Review: “Bungalows of Rockaway” at Tenement Talks

Posted on: June 2nd, 2011 at 10:03 am by

The following writeup was penned by our newest contributor here at Bowery Boogie, Lori Greenberg.

Bungalows, the low-rise cousins of tenements, were the topic of a screening at the Tenement Museum last Thursday night as part of its successful Tenement Talks series.

The Bungalows of Rockaway, a wonderful documentary, was directed, produced and written by Jennifer Callahan, and co-produced and co-written by Elizabeth Logan Harris. It chronicles the rise and fall and possible rise again of beachfront bungalow homes in an area that few New Yorkers now know about.

At the turn of the last century, when the first skyscrapers were rising in Manhattan, bungalows were also being constructed on the beach, just a short train ride away. The residents of the Lower East Side (i.e., bus drivers, tailors, domestic workers, pushcart peddlers), lived on modest incomes. Yet, they were able to escape the heat and crowds of the city in the summers by renting or buying bungalows in the Rockaways. Hard to imagine that “working stiffs” — as they were referred to in the doc — would be able to afford a beach house now.

These working stiffs were Irish, Jewish and African-American, who, because they tended to recreate their city blocks (where families stuck together, and nobody ventured more than a block or two away from home), settled into separate neighborhoods in the Rockaways.

By 1933, there were over 7,000 bungalows in the Rockaways. Fewer than 400 remain now. The bulk of them were destroyed by Robert Moses’ Urban Renewal plan in the 1960’s, which emphasized pushing low-income families out of the city and into even more cramped housing in that area.

The film then focuses on the various people which have formed groups to preserve access to the waterfront, to clean up the public park areas, and to try to landmark some of the remaining bungalows.

The audience was filled to capacity with many people who had spent their summers at Rockaway Beach. During the Q & A, one woman told a story of working at a knishery on the Boardwalk and remembered that on Sundays you could get seven knishes for one dollar.

Bob Connelly, who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen and spent his summers as a child in the Rockaways, was interviewed in the film and appeared at the museum last night for a Q & A with the filmmakers. He described the icemen who made deliveries to their summer home as “various guys who were always named Joe.” He also spoke about how their mattresses always had sand in them from the many kids in the family tracking everything in from the beach. The bungalows were tiny and uninsulated (originally intended for only seasonal use), filled with large families who spent almost all of their time outside, but, as Connelly said, “It was perfect.”

Recent Stories

Sampling the Lost Cuisine Found in ‘The German Jewish Cookbook’

In our current food-obsessed culture – especially in places like New York City – it seems that we are global food citizens. We have easy access to an endless variety of restaurants and specialty food stores, which enable us to explore foods from all over the world. And we can easily watch a multitude of […]

Lakwena Brings her Kaleidoscopic Vision to the Bowery Mural Wall

The season is changing, which means another participant for the revolving door that is the Bowery Mural Wall. Earlier this week, contractors sanded then resurfaced the two-story canvas in preparation for the next artist on the docket. We are told that the latest is Lakwena, a London-based artist who specializes in colorful, “kaleidoscopic” patterns. She […]

Six Years Later, Dewey Dufresne’s ‘BYGGYZ’ Finally Opens on Clinton Street

Don’t hold your breath any longer, for the time is here. Dewey Dufresne’s sandwich shop, BYGGYZ, finally debuted on the Lower East Side. The promise is fulfilled. BYGGYZ opened at 37-39 Clinton Street yesterday afternoon for the lunchtime rush. Truth be told, it bears an old-school, albeit welcome, deli counter vibe. (The previous tenant was […]

‘Van Leeuwen’ to Open LES Artisanal Ice Cream Shop on Ludlow Street Next Month

It’s been over a year since the music died at 172 Ludlow Street. That’s when Ludlow Guitars decamped from the Lower East Side after spending seventeen years on the block. Now its former Hell Square headquarters – where the business had moved in 2010 – is to become a trendy ice cream parlor. Artisanal ice […]

‘Marm Cafe’ on Clinton Street is Kaput, Transitions to ‘Bricia’

The end of the road is here for Marm Cafe. The three-year-old corner establishment at 79 Clinton Street hasn’t been open since at least mid-August, its fate finally sealed this week with those brown paper shades. We communicated with ownership via email several weeks ago and were told that the cafe was actually on holiday. […]