2008-07-11 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio Rockaway Artists Alliance

Book Review: 'Images of America: Broad Channel'
Commentary By Susan Hartenstein

"Images of America: Broad Channel" is of value, not just as a piece of nostalgia for area residents, but as a worthwhile addition to a reference library (private or public) of the history of New York City. Extensively researched by authors Liz Guarino and Dan Guarino, the book draws from the seemingly bottomless resource of the Broad Channel Historical Society, its members and president Barbara Toborg, newspaper clippings, interviews with residents and historians, and archives of various Broad Channel, New York City and national agencies.

"Broad Channel" is essentially a picture book with text. The pictures include more than 200 black and white photographs from the Channel's past and two aerial satellite views of the area. Many photos, which record precious memories, were generously loaned to the authors. For area residents, it is a bit like looking through the nostalgic, familiar, welcome images of a family album. The text consists of an excellent introduction by Toborg and, primarily, of the blurbs under each photograph that explain the people and circumstances of the individual image and their historical and social context; frequently in a larger than local context. In addition, there is a brief introduction to each of the 10 chapters, giving an overview of the subject of that chapter. Thus, the reader is given a very personal, human, even at times, intimate visual sense of the subject matter, as well as an understanding of the history of this little known corner of the city.

Reprinted with permission from Broad Channel, by Dan and Liz Guarino. Available from the publisher online at www.arcadiapublishing.com or by calling 888-313-2665. Reprinted with permission from Broad Channel, by Dan and Liz Guarino. Available from the publisher online at www.arcadiapublishing.com or by calling 888-313-2665. Though Broad Channel has gone through many changes over time, the Guarinos establish connections between past and present. Try for example, the continuing romance the islanders have with the surrounding Jamaica Bay and its salt marshes; the strong Christian faith of the community; and its resolute tough-mindedness. In discussing the island's by-gone grand hotels, Dan Guarino writes, "…here and there, in a structural outline or in a familiar scene or place, yesterday reaches out to shake hands with today." Broad Channel is the only inhabited island in Jamaica Bay. Indeed, its geographic isolation, both in the past and even today, has had much to do with shaping the character of the Channel's people.

Broad Channel has an interesting story - interesting and sometimes surprising to both area residents and nonresidents alike. Before the railroad was built in 1879 to carry people to and from other parts of the city, the isolated island consisted of a collection of fisherman's shacks. Long before them, the Jameco and Canarsie Indian tribes fished and hunted in the area. Once the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Beach Railroad (later bought by the Long Island Railroad) established service and a station in Broad Channel, life was never the same. Hotels and restaurants were built to serve amateur fisherman and their families who came to enjoy the new resort; a system of connecting boardwalks; eventually shops, houses and fishing clubs were built, a few of which remain today. A town was laid out, complete with streets, electricity (though still, today, no gas lines), fire hydrants and eventually, a school and the other amenities of town life. Bungalows for rental were built. Not just a summer colony, in the 1920s there were 25 families living year round in the community. During Prohibition, speakeasies were to be found in the town, which was known as "Little Cuba." Clubs attracted entertainers like Mae West and Jimmy Durante. Places of entertainment, sports venues and restaurants that included the famous Weiss' Restaurant have long been important in Broad Channel. A quieter community today than in those Prohibition days, in 2000 the population stood at 2,630.

Authors Liz and Dan Guarino have lived in Broad Channel for twenty years. She writes "Broad Channel Bits," a weekly column in The Wave newspaper, and is the editor of "Channel News," a publication of the Broad Channel Civic Association. He does extensive publicity writing for the Rockaway Artists Alliance (RAA). He is also an exhibiting photographer and prolific poet whose photographic stories and writings have appeared in many local newspapers. As a musician, songwriter and singer, he has performed countless times on RAA stages.

"Images of America: Broad Channel" goes on sale on Monday, July 21, 2008. Published by Arcadia Publishing, its price is $19.99 per softcover copy. The book is available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing. com or 888-313-2665.

The authors will be present for a book signing hosted by the Broad Channel Historical Society on Sunday, July 27 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Grassy's Point, 1802 Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel.

Arcadia has become the largest publisher of regional history books in North America. Its "Images of America" series of pictorial books has covered the histories of hundreds of communities throughout the United States.

Celebrate the Arts:

Join family and friends Saturday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m. for an Evening of Music at sTudio 7 Gallery, RoCA at Fort Tilden. Top flight musicians and lots of good music.

A donation would be appreciated to support the future of RAA, which does so much to support and promote the arts in our community.

Ellen Hoyt, who teaches watercolor classes at RAA, is looking for submissions to an exhibit at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Brooklyn, August 23 and 24. Interested photographers and artists in all mediums, please contact Hoyt at 718-338-7281.

Fort Tilden Highlights

NEXT RAA GENERAL MEETING: Monday, July 14, sTudio 7, RoCA, Fort Tilden. Featured: performance of the play, 'ckway, about two alcoholic men, set in a place that may be familiar to everyone. Runs about 10 minutes. First seen during Literary Festival. FREE: SUMMER MOONS: Scheduled bands every Thursday in the summer. Start time: 8 p.m. On the Moonstage between sTudio 6 and sTudio 7, RoCA, Fort Tilden. LIFE DRAWING CLASS with live model. Every Thursday, 8-10 p.m. in sTudio 6 Gallery, RoCA @ Fort Tilden. Fee: $20 per class. No preregistration necessary. Instructor: Geoff Rawling. PAINTING CLASSES FOR ADULTS: Tuesday nights, 7-9 p.m.; Thursday mornings, 10 a.m. - 12 noon. sTudio 7, RoCA @ Fort Tilden. $15 per class, supplies included. Instructor: Geoff Rawling. FRIDAY NIGHT IMPROV: "No Shame Theater" performs theater games, improvised scenes based on written works; all are invited to join in. THE MUSIC MAN: Rockaway Theatre Company. Post Theater July 11, 12, 18, 19 @ 8 p.m. July 13, 20 @ 2 p.m.

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