A WALK IN FAR ROCKAWAY, Queens

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It was the hottest day of the year so far, and I spent it in Far Rockaway.

The plan was simple. The day after the Hurricane Sandy-ravaged A train trestle was restored to service across Jamaica Bay, I would take it to its further reaches at the very end of Queens, the eastern end of the Rockaway peninsula, where the city has stashed housing projects and old folks’ homes for decades. I’d walk the longest boardwalk on the east coast and perhaps, the USA, from Beach 9th all the way to the end in the Beach 120s. But as the master of the Newtown Pentacle often phrases it, the ‘thermonuclear eye of God’ was burning with an end-of-July intensity. So I altered the plan into a brief walk around Far Rockaway instead.

Needless to say, this portion of New York City has been Ultima Thule as far as I’ve been concerned as long as I’ve been exploring. When I was a teenager in the mid-1970s, I would gird my loins and brave the Marine Parkway Bridge, which has perilously low railings and prompted a fear of gusting winds, and cross Jamaica Bay on my bicycle. One day the weather was sufficiently crisp and I followed the concrete el all the way to the end, and I had attained Far Rock on my bike. I felt like Captain Cook. Then, I turned around and pedaled 15 miles back to Bay Ridge. This was years before the Willyburg hipsters were pedaling to Rockaway Beach for the fish tacos.

Years passed, and I visited again a few times when researching and photographing Forgotten NY the website and the book. Gradually, I’ve gotten something of a handle on the town (it’s more like an isolated town than a neighborhood). Here, the general grid system that dictates the street layouts of most NYC neighborhoods falls away, and like downtown Boston, the layout is more like a hub, with the spokes circulating around  the intersection of Mott and Cornaga Avenues, and though you do have regulation, 4-cornered intersections, but even that disappears in Wavecrest, originally a private development built around 1900.

On this walk, I covered some of the ground that I had on a Far Rock walk in 2003. 10 years! It all went by so quickly. Even on these two walks, I was unable to comprehensively cover places like Wavecrest and Bayswater, though I have touched on them. Other pages cover neighboring Edgemere and part of Arverne.

WAYFARING MAP: FAR ROCKAWAY

 

The Smith Bvilding occupies the NE corner of Mott and Central Avenues, the two most prominent avenues in the neighborhood. The building dates to 1931 and replaced an earlier Smith Building that went up in 1911; it had contained offices of the Far Rockaway Bank, whose president was named Samuel R. Smith. There is also a dead end Smith Court in the back of the building facing Mott Avenue.

This key intersection is well covered in Rockaway Memories.

Central Avenue is one of the few Far Rockaway thoroughfares that is vouchsafed by Nassau County to keep its name once entering the county. It extends for a mile or so, ending in Woodmere.

The Far Rockaway Bank was organized in 1880 and was merged into the National Bank of Long Island, becoming the National Bank of Far Rockaway, in 1903. Its marble Greek Revival building went up in 1912. The building is wedge-shaped to accommodate the former route of the Long Island Rail Road, which adjoined its left side until the mid-1950s.

Cuban-born gynecologist Perla Tate has occupied offices in the building for several years.

 

Engine 264/328, Ladder 134, known as “The Big House,” Central Avenue opposite the Tate Building. Anyone have any stories about the firehouse?

 

The Rockaway News, Central Avenue. Since the Rockaways became a resort area in the late 1800s, there have been a series of newspapers published serving the community. The first of these was The Rockaway Rattler, later the Rockaway Journal, first published in 1883. It was followed by Rockaway Life, Far Rockaway Journal, The Argus, and The Rockaway News. The sole survivor is The Wave, founded in 1893. Tragically The Wave lost much of its physical archives to Hurricane Sandy.

 

This arch-windowed, pedimented one-time beauty along Central Avenue was a Masonic temple at one time. All over town, Masonic temples display eclecticism and beauty in their architecture.

 

Far Rockaway has always had its share of multi-unit apartment buildings like The Balfour at Central Avenue and Nameoke Street. The commuter railroad to New York is nearby.

Speaking of Nameoke Street, I’m stumped about its pronunciation and derivation. It doesn’t appear on area maps until the 1920s or so; it was formerly named Roanoke Street and Carlton Avenue and I suppose its name is Native American in origin. Looking at it, I’d guess it’s pronounced na -MEE -o-kee, but I’ve been wrong about these things before, and it might well be NAMMY-oak. It’s one of those place names found exclusively in Far Rockaway, like Cornaga or Watjean.

