by Kevin Walsh

In the 80s, Tony Carey sang about “The First Day of Summer,” and I thought since this was the last day of summer, with forecasters saying this is the last 85-degree day for awhile, to seek out Rockaway Park and Rockaway Beach…former Playland and present Irish Riviera.

Rockaway, depending on what translation is used, means “sandy place” or “place of our people.” A small coterie of Canarsie Indians occupied Rockaway Peninsula until European invasions began in the 16th Century; by 1640 it was under Dutch control. Its story as a resort begins in 1833 when a wealthy group calling themselves the Rockaway Association purchased beachfront property from the Cornell family, which owned much of Rockaway from colonial times, and built the Marine Hotel, which was patronized by many of the era’s bright lights including Washington Irving, Henry W. Longfellow and assorted Vanderbilts; the hotel lasted only until it burned down in 1864, but another of the Rockaway Association’s projects remains intact today, the turnpike they built the length of the peninsula from today’s Riis Park to Far Rockaway…today’s Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

Things were going, shall we say, swimmingly. A steam railroad…the precursor to today’s IND A train..reached Rockaway Park (Beach 116th Street) in the 1880s. In 1896 the Seaside Amusement Company officially opened its doors to the public and renamed itself Playland in 1901; it was run by the Geist family for most of its existence. Yes, things were fine indeed. Then, of course, the Irish arrived.

Just kidding. According to The Wave, Rockaway Park’s community newspaper, “a local map dated in 1886 revealed examples of some of the following Irish surnames in Seaside: O’Brien, Norton, Curley, McLain, Farrell, Fannagan, Coghlan, Griffin and Ryan. As early as 1881 there were 48 bars in Seaside [a small section of Rockaway centered around Beach 102nd Street], most of which were operated by Irish owners…After World War II, Old Irish Town had a marvelous rebirth. In the 1950’s, Playland was the center of attraction. The main attractions in Seaside now were the many bars in the area. These included O’Gara’s Sligo House, The White House, Harbor Rest, Maher’s, Smyth’s, the Park Inn, the Mermaid Inn, Boggiano’s and McWalter’s, the Last Stop Inn, Riordan’s, Gildea’s, and the Irish Circle. In the name of civic improvement, less than a decade later, most of the section was torn down. Hi-rise apartments, a sewage disposal plant, shopping centers and parking lots, replaced the bungalows, bars, hotels and gaiety of Old Irishtown.” The Wave

The portion of the old boulevard [as we’ll see, a small portion remains from when Rockaway Beach Blvd. was redirected] between Beach 108 Street and Beach 109 Street plays host each July to Rockaway’s Irish Festival, and the Rockaway St. Patrick’s Day, held the first Saturday in March, returns each year.

WAYFARING MAP: Rockaway Park – Seaside – Hammels – Arverne

Beach 116th Street: an old theatre has been converted to offices and storefronts. (RIGHT) Eng. 268, Lad.137, a distinctive firehouse building.

A tribute to FDNY heroes of 9/11 has been placed at Beach 116th Street and Beach Channel Drive; see first photo on Bridge and Tunnel Club’s Beach 116th Street page.

You arrive in Rockaway (from Flushing, anyway) via the Q53 bus, which runs from the Woodside subway/LIRR station with relatively few stops: it takes less than an hour that way. For others, the A train is essential and gets here relatively quickly, as well, since it’s an express in bBrooklyn. You arrive at the end of the line, Rockaway Park (see here at the top of my Station Houses page) the terminal of the old New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad, later acquired by the LIRR and then sold to the NYC Transit Authority and made a part of the subway network in 1956.

The first thing you notice when walking the streets of Rockaway Park is that most of them are tree-free. It could be that the salty air prevents shade trees from growing in great number (They’re present in playgrounds that are away from the shore, and since I’ve yet to explore the peninsula north of the el in great measure, they may be there) but there’s just not a lot of shade to be had: bring a hat or sunscreen.

“Deceased Rockaway Rotarians Who Served with Distinction,” Beach Channel Drive and Beach 116th Street. Unfortunately someone seems to disagree.

Part of a vinyl awning on RB Blvd. (as I’ll call Rockaway Beach Blvd. on this page to save my fingers) has dislodged, making the much better hand carved wooden Housewares sign underneath visible.

Rockaway Park has its own rugby club, the Fisheads, and its (apparently) former office on RB Blvd. has its own hand-carved wood sign. The club is still active in Belle Harbor.

