EDGEMERE, Queens

by Kevin Walsh

NEED ANY MORE proof that New York City is a strange and occasionally confusing place…that it can occasionally baffle anyone looking for common sense in urban planning…or a place that can give urban explorers fits of head scratching? Take a look at Edgemere on the Rockaway peninsula, whose mile after mile of ocean beach front has been left to rot.

GOOGLE MAP: EDGEMERE

Edgemere, at least in the part of it south of the elevated, presents what would appear to be a developer’s dream: an endless vista of sea and sky along the Atlantic Avenue; south of here your next landfall is Central America. In a sane world, it would be lined with parks and nature trails; or, perhaps, amusement areas rivaling Coney Island; or even gambling meccas like Atlantic City. Instead, this is reality in Edgemere…

Sand dunes, weeds and forlorn, unwired telephone poles punctuate Edgemere, with high-rise devlopments in nearby Far Rockaway looming in the distance…

A century ago Edgemere’s streets were lined with gracious beachfront hotels and more modest houses and bungalows. In 1892, Frederick J. Lancaster, heading a group of investors, purchased a wind-whipped, barren stretch along the Rockaway peninsula just west of Far Rockaway, which had already been established. At the time, ironically, it was just as empty as it is today with the exception of an artifical canal, Nortoin’s Creek, that bisected the region.

Lancaster opened the Edgemere Hotel at Beach 35th Street in 1895. A clue about why Edgemere has fallen into disuse can be obtained from the story of the lavish hotel, which was buried under tons of sand from a big storm that struck just one year after the building opened. It reopened the next year after two bulkheads were built and Norton’s Creek was drained.

Though Edgemere (whose name literally means at the sea’s edge) was downplayed for the most part as a seaside resort area, with the lion’s share of summer vacationing areas being concentrated in Far Rockaway, the majestic Hotel Lorraine was constructed at Beach 36th Street and Sprayview Avenue by Henry Holt in 1908, featuring a telephone in every room, a dance band and golf, and by 1910, electric elevators and hot & cold running water, all of them innovations at the time. The photos above were taken in 1935 (left) and 1925 (right). Robert Moses tore down the Lorraine in 1941 for a parking lot, itself now under sand and weeds.

The summer hotels are gone and these days you will find an odd scene with sandy, weedy lots punctuated with paved roads that the Department of Transportation dutifully identifies with street signs.

The Long Island Rail Road arrived in Edgemere in the 1890s, with stops at Wavecrest (Beach 25th), Edgemere (Beach 36th), Frank Avenue (Beach 44th), Straiton Avenue (Beach 60th) and Gaston Avenue (Beach 67th). The line ran at grade between Edgemere Avenue and Rockaway Beach Boulevard until 1942, when it was elevated along a lengthy concrete elevated trestle with a new roadway, Rockaway Freeway, constructed beneath it. After a fire destroyed a LIRR bridge in Jamaica Bay in 1950, the NYCTA purchased it for $8.5M and then ran subway service along the line beginning in 1956 (though it cost a double fare until 1975, when the fare was raised to 50 cents).

TOP: Edgemere station in 1914

photo: Glenn Rowe. From nycsubway.org

These views are admittedly deceptive. The IND Rockaway Branch, seen here at Beach 36th, serves a thriving area north of the tracks, with single family homes, Peninsula Hospital, and the Edgemere Houses between Beach 51st and Beach 58th Streets.

From the boardwalk, however, this looks like a train to nowhere.

As we’ve said, in the early 20th Century Edgemere developers concentrated more on residential living than on resorts or amusement areas, though there were oceanside hotels like Norton’s Half-Way House at Frank Avenue (halfway to Far Rockaway we presume) as well as the Belvedere, Frontenac, Coronado, and Shelbourne. Street after street was filled with cottages catering to summer boarders.

However, there were more permanant residences built like the ones above left, on Frank Avenue (Beach 44th). Note the open porches and numerous windows from the pre-air conditioned era. On the right, bungalow dwellers practice their golf game on the Beach 40th Street sidewalk; they were built around 1915.

Though the Edgemere bungalows were plowed under long ago, some surviving examples can be spotted throughout the peninsula, especially in a concentrated area from Beach 25th-28th Streets south of Seagirt Avenue. This fast-disappearing enclave was featured on the PBS special “A Walk Through Queens” with David Hartman and Barry Lewis, and the homeowners have their own organization, the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association.

Above, bungalows on unmapped Marvin Street near Beach 28th.

A couple of views of the beach at Edgemere in about 1920, and what the scene looks like at present. Only the stone jetties give any clue that there used to be piers here.

The boardwalk stretches from Beach 9th Street in the east to Beach 126th Street in the west, making it among the longest on the East Coast. It is officially known as Ocean Promenade. For about 30 blocks it stretches through near nothingness with the occasional ramp to nowhere.

(TOP) What should be one of NYC’s premier seaside playgrounds lies barren and empty; the sign is emblematic of the region’s seeming inability to do anything about it.