In Copenhagen some of the street signs were outfitted with speakers that talk their pronunciations at you. (In NYC, experienced vandals would have these disconnected forthwith.)

A selection of houses along Nameoke Street. I always look for houses with older features that mark their great age. The big one with the slight gambrel, the dormers and the white fence looks like it could have been a Dutch farmhouse.

 

Intermediate School 53 on Nameoke Street has been called the Brian Piccolo School since 1972. Piccolo was a fullback for the Chicago Bears for four years before his death from cancer at age 26. He was played by James Caan in the acclaimed television film Brian’s Song in 1971.

 

Turning up Mott Avenue, named for landowner Benjamin Mott, who donated property for the original Long Island Rail Road terminal (which stood where the shopping mall across the street from the A train terminal on Mott Avenue is now).

The US Post Office on Mott Avenue and Beach 18th St was finished in 1936 and designed by architect Eric Kebbon. It was built in a  Colonial Revival style and its dome was inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

 

The oldest church in Far Rockaway, now the Beth-El Temple, can be found across Beach 18th from the post office. It was built in 1858 to a design by famed ecclesiastical architect Richard Upjohn of Trinity Church fame. It was a chapel of the Trinity parish before it became the independent St. John’s Episcopal Church in 1881. It became the Beth-El Temple in 1975. The roof is apparently under repair, with a blue tarp stretched across it.

 

Two handsome churches of a certain age are next door from each other on the south side of Mott Avenue, the Doric-columned Refuge Church of Christ and God’s Pentacostal Church, which caters to a Latino congregation.

 

So many police precincts in NYC built in the 1920s have the Italian Renaissance Style, such as the 101st Precinct on Mott Avenue just west of Cornaga.

 

Though New York Newsday stopped publishing several years ago (there’s still a Long Island edition) this convenience store on Mott and Cornaga still has the old sign.

 

One of southern Far Rockaway’s premier homes, complete with dormers, gables, a porch and topiary, at Caffrey and New Haven Avenues. James Caffrey founded Far Rockway’s seashore Transatlantic Hotel in 1843.

 

Around the corner, on Caffrey, is probably Far Rockaway’s oldest artifact, the Cornell Family Burial Ground, one of Queen’s many vest pocket family cemeteries. The first formal settlement by an Englishman in what is now Far Rockaway was Richard Cornell’s homestead, built in 1690, located on what would now be Beach 19th Street. Cornell’s descendants lived in the area until 1833. This cemetery was established in the early 18th Century. Family members include Ezra Cornell, who founded Cornell University, and Alonzo Cornell, a NYS Governor from 1879-1882 (Alonzo Road, elsewhere in Far Rockaway, is likely named for him.) The actual tombstones fell and were carted away decades ago. Till recently the cemetery was hidden behind hedges and overgrowth, but the Parks Department has cleared them away.

Richard Cornell not only owned much of Far Rockaway at one time, but much of eastern Queens along what is now the Queens-Nassau County Line, all the way north to Little Neck.

A 1946 account has a photo of the cemetery, overgrown even then, with gravestones intact.

 

Far Rockaway is full, and I mean full, of odd alleys and dead-ends, many of which don’t make the maps or are even granted street signs. Grandview Court (top) and William Court, both on Caffrey Avenue, are two of these.

Beach 9th Street, called Jarvis Lane and Oak Street before 1916, when Far Rockaway acquired its Beach street numbering system, is a main north-south thoroughfare in the eastern part of the town. Between Cornaga and Central Avenues, it features a phantasmagorical collection of freestanding houses built from 1890-1920 that can rival anything in Richmond Hill or Prospect Park South. “You’d Never Believe You’re in Far Rockaway” eh?

 

Despite all that, we’re still in Far Rockaway — so there’s an empty lot filled with “Collyer trucks” (stuffed with unusable things.)

 

Another beauty at Sage Street and Alonzo Road, named for Governor Alonzo Cornell. What’s that unusual conifer in the left background?

 

Some of the utility poles in Far Rockaway are equipped with these things. Can anyone identify their purpose in Comments?

 

Alonzo Road runs into Doughty Boulevard. The strange thing is that the houses along the road are all in Far Rockaway, while the boulevard itself is in Lawrence, one of the Nassau County Five Towns. The city line runs on the sidewalk, apparently.

Also: notice that the hyphen, the trademark for most Queens County house numbers, does not appear in Far Rockaway.

