SOME OF MY EARLIEST MEMORIES revolve around Far Rockaway, the working-class seaside resort in Queens, N.Y., where my family spent time in the summer. We lived in Queens, but at the opposite end of the borough. We traveled to our vacation destination on the subway, back when it had woven wicker seats and overhead fans.
I was probably a 2-year-old, but one with a formidable memory. I remember playing in the sand with my cousins, tin pails and shovels, and the terror of the outdoor showers. I can still see picnic tables covered with red-checked cloths and oil tankers out at sea, which my grandfather pointed out to me (and so taught me to read my first word: ESSO).
We stayed at a white clapboard boarding house owned by my great aunt Manya, but also etched in my memory are the small bungalows, built in the first three decades of the 20th century, that lined the streets leading down to the Atlantic.
Fast forward to the early 1970s when, living in Manhattan, I went to check out those Rockaway bungalows and see whether they still existed. Some did, I found, and were then on the market for around $30,000. I was powerfully put off by the dangerous neighborhood, the stained mattresses and drug paraphernalia in some of them.
So I was delighted to read today, via the website Brooklyn Based’s weekly tip sheet, that someone has actually gone and made a documentary film about the bungalows of Rockaway. Turns out some 450 of them (out of an original total of about 7,000) still exist, as do some of their original occupants, who have been duly interviewed. (The film link above has archival photos and postcards.)
The film will be available on DVD in September. Meanwhile, there are three screenings upcoming:
Thursday, July 29 (SOLD OUT)
Museum of the City of New York
Saturday, July, 31, 5PM
The Queens Museum of Art
Sunday, August 22, 7:30PM – Reservations required by August 13
Post Theater, Fort Tilden, Rockaway
For armchair film-goers, Channel 13’s website has a video of a 2008 panel discussion with producers of the then-in-progress documentary and assorted preservationists, worth watching for interesting tidbits like the fact that Henry Hohauser, the architect behind some of the best Art Deco hotels in Miami’s South Beach, designed many Rockaway bungalows, and that styles varied from Arts and Crafts to English Tudor.
Further, a new HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, due out in September, was partly filmed in Rockaway (even though it’s supposed to be Atlantic City), with streets re-created, below, to look as they did back in the day.
Yet more info is here, at a local preservationist’s website.