2006-07-28 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

From A Private Residence To A Hotel To An Adult Home In Rockaway Park
From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

Located at the boardwalk on the west side of Beach 125 Street, in the Rockaway Park section of the Rockaway

Beach Peninsula, stands the Chai Home for Adults. The address is 125-02 Ocean Promenade and the site is in the southwest extreme of the Rockaway Park section, which ends at Beach 126 Street, as does the Ocean Promenade or boardwalk. All the old maps of Rockaway Park of the 1890s plus indicate that an old 20-foot wide thoroughfare called Triton Avenue was to be laid down along the oceanfront of the new Rockaway Park section from Beach 109 Street west to Beach 126 Street.

The present boardwalk follows the route of the old Triton Avenue to the area of Beach 120 Street, where the boards turn south and then west to Beach 126 Street. Old Triton Avenue ran on the north side of the present boards to Beach 126 Street from Beach 120 Street (don't ask).

During the late 1920s word was that Luna Park was to move from Coney Island to Rockaway Beach. The old L.A. Thompson Amusement Park was sold to a group of Rockaway men and became Rockaways' Playland. There was to be no new ferry stop at Beach 129 Street on Jamaica Bay. The electric trolleys stopped running and helter-skelter bus lines were vying for riders and racing up and down the trolley route along the boulevard. And a building boom concerning the building of new hotels plus conversions of present structures to hotels began.

Up sprang The West End, The Ariston, The Commodore, The Park Inn, The Belmont, The Cecil, The Seville and The Del Mar.

The latter opened in 1930 and in contemporary time is better known as the Chai Home for Adults. Late in 1911 Edward and Josephine (nee Hickie) Wren, owners of a large department store in Springfield, Ohio, moved to the Rockaways. Mr. Wren was suffering from Bright's disease and other ailments, and it was thought that the sea air and sunshine would help improve his unhealthy condition. The Wrens also had a mountain home with the same thought of improving Edward Wren's health.

The couple had purchased a piece of property in the up and coming new section of Rockaway Beach (Rockaway Park), 100' x 100' on the northwest corner of Monmouth Avenue (Beach 125 Street) and Triton Avenue.

In January of 1912 a very spacious and luxurious house of two and one half stories was constructed on this low just north of Triton Avenue.

The new home had a brick and mortar foundation which provided an above ground basement or ground level, which remained comparatively cool on the hot summer days. At this point in time Triton Avenue was a slightly elevated wooden walk only 20 feet wide, which passed the front of the house facing the beach. Small stairs were located at intervals to get on or off the walk.

Several massive chimneys supported the many fireplaces for heating, as well as the ovens and stoves for cooking.

The first and second floors had wide porches that almost wrapped around the building and the roof or the third half story, so to speak, had several wide gables with triple sashes or windows. There was also a small square rooftop observatory which offered a 360 degree look around.

The roof was covered with Spanish tiles and the outer walls of the new building finished with stone and masonry veneer added a pleasant touch.

Edward Wren was born in 1849 in County Kerry, Ireland and came to America in 1873 after learning the dry good business in his post college days. He was a traveling salesman for Cannock, Tate and Company of Limerick, Ireland.

In America Wren set up shop with John O'Neill in Lancaster, Ohio. Four years later (1877), Wren established a partnership with the Kinnane Brothers in Springfield, Ohio where a large department store was opened.

This partnership was dissolved in 1892 and Wren continued the business' stores as Edward Wren's Department Stores, which later had offices and markets in the East.

Before coming to America, Edward Wren married Margaret Kinnane, whose older brothers, Edward, James and John, became Wren's partners.

The Wrens had eight children, two of which died young, and Margaret Wren died in 1897. Several years later Edward Wren married his second wife, who was Josephine Hickie of New York City. They were married in Ireland in 1898 and had four children, losing one at a very young age.

During the latter part of October in 1917, Edward Wren noted as the old merchant prince in his obituary, printed in the Springfield, Ohio Daily Newssuccumbed to his illnesses at age 69. He died in his home in Rockaway Park, and burial was in Springfield, Ohio. In 1930 the family sold the Rockaway Park house and the new owners converted the place into the new Hotel Del Mar, which enjoyed a great popularity for many years.

At the same time the family sold the business built up by Edward Wren for about one million dollars, and wife Josephine Wren took up residence in the Blackstone Hotel in New York City, and summered in Southampton out on Long Island. She died in 1950. Edward's 1917 obit noted children as living in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio; Sing Sing, New York; and in Rockaway Beach (noted as Far Rockaway Beach).

Wren had a brother, John, who lived in Springfield, Ohio and a son James of Wheeling, West Virginia. On July 15, 1912, a James E. Wren bought property in the Belle Harbor section of Rockaway Beach, relatively close to the Wren house in Rockaway Park. This could have been the elder son James of father Edward's first marriage.

It was said that while living in Rockaway Beach, Edward Wren kept in daily contact with all of his business offices, and his Springfield, Ohio main offices. The eastern offices were run by his son, Christopher, of his first marriage. His second wife Josephine lived in Rockaway with three of her young children, Angela, Ursula and Malcolm.

The photos with today's View are of Edward and Josephine Wren; the house in Rockaway Park showing Triton Avenue at lower left and Beach 125 Street at lower right; and an ad featuring the Hotel Del Mar from a 1940s edition of the Rockaway Review, published by the Chamber of Commerce of the Rockaways.

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