2005-11-11 / Columnists

Historical Views

of the Rockaways Washington Avenue, Rockaway Park, New York In 1908
From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

of the Rockaways

Washington Avenue, Rockaway Park, New York In 1908

From The Rockaway Museum
by Emil Lucev, Curator
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

Today, in Historical Views, we are standing on Washington Avenue (now Rockaway Beach Boulevard) and Fifth Avenue (now Beach 116 Street) in 1908.

Take note of the abundance of utility poles of wood, and the steel trolley wire poles close to the former. Only one wire run is visible on the left, the trolley trackage is on the avenue, but the photographer and printer have washed out the overhead wires and their shadows, to give a much clearer view (without the spider web created by electrical power lines and suspension wires). The second set of poles on the right, or south, or beach side of the avenue, are on the southwest corner of Beach 115 Street (or Fourth Avenue).

The only building on the right at this time is the office building of Goodwin & Son Real Estate, and the former offices of the Rockaway Park Improvement Company. The latter’s original office was in the center of the Fifth Avenue, or Beach 116 Street, intersection of Washington Avenue.

Now for Rockaway Beach Boulevard 101.

Before its improvement into a bonafide main thoroughfare thru the Rockaway peninsula, from Far Rockaway to the west, Rockaway Beach Boulevard was only a rough wagon road along the bayfront. Often washed out by high tide, the way was rather precarious to say the least. The road to Rockaway began at Norton’s Bridge, where the present Far Rockaway Boulevard connects with Beach Channel Drive at Beach 32 Street. Before the bridge was built, the creek was crossed at low tide, and before the creek was dug out by locals to flush sewage into the sea, there was a dry path.

In conjunction with the defunct Big Hotel built in Rockaway Park, the Boulevard was rerouted, raised, and paved with crushed shells and loam, with drainage ditches on both sides. After traversing the bayside along the railroad, the boulevard crossed the trackage at Beach 56 Street in Arverne, and continued west, to the east end of the Big Hotel. This was the Long Island Railroad from Far Rockaway. The other railroad to the Big Hotel was built over Jamaica Bay, hit the landing here at the Bayside and Beach 84 Street, and then continued to the hotel along the bayside. At Beach 97 Street they ran side-by-side to the Big Hotel.

When the hotel failed, so did the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway railroad over the bay, and it was absorbed into the LIRR system. The LIRR then moved its Far Rockaway track west of Beach 56 Street, north, and connected this new trackage to the bay trestle. The old tracks, which ran below the boulevard to seaside, and the crossing at Beach 97 Street, were taken up.

Where the old track had run through seaside proper to Beach 108 Street in 1887, when the track was taken up, a Grand Central Boulevard, the plan belayed for the coming of the Southside Railroad in 1872, was finally built!

Two years later, the development of Rockaway Park began, and the map of the new section had its main thoroughfare, Washington Avenue, running from the east line at Beach 110 Street, west to Beach 121, and a cul de sac there.

At this point, George W. Isaacs, the new owner of West Seaside Property, allowed Washington Avenue to be continued easterly thru his property, which ended between Beach 106 Street and Beach 105 Street. The Grand Central Boulevard laid out continued to Beach 101 Street (The north lane of the present Boulevard from Beach 102 to Beach 108 Street was Grand Central Boulevard, and the old SSRR/LIRR right of way). Rather than having Rockaway Beach Boulevard extended west from its point under Washington Avenue at Beach 110 Street to the west, it was connected to the Avenue thereat.

Twice thereafter, a portion of Washington Avenue from Beach 102 Street to Beach 110 Street went under another name. With the heavy German influence before World War I, it was St. Mark’s Avenue, most likely after St. Mark’s German Evangelical Church on the lower east side of Manhattan. Near the turn of the century in 1900, New York City had the third largest German-speaking population in the world. Places like the Hotel Stuttgart, run by Henry Hill-Meyer, catered to the elite of German society, as did others. Later on the name Sheffield Avenue was assigned, and I have no origin for this name. The change, however, is fairly obvious!

When street names were changed to numbers during the 1920s, Rockaway Beach Boulevard became the name for the entire thoroughfare from Far Rockaway to the west at Beach 169 Street.

The portion in seaside proper became Central Avenue once again, and was de-mapped along with a portion of the boulevard, when Robert Moses and Title One Demolition totally destroyed Old Seaside, because, in my estimation, the Rockaway Beach Amusement Area, being promoted by the Playland Group and the Chamber of Commerce here, was showing signs of a revival!

The city and Coney Island and Robert Moses would have none of that, due to the fact that Moses destroyed Rockaway Beach before he desecrated Coney Island with hi-rise dwellings. His Atlantic Village hi-rise plan was meant to destroy Rockaway Point also.

The projects were dynamited down and buried, and for spite the city gave the Point land plus, to the Federal Government for Gateway Park.

When Riis Park was finally developed in the late 1930s, Rockaway Beach Boulevard was ended at Beach 149 Street. A state road and Rockaway Point/Breezy Point Boulevard leads to Beach 222 Street from Beach 169 Street.

The pioneers of the Rockaways, long before New York City absorbed half of Queens County into greater New York City, planned a bayfront drive comparable to the Holland Dike System, to follow the contour of the bayfront. This was to prevent flooding. A similar roadway was planned for the beachfront, with Rockaway Beach Boulevard the central thoroughfare on the peninsula.

This would have given us only three main roads, not a mish-mosh of other traffic arteries as we have, and some sort of flood protection that could have been vastly improved upon over the years.

Alfred Bellot, in his history of 1918, stated, “Since consolidation, the prosperity of the village has not increased as in former years. All the sections have become built up with cottages, residences, and hotels; transit facilitations leave little to be desired; the permanent population and visitors have increased; amusement and entertainment have increased; there are many more stores, yet the spirit of civic pride has waned.

The more intelligent, and those who have the best interests of the place really at heart, although always working for betterment, are apathetic in local elections, knowing the futility of trying to make themselves heard or being properly represented in the councils of greater New York City, in order to secure greatly-needed improvements. The consequence is that the old spirit of emulation and interest in the affairs of the village does not exist with the class of men needed and the same class as formerly, so that local politics are in the hands of men whose mentality and ability are not of the highest order.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to clone some of these old-time pioneers so they can view the only “rusty” Gold Coast in America?

I can imagine what they would say or do…and ask to go back where they were!

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