There are so few structures along Edgemere Avenue and Rockaway Beach Boulevard that small, freestanding billboards attempt to catch motorists’ attention with ads for products or charities.

Can Edgemere be brought back south of the el? Various plans are out there, most of which call for residential development. This should be an amusement area, a playground, a mecca for sea, sun and sand. If Atlantic Beach amd Long Beach, which aren’t very far away from here, can be summer fun spots, so can Edgemere. It has subway service that can feasibly be converted to a super-express from Manhattan or Brooklyn. Unlikely NYC neighborhoods have made comebacks, like the meatpacking area and Williamsburgh. Those however were brought back by trendseekers looking for the next big thing; they came and stayed, bringing unaffordable hosuing costs with them. Seaside development should be done without the privileged few occupying the shoreline and leaving out the less lucky.

SOURCES:

Old Rockaway, New York in Early Photographs, Vincent Seyfried and William Asedorian, Dover Publications 2000
BUY this book at Amazon.COM

©2005 Midnight Fish

erpietri”@”earthlink.net

All black and white photos on this page taken from the book cited above.

27 comments

Proposed Edgemere hotel sparks debate in the Rockaways. | Queens NYC August 21, 2012 - 11:01 am

[…] as the La Quinta Inn chain plans to build on a site at Rockaway Beach Blvd and Beach 44th St in Edgemere in the Rockaways […]

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T O November 14, 2012 - 10:42 am

Very sad, when I was a kid in the 1970s my dad would take us down to Beach 16 because it was very close for us living in Rosedale. I didn’t even know about Beach 116, Breezy Point, Belle Harbor, etc. However it became unsafe and fell out of favor with families, and my older siblings began driving to Long Beach or the West end of Rockaway Beach instead. We never went back except to drive past as fast as possible!!!

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Jamal April 15, 2014 - 6:20 pm

So what! Don’t nobody care about your stuck up snobby ass. Keep going to West Rockaway, don’t nobody care you retard.

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Sweater « Bohring November 18, 2012 - 11:53 pm

[…] memory, and people like me will make assumptions that life has simply not spread there. Read this Forgotten New York piece if you get a chance— you might get hooked on the […]

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Diane Pagen November 1, 2014 - 5:45 pm

Does anyone know what was across the street from the now closed Peninsula hospital, between the hospital and the Ocean Bay NYCHA development, and next to the A line trains, prior to the 1990s? Does anyone have photos? I was told there was a cemetery but have not been able to confirm this.

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Larry Warren September 5, 2015 - 11:04 pm

Across the street from PG Hosp toward the beach, was a fabric mill, a trucking co., up against the EL and Rockaway freeway. Beyond that was a giant abandoned public parking lot. And nothing but vacant waste land from there until P.S.106 on 34st. And the only thing between The hospital and Ocean Bay Houses is Beach channel Drv.

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Marge June 1, 2017 - 4:04 pm

The Rockaway’s have been a part of my life since 1945, and I don’t recall a cemetery at all, there was an air strip from the 1944-1950 along Beach Channel Drive from 57th St to about 37th St. servicing piper cubs. I remember a plane crash, about 1946. We couldn’t wait for Labor Day, so the summer people would go home and peace and serenity returned to Edgemere, Far Rockaways.

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HERB GOLDMAN February 19, 2016 - 12:39 pm

REMEMBER COZY CORNER ON THE BAY AROUND 50 ST? BEFORE THE “PROJECTS IT WAS THE BEST PLACE TO GROW UP. LARRY’S, PENNY ARCADE, BUMPER CARS, WED. NIGHT FIREWORKS, TUCKEE CUP, FRESH LEMON ICES, LARRY & SALLY’S PIZZA, COFFEE RAMA, JERTRY’S KNISHES, PLAyland, meyer’s knishes, GREAT LIFEGUARDS, BEACHES FULL OF GIRLS. IT TRULY WAS THE VERY BEST OF TIMES. AND I REMEMBER GOING TO P.S. 106 ON 35TH STREET. NOW I’M 74 AND RETIRED IN FLORIDA……………………….

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Jeffrey Gordon May 5, 2017 - 1:56 pm

TO HERB; YES I REMEMBER ALL THOSE THINGS. MY FAMILY RENTED ROOMS FOR THE SUMMER AT THE AMBASSADOR HOTEL, 131 BEACH 35 ST!! THE SCHOOL YOU WENT TO WAS ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE STREET NEAR EDGEMERE AVENUE. I LOVED THOSE TUCKEE CUPS AND THE ICES STORE WAS OWNED BY AN ELDERLY MAN AND HIS THREE SONS. I LOVED THOSE KNISHES ESPECIALLY POTATO AND KASHA. SALLY FROM LARRY AND SALLY’S LIVED IN THE SAME CONDO COMPLEX AS MY MOM IN FORT LAUDERDALE. I AM 74 ALSO AND LIVE IN NEW JERSEY. LET’S KEEP IN TOUCH.

