Marcy Feld Photography Blog

Through the Heart of the Lens

You Can Go Home Again: Part One - In The Beginning

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting on my porch in the country, cocktail in hand, reveling in the beauty of this glorious July day.  I am reflecting on previous summers and, like the tide, I am instantly swept back to the summers of my youth, growing up in the sleepy beach town of Far Rockaway, NY. 

I was born in what was then St. Joseph’s Hospital in December of 1955 and lived there until 1977, when my mother moved to Atlanta and I graduated from college and moved to Manhattan.

 My Bassinet Card From The Hospital

My Bassinet Card From The Hospital

 Your Truly!

Your Truly!

Once a summer playground for the rich and famous and then a haven for those who fled the other boroughs in search of sand and summer sun, Far Rockaway became a stellar four season suburb with white sand beaches and a boardwalk that went on for miles (5.5 miles to be exact).

 One Of The Many Beautiful Hotels Along The Beach in Old  Far Rockaway  Photo courtesy of the  Leiman Library  and The Leiman Collection on  Rockawaymemories.com

One Of The Many Beautiful Hotels Along The Beach in Old  Far Rockaway

Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com

 Another Beautiful Hotel And Bathing Pavilion   Photo courtesy of the   Leiman Library     and The Leiman Collection on   Rockawaymemories.com

Another Beautiful Hotel And Bathing Pavilion

Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com

 Home of James Caffrey a wealthy land developer   Photo courtesy of the   Leiman Library     and The Leiman Collection on   Rockawaymemories.com

Home of James Caffrey a wealthy land developer

Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com

 Another Beautiful Residence   Photo courtesy of the   Leiman Library     and The Leiman Collection on   Rockawaymemories.com

Another Beautiful Residence

Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com

 Homes Along South Street Which Later Became Seagirt Blvd.  These Homes, Part Of The Roche Estate Eventually Became HILI.  The First Jewish Day School On Long Island (which I attended for 9th grade)   Photo courtesy of the   Leiman Library     and The Leiman Collection on   Rockawaymemories.com

Homes Along South Street Which Later Became Seagirt Blvd.  These Homes, Part Of The Roche Estate Eventually Became HILI.  The First Jewish Day School On Long Island (which I attended for 9th grade)

Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com

 This pearl on the Atlantic, sun bleached and gleaming, began to lose its luster, and by the mid 1970’s, it seemed that Far Rockaway’s best days were long gone. 

I had only made two brief trips back to my hometown in the years since I left, preferring to preserve my childhood memories and remember Far Rockaway as it used to be. 

About a year ago I began to follow and eventually join a facebook group dedicated to Far Rockaway and all things Rockaways.  Its members and administrators are thoughtful and share a plethora of historical information as well as trivia, preserving the “good old days” for so many of us. 

 After my successful sojourn to the NY World’s Fair, I was anxious to plan my next photographic road trip and I thought that Far Rockaway might just be the perfect destination.   I messaged my kindergarten classmate and long time friend/fellow photographer, Ruth and we set the date.

 On the morning of the planned excursion with rain in the forecast, I was overcome with an acute case of cold feet, thinking that the rain would only emphasize the already depressing images I was about to encounter.  Despite my gnawing desire to cancel, we forged onward.

 Our first stop was Ruth’s former home site.  Her home, a Mid Century ranch replete with notable designer furnishings and a multi page feature in Better Homes and Gardens, had been replaced by a larger less attractive modern home, a huge trend in her childhood neighborhood. 

 The site of Ruth's House

The site of Ruth's House

Then it was on to the site of my first home.  On the way we stopped at a building around the corner, which I recognized from my childhood.  Currently a girls' Jewish day school undergoing renovation,  I remembered it as HILI Manor, a Jewish retirement home.  I have a vivid memory of several families from our block going there for a Jewish holiday dinner once.  I was quite young at the time and have no idea as to what prompted this excursion, all I can remember is being served roast chicken that had many feather quills on it and my mother commenting that we would never eat there again.  What I learned thanks to both The Leiman Library and Rockaway Memories is that the building was constructed in the early 1930s as a hotel to service the growing summer population.

