2013-11-01 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Summers In Rockaway Fill Memory Lane
By Brother Robert Falcone

Christmas is just around the corner if you can believe the retail stores. For me, Christmas was every day in the summers that I spent in Rockaway

My knowledge of Rockaway dates back to stories my grandmother would tell about how she and her family would enjoy Rockaway each summer while living in TENTS spread out in different areas. By the time I came along with my family, the tents were gone and we lived in more luxurious places. My times in Rockaway were spent mostly between Beach 95th and Beach 105th streets and some of the places where we stayed each summer would include Moran's Court on Beach 98th St., Torney's (later Doherty's) on the Boulevard between Beach 98th and Beach 99th St., Allen's (Beach 97th St., Branca's on Beach 95th St. and Ruggiero's on Beach 105th St.

In Allen's, I can recall sitting on the screened-in porch in the evening after coming back from the park, and then going to bed and falling asleep to the sounds of the roller coaster roaring above us, never keeping us awake after being exhausted from a long day in the waves. Ruggiero's was a distance from Playland, so the evenings were more subdued. It was located on the boulevard just a block from the beach. My uncle did some electrical for Frank Ruggiero one summer and my uncle's wages were a free room for the season. We all squeezed into that one room!

Downpatrick's was a candy store located next door and a pizza place next door to that. One afternoon my cousin and I were shaking the sand out of our beach towels from the third floor of Ruggiero's. Little did we know it was landing in a courtyard three floors below in a large pot of tomato sauce used as topping for the pizza. The woman started SCREAMING at us but never caught up with us.

Branca's was also quiet and we went there as adults in later years when we appreciated just sitting on the porch at night and watching the crowds go by on their way to the boardwalk. Mr. and Mrs. Branca kept the house spotless; my mother and aunt cooked many of our dinners in the basement of the house.

Torney's was great, and each morning my mother would send me to May Duddy’s bakery for jelly donuts and crumb buns to have with our breakfast. May Duddy was short of stature with blond hair and always sporting a smile—a very upbeat person to help you begin the day. Her apron was spotless as was the store itself.

Our favorite was Moran's Court as it was situated in the middle of the block between the boulevard and the boardwalk and directly across the street from one of the entrances to Playland. To us children, it was the epitome of EVERYTHING a person could possibly want. There were 10 two-story bungalows, five on each side with Mrs. Moran living in the bungalow on the first floor, left side. I think the Hilton and Waldorf were modeled after Moran's!

My grandfather made sand sifters for my cousin and me and we would go out about 7:00 a.m. with grand ambitions of becoming rich by finding some stray nickels, dimes...or whatever. Who knows, maybe even a ring! Well....that lasted about a week when our total haul for one day was 11 cents. We then switched to selling the Daily News (evening edition) as we thought that to be more lucrative, which it was! The papers would "come up" about 9:00 p.m. on the corner of Beach 98th and a group of us "paper boys" would be waiting for our bundles. They sold pretty fast, I must say...much better than sifting sand.

The "rides" were considered the "ultimate" activity for us and a personal favorite was the Merry-go-Round. It was owned and run by Mr. William Nunley and his wife who were frequently seen walking there. High school boys collected the tickets from the riders. All of the horses were handcarved and one more beautiful than the other. I always got an outside horse in order to grab at the rings set up and possibly get the GOLD ring coveted by all who rode the Merry-go-Round as it gave the lucky person a free ride. It was like winning the Lottery, even better! I spent many hours on that ride during the course of our vacation. A beautiful organ grinder provided lively music all day long as the rides were in progress.

A few friends and I had gone to Rockaway on the boat from Yonkers with the PAL one time toward the end of the summer season. Toward the end of the afternoon, I suddenly heard the whistle blow from the boat on which we had come. That was the indication it was ready to leave. By the time the ride stopped and I got down to the pier at the bottom of Beach 98th St., all I could do was wave to my friends as they sailed away. I called my Dad to let him know the situation so he and my uncle came down by car to rescue me. They were NOT pleased!

Other favorite rides were the Roller Coaster, Fun House, Tilt-a-Whirl, Whip, Caterpillar, Hell-n-Back, Davy Jones Locker and, of course, a really special ride: the Skooter Cars. They would never have issued us any driver's licenses. Seaside, located on Beach 103rd-Beach 104th St., also had some rides but on a smaller scale and that spot was not nearly as popular as Playland.

The Penny Arcade, situated right across from the boardwalk on Beach 98th St. was a favorite spot deserving of several visits per day. My grandmother would save pennies all year long in this huge jar and bring them to Rockaway each summer for our use in the Penny Arcade. At the end of vacation, the jar was brought back to Yonkers....empty!

