2009-11-20 / Columnists

Rock Solid

Some Rockaway Treasures For Which I Am Thankful
Commentary By Vivian Rattay Carter

When I reflect on the past 15 years I have lived on the Rockaway peninsula, I realize how much my life has been enriched by experiencing a connection to the natural beauty of the Earth. I am constantly grateful that the highest aspirations of intelligent and creative souls among us have sometimes been realized here. This is my short list of architectural and natural wonders on the peninsula that I cherish. All of them are, in my view, worth preserving with all of our efforts.

The U.S. Coast Guard Station. As one comes over the Marine Parkway- Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge heading into Rockaway, it is always inspiring to see this graceful and sophisticated example of classic architecture. I hope it will be preserved and treasured as a Rockaway landmark, whether the federal government continues to occupy it, or not.

The Riis Park Bathhouse. Recently carefully restored by the federal government, the bathhouse is a steady reminder of what Jacob Riis Park used to be — a place overflowing with visitors who could choose a fine dining experience or an outdoor BBQ. The sounds of big band music have again echoed on its plazas over the past few summers. I dream of seeing the graceful walled garden called into service to host outdoor Shakespearean productions, and a few high-quality, yearround restaurants. At least there's no parking problem! If the federal government does not see the potential of this site, perhaps it is time for the New York City Parks Department to step up and regain stewardship at Riis.

The Fort Tilden Dunes. Whether you are hiking, biking, or even driving through, the presence of this intact beach ecosystem, complete with its nesting plovers, raccoons, jackrabbits and horseshoe crabs, preserves an important remnant of the origins of this place. The dunes are essential to protect the mainland from damage in storms. It is unwise to squander the native flora on the peninsula and disrespect its natural geology. For every landowner who downs a Norfolk pine or holly shrub to pave over the front yard, there must be another who nurtures a small beach rose bush.

First Congregational Church. At the foot of the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge, the towering steeple of the First Congregational Church meets the eyes of those entering the Rockaways, leading them upward. Although the sanctuary and steeple were built in 1941, the smaller building on the site dates to the 1930s, when the church was forced to move from a location a block away. People are often surprised to learn that the ample and beautifully maintained church lawn once extended all the way to the bay. That was a time before the Cross Bay Bridge, Beach Channel Drive and the elevated railroad tracks; when the trains ran on the street level and Ray Kroc had not yet dreamed up the McDonalds' fast food chain. As an active member of the church, I am grateful that these grand and inspiring buildings have remained intact over the years. After a successful multi year fundraising campaign by the congregation, the stained glass window in the sanctuary was recently restored by local artist Patrick Clark and his crafstmen at Sunlites Stained Glass.

The Bungalows. They can still be found, notably on Beach 108 Street, Beach 101 Street, and Beach 26 Street. The bungalows, in their simplicity of construction and the way their courtyards evoke a communal era now past, are key connections to the people who came to Rockaway for the summer, many of whom remained. By restoring and honoring what they represent, we preserve something special about America's past. Sadly, a number of these bungalows on Beach 26 Street were torn down in the past week, even in the face of community opposition.

"The Tree of Life" Tiffany Window at First Presbyterian Church of Far Rockaway. Is there any finer remaining architectural treasure in Rockaway than the stained glass window in the Russell Sage Memorial Chapel at First Presbyterian Church? It is the largest Tiffany landscape window in existence. I wonder how many residents have seen it, or are even aware of its existence. The church, designed by the noted firm of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson in Gothic Revival style, is located on Central Avenue between Beach 12 Street and Sage Place.

The Boardwalk. There is no more quintessential Rockaway experience than bicycling, running, or walking along "the boards," kissed by the surf, listening to the gulls and snatches of conversation from passersby. I am thankful that my knees are still able to handle a jog several times a week, thanks to the resiliency of the wooden surface. Many people agree that if the Boardwalk continues to fall into disrepair, it will dramatically reduce the quality of life on the peninsula. I hope everyone will speak up for its preservation.

Jamaica Bay. Although I have always loved to see the bay from afar, I became an avid kayaker this past summer and am now more closely acquainted with it. Efforts are underway to preserve the marsh grass, which is deteriorating quickly. As development in the city continues apace, sewage overflow is regularly channeled into Jamaica Bay. More residents need to see the Bay up close to understand that it is in peril. I am thankful that I can still paddle out there with friends to enjoy it.

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