During the existence of Forgotten New York, which began in 1998, we’ve mourned the loss of several of New York’s grand old watering holes such as Flessel’s in College Point, Queens; Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn (seen on FNY’s Fulton Street page); and Niederstein’s (Middle Village). Regretfully the time has now come to say goodbye to another: Charlie’s in Throgs Neck, an over 70-year-old tradition, now being forced out by market conditions and the simple passage of time.
LEFT: 9-11-01 monument, Silver Beach, Bronx
Throgs Neck, mainland Bronx’ easternmost redoubt, was named for a very early British settler, John Throckmorton, who arrived in the peninsula now capped by Fort Schuyler in 1642. The peninsula, or “neck” (cf. Little Neck in Queens) was bestowed an abbreviation of his lengthy name; Throgmorton Avenue, a local street name, is a variant spelling.
Throgs Neck is invariably spelled by the Department of Transportation on various highway signs, and by most mapmakers, with one “g” while most neighborhood residents use two “g”s on store signs and local publications. The explanation for all this may lie in the fact that in the early days of printing (which in Throckmorton’s day had been an industry for only about a century and a half) spellings were hardly standardized. However Throgs Neck is spelled, it is a peaceful, tranquil area with a couple of private communities that enjoy terrific views of the water-filled surroundings.
In the 19th Century, the area became the site of large farms and estates. From 1833 to 1856, the construction of Fort Schuyler (the future subject of a FNY page) brought in laborers and craftsmen, many of whom were immigrants from Ireland, to settle in the area with their families. By the late 19th century, the area had developed into a fashionable summer resort…In 1932, Fort Schuyler closed as an active military installation and became the campus for cadets of the State University of New York Maritime College. In 1961, with the building of the Throgs Neck Bridge, as well as the adjacent parkways, the neighborhood lost its comparative isolation. Today the neighborhood has several beach clubs and a diverse housing stock, including middle-class homes, up-market waterfront condominiums, as well as the Throggs Neck Houses, built in 1953 as one of the first low-income housing projects in New York City. In 1984, the New York Times described Throgs Neck as one of the last middle- and upper-middle-class areas in the Bronx, noting the area “seems like a well-kept suburb.” wikipedia
As so often happens, the closing of Charlie’s Inn marks not only the end of a neighborhood institution, but also the end of a little bit of Throgs Neck and Bronx history. Charlie’s Inn, long before it became a watering hole, was the coach house of the John A. Morris estate; Morris was the namesake of Morris Park, a race track he built in Bear Swamp (now close to Parkchester) in 1890 and operated for the next 14 years. The track later became an auto test field and an airstrip, and the name of the track of course survives in the neighborhood that sprung up close by.
The Charlie’s Inn story begins on August 10, 1935 when master chef Karl “Charlie” Fromwalt opened Charlie’s Ideal Vienna Restaurant and Beer Garden at Harding and Balcom Avenues, patterned on the beer gardens of Austria, which Fromwalt knew well, being a Viennese immigrant. Fromwalt apprenticed in Vienna, traveled to England where he prepared meals for the royal family, took a position on ships traveling between England and Brazil, and learned French cuisine in Paris, after which he emigrated to the Bronx. Charlie’s was a success from its inception.
After some years Charlie Fromwalt sold the beer garden to Charles Vetter and Ernst Boehmer, who preserved its old-world atmosphere. Fromwalt stayed on as chef, and, almost fittingly, passed away while preparing a meal for a gathering at Charlie’s. The inn passed to Max and Rose Gundloch, and then to John Gallagher in 1974. His son John “Smokey” Gallagher and wife Kathy operated Charlie’s until its final days.
In the winter, the fireplaces would be going and you’d stuff yourself with Wienerschnitzel and potato mpancakes. There’d be cheek to jowl crowds on St. Patrick’s Day, the noise almost drowning out the bagpipers who always showed up. Patrice O’Shaughnessy, Daily News
Both Smokey and his wife grew up in the neighborhood. Kathleen, 45, began busing tables at the traditional German pub at 16.
For most of their adult lives, the couple have spent every day at the bar, watching the culture of three-martini lunches give way to cozy family dinners, but that will all change – to the dismay of many locals.
“We need more private homes there like a hole in the head,” said Councilman James Vacca. “Charlie’s Inn has been a staple of our community.”
Plans to replace the inn with houses have not been finalized, but an initial application to subdivide the lot was rejected by the Buildings Department, Vacca said.
The Gallaghers expect to close sometime in May , but not before they throw a final party for the community and the dozens of employees who have worked there, including all three of the couple’s sons.
After closing, the family has some catering gigs that will keep them busy through June, and they haven’t ruled out opening another restaurant.
Still, the experience of dealing with city regulations and taxes has been discouraging, Smokey said.
