The Quinns Remember Rockaway
Two filmmakers working on a documentary about Rockaway's bungalows sat down last week with the Speaker of the City Council and her father for an on-camera interview at City Hall that was rich with memories and anecdotes about the peninsula's heyday.
Elizabeth Logan Harris and Jennifer Callahan, who have been working on their documentary, "The Improbable Bungalows," since 2003, interviewed Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and her father, Lawrence Quinn, inside the Red Room, a conference room on the first floor of City Hall. The Wave was invited to attend.
Sitting side by side, the Quinns shared vivid details of their summer days in Rockaway which collectively span four decades, from about 1935 to about 1975.
The half-hour-long interview began with the Speaker recalling her very first memories of Rockaway - a two-family house in Rockaway Beach (her family occupied half) from which she could hear the sounds of Playland.
"[The house] was across the street from the roller coaster so, you would hear the 'chugga-chugga-chugga - aaahhhh!, chugga-chugga' over and over and over," she said, describing the sound the Atom Smasher made as the cars climbed to the top of the first drop - followed by the exhilarated roar of the crowd.
Speaker Quinn remembered later days spent with her mother's family in a bungalow court in Rockaway where her grandfather, a firefighter, cooked hearty meals despite the 98-degree heat. Her other Irish-immigrant relatives, she recalled, were equally unfazed by the heat and would bring settings of hot tea to the beach, which the Speaker mused, "was not particularly helpful to a little girl."
The Speaker's father, Lawrence, 80, said his Rockaway Beach memories go back to about 1935 when he started visiting with friends from the Manhattan neighborhood of Yorkville. He said he and his friends, who he described as mostly Irish "working stiffs," were lured - at first via train and bus and later by car - to Rockaway by the waves, the women and the nightlife. "It was wild, it was wild," he fondly recalled. "It was drinking and dancing 'til all hours of the morning," the elder Quinn said of Rockaway Beach on a summer night.
He also recalled aiming a T.V.'s "rabbit ears antenna" at the Empire State Building, from which a relative's house on Jamaica Bay had a perfect view. He also spoke about watching movies on the roof of a theater on Beach 116 Street and other memories of his "automotive forays" to Rockaway in a 1935 Ford and, later, a 1941 Plymouth.
Together the father and daughter talked about stopping at Weiss' in Broad Channel for a snack before continuing to the beach. The Speaker said it was a treat stop for a hotdog and crinkle-cut French fries, which she ate using a wooden fork. And the condiments! Oh, the condiments, she said. Her father teased her for being "very sheltered."
"It was very exciting," the Speaker exclaimed and then laughed heartily.
In another candid exchange about Rockaway's post-heyday, the Speaker's father chides her for sounding like a politician, while she says she's maintaining a positive outlook on the peninsula's future.
When asked about the architecture of the bungalows, Speaker Quinn made this keen observation: "When you think about the architecture of the bungalows, you think about people jamming as many bodies as possible into a place with a roof, so they could wake up in the morning and go to the beach."
For Harris and Callahan, the interview was another unexpected opportunity in what Harris called an "amazing odyssey" at the end of which they say they will have captured the essence and history of the Rockaway bungalows. They appear to be well on their way, having already done hours of research, interviews and shooting.
The filmmakers learned of the Quinn family's Rockaway ties through City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. who found out about it when he marched with Quinn in last year's Queens County St. Patrick's Day Parade. The Speaker told her father the story for the first time during the interview:
"I was saying to Joe Addabbo, my council colleague, 'Oh, we had a house right across from Playland,' and as we walked up the block there was Joe Addabbo's office - right across from where Playland used to be, which is now townhouses."
"Townhouses," her father asked.
"Yeah," the Speaker said.
"Condominiums or something like that?"
"You know, like townhouse/condominiums."
Harris and Callahan said 2007 would be a big year for their project. Two screening events, one at the Museum of the City of New York and another in conjunction with the Rockaway Music and Arts Council, are tentatively planned. And, if they can raise enough money, the film could be completed next year, too. For more information on the documentary or to find out how to make a tax-deductible donation, you can contact the filmmakers via email at Bungalowdoc@yahoo.com or via Harris' mailing address: 85 Walker Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10013.