2009-11-20 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Bungalows Deserve Landmark Status; Need Electeds To Get Involved
By Miriam Rosenberg

More than 7000 bungalows once marked the Rockaway peninsula. That was in 1933. In 2009 approximately 350 to 450 of those homes remain, and if things keep going the way they are, the bungalow in Rockaway will become extinct.

As reported elsewhere in this issue, seven bungalows located on Beach 26 Street were demolished on November 10. The owners of Rock Development Corp., LLC were getting pressure from the city, area residents and the owners of the Metroplex on the Atlantic to make a decision about the old structures, according to one of the partners. It should be noted that the bungalows stood in back of the new Metroplex apartment building located on Beach 26 Street near the boardwalk.

The question is, why now? The company applied for the demolition permits over a year ago. What does it accomplish?

While the buildings were in bad shape, what you now have in their place is an empty lot surrounded by a new wooden construction fence that continues where the fence for the Metroplex building ends. After less than a week, litter has begun to accumulate in front of the site. If the structures had remained, at least there would have been a chance of a discussion about renovations for the homes. Now neighbors will have to be watchful of people climbing over the fence and who knows what might go on in the lot behind the fence.

More importantly, another piece of the history of Rockaway is gone. The small seaside houses began to appear on the peninsula in 1905, and slowly replaced the tent cities that lined many of Rockaway's beaches. From the 1920s to the 1950s they were summer vacation homes as the summer months once brought out hundreds of thousands of people to the Rockaways. The sand, the sun and the ocean made for a great combination. Coney Island? Forget about it. Rockaway was the place to be. Chico and Groucho Marx were among the Hollywood elite who had bungalows in Far Rockaway. Groucho owned 24 of them as investments. Judy Garland, playwright Arthur Miller, comedian Sid Caesar and former New York City mayor Abe Beame also had summer homes here.

Times changed and by 1961, when John Lindsey was mayor, many of the bungalows were in such disrepair that the city demolished several hundred of them according, to a 2001 New York Times article. Despite many grand plans over the years to build over these areas, they are still vacant lots with overgrown weeds.

Since then, the idea has primarily been to tear down rather than to renovate. Yet, there are still new owners who are defying the logic and rehabilitating what were once thought to be lost causes.

"Everything is repairable," said S.C. Samoy the president of the Bungalow Beach Preservation Association (BBPA). "It's a matter of if you want to." To insure that no more bungalows are torn down, the BBPA is now looking to have these structures declared historical landmarks. The process will not be easy. It will cost approximately $15,000 to go through the application process for the bungalows from Beach 24 to Beach 26 Streets. Councilman James Sanders Jr. has already pledged to do what he can to support the group. But, as Samoy points out, Sanders cannot do it alone.

"Where is [Assemblywoman Mi - chele] Titus, [Senator Malcolm] Smith and [Congressman Gregory] Meeks?" asked Samoy. "Not just Sanders, but the community board to the City Council to the Assembly to the Senate."

Samoy is right. We can add to those names Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, Councilman Eric Ulrich and Congressman Anthony Weiner. While Far Rockaway may not be their district, they do represent areas with bungalow communities that may have an interest in the process.

In November 2007 several hundred people showed up at the Museum of the City of New York for a screening of "The Bungalows of Rockaway," a film being produced by Jennifer Callahan and Elizabeth Logan Harris. In March 2008, a rough-cut of the film was shown at Fort Tilden's Post Theater to rave reviews.

Callahan talked about the bungalows that were recently torn down in an email.

"My guess is that the ones on Beach 26 Street were built in the early 1920s, the same time as the ones on Beach 24 and Beach 25 Streets," wrote Calla - han. "This area, as you may know, was in the 1920s, and for decades afterwards, a thriving Jewish summer bungalow community."

The producers are now in the final stages of working on the film, but how many more bungalows will be lost before the documentary is completed? Following the screening at the Museum of the City of New York, Andrew Dolkart, an authority in architectural preservation and a professor at Columbia University, urged for the landmarking of Rockaway's bungalows. "He was the one who called on everyone there to write to Landmark Preservation Commissioner Tierney and call for the Rockaway bungalows to be landmarked and, hence, fully protected," said Callahan.

It's time for area residents, local leaders and our politicians to protect the history of our area. The BBPA cannot do it alone. As we went to press, the situation seemed to get more urgent as two more bungalows are rumored to be demolished on Beach 26 Street. Robert B. Tierney, the chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, can be sent an email asking for landmark status of the bungalows from Beach 24 to Beach 26 Streets by logging onto nyc.gov/html/ mail/html/maillpc.html. At the same time, our elected officials need to come through with the money and influence to help BBPA in its quest for landmarking. Otherwise, the rich history of the peninsula that comes with the bungalows will disappear.

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