 

NYS 878 at Central Avenue. this surface arterial highway, which runs from Rockaway Turnpike in Cedarhurst to the Atlantic Beach Bridge, is relatively new: it was completed in 1990. Another section of the 878 parallels the Belt Parkway along Kennedy Airport; that section is signed as Interstate 878.

 

Handsome Tudor-esque apartment building at Virginia Stret and Central Avenue.

 

I live in Little Neck, also along the Queens-Nassau line, and there aren’t any “Welcome to Queens” signs there, though there are some “welcome to Nassau County” signs.

The doyenne of Far Rockaway churches is the Russell Sage Memorial First Presbyterian Church, on Central Avenue facing the north end of Beach 9th.

Financier and philanthropist Russell Sage (1815-1906) left a considerable fortune to his widow Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage (1828-1918), who established Russell Sage College for Women in his hometown, Troy, NY, established bird sanctuaries in Louisiana, and founded NYC’s Russell Sage Foundation, dedicated to research in social welfare, public health, education, government, and law. Mrs. Sage also funded this magnificent building, the magnificent First Presbyterian Church, a.k.a. The Sage Memorial Church, with its stained glass windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. It was built in 1909 by Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson.

 

Feeling the heat, it was time to head for home. Making my way toward the tracks, this early 20th Century leftover on Augustina Avenue and Nameoke Street boasts a conifer in the front yard.

 

We’re edging toward the tough part of town. This Nameoke Street house has seen better times. When those times were, I don’t know.

 

I’ve seen a number of Long Island Rail Road terminals (Penn Station, Flatbush Avenue, Port Washington, even Long Island City) and by far the Far Rock terminal is the most perfunctory. Heavy metal screens protect the windows. This became the terminal when the LIRR severed the connection to what became the A train after 1956. All trace of such a connection has vanished.

I think that only the lack of a turnaround at Inwood has prevented that from being the terminal. Heading back to town, I noticed that the 5 Towns stations were anchors of busy, prosperous neighborhoods, with plenty of shops and restaurants. Here, you’re faced with an auto repairs shop across Nameoke Street when you get off.

I’ll be back to the Far Rock when it’s cooler.

6/2/13





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Categorized in: Neighborhoods Walks

40 Responses to A WALK IN FAR ROCKAWAY, Queens

  1. The unusual conifer in the background at Sage Street and Alonzo Road is actually a white pine which has been affected by Sandy. White pines across the region are struggling to survive after being dried out by strong salty winds during the storm.

  2. CG Todaro says:

    Great coverage! I took some photos around Hammels a couple summers ago and would like to go back and check out these sections here also.
    Perhaps that ‘device’ on the pole was a gunshot detector?

    • ronnie G says:

      That area that you are saying [gun shot detector ]borders one of the most expensive upscale areas on the east coast with that part of Far Rockaway called West Lawrence having homes worth in the million dollar vicinity ,so yes being within a 10 minute walk to the A train subway stop & that being that the area where you have had issues in the past ,
      however with the gentrification of the area around the subway that as well is a thing of the past.

  3. joel norman says:

    FAR ROCKAWAY…Moved there in 1951 when you traveled the LIRR(my late father worked for the LIRR)he converted a summer house into all season house on Bch 6th…I attn. PS39(behind the PO)the JHS198(BCH 60TH)then rode the A train to high school in Manhatten(1959-1962).The fire house in the 1950′s had 2 ARENS-FOX piston pumpers and 2 ladder trucks,and there was a Buick dealer door,also next to the firehouse was the public library….walked or rode bikes 99% of time….before the subway came out Rockaway was a ghost town between Labor Day and May 31,only the locals!!!!Got my draft card at the PO in 1962(still have in my wallet)….and played baseball for one of the PAL teams out of the 101PCT…..
    Live in Wyoming these days…..miss FarRockaway but no NYC!!!!!!!

    • Bird says:

      There was a park in between that fire station and the library. It had a few swings, see-saw, slide and a sprinkler that was only on when it was extremely hot and I can remember it being on about 3 or 4 times.

    • Mark Coopersmith says:

      JHS 198 is on 56th St and Beach Channel Drive, not 60th. I lived on 59th and Bch Channel Dr from 1960-1976. And the street Nameoke is pronunced nammy-oak.

  4. butchie b says:

    kevin, I do believe they are wi fi “hot spots”

  5. Dan S. says:

    I am amazed that the Beth-El Temple, which you say took over the former church it uses in 1975, still has a cross on the steeple. I would have expected that would be the first thing to be removed. Is it landmarked or something, preventing its removal?