A sewer project that tore up Harding Ave. for almost two years decimated business at Charlie’s. Once the project was finished, the city ignored a promise to allow angle parking in front of the restaurant, decreasing business even more.
Smokey said the family is having a hard time abandoning the community, but locals have been very supportive.
“The city turns its back on mom-and-pop businesses,” he said. “Everyone’s been very sympathetic.”
After leaving Charlie’s Inn and mourning its impending conversion into anonymous cookie cutter Fedders housing, I walked a few blocks to Silver Beach.
Silver Beach runs past the East River shore from Throgs Neck Boulevard to Jasmine Place, past a multitude of tiny homes originally built as summer dwellings but have since been winterized, along a cliff which affords terrific views of the nearby Throgs Neck Bridge and looking west, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and the towers of Manhattan beyond it. Were it not for those reminders, you would think you were in a small town along the seashore, which Silver Beach pretty much is. Only politically does the Bronx claim it. Home-owners own shares in the Silver Beach Corporation, and pay a monthly maintenance fee, which includes real estate taxes. Silver Beach is a mix of co-op and private ownership; the land used to be rented, but the residents pooled their resources and bought the land from the owners a few decades ago.
In these riverside, or Long Island Sound-side (depending on what side of the Throgs Neck Bridge you’re on) there’s a conscious attempt to de-New Yorkify the surroundings, since in Silver Beach, the street names can be found on wooden boards nailed onto the telephone poles, and the streetlamps aren’t the standardized New York city issue. It all combines to impart a rather surreal, if still pleasing, effect.
Part of the Stephenson and Hammond farms in the post-Revolutionary era, Silver Beach’s land later belonged to the powerful Havemeyer family, which made millions in sugar refining and produced a 3-tem mayor of NYC, William C. Havemeyer. Family member Frederick C. Havemeyer Jr. built an estate he called “Beau Rivage,” later sold to Collis P. Huntington; the building still exists as Preston High School on Schurz Avenue.
The riverside location of Silver Beach made it a popular summer bungalow colony in the 1920s, and the bungalows have since been made permanent. Your webmaster walked through Silver Beach on a recent spring Sunday and despite numerous signs saying Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted, I remained unaccosted.
Just as Brooklyn’s DUMBO is between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, Silver Beach has a good view of the Bronx-Whitestone (left) and Throgs Neck (right) Bridges, though the two are not nearly as close as Brooklyn’s bridges are in DUMBO.
Looking down Indian Trail, which runs along the shore. Silver Beach apparently has its name since the beach occasionally has a silvery appearance, though I do not see it here.
A look at Silver Beach’s unique wood street signs and non-standard T-pole masts. I’d be interested in hearing how the private compound acquires the signs and if they’re hand cut. Both “Sunset Trail” signs look identical so I’d suppose they are mass produced.
The curved mast with bracket is plentiful in other locales, but they are nonstandard in NYC, which generally uses a mast with a “fin” support.
Sunset Trail looking north and south.
…Silver Beach is a close knit community. The 450 co-operatives that comprise the town are nestled among wisteria blooms and honeysuckle and lie on narrow roads. The street signs, named after flowers and trees found in the area, appear as if they were carved by children at camp. American flags line the streets and one of the last remaining barns in the city sits here. In order to purchase a property in Silver Beach, a person must have three references from families who are shareholders in the co-op and then appear before the Board of Directors. Although residents are able to purchase their homes, they must rent the land on which it is situated.
Co-ops may be commonplace in Manhattan high-rises, but few people realize how much of the shoreline in the Bronx and Queens has become private communities. The Green Grass, located at the top of Indian Trail, a long narrow walking path along the water, is guarded and access down to the best beach on the river is prohibited unless you are a resident. While Silver Beach is an older community, current low-rise developments in the outer boroughs escape city zoning regulations regarding waterfront access and continue to be developed privately, effectively shutting off public access to the river. waterwire
This is the Abijah Hammond Mansion, built circa 1805, at Sunset Trail and Plaza. It became home to a couple of generations of Havemeyers and is now used as the office for the Silver Beach Co-op Association.
General store at Plaza (top), Poplar Avenue (bottom)
Leaving Silver Beach from the north you find yourself on Pennyfield Avenue, the main road to the State University of New York Maritime College and Fort Schuyler. Throgs Neck Bridge is visible to the southeast. It has been called Throgs Neck Road and Fort Road, but its present name comes from the colonial era, when local Native Americans sold the territory for one English penny, desiring the metal. George Washington and accompanying horsemen were surprised by a British warship in the East River on this road during the Revolution and had to gallop for cover.
Do You Remember Charlie’s Inn? Bill Twomey, Bronx Times Reporter, July 18, 1991
Thanks to Kathy Gallagher and Bronx historian Bill Twomey for their assistance.
Photographed April 22, 2007; page completed April 29.