It’s My Turn
Peninsula Hospital Center served the people of the Rockaway Peninsula for 104 years. It was born out of a critical need and from the beginning, funded and staffed by the people of the Rockaways. The Hospital Center is now gone and the staff disbursed, but the memories of those who considered it “family” will live on – always.
The history of the Hospital Center was put together as it celebrated its 100th Anniversary. The dedication and determination of its founders will stand the test of time. It memorializes the very spirit of the Peninsula.
Peninsula Hospital Center, The History, as told through a variety of articles in The Wave and by Emil Lucev, Rockaway Historian WHAT STARTED IT ALL
Peninsula Hospital Center, originally known as the Rockaway Beach Hospital and Dispensary, had a long and illustrious past. Its beginnings were rooted in the simple, but critical, need for a hospital – close to home. In the early 1900s, the nearest hospital was in Long Island City which was more than a two hour train ride away.
Among many reasons why a hospital was needed in Rockaway, there are two reported specific incidents that actually brought the project to fruition. The first is a story about a Nick McKenna who was driving a team of horses through Arverne. As he passed the Arverne firehouse, the alarm began to ring. His horses became frightened and bolted, throwing Nick and his son to the dirt street. The witnesses to the accident ran into the street and brought both the unconscious father and son into Moe Levy’s stable, called for the doctor and caught the frightened horses. The only physician in town, a Dr. Schenck, was not to be found and a special call to Far Rockaway was put in to another doctor.
Travel was arduous along the dirt roads and it took the doctor two hours to arrive on horseback. During those two hours, father and son remained unconscious and after being treated by the doctor, were eventually taken home in horrible pain. Although it is said that the doctor did the best he could, there is no written record of what actually happened to father and son after the accident, but the incident is highlighted in history.
The second story concerned a 14-yearold girl who had accompanied a family to Rockaway for the summer to care for an infant. The girl attempted to light a gas stove with a match to heat up a baby bottle. The head of the match flew off and lodged in the girl’s blouse, setting it on fire. Although the flames were quickly smothered, the girl was badly burned. A Dr. Frank Hatfield happened to live nearby and he came running, “dressed in only his shirt, pants and slippers,” and treated her as well as he could under the circumstances but said that she would have to be taken to the nearest hospital.
The next train leaving Rockaway was not for another hour, so special arrangements were made to have an earlier train make a special stop for her. It was minimally a two-hour trip to Long Island City. Again, there is no written record of what happened to the young girl.
Very often, those in need of hospitalization would be found waiting for trains, on stretchers at the train station making it look like a triage center.
The summer population of the Rockaways had risen to more than 100,000. After these two specific incidents, the community truly awoke to the fact that a local hospital was critically needed. Members of the Carpenters’ and Joiners’ Union took the initiative of forming a group of businessmen and local citizens to lead the hospital fundraising campaign. Charles Crabbe was selected to lead this group – a group that became the hospital’s first Board of Directors.
The first Board of Directors, the Rockaway Beach Hospital Association, numbered fifteen. The Charter specified that “five directors must be Catholics, five Hebrews and five Protestants.” Its directors ranked among the leaders of Rockaway Beach who “cheerfully give of their time and effort without compensation, and also contribute generously to its support.
The President and other members of the Board will frequently be found at the Hospital looking after its interests, and regular meetings insure careful supervision and economic administration.” FUNDRAISING
Available land space was limited in Rockaway even in the early 1900s, and Peter Wyckoff, a summer resident of the Rockaways and a “millionaire farmer philanthropist,” donated the property where the original Rockaway Beach Hospital and Dispensary stood – on Beach Channel Drive and Beach 84 Street – approximately 20 lots valued at $18,000. His only requests were that the building be erected in the community within one year, that the hospital would be non-sectarian and would have a dispensary. His offer was accepted by the Board and the plans to raise money began.
“To raise money the first big event was a Bazaar given by the Arion Manenchor and held in Arion Hall. All kinds of merchandise was donated by merchants of Rockaway Beach. George Goss, the plumber, even donated a coal range…”
…When the building was closed in, a Bazaar was held in the new building for a week with all organizations taking part…Swan and Sandholm worked every night for a week prior to the bazaar erecting booths for all who participated. The Carpenters Union furnished the material.
The flower booth was at the entrance to the hall, conducted by two little girls. They went around the neighborhood to get flowers for the booth, Bergman’s Florist furnished a large bunch of carnations. Roses were plentiful. There was no charge for the flowers, only voluntary contributions. The booth brought in over $50.00. All kinds of merchandise and furniture was donated. The Bazaar was a big success.
Charles Crabb donated a 30-foot motor boat with a glass cabin, to be drawn for one dollar a ticket …The boat was won by a painter from Brooklyn.