 Bais Yaakov School. Formerly HILI Manor & Borenstein's Redstone Hotel

Bais Yaakov School. Formerly HILI Manor & Borenstein's Redstone Hotel

  HILI Manor in the 1950's    Photo courtesy of the   Leiman Library     and The Leiman Collection on   Rockawaymemories.com

HILI Manor in the 1950's

Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com

  Borenstein's Redstone Hotel    Photo courtesy of the   Leiman Library     and The Leiman Collection on   Rockawaymemories.com

Borenstein's Redstone Hotel

Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com

We continued around the corner to Beach 15th Street, where three generations of my family lived from the mid 1940's until about 1972.  My home, which was demolished in 1974 is now a parking lot- literally. 

 Where My First Home Once Stood: Formerly 279 Beach 15th Street

Where My First Home Once Stood: Formerly 279 Beach 15th Street

 A Postcard View Of Beach 15th Street Which Was Named Fulton Avenue Before Many Far Rockaway Streets Were Given Beach Numbers.  While The Changes Were Made In 1916, They Were Not Widely Used Until After WWI.      Photo courtesy of the   Leiman Library     and The Leiman Collection on   Rockawaymemories.com  and information  via   Rockawaymemories.com

A Postcard View Of Beach 15th Street Which Was Named Fulton Avenue Before Many Far Rockaway Streets Were Given Beach Numbers.  While The Changes Were Made In 1916, They Were Not Widely Used Until After WWI.  

 Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com and information  via  Rockawaymemories.com

 My Brother Mitchell In front of my house Apx 1949

My Brother Mitchell In front of my house Apx 1949

 My Brother And I On The Side Of Our House Apx 1958

My Brother And I On The Side Of Our House Apx 1958

 Me On The Front Steps of 279 Beach 15th Street - Apx 1959

Me On The Front Steps of 279 Beach 15th Street - Apx 1959

While my home no longer stands, some of my neighbors’ homes are still there which amazed me. 

 Our Neighbors, The Kirschenbaums Used To Live Here.  We Spent Many Years Sharing Holidays Together.

Our Neighbors, The Kirschenbaums Used To Live Here.  We Spent Many Years Sharing Holidays Together.

 An Image From 1967.  Estee, The Youngest Of The Kirschenbaum Children In Front Of Their House.  As Can Be Seen- I Had Not Honed My Photography Skills Yet!

An Image From 1967.  Estee, The Youngest Of The Kirschenbaum Children In Front Of Their House.  As Can Be Seen- I Had Not Honed My Photography Skills Yet!

 What Used To Be The Winkler Home.  I Spent Many Hours There Playing With One Of My Best Friends While Being Tormented By Her Bratty Older Brother.

What Used To Be The Winkler Home.  I Spent Many Hours There Playing With One Of My Best Friends While Being Tormented By Her Bratty Older Brother.

My mind was instantly flooded with early childhood memories of life “on the block” when summers seemed endless and our Good Humor man, Johnny came twice a day offering a multitude of treats for 10-25 cents.  We played potsie, red light-green light, off the wall and ringolevio and pretended to smoke punks.  My grandmother (who passed away when I was in kindergarten) had a green thumb and our garden was filled with lilac and honeysuckle bushes, fruit trees and even grape vines, but her prize possessions were her rose bushes, which she coveted. 

 My Grandmother and My Brother In The Backyard Of Beach 15th Street.  Apx 1951.  Yes- She Had A Chicken Coop!

My Grandmother and My Brother In The Backyard Of Beach 15th Street.  Apx 1951.  Yes- She Had A Chicken Coop!

 My Brother With My Grandmother In Her Garden Apx 1953

My Brother With My Grandmother In Her Garden Apx 1953

 My Grandmother With My Uncle Davie Admiring Her Roses (Fruit Trees and Grape Vine In The Background)

My Grandmother With My Uncle Davie Admiring Her Roses (Fruit Trees and Grape Vine In The Background)

 My First Birthday

My First Birthday

 My Grandmother, Uncle & Brother With Me  In Our "Finished Basement" Apx 1959

My Grandmother, Uncle & Brother With Me  In Our "Finished Basement" Apx 1959

 My Mother In Our "Passover Kitchen" In The Basement

My Mother In Our "Passover Kitchen" In The Basement

 Me Pointing To My Grandmother'd Roses Along Our Driveway Apx 1958

Me Pointing To My Grandmother'd Roses Along Our Driveway Apx 1958

 My Brother, Mother And I  Before His Bar Mitzvah - Around 1961

My Brother, Mother And I  Before His Bar Mitzvah - Around 1961

 My 1st Grade Birthday Party In Our Finished Basement. 