Forgotten Fan Tim Kuffner says:

The Rugby Club no longer uses that building on the boulevard and instead have moved their headquarters to the Belle Harbor Yacht Club located on 126th and Beach Channel Drive. This also is a large impressive building which used to sit directly on the bay and boasted a long pier that stretched out into Jamaica bay. When Beach Channel drive was built on Landfill the club lost its waterfront status.

Boarding House Beach

When I traveled to Rockaway Park my initial aim was to show the area’s many old hotels and boarding houses. The scope of the page evolved beyond that but I still managed to capture a few of them. Resort areas attract hotels like barnacles; Coney Island still has the vestiges of a few.

RB Blvd. and Beach 113 Street

Beach 113 St. between RB Blvd. and Ocean Promenade

Beach 114 between RB Blvd. and Ocean Promenade

The Piper, Beach 114 between RB Blvd. and Ocean Promenade

Forgotten Fan Tim Kuffner says:

One of the boarding houses you point out, listed on 113 street between RBB and Ocean Promenade, actually has some history to it. The majority of these large houses, as you probably already know, were used as hotels back in the day. That particular house was owned by the Burke family. The most famous Burke is Jimmy Burke, who was portrayed by Robert DeNiro, as Jimmy Conway, in Goodfellas. Jimmy spent some of his childhood in a house that used to stand on the vacant lot next to that boarding house, and every so often a rumor spreads that the money from the Lufthansa heist is buried there in that vacant lot. The Piper Inn on 114th street recently opened this year so it is now possible to rent a decent room there. One of my friend’s college buddies actually rented a room there in July and the owners let us use the backyard for a party and barbecue. It’s kind of a throwback to the past I guess.

The Park Inn at Beach 116th seems to be a nursing home with quite a view. Your webmaster didn’t spend much time on the sand since his sneakers suck up sand like a sponge absorbs water.

As you might expect the seaside area features plenty of nursing homes. Funny thing, when you’re a baby, you nurse, and when you get old and sick, you go to a nursing home.

Just got an idea for a Forgotten New York boardwalk page. Four of NYC’s five boroughs have seaside walks, at Coney Island, the formerly prominent South Beach in Staten Island (I’m not sure if the one at Orchard Beach in the Bronx is concrete or wooden, while Manhattan’s promenade along the Hudson River is unfinished in spots and is definitely non-wooden) and Ocean Promenade here on the Rockaway peninsula. It is one of the longest boardwalks in the Northeast, and likely one of the lengthiest in the country, stretching east from Beach 126th to Beach 9th Streets. Its official name is Ocean Promenade.

A word about Rockaway Peninsula street numbering. It’s unusual, in that it progesses from east to west. Queens’ regular street numbering runs west to east from smallest to biggest numbers. NYC street numbering is a hodgepodge; it’s south to north in Manhattan, and Queens’ avenues go from north to south. Brooklyn has many different street numbering systems that go in every which way, it seems.

RB Blvd. and Beach 110th. Magnificent front porch and “widow’s walk.”

The building on the right reminds me of the “It’s a Gift” house, in which W. C. Fields as Harold Bissonette is trying to get some sleep but has to deal with a variety of hilarious interruptions, including the traveling salesman trying to find Karl LaFong. (That building had 3 floors instead of two.)

W.C. on youtube. (Unfortunately the LaFong sequence isn’t there)

A Piece of Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach Drive, a short (one block) alley between Beach 108 and 109th Streets, may be a small piece of Rockaway Beach left over when he main road was redirected some decades ago. It’s a min-hotbed of the “Irish Riviera” with the Harp bar (not shown) and the old Boulevard Cafe. Its wonderful Frederic Goudy Lombardic Capitals font here is supposed to be going for an Irish Gaelic feel; the font is usually used in liturgical books. Of course I remember when the sign was fully intact.

Goudy also created the Copperplate font I use extensively in FNY.

Big and Little

Surviving bungalows on Beach 109th between RB Blvd. and Ocean Promenade. The well-kept bungalows in Far Rockaway get more press (they were featured in Barry Lewis‘ and David Hartman’s A Walk through Queens for PBS) but these deserve note as well.

Seaside-Rockaway Houses, perhaps the most impressive of the many high-rise towers facing the raging Atlantic at Rockaway Beach.

Of course my personal connection to Rockaway Beach comes in play with bungalows. In 1982 some friends rented a bungalow on Beach 98th Street, near the old Playland, for June and July and I visited on weekends. June of July that year was the year without a summer. It rained nearly continuously every weekend. In July they bulldozed the beach to lay a pipeline. Of course it cleared up and warmed up in August. The bungalows were razed by 1989; one day I went down there and found a field of rubble where they used to be. New housing now occupies the site.

