Bungalows Hold 100th Birthday Bash
The bungalows of Beach 108th and Beach 109th Streets celebrated a big occasion last weekend. They turned 100 years old this year. Residents, families and friends came together to celebrate the day-long event that included rides, music and fun for all ages.
In the early 1900’s, the area was known as a Tent City due to the almost 400 camps or tents that stretched across Beach 106th Street to Beach 109th Street. This area, the largest Tent City in Rockaway, was known as Frank Chaffee’s camp. In 1913, the Tent City came to an end as the bungalow building craze took over and wooden structures took their place.
One-hundred years later, much of Beach 108th Street and Beach 109th Street is still occupied by bungalows. The bungalows of Rockaway are dwindling as there are only about 400 across the peninsula that still remain. With such rich history and memories, however, the residents of the 108th and 109th Street bungalows say they’re not going anywhere as their tiny beachside cottages have become the summer, and for some, the year-round home to many generations.
It seems someone was looking over the bungalows during Hurricane Sandy. While multi-family homes and buildings received several feet of floodwater across the peninsula, the one-story bungalows of 108th and 109th street remained in pristine condition. Many had not one drop of water. Some residents said it was because the area is one of the highest points in the peninsula. Others believe the hockey rink near the beach had something to do with the area being spared.
Sheila McElhattan, a bungalow resident for more than 30 years until 2000, got a taste of Sandy’s devastation firsthand as her home was destroyed on Beach 117th Street. When going through her flooded possessions, she came across a photo album from the last bungalow block party in 1979. She couldn’t save the pictures, but there was no reason she couldn’t replace them with new ones.
“I thought, we’re 100 years old and we survived.
We need to have a birthday party for the bungalows,” McElhattan, who organized the bungalow’s 100th birthday bash.
On Saturday, July 13th, hundreds of people came to celebrate on the two blocks. Throughout the day, there were rides, carnival games, snow cones and cotton candy for the kids. Adults got to get in touch with their inner child and play games like water balloon tosses, tug of war and musical chairs in the evening. Then adults and kids alike, joined to sing and dance along to music by DJ Tommy Healy and a live band, After Dark. A 50/50 was also held, with the proceeds going towards the Graybeards.
“It was a lot of work, but I really enjoyed it,” McElhattan said about planning the party. “It’s a great thing to see everybody back here and on the street for this party.”
The tiny houses offer something unique that keep people coming back each summer, no matter what age they are. Some of the bungalows have been winterized for residents to live in year round, while others call it their home, just for the summer.
“I’ve probably gone four summer without the bungalows and it was the most miserable time of my life,” Mary Turner, a lifelong summer bungalow resident said. “I can’t possibly fathom how you can’t be here in the summer time.”
Patricia Edwards, who has been in her bungalow for 34 years, is one of those who winterized her home. As a retired school teacher, she decided to modernize her bungalow in 1994 so she could stay there for an extended summer season from May to October and come down from Manhattan to be with her family during the winter holidays. “It’s small and it’s functioning well,” she said of her two-bedroom bungalow.
With the tiny homes being just a few feet from one another, and some even attached, the bungalows create a tightknit community of its own within the peninsula. “It’s all about community and family. It’s like living in a college dorm,” McElhattan said. “Friends become family here.”
Many of the families in the bungalows have been around for several decades and multiple generations have spent their summers in the same homes that their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents grew up with.
“All of the parents and kids hang out together,” Maureen McNamara said. Every resident shared stories of just how close they have become with their neighbors.
“There’s no space. You get very friendly with your neighbors,” Moira Turner, who was also celebrating her 30th birthday, said. “It’s all the same families here, passed down generation to generation. I’ve known everybody since I was five years old. There’s no need to call or text anyone to hang out because they’re right there.”
Kathy Dandurand, 75, a bungalow resident for 50 years, also expressed how close everyone is. “On Sundays, I would say to my husband, ‘Do you want bacon and eggs?’ and my neighbor, Tom would say ‘I’ll be right over.’”
Danny Kenny, who grew up in a bungalow where his mother, Judy still lives, noted how the bungalows hold importance to many generations. “Everyone from 90 years old, to people my mother’s age, my friends, my nieces and nephews, all take from this place something special and you don’t find that in many places,” Kenny said.
After surviving 100 years and going through Hurricane Sandy unscathed, some residents believe the bungalows are here to stay for good. “These bungalows will always be here”, Dandurand said.