New Book, ‘Written For Friends in Rockaway,’ Details Demise Of Peninsula
An Interview With Authors of "Between Ocean And City"
By Howard Schwach
Lawrence Kaplan had retired from his teaching job at City College. He was bored, frustrated, looking for something to write about.
He was interested in Robert Moses and his impact on the city. He began to read about Moses.
Kaplan had also lived in Rockaway during what he calls his "formative years," from 1941 until 1955 (from the ages of 7 until 21).
"I loved living in Rockaway at that time," he told the Wave in an interview this week. "We came for the summer for a few years and then my family decided to move to Rockaway."
Although he and his family moved to Richmond Hill when he was 21, he says he "retains many of his Rockaway friends."
Kaplan lived first in Arverne, on Amstel Boulevard and then in Edgemere.
He remembers it fondly.
So, when his research on Moses led him to many Rockaway connections, he decided to write a book on Moses and on how Rockaway got ruined.
"I wanted to write a personal memoir explaining what had happened to the Rockaway that I remembered," he says. "All my friends had the same view of what happened and I wanted to write a book for them to tell them about it."
"We all had the view of a wonderful childhood in Rockaway and that the community got trashed."
Kaplan began his research at the Long Island Room at the central library in Queens. There, he ran into people with an insight about Rockaway that strengthened his belief that the story needed to be told.
His book on Moses became a book about Rockaway.
He read more than 100 books. He interviewed residents, city officials during the period he was studying, Wave historian Emil Lucev and publisher Leon Locke.
He started to put his book together, when his wife, Carol pointed out that he was only telling one side of the story.
"Carol is a social worker," he said. She was skeptical of what I was writing and said that I should talk to some of the minorities who lived in Rockaway to get their point of view."
Kaplan and his wife then went back to Rockaway and spoke to a number of people in the minority community.
"We certainly found the other point of view," Carol Kaplan said at the interview. "We found that there were many Black people living in substandard, decrepit housing and working for low pay at menial jobs."
He also found that at least one movie theater in Rockaway had a "Colored Section" in the balcony.
Kaplan said that he found two things when interviewing public officials at the time.
"They all said that Rockaway was out of control and they didn’t seem to care very much," he said. "Many of them had the attitude that Rockaway was the end of the world. Many of them did not know where Rockaway was situated."
He also discovered that "Rockaway was a dumping ground for problem families – those who couldn’t be placed anywhere else," and that there was a conscious effort on the part of the city’s welfare department to send those people to Rockaway.
Kaplan’s thesis is that a combination of deteriorating summer infrastructure, the city’s decision to place many incorrigible families in Rockaway, actions of local politicians and landowners abetted by the Chamber of Commerce led to the downfall of the once proud beach community.
To find out more, you will have to read the book, "Between Ocean And City: The Transformation of Rock away, New York."
It is available from Columbia University Press, from Barnes and Noble and at several websites, including Amazon.com.
As for the Kaplan’s, they enjoyed doing the book and are happy with the way it turned out.
They plan another work, but have not yet decided on the topic. One thing they have decided, however, is that it probably will not be about Rockaway.
"We did what we set out to do, to tell the story of what happened to Rockaway," the two say. "It came out balanced, telling all the sides of the story."
What more can be asked of a book about the history of the place in which you once lived and loved.