Shore Front Parkway

Shore Front Parkway, running from Beach 109th to Beach 73rd Streets, is a seeming “parkway to nowhere’ as it allows people coming in from Cross Bay Bridge and Parkway ready access to the beachfront, high rises, and new condo complexes, but not much else. Actualy it is one of Robert Moses’ great dreams that went uncompleted; it was originally going to connect the Riis Park area and all of the Rockaway Peninsula with the South Shore of Long Island. Only this relatively short section was completed by 1941.

Apparently Shore Front Parkway once had a bus route (it would make sense to have one to the beach now) and these wave-shaped shelters were built (probably in the 50s). The murals came much later.

The Crystal Hotel, Beach 102nd, is one of Rockaway Beach’s now-closed boarding houses. Irish Circle at RB Blvd. and 102nd is the premier bar/restaurant in the area. The exterior is likely much-altered.

Need to get somewhere in a hurry on the peninsula? Take the freeway! Rockaway Freeway was constructed during, or shortly after, the Long Island Rail Road elevated its Rockaway branch in 1942 and runs underneath it pretty much all the way from Rockaway Park to Far Rockaway. Unlike Rockaway Beach Blvd. or Beach Channel Drive, it has limited stoplights, and most cross streets are blocked from intersecting with it, so traffic can run pedal to the metal. There are no sidewalks! Until the early 1990s, the underside of the RR was lighted with the aid of short twin Woodie lamp stanchions. The Beach 98th Street sign is likely fairly old but has already been painted over.

The MTA dutifully, perhaps playfully, perhaps mockingly, but more likely indifferently marks Beach 98th as “Playland” while Rockaway Playland has been gone since 1986-1987.

On this long-closed staircase, only its own rust is holding it up. When the MTA wants to let something go, it can do a spectacularly good job.

This is what the old Playland frontage along RB Blvd and Beach 98th Street looks like today.

This is what it looked like decades ago…

Spectacular aerial shot showing Playland and Arverne beyond. The big ‘coaster was designed by Vernon Keenan in 1938 and became known as the Atom Smasher. Beyond we see the police precinct at RB Blvd. and Cross Bay Parkway and the approaches to Cross Bay Bridge beyond. It’s 1942 or after, because the LIRR is elevated. Old Queens in Early Photographs, Seyfried/Asedorian.

A packed Midway, August 3, 1956. It must have been coolish for August, since everyone, except for the bathing beauties in front, was wearing coats and jackets. These days, clowns do not mix with regular beachgoers and the girls’ swimsuits are skimpier, and most of us are thankful for that. Old Queens in Early Photographs, Seyfried/Asedorian.

For a number of years after Playland closed, the ancillary clam bars, pizzerias and eateries along RB Blvd. gamely hung in there. But most are gone now.

Cross Bay Parkway

The southern extension of the Cross Bay Bridge and Cross Bay Boulevard to Shore Front Parkway. It’s lined with war memorials, a police precinct, a venerable bar/roadhouse, and handsome housing.

Cross Bay Parkway’s WWI Veterans’ Memorial…
…and its unique 1989 Women Veterans’ Monument.

I wonder if the sculptor had a specific personality in mind.

NYPD 100th Precinct, 92-24 RB Blvd., FDNY Eng.266, Bat.47, 92-20 RB Blvd. Is there anywhere else in town where NYPD and FDNY are right next door?

Forgotten Fan Gene Iannuzzi says:

In the Bronx, at 460 Cross Bronx Expressway, Engine 46 Ladder 27 and the 42nd Precinct are next door neighbors. In Manhattan, the 19th Precinct and Engine 39/Ladder 16 are at 153 and 147 East 67th Street.

Your webmaster has patronized Connolly’s, 155 Cross Bay Parkway. Some of the Fisheads drink and bartend here and it’s also frequented by Rockaway lifeguards.

The 60th Pct in Coney Island and the 67th Pct in Flatbush both have firehouses right next door.

Forgotten Fan Jim Sullivan:

The following NYPD & FDNY houses/stations are either side by side or joint buildings.