Although there were many fundraising activities to raise the monies necessary for the hospital, there was one rather unique effort – the selection of 300 or more of the prettiest young women in Rockaway who were “let loose on an unsuspecting public for the purpose of gathering in all the loose change in the pockets of visitors to the beach.” This “army of pretty girls was tagging everybody in sight along the entire Beach from Arverne to Belle Harbor and gathering contributions for the hospital fund…”
One large fundraiser ran for three consecutive days and was run under the direction of Miss Madelaine Daus who “is working very hard to make it a bigsuccess… There is little doubt that it will be, as Miss Daus is assured of being able to offer a large number of valuable prizes …Tickets are 50 cents each…Volunteers are responding nobly, but more are needed – at least 300 – for this work which will be made very easy and enjoyable by the committee of ladies in charge … It is desired that all volunteers be dressed in white.”
A wide variety of fundraising activities for the hospital abounded: suppers, fairs, raffles and even a Halloween party given by the Ladies’ Mutual Hospital Society were big tickets and donations of raffles.
Prizes ranged from jack-o-lanterns to cut-glass to coal to a bushel of spinach. Each and every donation of items and/or money (there was even a category for “less than 50 cents”) was listed weekly in The Wave throughout the fundraising period. NECESSARY MONIES RAISED
“HOSPITAL TO COST $14,737” read the headlines in the October edition of The Wave.
“The contract to erect the Rockaway Beach Hospital building was let last Thursday by the Board of Directors to McCann & Coelos of Brooklyn, for $14,747.
The bids were opened on Tuesday evening for the plans revised for the purpose of economy, and widely varying figures were disclosed.
Bids ran as high as $35,000 on the original plans. The successful biddershave executed the contracts and are to commence operations at once.
The contract provides for the construction of the building, fully enclosed but without interior fittings or finishings. Contracts to approximate $20,000 additional will follow, this providing for the plumbing, plastering, and inside finishing of the entire building. The policy of the dissectors has been to give preference to local contractors … who should easily compete with outsiders especially in the manner of work required.
There is a good sized fund on hand to carry on the work undertaken, but considerable hustling and liberality for somebody will be needed to meet future requirements.
Those interested in the quick completing of the Hospital should put their shoulder to the wheel and forward its interest in every way.”
Even though sufficient funds had been raised to construct the building, donations remained essential to complete the hospital. A Mr. Isaac Zaret offered to donate the beds and springs for the hospital – no small donation – and the Ladies Benevolent Society passed a resolution to contribute $50.00. Each and every donation, small or large, was greatly appreciated and without all the donations, the Rockaway Beach Hospital and Dispensary would not have existed. THE LAYING OF THE CORNERSTONE
“Last Sunday afternoon, in the presence of not less than 5,000 persons, the cornerstone of the new Rockaway Beach Hospital and Dispensary was laid. The event was one of the most important in the history of Rockaway, and the attending ceremonies were correspondingly impressive. That the populace generally were duly impressed with the momentousness of the occasion there is no reason to doubt. The general festive appearance of the Beach from Arverne to Belle Harbor attested this. Every building on the Boulevard, and nearly every cottage on the side streets was decorated. All the people were out in holiday attire, notwithstanding the fact that up to noon, the weather outlook was decidedly dubious. The rain of the morning hours kept the committee on the anxious seat, but shortly after noon the clouds broke and the rain ceased and there was a great turning out of people, who wended their way to the hospital grounds at Hammel and Bayside Place …
Two big parades ushered in the afternoon’s program… there were several bandsin the parade …At the hospital grounds a large platform had been erected, and on this the directors, speakers and invited guests sat. Mr. John Summerfield, George Bennett and Benjamin Lechtman presided in the absence of Charles Crabbe, president of the hospital who was in Europe...The Rev. Henry F. Murray, of the Church of St. Rose of Lima… made an instantaneous hit when he said that it took more than sympathy to make a success of the hospital, and that liberal support should be spontaneously forthcoming.
Borough President Gresser was next introduced and was given a hearty reception. He said he had been a resident of Rockaway during the summer months for many years and had on numerous occasions noted the necessity for a hospital at the Beach and was glad to see such a magnificent start had been made toward getting a first class institution, where the sick and unfortunate could find succor.”
Following the speeches on this exciting day, a copper box containing copies of the hospital charter, The Wave, a photograph of Peter Wykoff, a complete set of coins of the United States, and the name of the person who contributed the silver box was raffled to the highest bidder – a gentleman who paid $225 was the proud recipient of the box.
At the conclusion of the speeches, the special guests each “tapped the cornerstone with a trowel” and once again the bands played and the parades marched back through the community.