There they go again! The unsung elves of our cherished local Rockaway Artists’Alliance have toiled to create inspiring public art in some of the most unexpected places. Discovering this kind of public art adds to the offbeat joy of living on the peninsula.
Recently, I left a civic meeting at 9 p.m. On the way home, possessed by a hankering for mint chocolate chip ice cream, I decided to stop at Carvel on Beach 116 Street. I rarely visit the commercial strip at night, when most of the stores on the beach block are closed, and hence, dark. So, on this visit, a storefront on the beach block that was open and illuminated came brightly into view—Four Sisters Laundromat (formerly known as ’Rockawash’). I never do my laundry there, so I’ve passed by thousands of times during the day without ever looking inside. What I saw on the walls drew me inside, and filled me with awe and amazement that it could exist in such a place—a beautifully detailed mural of the beach and bay front of the peninsula, created by local painter Geoff Rawling, stretches from end to end of the laundromat’s walls. The mural towers high above the washers and dryers, with bags and baskets of laundry and bottles of Tide strewn below, like so many colorful beach balls. Thanks to my son, Robert, for snapping the cool panoramic image of the mural in the header photo. The scene is so detailed that it even depicts the Doppler radar tower at Floyd Bennett Field, beach volleyball games in action, and the iconic floating artwork, The Dragonfly’s Banquet. Only in Rockaway!
Geoff is a local treasure. His art seems to be created out of an intense experience of observing people, places and events. Many of his smaller, portable paintings are on display (and for sale) at Thai Rock Restaurant and Music House at Beach 92 Street and Beach Channel Drive. Geoff has painted other murals in the Beach 116 business district, including one at Ciro’s Pizza and another at The Wharf Restaurant. I’m sure there are others—feel free to conduct your own search. Geoff’s website lists some of them, at www.geoffrawling.com.
I never take for granted the fact that the proprietors on Beach 116 Street are a microcosm of many of the ethnic groups present in the borough of Queens. Every time I hear someone mention the words “mall” and “Rockaway” in the same sentence, I cringe. We’d all like to see fewer underutilized or vacant buildings in the business district, but there is much unique vibrancy that should be preserved. Here’s a possible slogan for the Chamber of Commerce—“although our shopping area is small, there’s no ‘mall’ in it!” In my view, that’s a good thing, but I know there are many who would disagree. Some people just won’t be happy until every community in America has a Starbucks and a Gamestop to anchor the downtown business district.
If you live in this area and snobbishness does not become you, there is much to like in and about Beach 116 Street. Here’s a list of almost a dozen places I gravitate to. Although I used to work as an advertising representative for the local newspaper, ceaselessly promoting my local business customers, many of those mentioned below were never on my list of accounts. I’m just passing on good tips, from one neighbor to another. If you do confess to having a somewhat pretentious side, you could start from the bottom and work your way up—I’ve grouped the list in order from the casual to the elegant:
Pizza at Ciro’s Restaurant on the west side of the beach block (the Italian language is actually spoken here);
Lublin Deli is one of the few places on the peninsula where you can get a box of great imported baking cocoa, or an authentic European-style cold cut, when you crave a departure from Boar’s Head. Or buy a Polish newspaper, just for grins. I look at the pictures of New York City news events and have fun trying to guess what the captions say. It’s always an adventure. The grill kielbasa is rumored to be even better than what you can get in Greenpoint.
A friendly welcome from Mike, and home-made foods, particularly those with Middle-Eastern influences, at Fast Break Gourmet (across from the train station);
The food, service, and yummy bread basket selections at Belle Harbor Steak House (across from the firehouse), which is a great place for dishes with European flair;
That never-ending zest for all things beautiful and beachy, including Rockaway, displayed by Jeanne and Liz and their staff at the Blue Bungalow Gift Shop (west side, beach block);
Tastefully designed dance and exercise spaces at Anita’s ‘Hot Yoga’ and Mrs. Elaine’s Dance Studio (west side, beach block), are a beauty to behold. It’s also fun to experience the camaraderie the proprietors have created among their students;
I’ve always enjoyed visiting Sunlites Stained Glass and the Beach Gallery, located in the former Palm Gardens Pub (north side of Rockaway Beach Blvd., between Beach 114 & Beach 115 Streets). This collection of art works, both sacred and secular, could only have been created by the eclectic Patrick Clark, another true Rockaway gem.
Be sure to stop for a while to drink in the peaceful atmosphere at Tribute Park (bay-side end of Beach 116 Street), created as a labor of love by local residents, in the aftermath of 9/11. Incidentally, the amount spent to create this park was a fraction of the cost expended on similar New York City parks. Now THAT is also something to celebrate…
Header photo copyright 2012 Robert F. Carter, crystal oyster photo copyright 2010 Robert F. Carter, article and remaining Rawling mural photos copyright 2012, Vivian R. Carter, remaining photos copyright 2011, Vivian R. Carter.