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History of the Rockaways

Nov 29, 2011 at 07:29 am by mikewood

rockaways history rockaway memories

History of the Rockaways

Work In Progress - Stay Tuned For More

beaches at the rockaways queensRetired Salesman Busy Saving Queens Past

Continued. November 6, 2011 / Flushing Neighborhood / Queens History / Queens Buzz. Click here to view a map of the Rockaways peninsula and neighborhoods in Queens. I arrived a few minutes after the presentation had begun. Marty was giving an overview of the history of the Rockaways, which in the 1830’s had become a recreational area for the wealthy people of New York. This depiction of the area continued until the late 1800’s when it became more accessible due to transportation / access improvements.

Rockaways History Is A Work In Progress

rockaways history queens nyAs Marty’s collection of historical documents and accounts is a work in progress, the details and timeline aren’t yet well established, so you’ll have to bear with Marty and us for not being able to provide a full account at this time. We did some additional research following Marty’s presentation to help us provide some perspective.

Most of what Marty presented starts around the late 1800’s when the Rockaways were a regular boom town, much like Coney Island and the North Beach recreational area run by the Steinways. With the coming of the industrial revolution of the 1800’s there was a growing middle class that earned more in wages than it needed to live. Hence recreational areas and vacationlands were a way for these up and comers to spend their excess wealth.

Photos and Postcards of the Rockaways Peninsula

rockaways mapMany of Marty’s collection shows big beautiful mansions and hotels which dotted the Rockaways peninsula over the past 120 years. The Rockaways peninsula runs southwest along the Atlantic Ocean and southern Queens about ten miles from the Van Wyck Expressway just southeast of JFK Airport. The Rockaways peninsula is separated from southern Queens and eastern Brooklyn by Jamaica Bay, which is home to a wildlife refuge and to a number of endangered species.

Rockaways Neighborhoods – History & Presentation

The first slide I saw [DSCF0432] was of a cedar arch leading to a pastoral setting. This was once called Jarvis Lane. Around the turn of the century most of the streets were renamed and called ‘Beach’ and then a number.

Far Rockaway History – by Marty Nislick

marty nislick rockaways memories website & historiianMarty is shown presenting Rockaway Memories at the Queens Historical Society in DSCF0434. It was noted that the Rockaways were the location of a number of historical events, including the landing place of the first transatlantic cables at the turn of the last century. The Rockaways also lie just across the Jamaica Bay from Floyd Bennett Field, which was NYC’s first airport and the busiest airport during WWII, before being replaced by LaGuardia and later JFK.

DSCF0443 – 441 are slides of some of the grand old homes that were once commonly found in the Rockaways. DSCF0442 shows Judge Edmund Healey, who lived in the Rockaways during judge edmund healey secret ballot nycthe late 1800’s and is responsible for the passage in 1890 of the first secret ballot in New York City. This legislation was helpful in reducing bribery and corruption.

There were once trolley cars that ran up and down the length of the peninsula, but the cobblestone was eventually paved over with asphalt and autos became the most popular mode of transportation. In slides DSCF0443 – 449 you can see the economic life of the Far Rockaways via vignettes of banks, streets and homes.

edgemere club hotel rockaways hotelsEdgemere – History of the Rockaways

The next set of slides is about Edgemere. Edgemere is just west of Far Rockaway and there’s a park along the northern strip of it. In the next few slides we were shown life at the big beautiful Edgemere Club Hotel which was built in 1895 and lasted into the latter half of the 20th century [DSCF0450 – 1]. The channel filled up following a storm and made the area contiguous land.

The beach and neighboring streets [near Beach 35th Street] became one of the hottest areas for nightlife in the 40’s and 50’s. And Life Magazine shot a photo from the sky of the beach on the 4th of July in 1954 [see photo is story introduction]. These scenes are shown in slides DSCF0452-6.

Arverne – Rockaways History

tent cities in rockaways along boardwalkArverne is on the south side of the Rockaways peninsula, adjacent to Rockaway Park along the southern edge, just below Edgemere. This area runs roughly from Beach 56th Street to Beach 79th Street. There were once a number of fine hotels in this locale. The Colonial Hotel was one of them, built around the turn of the last century [circa 1900]. One of the photos shows its interior, the Palm room [DSC0458-9].

The Arverne Hotel was another large expansive hotel in the Arverne section of the Rockaways, along the beach. This hotel lasted much longer than the Columbia [see below], but was also completely consumed by flames in 1962 [DSCF0460]. Another fancy hotel, the Columbia was built in 1900 and burned to the ground in 1906 [DSCF0461]. A boardwalk was erected in the early part of the 20th century around Beach 76th Street and one can see a tent city in the background. By the middle of the 20th century people were renting tent bungalows for three month summer stays [DSCF0462]. The first public housing project came to Arverne in 1950 [DSCF0464].

To Be Continued

Slide Show Of Marty Nislick's Rockaways History Lecture

Click this link to go directly to the photo album containing slides of the Rockaways history by Marty Nislick. Use the arrow on the slide show control panel to view photos at your own speed. The slides are shown in the order Marty presented them to us and are generally organized first by neighborhood and then by timeline.

Appreciation & Thanks To Marty Nislick & QHS

Many thanks to Marty Nislick for his successful efforts to save and bring the Rockaways past back to life. And thanks to the Queens Historical Society for providing Marty with the opportunity to share the fruits of his labor, while providing us with the opportunity to learn a bit more about the Rockaways and Queens rich history.

Click here to visit Marty Nislick's website which contains far more information, including an interactive section where you can share your memories of the Rockaways at the Rockaway Memories website.

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