The Greening of Rockaway Beach

The first really warm and sunny weekend of the year brought folks of all ages out for some great activities in Rockaway Beach on Saturday, May 7.

It started at 8 a.m., with a “topsoil fest” at the Beach 91 Street Community Garden, under the direction of Tim Hill. Tim recently wrote a successful grant application and raked in several thousand dollars for the garden, from the Citizens Committee for New York City.  He says that more than 60 friends and neighbors came out with rakes, hoes, and wheelbarrows to help fill the raised beds made of “repurposed” boardwalk timbers that would otherwise have been thrown out.  The garden is already beautifying the beach block of Beach 91 Street, and hoes are in the ground at a second plot a block north on Beach 91 Street.  Tim and other supporters are planning a kick-off party (with surf movies shown on the fence, of course!) for Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m.

Native Atlantic Cedars Just Planted on Beach 94 Street Near Peninsula Library

A huge spruce-up was also recently completed at Pearly’s Garden on the beach block of Beach 90 Street; new raised beds were built and filled with topsoil.  The Million Trees Project has been in the vicinity as well, planting native Atlantic cedars at the parking area of Beach 94-95 Streets (and around the Beach 108 Street center malls of Rockaway Park, too).

In another healthful development for the area, those who want to eat organic, and also support the farmers of upstate New York, now have a chance to join the Rockaway Beach community supported agriculture project, which will be jointly sponsored this summer by Culinary Kids and First Congregational Church. Purchase a share in the co-op and you can come to the church parking lot on Beach 94 Street on Saturdays from June through October to pick up your share of fresh organic produce grown in upstate New York.

All are welcome to come and learn how this new partnership can benefit your family, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 14 at the Peninsula Branch of the Queens Public Library on Beach 94 Street. The founders of Culinary Kids, Malisa and Marion Moses, will speak about the benefits of going organic.  They will also be discussing their new “Farm Rockaway” at Beach 59 Street, an expansion of the group’s established farming and urban aquaculture programs.  They will be using waste generated from tilapia fish grown in tanks to fertilize the soil at the farm.  Featured guest speaker at the event will be Dr. Martin Schreibman, reknowned expert on aquaculture, who has researched the growth and development of tilapia fish in tanks at his Brooklyn College laboratory.  A screening of the documentary film “Nourish,” narrated by Cameron Diaz, is also planned.  The film is a colorful, informative introduction to strategies for eating in healthy, sustainable ways, featuring conversations with several leading authorities on nutrition and community gardening. Hope to see you there!

Back to the events of May 7.  As the Beach 91 gardeners were going strong, dueling thrift sales were in progress just a few blocks away, on Beach 94 Street.  For decades, First Congregational Church has spearheaded the “granddaddy” of reuse-recycle events on the peninsula each May.  This year, the Peninsula Branch of Queens Public Library decided to jump in with a rummage sale as well, and the result was a great fundraising success for both non-profits.

The "Grand-Daddy of Thrift Sales" at First Congregational Church--2010

By the time drops of rain started to fall late in the day, another successful new event had also been accomplished—the Rockaway Beach Jane’s Walk.  I had the pleasure of escorting a very enthusiastic intergenerational group of souls on a 2-mile walking exploration of the nooks and crannies to be found from Beach 87 to Beach 101 Street, all in tribute to the legacy of legendary urban planning critic, Jane Jacobs, author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

I’m not kidding when I say “intergenerational!”  Attendees ranged from a very healthy octogenarian physiologist who recently moved to Arverne, to three curious and attentive pre-teens from the McManus family, which has been in Rockaway since before the turn of the century. There were also three walkers who had little previous experience visiting the peninsula.  One of them commented that he didn’t expect to see so many animals on the walk.  We did, after all, encounter a dead raccoon on the steps of the Rockaway Courthouse; two huge, recently deceased striped bass caught by local fishermen; and many cats and dogs (one of whom had broken free from his leash).  These were not scripted events, but they sure kept the kids’ attention from flagging during the walk.  As a former teacher, I am always grateful for those serendipitous, teachable moments!

Walkers Enjoyed Seeing A Huge Jamaica Bay Striper in the Flesh!

The walk started with a discussion of Jane Jacobs and her ideas about community planning at the Doughboy Memorial.  Then, we headed toward the bay, talking briefly with a neighbor who grows apples in her yard, congratulated the fishermen on their catch, viewed the peninsula’s newest designated parkland, and passed the grove of fruit trees and grape vines at Beach 87 Street near the Rockaway Freeway.  YES, there is a grove of fruit trees there…check it out sometime.

An Apple Tree Grows in Rockaway Beach-2010

Some of the walkers may have started out at 11 a.m. as “DFD’s” (a pejorative local term for visitors “down for the day”), but within two hours, all had been transformed into true experts on the local scene.  It helped that we were able to stop in to Rockaway Graphics and chat with proprietor Len Kohn, who operated amusements on the boardwalk for many years, and shared some of his knowledge about Rockaway’s vaunted past and some of the reasons why it all changed.  Len thinks that technology and transportation were key factors.  The invention of nylon wiped out the need for bathhouses and bathing suit rentals, and the burning of the LIRR trestle wiped out the 30-minute ride to Penn Station.  Also, he added that placement of undesirable social services establishments throughout the peninsula hastened its decline, as well.

To assure that everyone on the walk would take away the real inside skinny on the neighborhood, we answered this burning question:  where can you get fabulous, authentic seafood tacos in Rockaway Beach for lunch TODAY?”  Hint: you won’t find them at that boarded-up Beach 96 Street shack from October through May…but they can be found, YEAR ROUND, at local pub The Tap & Grill, of Beach 98 Street.  So we stopped there, and proprietor Andy Cholakis talked about the history of the establishment, which has been in existence since the early 1900’s, shortly after Tilyou and Thompson opened their giant oceanfront amusement complex that later morphed into Playland.  For most of those years, old-timers will remember that it was called “Boggiano’s.”

