920’s and 1930’s. A few rows of tents remained at Beach 98 Street until the late 1930’s, hemmed in by the boardwalk.

Making s'mores at Riis Park campfire.

Making s’mores at Riis Park campfire.

Today, there’s one camping area set aside in Gateway National Recreation Area’s Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, but it’s definitely not a “glamp site,” like the planned Camp Rockaway.  No tent platforms, queen-size beds, or hot brewed coffee in the mornings at Floyd Bennett. In fact, even having food with you is risky.  Urban legend has it that the ravenous raccoons have learned how to undo tent zippers…

I come from a long-time camping family, and can attest that bugs and risky weather come with the territory.  Historically, the entire bayfront from Mott’s Point to Hammels Landing was marshland, later filled in to build homes and businesses.  Standing water can lead to breeding insects.  The location for Camp Rockaway needs to be carefully selected and landscaped, to alleviate this problem.  But don’t forget, the idea of camping is to get close to nature and create long-time memories. You’ve gotta’ embrace it!

The weather will be another challenge.  One online commentator remembered that the federal park service tried to establish an oceanfront tent campground at Ft. Tilden in the 1980’s, and it was plagued by problems with wind. These days, the rangers build a campfire on the beach at Riis Park on the three major summer holiday weekends, and invite participants to toast marshmallows and sing along.  Much more manageable, as lawn chairs are the only potential windborne projectiles to deal with.

Campfire at Riis Park.

Campfire at Riis Park.

And of course, there’s the question of security at any ‘glamping’ site that attracts iphone toting, upper-middle-class tourists adventurous enough to sleep outdoors.  The plans for the camp wisely include fences and a security patrol.

I wish all the best to Kent Johnson in his quest to identify a site for Camp Rockaway, get plans and permits approved, and open the gates for business next summer. We need more places that welcome overnight tourists, even if the occupants won’t exactly be sleeping under the stars.  If you’d like to help support and fund this intriguing venture, please visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/651502646/camp-rockaway.

National Park Service ranger Ricky, surrounded by a bevy of marshmallow-toasting gals at the Riis Park campfire.

National Park Service ranger Ricky, surrounded by a bevy of marshmallow-toasting gals at the Riis Park campfire.

Text copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter. Vintage tent photo courtesy of the Auer family. Camp Rockaway image courtesy Kent Johnson. Last photo in post, courtesy Wendy Armenio.  Remaining photos copyright 2010 Vivian R. Carter.

 

 

Posted in Business and Economics, Jamaica Bay, Planet Earth, The Arts and Entertainment, The Land We Share, The World of Human Beings, Water and waterways | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jane’s Walk 2014: Fifth Avenue of the Peninsula, Beach 116th Street and Rockaway Park Into the New Century

At the turn of the century, only ten streets of hundreds on the Rockaway Peninsula were numbered—and Fifth Avenue (now known as Beach 116 Street) was one of those ten streets.

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The City of New York, which replaced the Town of Hempstead as Rockaway’s distant overlord in 1897, ordered all of the peninsula’s streets to be numbered starting at the Nassau County line.  The order came in 1916.  But through the end of World War I, locals resisted adoption of the new street scheme, so the name ‘Fifth Avenue’ clung to Beach 116th for the first two decades of the century.

Dismantling of the mammoth Rockaway Beach Hotel in 1889 had fueled the growth of the area known as Rockaway Park, which, at the start, coincided with the property lines of the failed hotel, a structure so colossal that, together with its bathhouse, train platform, boat landing, and power plant, it extended from what are now Beach 112th to Beach 119th, beach to bay.  Raucous tent colonies, bungalows, dancehalls, and amusements lay to the east;  open sand dunes to the west.

Drawing of Rockaway Beach Hotel, circa 1880

Drawing of Rockaway Beach Hotel, circa 1880

At the turn of the century, Fifth Avenue, Rockaway Park, was the commercial shopping district of a prosperous suburban community,  poised for its coming of age.  Starting as a simple, tree-lined block with a few stores and a train platform, by the 1920s, it boasted two oceanfront landmarks, the Park Inn and Curley’s Atlas Hotel, the cavernous dining room of the Harbor Inn on the bay front, and the stately Pierce Hotel in between.  Big money and powerful interests had already begun sparring over the sand heaps to the west, joined by adventurers and speculators all the way to Rockaway Point.

