2005-03-11 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

March 6, 1930 was seventy-five years ago this week and a few months into the “Great Depression.”

The Wave was 47-years-old, in its middle age, and World War II, at least for America, was still a dozen years away.

To read that paper today, however, would bring feelings both of deja vu, even for our younger readers, and a longing for the “good old days,” which were probably not all that “good” for the people who were living through them here in Rockaway.

The lead story in the eight-page Wave that week was about Belle Harbor.

The Civic Club that then represented the neighborhood was busy protesting the extension of “the road along the bay” that eventually became Beach Channel Drive from Beach 124 westward.

There were two reasons for their fight against the road extension. First of all, they didn’t want to pay for it. There were some who argued that the city should pay for the road rather than the local taxpayers since the road would be used by many “who were simply transversing Rockaway.”

There were others, however, who did not want the road at any cost because the new road would allow “outsiders and interlopers of all sorts” to have access to their neighborhood.

Sounds like the parking situation today, doesn’t it?

The Neponsit community was putting pressure on the U.S. Navy to pick up and get out of Riis Park.

The west end community wanted the property that had Naval Air Station, Rockaway for a park. Only 11 years before, in June of 1919, three Navy Curtis Aircraft flying boats had taken off from Jamaica Bay for the first transatlantic flight. One of them, the NC-4, made it almost a month later to become the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Locals argued that they wanted the aviation base to go because it was too noisy a neighbor and because, given the end of World War I in 1918, it was no longer necessary to the national defense.

Not withstanding the history of the base, Neponsit wanted it gone and the Navy reluctantly agreed and moved its seaplane and blimp base to Valley Stream. Several years later, the Navy took over Floyd Bennett Field across the bay in Brooklyn, which then saw service through WW II, the police action in Korea and the war in Vietnam.

I actually did my own boot camp at Floyd Bennett Field during the summer of 1962 before going on active duty with the fleet.

The Democratic Club of Rockaway (no, Lew Simon was not the president), was getting ready for its annual St. Patrick’s Night Affair on March 15, which promised corned beef and cabbage, beer, Irish Clog Dancing and a full orchestra.

The battle to build a “comfort station” was in full swing. The city had let a contract for the new station, at Beach 116 nearly two years before and a contractor had begun work. Unfortunately, the contractor chosen by the city quickly went south with the money and work was halted. After some time, a new contractor was chosen and completion was promised for the coming Memorial Day.

Being that this was during the administration of Mayor “Gentleman” Jim Walker, when everything was for sale, it would have not surprised me at all that the new contractor disappeared with the money as well. Such was New York.

Speaking of Mayor Walker, he was making noises about going to war with Nassau County over a border dispute that had been raging for a few years.

One of the areas in contention was the line between Bayswater/Far Rockaway and the Five Towns. The Bayswater Civic Association had made recommendations that would have put part of that community into Inwood, but Walker wanted to keep all the land he could for the city. Or, there was not enough money in it for him or his cronies to allow the move.

Not all looked glum.

Despite the 1929 Stock Market Crash, the number of homes sold in Rockaway nearly doubled from that year to 1930. Perhaps it was out-of-work homeowners selling out to rich speculators who were taking advantage of their situation.

The article in The Wave is not clear.

One hundred and four boy scouts traveled to Camp Newcombe in New Jersey for a “Camp-o-Re,” a three-day tournament in scouting skills.

H.J. Reiter opened the Reliable Kosher Meat Market at 115-01 Boulevard, promising top-quality meat and poultry.

Silverstein’s Stationery Store opened its fountain at 206 Beach 116 Street, which promised to serve only Hungerford-Smith syrups and Breyer’s Ice Cream.

The Broad Channel Bakery and Restaurant advertised fine food and bakery goods at Cross Bay Boulevard and 10th Road.

The Rockaway Camp, Modern Woodsmen Of America planned its monthly meeting at the Pythian Temple in Far Rockaway.

Loeb and Mayer Butchers, which remained in business until the end of the 1990’s, advertised three stores in the peninsula: at 81-01 Boulevard; 43-16 Boulevard and 114-15 Boulevard. In the end, the company was undone by a bid-rigging scandal with other companies that kept prices to New York City’s Board of Education unnecessarily high. Mayor Walker would have been proud.

The NYPD’s mounted police unit, which patrolled the beachfront in the winter as well as in the summer, was removed from Rockaway permanently and dispatched to Manhattan, to be used for crowd control. And, the local civic groups joined with the Democratic Club (I can’t find any word about Republicans in Rockaway at the time, although I know they had a strong club here in the 1940’s and 1950’s) to allow several intersections to get traffic lights.

Among the new traffic lights was one at the intersection of Beach 116 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, one of today’s more congested intersections.

The more time changes, the more things stay the same – especially in Rockaway.

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