Andy Cholakis of Tap & Grill Shares a Story With John McManus and Robert Breen

We concluded the tour with a 10-minute jaunt to the historic bungalow colony at Beach 101 Street, where we chatted with resident Katherine, and one of her neighbors who tends an impressive flower and statuary garden in front of his house.

Statuary and Plants Adorn Front Yard of Bungalow at Beach 101 Street

This was the final stop on the walk, and I thought it was very poignant to stand in that bungalow court, picturing what it must have been like at another time and place–say in the 1940’s or 1950’s.  So we took a few moments to read a simple and heartfelt poem submitted to The Wave in 2003 by Maureen Henning, about growing up in the bungalows.   Just the opening and closing lines of “One of a Kind–Growing Up in Marcel’s Court,” will give you the feel:

“It was unique and like no other place you know, to the many who had the privilege of living there and did not want to see it go.  For, with its demolition, were buried memories untold.  And dreams for the future–had the property not been sold.”

“Never does a summer season begin that our minds don’t wander and reminisce a bit.    Our saddest emotion being that our children never had the chance to experience it. They never experienced that feeling, that joy and that magic that this place knew. If you lived there, you know where it was and you know that this story is true!”

As the tour came to an end, some of us then headed back to The Tap & Grill.  We tried those seafood tacos, served in corn tortillas, with all the fresh and yummy garnishes, like fresh lime and spicy white sauce, and a side of home-made salsa brimming with raw onion.

We were trying to re-create that “Playland/bungalow court” experience for a few hours.   I guess there were a few things missing–the rides, the fireworks, Auer’s custard and the hot dog stands, 45-records playing, or a transistor radio tuned to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Anyway, at least we tried.


“One of a Kind–Growing Up in Marcel’s Court,” by Maureen Henning, previously published in The Wave’s 110th Anniversary Edition, July 2003.  Other text and photos copyright Vivian R. Carter 2011.

About rockviv

You've entered the cyber-locale of Vivian Rattay Carter, a grant writer employed by Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation in The South Bronx. I've lived and worked in the New York metro area since 1979, in diverse places like Astoria and Rockaway Beach (Queens), Kensington and Windsor Terrace (Brooklyn), Grand Street and Tribeca (Manhattan), and Norwood, Woodlawn, and Riverdale (The Bronx). I treasure the amazing parks, architecture, and cultural institutions of our multicultural city, as well as the musicians and music lovers who enjoy congregating here.
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9 Responses to The Greening of Rockaway Beach

  1. Ofelia says:

    Thank you for the updates! I moved to Rockaway last year, and am very encouraged and excited for the community efforts at sustainability, food production and general betterment of the area.
    All my best,

    • rockviv says:

      Thanks for your comment on Oy Vey Rockaway. I hope you will consider joining the community supported agriculture project of Culinary Kids, coming this summer to First Congregational Church at Beach 94 Street and the Rockaway Freeway. I look forward to meeting you at the Peninsula Library organic foods workshop hosted by CK this Sat., May 14, at 2 p.m. We will be talking about the CSA, Farm Rockaway, and other CK projects, screening the documentary film Nourish, plus welcoming Dr. Martin Schreibman of Brooklyn College, who is a true visionary in the field of urban aquaculture. His presentation will surely be a great contribution to the community. See you there!
      Vivian Carter

  2. Great article! I just had a question about the farm co-op share. Do you know how to get involved with it? I can’t find any information online. Thank you so much.

    • rockviv says:

      Hi, Peter!
      Thanks for reading my blog. I hope we can work out a sign-up for the Culinary Kids C.S.A. on your behalf. I’d like to meet you this Saturday at First Congregational.

  3. John Carroll says:

    Wonderful article! I grew up at 307 1/2 Beach 98th Street [Marcel’s Court] from 1940 to 1947.:)
    Thanks. // John Carroll

    • rockviv says:

      Glad you enjoyed my blog, and the snippets of Rockaway Beach history I’ve included. I am gathering photos and stories for Images of America–Rockaway Beach, a book to be published by Arcadia in Summer 2012. I am looking for a great photo of a Marcel’s Court holiday event for the cover. Please let me know if you have any vintage photos of good quality that you could share. My email at The Wave is Thanks! Vivian Carter

  4. Michael Russo says:

    Dear Maureen Henning. If you have a brother name Donnie, I believe I was your next door neighbor, Michael Russo. If so ,please call me at [contact provided to website administrator]. I am trying to reach friends. Donnie Henning, Billy Vargonia, John Sico, Lawrence Lagrano, Jimmy Rockawitz, Robert Duffy,Danny Mc Clearnon, Chucky O Connel, and Ronnie Driscole.

  5. Estelle (Pettie) Becker says:

    Can someone tell Maureen Henning (maiden name from the 60’s ) that Pettie Adams, (Rudy Becker) is looking for her. Last I know she lived in Rockaway, around Beach Channel Drive, 87 street or 90 something street. We worked at the telephone company together in Far Rockaway. I live in California now. Tel: 310 408 5549 or 310 318 5018 Estelle Becker 66 yrs old. Her husband was Billy I believe. Thank you.

    • rockviv says:

      Hello, Estelle! Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment, but I had some technical issues with my blog for a few months. I think all is well, now. I do have Maureen Henning’s email address, and will forward your comment to her. Thanks for reading my page!
      Rock Viv

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