Another MAJOR attraction was the fireworks held every Wednesday evening at 9:00 p.m. People would begin gathering on the boardwalk as early as 8:00 p.m. to get a prime spot. Actually, the entire boardwalk was a prime spot as the fireworks were set off on a boat just off-shore.

Another evening attraction was held at 11:00 p.m. on some nights. The attraction was a trapeze act called "The Gibson's, Sweethearts of the Air." They were a married couple.... with a lot of talent and courage! They wore white costumes and would practically fly up the ladder to the trapeze several hundred feet above the ground to the tune of "Jealousy." To add to the suspense, no nets were ever used. People watched in awe as they gracefully drifted through the air.

No time spent in Rockaway was spent without enjoying food: the pizza at 10 cents per slice (15 cents for the Sicilian), frozen custard, fluted French fries, caramel popcorn and for the more sophisticated, soft shell crabs and clams on a half shell from Boggiano/McWalter's on the corner of Beach 98th St. and the Boulevard. A popular bar on Beach 98th St. was O'Gara's, situated across the street from Playland and close to the Boulevard.

They featured live music some nights and I remember one of the stars being someone called Ruthie Morrissey. There were MANY bars in the area, but probably the most famous was the Dublin House on Beach 103rd St. It was large with live music on weekends. Always crowded with the sounds of Irish laughter! Children were not allowed inside without an adult, so after selling our Daily News, we would go to the Dublin House and just stand outside listening to the lively music and watching the dancing. Martin's on the corner of Beach 98th and the Boulevard was a favorite gathering place for some older people picking up some fast food and enjoying a cup of coffee. There were plenty of tables where people could sit and watch the world go by.

A favorite food of my cousin and me was rice pudding which we bought at the concession stand on the boardwalk at Beach 97th St. The same man would be behind the counter every day and we got to be known by him as "my rice pudding boys." He was a very kind man who gave us heaps of rice pudding and globs of whipped cream on top, all for 15 cents. That concession also quenched many a thirst for the beachgoers, and they sold ice cold draught beer in the quart containers. For the children, teenagers would often come by laden down with a backpack filled with ice cream pops kept cold by dry ice.

Games along Beach 98th included Rotation, Sensation, the ever popular Skee Ball (eight balls for 10 cents), Rabbit Race, Water Balloon Game, Nail; Game (had to toss a ring around a nail), and the ever-present weight and age guessers. RVRP (Radio Voice of Rockaway's Playland) was often heard throughout the day making various announcements and playing music.

In the middle of all this was St. Camillus Church located on Beach 100th St. All Sunday Masses were always filled to capacity. There was a Lourdes Grotto in the basement which in recent years has been closed. Saturday afternoons found people going to confession (a lost art?). St. Camillus had several really talented bands and they would practice some evenings in their parking lot. On Beach 112th St. stood a huge convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph and it was used for vacation days, I suppose. The ANGELUS bell rang there every day at 12:00 noon and all the Catholics (practically everyone there fit that category!) reverently stood up to pray in silence, a really moving show of faith.

Years after these wonderful growing up experiences, I was stationed in Brooklyn at St. Thomas Aquinas School on the corner of Flatbush and Flatlands avenues. I PROMPTLY introduced to some non-NY Brothers to that wonderful place called Rockaway. In September, immediately after school, we would sometimes drive down, across the Marine Park Bridge and park on Beach 127th St. to spend an hour on the beach. I would send a note around to the Brothers in each classroom around 1:00 p.m. asking them to check their names off if they wanted to come to the beach. The kids in class probably thought this was some important message their teachers had to read! Well, it WAS important! By the way, among my really wonderful students at STA is Kevin Boyle, editor of The Wave. Even as a boy he showed promise! I'm proud of him.

I am now semi-retired and stationed in Flushing and still make it a point to get to Rockaway just to walk the boardwalk. Well.....what WAS the boardwalk? My first visit there after Sandy left me as devastated as the entire area. It was surreal to see what had happened there. However, in recent visits, I was happy to see the beginnings of the revival of Rockaway. The only things remaining of my day in Rockaway would be Connolly's on Beach 95th St. and the Irish Circle on Beach 102nd. A few of the white bungalows are still around but, I don't think, for long. The concession stand (building) on Beach 97th has been restored and it brings back the pleasant memories of many a dish of rice pudding! Oh, yes, the manhole cover which once stood in front of Moran's Court is still there!

What a pleasure it was to spend vacations in Rockaway. Great place. Great memories. Great people.

Brother Robert Falcone, CSC,
Alumnus of Rockaway

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