2003-12-26 / Community

Rockaway Set to Lose a Landmark

By Ira Lawrence
Rockaway Set to Lose a Landmark By Ira Lawrence

Breaking ground for the new Washington Hotel on December 15, 1966. Picture from left to right: Stanley  Mittman, Sylvia Lev­ine and Bernard Schneider.Breaking ground for the new Washington Hotel on December 15, 1966. Picture from left to right: Stanley Mittman, Sylvia Lev­ine and Bernard Schneider.

January 15, 2004 will be a sad day for the Belle Harbor community. On that day, the Washington Hotel will close its doors forever. Our neighborhood will have lost a cherished landmark which played host to countless civic, religious, political and everyday family functions. People from all five boroughs and beyond have celebrated weddings, bar mitzvahs, christenings, engagement parties and other family events at the Washington.

In 1937, Barney and Sylvia Levine came to the Rockaways, attracted by its beauty, the fresh ocean air and the friendliness of the people. They first came to the Washington Hotel in 1947, which was then on the corner of Beach 124 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. In 1958, Barney and Sylvia bought the adjacent property on the corner of Beach 125 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, renovated and decorated it. They added an extension to the existing structure eight years later, freshly painted and refurbished it, where it became the foremost elegant kosher catering hall in all of Belle Harbor. The Hotel quickly gained prominence because of the Levine’s insistence on giving people great service and excellent food.

The Levine’s children, Vivian and Bernie Schneider and Elaine and Stanley Mittman, later joined by grandchildren, Joyce and Les Ness, continued the tradition started by Barney and Sylvia. They cared deeply about the people they served and this made each event at the Washington Hotel an especially warm and memorable one.

In addition, the Schneiders, Mittmans and Nesses always hired people from the Belle Harbor community to serve as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and busboys. There are members of the Hotel’s staff that can point to three generations of their family that worked at the Washington.

Throughout the five decades of its existe nce, many famous politicians and religious and community leaders attended a variety of functions at the Washington Hotel. These include Eleanor Roosevelt, Governor Mario Cuomo, NYC Mayors William O’Dwyer, Abe Beame, Ed Koch, and Rudy Giuliani, State Comptroller Louis Lefkowitz, City Councilman, Joseph Addabbo Jr. and the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Goren. Others who more recently attended functions at the Hotel include former Queens District Attorney John Santucci, Con­gressman Anthony Weiner, U.S. Sen­ator Church Schumer and Assem­blywoman Audrey Pfeffer.

On November 12, 2001, following the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, the Washinton Hotel was opened as a command post. It was the place where Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and his staff would oversee the necessary cleanup operations following the deadly accident. The Hotel families served coffee and refreshments to police, fire and other members of the rescue teams. This was just one small way that Vivian and Bernie, Elaine and Stanley, and Joyce and Les wanted to repay the heroes that helped the people in our neighborhood on that fateful day.

This is the kind of service and dedication that the Washington Hotel family has given to our community for over 50 years. They will be sorely missed. A neighborhood landmark will be gone forever and our community will be just a little sadder as a result.

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