Development syndicates sold land and magnificent new homes were constructed in Belle Harbor and Neponsit, as well as older ‘cottages’ of enormous size on the blocks within walking distance of Fifth Ave. The areas were connected with a trolley line that ran along a portion of Newport Ave.  Wealthy philanthropists had joined with a Manhattan hospital, coughing up millions to build a tuberculosis hospital west of Neponsit, and the city constructed a grand beachfront park adjacent to it (now known as Jacob Riis Park).

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The boundary between Belle Harbor and Rockaway Park was ultimately drawn at Beach 130th  Street, so ‘the Park’ came to include a small commercial strip on Beach 129th, extending around the corner of Newport Ave. to the popular Harbor Light Pub, sadly burned to the ground during Superstorm Sandy.  Rockaway Park would eventually take in 20 additional blocks originally deeded into Belle Harbor,  encompassing the historic ‘Belle Harbor’ Yacht Club at Beach 126th and Beach Channel Drive (circa 1905), the site of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Rockaway Beach Blvd. at Beach 125th (c.1906), and the last remaining hotels in the vicinity– the Seville, the Commodore, and the Washington Hotel.

Belle Harbor Yacht Club is Landlocked by the Roadway that Moses Built

Belle Harbor Yacht Club is Landlocked by the Roadway that Moses Built

The Seville eventually became a nursing home, then was torn down in the 1990s for new housing.  The 1970s saw the closing of the Commodore, and the Episcopal church was sold to developers who constructed a nursing care facility in its place.  Washington Hotel was the last to close, in 2006, to make way for semi-attached two-family homes on the site.  To this day, schools, houses of worship, medical and other professional offices remain the sole non-residential uses west of Beach 129th Street, and the vast majority of housing in Belle Harbor and Neponsit is now one- to three-family, with rare exceptions. These western ‘suburbs of Rockaway Beach,’ so to speak, became so prosperous, desirable and prestigious, that the beach block of Beach 131st today holds the rare distinction as the only place outside of Manhattan to host the swearing in of two New York City mayors—William O’Dwyer (Jan. 1, 1946), and Abraham Beame (Dec. 31, 1973).

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But within Rockaway Park, large apartment houses line the former boardwalk and other multi-family homes and rooming houses can be found.  But there are no longer any hotels—only one bed and breakfast inn. The Park Inn, a magnet for overnight visitors to the beachfront of Beach 116 for decades, ultimately became a social services facility, and the iconic Curley’s Hotel burned to the ground. Business owners and residents of Rockaway Park have grappled with how to reinvigorate the business district and improve the adjacent residential blocks in the future.

Superstorm Sandy brought big challenges to Rockaway Park.  Extensive flooding and fires occurred, damaging homes and businesses.  Trees and lawns were destroyed.   Loss of key community gathering spots in Rockaway Park like the library (just recently reopened) and the boardwalk (only now being rebuilt), have taken a toll on businesses struggling to rebuild the ‘Fifth Avenue of the Peninsula’, and residents trying to restore the area’s sense of community.

View of Rockaway boardwalk from The Seavon Condominium, Beach 119 Street

View of Rockaway boardwalk from The Seavon Condominium, Beach 119 Street

Join us to explore the rich history of Rockaway Park, view a few of its points of interest, and look into the new century with architects proposing plans for the area.  Jane’s Walk 2014, an international event commemorating the legacy of urban planning critic Jane Jacobs, will take place on Saturday, May 3, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  This year’s Rockaway Park walk is cosponsored by the Municipal Art Society of New York and the Beach 116th Street Partnership.  We will meet at Cuisine by Claudette, 143 Beach 116 St., explore the main street from end to end,  then proceed west along the roadway that indelibly changed the area in the late 1930’s—Beach Channel Drive.  We will turn south at Beach 129th and discuss the flood and fire damage in the interior blocks of Beach 130th, and view some of the innovative, but controversial, new homes under construction.

Rockaway Park's Touch of High Culture

Rockaway Park’s Touch of High Culture

At Rockaway Beach Blvd., we will stop at Beach 131st  to take in the location of two mayoral inaugurals, then proceed east past historic St. Francis deSales Roman Catholic Church.  We will pause at Memorial Circle (RBB between 120th and 121st) to look at Temple Beth El (circa 1920s), and the nearby home and medical office of Dr. William Werner, who pioneered the use of hypnosis for anesthesia during childbirth at the Rockaway Beach Hospital in the 1950s, before the Lamaze technique was introduced in the United States.

We will return to Beach 116 St. at 1 pm.  The walk will cover over 30 blocks, but there are shaded park benches at four locations on the route.  Please bring your own water bottle, as time for breaks will be limited.  Click on ‘Local Events’ tab for more information.  RSVP to Information@shopbeach116.com.

Article copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter. Photos copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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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