Bungalow Film Premiere Brings Praise And Memories
Old black and white home movies and photos, interviews with former and current residents, music and narration – all brought to life an important part of Rockaway’s history when the film “The Bungalows of Rockaway” premiered to a sold out crowd at the Museum of the City of New York on July 29. The film, five and a half years in the making, was directed by Jennifer Callahan and produced by Callahan and Elizabeth Logan Harris.
“I saw the bungalows and felt it was a great topic for a documentary,” said Callahan. She added, “I just found them unusual and charming and I didn’t think that New York City had any charming buildings … My mother used to take me for tours of old houses and I hated it but I think her love of old houses stayed in there.”
The film traces the bungalows’ history from when they first appeared in Rockaway in the early 20th Century to their heyday when there were 7,000 of the dwellings on the peninsula to the current day. The seaside dwellings were not only popular with the famous; they provided the middle class with a cheap way to own their own home.
It’s also ironic that the movie premiered at the museum where an exhibit on the mayoralty of John Lindsay was being showcased. During his administration the bungalows and rooming houses on the beach blocks were torn down and large housing developments began to be built.
When the film was being made, a little more than 400 bungalows remained on the peninsula.
“We had 387 [bungalows] on the peninsula on June 26; but we didn’t get into Breezy Point so evidently they don’t have many there,” Callahan said, as the crowd laughed. Breezy Point received a round of boos when the narrator of the documentary mentioned that the town refused to give the producers permission to enter the area.
In 2005 the bungalows became eligible to register as historic places. Yet, landmark status has been slow to come. Following the screening the filmmakers were showered with comments such as “stunning,” “terrific,” “super job” and “masterful job.” There were memories recalled, as well.
“People in the bungalows, including my own family, walked down on the streets of Beach 116 Street and Beach 117 Street, where our bungalow was, and we would be beating pots and kettles with spoons and the celebration was just unforgettable,” said Rosenblatt. “Thanks for allowing me to recall those great moments and for the wonderful film that you created.”
Susan Anderson, who is a current bungalow resident, said, “This resonates with larger themes that are a threat to them [the bungalows] and their future…. [They need to be] enjoyed and preserved.”
Callahan and Harris agreed that meeting and working with current and former Rockaway residents and the generosity of those who lent photos and provided memories were among the joys of making the documentary.
“It was an enormous amount of outreach that made this possible,” said Harris. Callahan added she first thought the film would be a short instead of the 55 minutes it now is.
“You start doing all this research, you want to be thorough and this story is so interesting,” said Callahan. “And then [you ask] why are these ugly, tall buildings in Rockaway. Then we have to figure out why. Then [you have to talk to different people] and their story is so interesting.”
There will be another showing of the film on August 22 at Fort Tilden’s Post Theater. On September 16 at 8 pm WNET, Channel 13 will broadcast “The Bungalows of Rockaway.”