2006-08-04 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

By Howard Schwach

It is often instructive to take a look back at what was happening in Rockaway in the distant and not-so-distant past to see what The Wave was talking about in that era. Somehow, it helps to put into perspective what is happening today.

From the perspective of a 66-year-old, 1986 was not so long ago, but to some of our younger staffers, 20 years represents almost a lifetime, a time as distant as World War II or the Roaring 20's.

As you might expect, the entire front page of the July 26, 1986 issue of The Wave was taken up with crime stories.

The lead related the hunt for Robert Raulson, the man suspected of murdering Police Officer Scott Gadell in Rockaway on June 28 of that year. Police believed that they had the cop-killer surrounded at a Gateway Boulevard apartment, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Raulston was captured in Brooklyn a few weeks later, however.

The second story on the front page related the sentencing of a "pimp-robber-murderer" who had killed a car service driver (something that happened about once a month in that decade) while attempting to rob him. The murderer got 25 years to life for the crime.

There were two bottom stories in that issue of The Wave.

The first one related that a number of white Riis Park beachgoers, angered that a black man was with a white woman, beat him with baseball bats, sending him to the hospital with serious injuries. The Wave reported that the three bikers who beat the unidentified black man almost to death were members of the "Legion of Doom."

The final story on the front page was about Far Rockaway High School, the alma mater of both of my parents, my wife and my son (who had graduated from the school only two years previous). It related that the school was among the worst in the city in terms of crime. The school was third in the city in terms of weapons possession and fourth in terms of serious crimes such as robbery, assault, sexual assault and possession of controlled substances.

The story related, somewhat off-handedly, that PS 183 was the most crime-ridden school in Queens, with PS 42 close behind.

If you read that paper, you might think that there was nothing positive about Rockaway and look elsewhere to live. It reflected, however, what was going on in Rockaway during those crime-ridden years, now long-gone.

There were positive, community-oriented things going on, however. The annual Irish Festival was set for that weekend at Old Rockaway Beach Boulevard (now called Mickey Carton Way). The popular festival, which featured Irish music, Irish food and lots of beer, was ended in the 1990's by Mayor Rudy Giuliani's ban on beer at outdoor festivals. Without the beer, the event fell under its own weight. That year's festival featured Irish musician Mickey Carton, for whom the street was renamed after his death.

While there was Irish music galore on the west end, there was Jewish music galore on the east end. The Hartman YMHA, funded largely by west end entertainer Sam Levinson, featured a weekend of Klezmer music funded by Assemblywoman Gerdi Lipschutz (who later was thrown out of office for putting no-show employees on her payroll on orders from the Queens Democratic Party leadership).

One story inside told of the construction "going on at a furious pace" throughout the peninsula. Much of that development had died along with the stock market in the 1970's.

The development mania in Rockaway was dormant until the last few years. Old-timers who come back to visit the peninsula are often stunned by the fact that there is development planned or underway on virtually every empty lot in Rockaway.

The big political battle that was to come to a head in November was the Congressional race between Floyd Flake and Simeon Golar. The two men, giants in the minority community and in the Democratic Party fought a down and dirty campaign that was finally won by Flake, the minister of the Allen AME Church in Jamaica.

Flake had lots of problems, including a federal indictment, while he was in office, but now heads the largest church and development deal in the area. He remains a power in Democratic politics although he most often endorses Republicans these days.

The Surfside Twin Theater was the only movie theater left in Rockaway. There were several when I was young, including the Gem, the Strand, the Columbia ( I actually saw vaudeville in that theater) in Far Rockaway and a few others scattered throughout the peninsula. On of the theaters in Rockaway Park was called the "Itch" for obvious reasons. The Surfside Twin was showing "Ruthless People" and Stephen King's "Maximum Overdrive."

Twenty years ago, a two-family house on a beach block in the 120's was advertised at $240,000. If you wanted to rent a seven-room Belle Harbor apartment in a private home with a private driveway (parking was important enough to mention even then), you would have had to shell out the munificent sum of $950 a month, about half of what that apartment could cost today.

Oh, for the good old days.

Also planned for the following weekend was Rockaway Family Fun Day. Scheduled for that day in three venues throughout the peninsula were races, sand castle contests, music and activities for kids.

The highlight of the evening was a concert by the Seuffert Band on the boardwalk at Beach 116 Street, followed by a fireworks display as soon as it turned dark.

The advertising said that the fireworks would rival the old Wednesday night fireworks that were sponsored by Schaeffer Beer and which took place off Playland every Wednesday night during the summer.

Now, we cannot even get fireworks on July 4, when Breezy Point, Coney Island and every community in Nassau County are enjoying their own shows.

Would you rather have lived in Rockaway during those days twenty years ago?

I wonder what the editor of The Wave will think in 2026 when he looks back at this week's paper.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

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