Autumn is in full swing and as much as I hate to admit it, summer is now little more than a fleeting memory. With Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, behind us, I was taking some time to relax on my porch in the country after all of the holiday tumult. While catching up on facebook, I came across a post with an image from the 1970’s of the beach at Beach 15th street and I was instantly reminded of the still unwritten conclusion to my blog post written back in July. So, here goes.
The truth of the matter is, I delayed writing the conclusion because despite all of my years (birth to 21) of summers spent frolicking and frying (literally) on the Beach 15-17th beach, I have almost no beach images of myself, friends or family members. It’s hard to imagine that all of those years of schlepping pails and shovels, chairs, reflectors (yes- hard to believe many of us did that) and slathering ourselves with baby oil + iodine (I wear spf 30+ now), that I couldn’t manage to come up with a single photo. After searching feverishly through the less than robust collection of childhood images I have, the only one I could find of myself, was in fact, a photo of me taken at a beach club in Atlantic Beach in 1976 or '77.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s return to the afternoon in Mid June when my childhood friend Ruth and I returned to Far Rockaway. (Incase you missed it- here is the link to Part I http://www.marcyfeld.com/blog/2014/7/18/you-can-go-home-again)
We drove away from my former home on Brookhaven Avenue in high spirits anxious to see what other surprises the day had in store for us.
Ruth’s friend, who had come along with us on our adventure, was anxious to see Arverne By The Sea, and while I had not spent a lot of time in Arverne, I had several friends who grew up there so I was happy to take the ride.
Arverne By The Sea had an illustrious beginning in the late 1800’s as a “Vacation Village” as noted in an article reprinted on Rockaway Memories.
By 1917, according to an Architectural League NY Article, Housing on the Edge: A Brief History of Arverne, Arverne, although still mostly a summer community, had over 1000 full time residents. By 1965 it was declared an Urban Renewal Area and by 1969 much of the area was cleared.
I have to admit, I was shocked to see the development in that area replete with a large Stop and Shop, a stunningly new YMCA, And, of course….the beach.
The Arverne By The Sea complex, which seemed to me to be a mix of townhomes, two family homes and mid-rise condos, is modern and bright looking; a far cry from the desolation of “urban renewal”. We parked right off Beach Front Road and walked onto the beach.
Despite a bit of drizzle, the water was filled with student surfers from Locals Surf School located right on the beach, which is stellar by any standards. With my feet entrenched in the smooth warm sand, I felt immediately transported to someplace far away, that is...
Until I heard and then spotted the first low flying plane making it’s approach to Kennedy. Then I knew that I was, in fact, home in the Rockaways.
We left Arverne By The Sea and bypassed Edgemere, where my mother met my father, where our synagogue was, where my cousins lived. While I have almost no photographs of Edgemere, I have an abundance of memories. I spent many memorable summer evenings watching the fireworks from the boardwalk, eating Jerry’s Knishes, having custard, going on the rides, playing skee ball and fascination and dragging home more than my fair share of almost dead goldfish. Now Edgmere is best known for becoming the set for the final season of Boardwalk Empire.
We headed down to my old stomping grounds, the Beach 15-17th street Beach. And once again I was surprised, just not in the best way.
In Part I of my blog post, I talked briefly about the beautiful old hotels and beach clubs of Far Rockaway. Roches and Ostend Beach clubs were built in the early 1900’s and were right down the block from where I grew up on Beach 15th Street.
I can still remember going to the beach as a very little child and going into the bathrooms, which I believe were in or near the baths and changing rooms and laughing when we saw the naked old women.
The image below is of my mother at the beach. I am assuming it was taken in the mid 1940's at what I believed to be Edgemere, but upon closer inspection, I believe it was taken in Far Rockaway with the Atlantic Beach Bridge in the backround.
According to an article by Emily Lucev in The Wave, by the late 1930’s both beaches (along with all the beaches from Beach 9th to Beach 149th Street) became the property of New York City. And the remnants of both were razed in 1963 to build O’Donohue Park.
Below are photos I took of my Aunt and cousin at the beach in 1967, with what I believe was my cheap John's Bargain Store plastic camp camera. Assuming it was taken somewhere around Beach 25th Street.
While the concession, where I purchased thousands of diet cokes and french fries, still looked as it had when I left Far Rockaway, little else remained.
The beach, so small and overgrown, surely the lasting effects of Sandy, brought tears to my eyes, literally. No words can describe how I felt. The handball courts are gone as is the large parking lot. While the concrete boardwalk has been updated and quite lovely, all I could feel was heartache.
It seemed as if I could walk across the water to Atlantic Beach.
My old block: Beach 15th Street-
We left the beach and circled around a bit passing the good old 101st Precinct and finally finding a parking spot (no easy feat) on Mott Avenue right near the Post Office.
The Far Rockaway Post Office opened in 1936 and is still as beautiful and stately as I remembered it with a remarkable rotunda. Across the street there still stands the Masonic Temple built in 1910 and now the home of the Refuge Church of Christ.
We drove down Central Avenue and were truly surprised to find one thing that had not changed at all since we moved away: Bell Boy Cleaners. This brilliant tribute to Mid Century architecture still stands and operates as a dry cleaner.
As a photographer and the wife of Irwin Feld, a Mid Century Modern Gallery owner, this was definitely a highlight of the day!
Diagonally across from the cleaners on New Haven Avenue now stands a Key food where the Big Apple used to be and a deli where the original Zomick’s bakery opened back in 1966.
No trip back home would be complete without a visit to our elementary/high school in Lawrence, so we drove down Broadway, making a quick visit to Rock Hall, a place I had never visited once in all the years I lived there.
Then we moved on to Washington Avenue and what is now HAFTR but was then, Hillel Country Day School. The building, now almost a half-century old, looks as good as it did the 1st day of classes back in the spring of 1965 when we moved into the new building.
Finally we drove through Cedarhurst and had lunch at Mother Kelly’s, a great Italian restaurant and a favorite hang out of ours through high school and even college; one of the only remaining vestiges of the town that was recognizable. And sadly, that too is now gone. They closed at the end of August.
The Cedarhurst of my childhood is no more. The beautiful stores and amazing shopping that drew clientele from far and wide are mostly gone. I take solace in the many memories of my time spent there that will be forever emblazoned in my mind.
While it was a sad ending to a mostly uplifting and inspiring day, we drove back to the city happy, knowing that while much had changed in our home town over the years, some things had remained the same, proving that...You Can Go Home Again!