My 1st Grade Birthday Party In Our Finished Basement. 

 Me On The Front Steps Of Our Beach 15th Street Home Apx 1969/70  

Me On The Front Steps Of Our Beach 15th Street Home Apx 1969/70  

While my house was gone, my memories were stronger than ever and as we drove away, even the drizzle, which had begun to fall, could not dampen my spirits.

Before making our way to my second home, we stopped by the hospital where we were both born (currently St. John’s Episcopal Hospital), and took photos. 

 My Friend Ruth In Front of St. John's Episcopal Hospital (Formerly St. Joseph' s Hospital,  Where We Were Both Born .

My Friend Ruth In Front of St. John's Episcopal Hospital (Formerly St. Joseph' s Hospital,  Where We Were Both Born .

 St. John's Episcopal Hospital- Another View

St. John's Episcopal Hospital- Another View

While there have been several many additions, since it was erected in 1912,  the hospital  looks essentially the same.

  St. Joseph's Hospital     Photo courtesy of the   Leiman Library     and The Leiman Collection on   Rockawaymemories.com

St. Joseph's Hospital 

Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com

 St. Joseph's Hospital Apx. 1965      Photo courtesy of the   Leiman Library     and The Leiman Collection on   Rockawaymemories.com

St. Joseph's Hospital Apx. 1965

 Photo courtesy of the Leiman Library and The Leiman Collection on Rockawaymemories.com

After stopping at WaveCrest shopping center, once the home of the WaveCrest Bakery, which made a killer blackout cake by the way, we made our way to my second home.

 WaveCrest Shopping Center

WaveCrest Shopping Center

We drove through the winding streets of my former neighborhood, up Beach 25th Street and turned onto Brookhaven Avenue, and what used to be the home of the Young Israel of Wavecrest & Bayswater.   Directly across from that building, which now houses a Jehovah’s Witness Center, stood my second home. 

While I couldn't locate any images of the front of the house from my time living there, I do have these images of me on the porch, in the driveway and in the kitchen.

 Me On The Porch 1973-4?

Me On The Porch 1973-4?

 Me In My Driveway With My Trusty Duster  Apx 1974-1975

Me In My Driveway With My Trusty Duster  Apx 1974-1975

 Me In My Kitchen Apx 1975-1976

Me In My Kitchen Apx 1975-1976

The owners were sitting on the porch and we had an opportunity to chat.  I was delighted to learn that he and his wife had lived there since purchasing the house from my mother just over thirty-seven years ago.  And while the house had severe fencing, along with vault-like front doors and barred windows, clearly a sign of the times, I could still recognize the house I had lived in.  As we talked, I was drawn to the rose bush that was in full bloom in front of the house, and his daughter, now his tenant, explained that her mother, now suffering from Alzheimer’s, had a passion for…. you guessed it- roses!  Her mother loved roses and had planted a plethora of rose bushes around the house soon after purchasing it.  The owner's daughter  invited me to “smell the roses”, and I did so- both literally as well as figuratively.

 My Second Home In Far Rockaway

My Second Home In Far Rockaway

 The  Current Owners Had Purchased The House From My Mother Just Over 37 Years Ago

The  Current Owners Had Purchased The House From My Mother Just Over 37 Years Ago

 Their Amazing Rose Bush In Full Bloom

Their Amazing Rose Bush In Full Bloom

 More Of The Roses Surrounding The Home

More Of The Roses Surrounding The Home

 Roses Galore

Roses Galore

As Ruth and I walked back to my car, I began to cry.  A day I’d imagined to be so depressing, was becoming quite emotionally uplifting with the realization that my grandmother’s rose garden, destroyed by the demolition of my first house, was magically reborn in my second house’s garden after we had moved.

At that very moment, I turned to my friend and said: “You can go home again”.

 To be continued-