    • Dan S. says:

      I found the answer. The Beth-El Temple is NOT what that short name suggests. The full name of the place is “Bethel Temple Church of God in Christ”! Now the picture makes sense. Oops.

  6. Mitch says:

    Route 878 has a long and fairly tortured history and is in fact a remnant of a failed Robert Moses project. There is a great article on 878 at http://www.nycroads.com/roads/NY-878/.

  7. Brian says:

    Nameoke (Nammy-oak) is the correct pronunciation as far as I know is an Algonquian word which was anglicized it means Fishing place

  8. Zen says:

    In Far Rockaway is an old LILCO power plant from 1952 being slowly torn down. On that site was also an even older power plant from God Knows When, which was torn down in the 1970s. If anyone has pictures of these, or other LILCO properties, I’d love to see them.

  9. Edward Findlay says:

    You featured the firehouse almost one week after the station turned 100. It opened on May 24, 1913. It was built on the site of the former quarters of Protective Engine 1, Oceanic Hose 1, and Protective Ladder 1. The three volunteer companies were disbanded on September 1, 1905 with the reorganizing of a permanent paid engine and ladder company taking their place in the station.

    The old station was torn down in 1912 with the new, current station built in its place opening on May 24th, 1913.

  10. f phillips says:

    I used to make the same bike trip with a friend from the Homecrest section of Brooklyn when I was a kid in the late 1960s, usually in cooler weather. There were never too many people around. With the ocean, the beach, and good transportation I could never understand why the Rockaways were not more developed. Of course I was a kid, and didn’t understand things like hurricanes and tropical storms.

  11. Christopher says:

    I’ve done the walk you initially intended to do along the boardwalk a few years back and I hope to do so again this summer. Took the A train to Far Rockaway – Mott Ave and walked down to the beach. Walked on the boardwalk west, to the end if I remember, and came out in what I guess is Belle Harbor. From there, walked west a bit more to the Gil Hodges Bridge and up Flatbush Ave. At this point it was getting dark and Flatbush Ave was kind of desolate in terms of being on foot. At the time I was living in Greenpoint, so I think we kept walking to Nostrand Ave and caught the B44 which took us almost all the way home. Long day and a long walk, but I look forward to doing it again! Thanks for the reminder!

  12. Larry says:

    While traveling to the Rockaways across Cross Bay Blvd, we would see the burning testle of the LIRR that crossed Jamaica Bay ….This happened so often.. LIRR continued to operate the mainland route thru Lawrence and Hewlett to Far Rockaway….always wondered why the railroad operated the two Rockaway branches anyways….I took the LIRR from Flatbush Ave many times and you did not have to change at Jamaica, which was always nice…

  13. Sandy says:

    My friends and I used to ride our bikes from the beginning of the boardwalk in Far Rockaway on 17th Street, to the end of the boardwalk in Belle Harbor, beach 125th street. I do miss those days!!!

  14. Harley Nemzer says:

    So sad about very old cemeteries; wonder who carts the tombstones away when they are damaged and where they are stored. Parks Department?

    Great job Kevin. Thanks!

    • CHANTELL JACOBS says:

      I REMEMBER COMING HOME FROM SCHOOL ON SCHOOL BUS AND WHEN WE PAST THE CEMETARY AT BEGINNING OF BEACH 11TH STREET WE USED TO PUT OUR THUMBS UP TO SHOW REPECT. I ALSO REMEMBER WHEN MY SONS WERE SMALL WALKING PAST SAME SPOT AND TOMBSTONES AND WHOLE CEMETARY BEING GONE. I THINK THEY BUILT HOUSES AND APARTMENTS THERE.

  15. Ken says:

    My family lived in Far Rockaway from before WW1 until 1976. Brian’s pronunciation of Nameoke is correct. The firehouse used to have a playground next to it with swings and a teeter-toter, on which I played as a pre-schooler. It was made into a parking lot for the firehouse. Gary Muhrke, winner of the first NYC Marathon was a fireman there. Last September I ran the entire boardwalk back and forth before going for a swim. I’m looking forward to running it after it is re-built (hopefully with a minimum of concrete).