Pitt St, Manhattan FDNY Engine 15/Ladder 18, 4th Battalion and the 7th Pct
51st, Midtown, FDNY Engine 8/Ladder 2/Battalion 8 along with 17th Pct
West 100th St FDNY Engine 76/Ladder 22/Battalion 11 and the 24th Pct
West 102nd St FDNY Engine 53/Ladder 43 along with 24th Pct
Story Av, Bronx FDNY Engine 96/Ladder 54 along with
2900 Snyder Av, Bkln FDNY Engine 248 along with 67th Pct

Would you like a big rambling house by the sea, maybe a round porch to sit on and catch the breeze? Maybe have lemonade brought out in a big pitcher and glasses, with the ice cubes rattling around? Your webmaster wouldn’t mind.


Rockaway Beach’s unofficial mascot, Whaleamina, has been a little under the weather the last few years, so she is being resurfaced in mosaics, which feature a mermaid – surprisingly underrepresented here.

From the looks of things, though, perhaps Jim Powershould be doing the job. Whaleamina is at Cross Bay and Shore Front Parkways.

The Rockaway peninsula is rife with odd alleys and even avenues where you wouldn’t expect them. Holand Avenue runs from Cross Bay Parkway east to Beach 84th Street. It’s not named for NYC’s Dutch antecedents, but for Michael P. Holland, an early Rockaway Beach developer from the 1850s.

New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad’s Holland station at Oceanus Avenue, now Beach 91st Street, is the direct antecedent of today’s elevated Beach 90th/Holland station.Victorian Railroad Stations of Long Island, Ron Ziel/Richard Wetterau

Two of RB Blvd’s faded glories, at Beach 92 and 91st Streets. The building on the right is Congressman Anthony Weiner‘s district office.

The Wave, perhaps a former hotel, RB Blvd. and Beach 88th Street. Original offices of Roackaways’ newspaper The Wave?

Though this peninsula enclave is known as Hammels, with the Y-shaped railroad connection, now part of the A train that splits in two and goes to both sides of the peninsula as theHammels Wye, the Hammel Housing Project (left) gets it right. The area is named for Louis Hammel, who owned the parcel next to Holland’s in the mid-1800s.

St. Rose of Lima R.C. Church on Beach 84 Street a parking lot’s distance from Ocean Promenade, is the biggest church this close to the water I’ve seen in NYC. There has been a St. Rose of Lima parish here since 1883 with the present headstone laid Sunday, July 1, 1906 (I thought there was no work on Sunday then!)

Despite the church’s location near the beach, I presume the no bikini, bathing trunks or wetsuit rule applies and shoes are not optional.

Apropos of nothing, Brooklyn’s St. Rose of Lima Church in Parkville was the childhood parish of Mary Tyler Moore.

In the Beach 70s, the wind has scattered some sand on Ocean Promenade. On this hazy day the distant high-rises appear as if in a mirage.

Arverne By The Sea

It’s no secret that I find development in Queens distasteful; it’s not the development itself, it’s the unimaginative abominations that are being built in place of perfectly good – and superiorly designed – buildings that are being torn down. But, here in Arverne, there’s a new neighborhood being constructed that has a dash of panache and breaks away from the “tower in a park” concept that was the model in the 20th Century.

The end of Shore Front Parkway at Beach 73rd Street is also where the new development faces the sea. There’s yet not much to the east, but the development is scheduled to stretch east and the parkway will be extended. Arverne was first developed beginning in 1882 by Remington Vernam, who purchased land between Far Rockaway and Rockaway Beach, building houses and laying streets. His wife named the area ”Arverne” because he signs his checks ”R. Vernam.”

St. Johns Baptist Church pokes through an opening in Arverne by the Sea.

The new development along RB Boulevard west of Beach 73rd Street. There are still few stores or amenities in the area and the nearest train station is at Beach 67th Street.

I was amazed to find a pleasant new neighborhood where emptiness once ruled. As we’ll see it still rules nearby.

The development has its own lamppost and street sign designs, and names independent of NYC nomenclature.

East of Arverne By The Sea, Rockaway Beach Blvd. goes on to infinity. Or at least to Edgemere.

Larkin Avenue, a RB Blvd. tributary, has no addresses on it, and the city seems to be using it as a dump.

Photos shot 9/9/06; page completed 9/10/06.

©2006 Midnight Fish

1 comment

Things Fall Apart: My Trip to Rockaway Beach After Sandy | Shannon Lee Gilstad April 2, 2014 - 1:09 pm

[…] summer had never been complete without a day trip out to Beach 116th Street in the Rockaways. The Irish Riviera, some call it, it’s chock full of dive bars, gift shops, some little seasonal restaurants and […]

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