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Bob chaffer July 13, 2018 - 9:18 pm

The cozy corner was owned by my grandparents, when it closed it was converted to a home which I lived in from the late 50’s thru 1970. I now am retired living in fla.

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Ted keenan March 5, 2019 - 9:02 pm

My grandfather Ted Keenan lived across the street from the cozy corner. Many memories of time spent with him

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Ted keenan March 5, 2019 - 9:04 pm

My grandfather Ted Keenan lived on the corner across the street from the cozy corner

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James A. Matier April 9, 2019 - 10:13 am

My brother, Roger Matier and Teddy Keenan were best friends we lived at 327 Beach 45th Street. In the summer my Dad would rent a row boat at Jacks dock (located across the street from Teddy Kennan’s house) and take me out fishing.

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Bob chaffer June 23, 2019 - 6:20 pm

I grew up in the old cozy corner as I stated earlier.next door was my great uncle jack who rented the row boats.Ted Keenan lived across the street and I remember him letting me climb on the fire truck if they came by the house, he was the tiller driver on the hook and ladder. I remember his sons teddy ( who became a fireman) and jimmy. Good times.

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Paula February 9, 2019 - 12:00 pm

Hi
I graduated from P.S. 106 in 1948, as valedictorian. We were the largest class, at that time, in the history of the school. My mother would take me to the luncheonette on the corner for a blt. This was a big treat, because my parents kept a kosher home.
Paula

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Robert A. Sleiertin March 10, 2016 - 10:43 pm

Just to renew some childhood memories I decided to Google “Edgemere, NY”. What a surprise! Desolation! I am now 85 years old.

I was born in Rockaway Beach Hospital and until the age of 10 my family lived in the Marguerite Apartments (a 4 story brick building with about 8 apartments on each floor) located at 336 Beach 36th Street. I attended PS 106 on Beach 36th Street (but south of the RR tracks). Then we moved into Brooklyn for 6 months before buying a small house in Lynbrook. I will see what photos I may have of the Edgemere area from that time and will send copies and pertinent comments to you for possible inclusion in your fine website. I have been residing in RI for the past 42 years.

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Robert A. Sleiertin March 10, 2016 - 10:54 pm

A correction to my previous comments. I believe the apartment house was called “Edgemere Court Apartments”. The “Marguerite Apts” were located in Far Rockaway.

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Jeff Gordon May 5, 2017 - 1:38 pm

My family rented rooms for the summer months at the Ambassador Hotel in Edgemere at 131 Beach 35 th Street. Does any one remember the “Tuckee Cup” at the Chinese restaurant on the boardwalk or the knishes or the custard stand stores. What WONDERFUL days they were!!

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Marge June 1, 2017 - 4:11 pm

How could anyone forget and the movie theater on the boardwalk, the fortune teller, that scared the heck out of me. Good memories

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Anonymous May 5, 2017 - 1:40 pm

My family rented rooms for the summer months at the Ambassador Hotel in Edgemere at 131 Beach 35 th Street. Does any one remember the “Tuckee Cup” at the Chinese restaurant on the boardwalk or the knishes or the custard stand stores. What WONDERFUL days they were!!

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DrRose Bengal June 5, 2018 - 3:21 pm

My family had a house on Beach 44th going way back — far enough that my father was born in 1928 in Peninsula Hospital. I remember visiting my great-grandparents living there in the 1960s and it was a “low-rent” paradise.

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Lynda June 30, 2018 - 4:45 pm

Rockaway summers were the best!

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Terri September 23, 2018 - 2:06 pm

Spent summers growing up in the Rockaways. My grandparents owned a beautiful large rooming house at 156 Beach 36th, called it “THE EVELYN” named for my mom. Tenants came from the Bronx and Brooklyn to spend summers at the beach….fond memories
i live now in Boynton Beach, FL

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Bob June 30, 2019 - 12:37 am

The four story apartment house was at 332 Bch. 35th Street. I lived in it in 1945 and 1946. Me, Eddie, Pep, and Sandy.

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Richard July 18, 2019 - 10:11 pm

My Great Grandmother used to own a strip of small houses or bungalows in Edgemere. My Father and Aunt grew up there. My other Great Grandmother on my father’s side resided there as well. My Dad had stories of clamming and crabbing, strange neighbors and flooding during a large hurricane during the 1930s. My Grandfather held assorted jobs as well as my Grandmother. My Dad enlisted in the Merchant Marines in order to keep from getting drafted during WW2. My Dad passed in 2000. My Aunt currently resides near Princeton. Would like very much to someday visit the specific area where they lived.

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steve September 15, 2019 - 8:12 pm

My grandparents owned a bungalow on Beach 34th Street, and I spent my summers there in the late 50’s and early 60’s.. The address was 127 Beach 34th St. It blows my mind that there is virtually no trace of the whole neighborhood of wonderful bungalows or the thriving commercial boardwalk, replaced by desolation.

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Danielle Amran January 5, 2020 - 1:03 am

I feel fortunate to have grown up on 35th street, I didn’t realize how rich the history was. It was the best 18 years of my life.

Reply

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