  16. Solly Haber says:

    I lived in Far Rockaway first on Empire Ave, than on Demott Ct. The pictures reminded of the great times I had there when my boys were young, Thanks to whoever put this wonderful down memory land together

  17. jonathan says:

    the tombstones are still there but they are not located on the parks property,they are located behind the nursing home on gateway blvd and they are on state property

  18. Bird says:

    We moved to Redfern Houses when I was 6 months old (around 1960). Their was a post office that opened up on the corner of Nameoke St. and Redfern Ave. I filled out a card to get my social security number there when I was twelve (sort of a rite of passage). Right next to it was the LIRR Station. I did ride it a few times but we had a car or rode the bus to get to anywhere we wanted to go. Across the street from there was a building- Studley’s Paper Manufacturing. I can smell it as I type this. Right next to that building is what we used to call “The Dirt Road”. It was part of where the LIRR and the A train connected. We used it as a short cut to The Village which began at he corner of Mott & Central Aves. Many more stories and a few pictures too.

    • Jaime Caban says:

      How nice to hear from someone who also grew up in the Redfern projects. I remember the “dirt road.” I remember too we used to play in that Studley’s Manufacturing building when it was abandoned. It later burned down. Back then, Redfern projects were a study in multicultural living. We had whites, blacks, latinos and asians living together in a community. Those days are long gone.

    • Carol says:

      How nice to see some refer to “The Village”! I lived in Bayswater and we all called the shopping area “The Village.” Wonderful site! For tons (39 pages) of more Rockaway “stuff,” please visit my site:

      http://www.farrockaway.com/carol/moreoldrockawayintro.html

  19. jonathan says:

    On Seagert AV there is a a marsh and abanded inn you should check it out

  20. Joyce Douglas says:

    Great pictures. Brought back many memories. When I pledged for a society while going to Far Rockaway High School, we walked in front of the firehouse & the firement dropped water balloons on us. My aunt lived on Nameoke St. I lived on Greenport Rd.

  21. When I lived in Far Rockaway I lived on Beach 51st Street in the Egdgemere Houses. My address was 409 Beach 51st Street which was on the corner where P.S. 105 was and Penninsula General Hospital was. Could some of you guys who live in the area do me a favor and show me some pictures of the Edgemere Houses area and the Park in that area? I would also like to see the area where Gino’s Pizza is and the boardwalk area from Beach 25th Street to 35th Street.
    Thank You,
    Sheldon Forman

  22. Stuart Robinson says:

    What a pleasure it was reading this info about Rockaway. I grew up in Edgmere 51 st, then Greenport Rd., then Dayton Towers.
    Rockaway was a great place to grow up in. I remember going on Sat. Mornings with my father to buy fresh bagels. So many good memories.
    Is it safe there these days? I’m thinking about visiting there soon.

  23. Theresa King says:

    This walk was so wonderful and informative. I always had an curiosity about some of the buildings and their history. Thank you for sharing the walk in Far Rockaway. Now I’ll go rest my feet from all of that walking. #homesick

  24. Nancy says:

    Yes Far Rockaway was so much fun back in the day. Much has changed. I lived in Bayswater 1965-1986. My parents own the house from 196? to the present. Yes they still live there. Went to P.S.104, I.S. 53, and Far Rock High. Unfortunately The Rockaways are not what they used to be. Don’t take this the wrong way, but it is not as safe as it used to be. There have new homes and buildings put up in past years, they don’t seem like they belong. Some are on top of each other. On the old Rockaway Beach Blvd there are so many vacant over grown lots that have been cleaned up and built on. When I’m there I don’t recognize where I am. Hurricane Sandy really destroyed so much. A lot has been lost. So many memories, buildings and businesses are now gone. But my parents still live and work there and also my brother. They do not wasn’t to leave.

  25. frankie says:

    those odd things on the telephone poles are some kind of warning siren, as a kid growing up in Far Rockaway i remember a few of them going off, not exactly sure what triggered it though.

  26. Prince Shakim God Allah says:

    Love the pictures they bring back a lot of memorys especially Is 53 behind 101 precinct. damnnnnnnnn Big up Rockaway

    Prince

  27. Renate says:

    Hi
    Hoping to find who built the mansion on 830 Hicksville Road. Legend has it that it was built by Sam Goldwyn and I grew up in one of the sectioned off apartments and would love to know the truth of who built this amazing old house.
    Can anyone help??
    thank you

  28. newsboys says:

    No matter if some one searches for his essential thing, so he/she needs to be available that in
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  29. Mike Batkin says:

    In the early 60′s, I belonged to a Boy Scout Explorer Post that met once a week in the basement of the firehouse on Central Avenue. The room we met in also housed a large coal-fired boiler with a nearby coal chute and coal bin. The coal fire was stoked and fed by the firemen. They shoveled the coal from the coal bin to the boiler.

  30. greg m says:

    I grew up in FarRockaway in the 50s 60 early 70s seeing the pictures of my old neighbor hood brings it all back for me Thanks

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