Jane’s ‘Walkers’Explore Rockaway Beach
By the time drops of rain started to fall late in the day on Saturday, May 7, a successful new event had been introduced to Rockaway Beach — the worldwide event called “Jane’s Walk.” An enthusiastic, intergenerational group of souls set out together for a two-hour exploration of two miles of the peninsula, from Beach 87 to Beach 101 Street, hosted by the author. The purpose of the walk was to commemorate the legacy of legendary urban planning critic, Jane Jacobs, author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”
Attendees ranged from a very healthy octogenarian physiologist who recently moved to Arverne, to three curious and attentive pre-teens from the McManus family, which has been in Rockaway since before the turn of the century. There were also three walkers who had little previous experience visiting the peninsula. One of them commented that he didn’t expect to see so many animals on the walk. The group did, after all, encounter a dead raccoon on the steps of the Rockaway Courthouse; two huge, recently deceased striped bass caught by local fishermen; and many cats and dogs (one of which had broken free from his leash). These were not scripted events, but the walkers’ guide, a former middle-school teacher, was grateful that these teachable moments kept the youngsters’ attention from flagging during the walk.
The event started at the Doughboy Memorial, with a discussion of Jane Jacobs and her ideas about community planning. Then, the walkers headed toward the bay, talking briefly with a neighbor who grows apples in her yard, congratulated some fishermen on their catch, viewed the peninsula’s newest designated parkland, and passed the grove of fruit trees and grape vines at Beach 87 Street near the Rockaway Freeway. YES, there IS a grove of fruit trees at that intersection!
Some of the walkers may have started out at 11 a.m. as “DFDs” (that pejorative local term for visitors “down for the day”), but within two hours, all had been transformed into true experts on the local scene. Part of the Jane’s Walk ethic is for tour guides to engage members of the community in discussions with the group along the way. There was a stop at Rockaway Graphics to chat with proprietor Len Kohn, who operated amusements on the boardwalk for many years, and who shared some of his knowledge about Rockaway’s vaunted past and speculated on some of the reasons why it all changed.
To assure that everyone on the walk would take away the real inside “skinny” on the neighborhood, they were clued in on where to get fabulous, authentic seafood tacos in Rockaway Beach year-round: at The Tap & Grill, of Beach 98 Street. So the group stopped in, and proprietor Andy Cholakis and his wife, Lynn, talked about the history of the establishment, which has been in existence since the early 1900s, shortly after Tilyou and Thompson opened their giant oceanfront amusement complex that later morphed into Playland. For most of those years, old-timers will remember that it was called “Boggiano’s.” The tour concluded with a 10-minute jaunt to the historic bungalow colony at Beach 101 Street, where the group was welcomed by resident, Katherine, and one of her neighbors who tends an impressive flower and statuary garden in front of his bungalow.
Since it was the final stop on the walk, everyone paused in the courtyard, picturing what it must have been like at another time and place – in the 1940s or 1950s. Group members took turns reading portions of a simple and heartfelt poem written by Maureen Henning, about growing up in the Marcel’s Court bungalows.
As the event came to an end, some of the walkers headed back to The Tap & Grill, and tried those seafood tacos, served in corn tortillas, with garnishes of fresh lime and spicy white sauce, and a side of home-made salsa brimming with raw onion.
They had tried to turn back the clock and re-create that “Playland/bungalow court” experience for a few hours. There were a few things missing – the rides, the fireworks, Auer’s custard and the hot dog stands, 45-records playing, and a transistor radio tuned to the Brooklyn Dodgers. At least they tried.