Friday, January 10, 2014

MY FATHER and the Rockaways

First, here is an excerpt from previous post, AUNTS and a Great Grandmother (with some slight changes.) 

From the "Aunts" post:

Three sisters: my grandmother, Irene, and her sisters, Hattie and Ella, lived near one another in Brooklyn, and in the summers, went with their childlren to a bungalow in the Rockaways for relief from the heat. First are sweet pictures of my father and two of his four sisters sitting on the bungalow steps...probably around 1911 or so. Then Dad and his cousins are seen on the beach a few years later, someone having written in pencil on the photo the names of the kids.

The one on the left is my father (LK) and the young lady standing next to him is his cousin, Virginia Skinner [mother of my cousin Jim Keegan], the others also cousins.

A film about the Rockaways aired on PBS a few years ago: "The Bungalows of Rockaway, An Independent Documentary", with footage and photos from many years back, revealing the fact that a group of people live there now in the relatively few bungalows that remain. They have successfully fought to maintain them as worthy of preservation.

More information about The Bungalows of Rockaway (PBS documentary) from the film's website:

"Called 'extraordinary' by author Donna Gaines and 'wonderful' by The Bowery Boogie, The Bungalows of Rockaway explores urbanism by bringing to life a neglected coastal area of New York City and its historic built environment. The documentary takes a modest subject -- the small, affordable bungalows that once covered the Rockaway peninsula -- and reveals the larger themes of this substantive, entertaining, and original story: working class leisure, public access to the ocean, community identity, and architectural preservation.

A popular summer resort, a rival to Coney Island, once existed along the Rockaway shore, replete with wide beaches, a long boardwalk and honky-tonk amusements. The first bungalow went up in Rockaway in 1905; by 1933 over 7000 covered the peninsula. For decades, the bungalows were affordable summer rentals for working-class vacationers, largely Jewish and Irish immigrant families. Today fewer than 450 bungalows remain.

Narrated by Academy-Award-winning Estelle Parsons and completed in 2010, the film tracks the lifeline of the Rockaway bungalows. Sparkling, funny, and sometimes moving interviews with former bungalow residents bring the bungalow heyday to life; a trove of archival stills and unseen footage from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, such as that of the Marx Brothers and their families frolicking on Rockaway beaches, show viewers what a delightful and treasured summer experience Rockaway was for thousands of immigrant families.

The film also traces the roots of the 'bungalow' as a form of vernacular architecture to colonial Bengal (current-day Bangladesh) and its journey to the United States where, in the words of Columbia University professor Andrew Dolkart, the bungalow came 'to epitomize the architecture of the working class.'

The disappearance of Rockaway’s bungalows, as the film documents, can be linked to the enormous changes that the peninsula—and the city as a whole—underwent following World War II. In the 1950s and 60s, as Robert Moses implemented urban renewal policies throughout the city, Rockaway went from being a small-scale seasonal destination to a year-round community with high-rise condos and housing projects. Low-income citizens, relocated to make way for urban renewal in Manhattan, were often sent to live in Rockaway, many of them to poorly maintained, un-winterized bungalows. Many bungalow blocks were eventually designated slums—though some deserved the name and others did not—and most were subsequently demolished.

The remaining bungalows are artifacts of New York’s past, still stamping their improbable charm on the city’s monumental silhouette. And their survival is also at the heart of a larger debate about the merits of preserving vernacular architecture.

The film’s final chapter focuses on life today in the Far Rockaway section of the peninsula, where one of the largest clusters of bungalows remains. This racially mixed community is home to low-income and middle-income families whose bungalows serve as year-round residences and small weekend homes. Viewers come to know Far Rockaway residents and learn of their struggle to preserve the character of their neighborhood and their public access to the ocean.

The Bungalows of Rockaway is a multidimensional film that highlights the unique and unforgettable relationship between people and their dwellings."

Below is a nice comment from the website (you can see all the comments by going to the website and clicking on "Comments/Memories".)

I spent the summer of 1939 on Beach 36th Street in a bungalow shared by two sisters and their families, consisting of six people during the week, with two fathers coming out for the weekends, making it a total of eight people in one bungalow. I do not remember any overcrowding because we 14- and 15-year olds were generally home only for breakfast and dinner. Beach and boardwalk filled our summer days.

Now a further connection to the Rockaways:  The Metropolitan Section , my favorite part of the Sunday New York Times, has a weekly column called: F.Y.I., by Michael Pollak, which is "Answers to Questions About New York". These are a couple of columns listed in the Times archives on recent Sundays:

Calculating the Number of Windows in Buildings in Manhattan
A reader wanted to know how many windows there were in all the buildings in Manhattan, a question that might be asked during an internship interview.
December 22, 2013, Sunday
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ and Its Ties to Chelsea
A reader asks whether Clement Clarke Moore, known for a famous holiday poem, was indeed the primary developer of the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

(There was a similar weekly column in the Times Science Section years back where there were also questions answered. One was: "Do fish sleep?" I have this clipping stashed away somewhere, it was in the 80s or 90s, and cannot remember whether they sleep or not...but will find the item in question and post it when found.)

So regarding this excerpt below from Michael Pollak's F.Y.I., there was a story my father told at the dinner table (most of the things I remember about family history seeming to come from such conversations.) When Dad was still in high school, he got a summer job at a beach club there in the Rockaways where he and his family had spent those childhood summers. Dad often mentioned a best friend, Doug Van Dine, who worked with him in the bathhouses, cleaning the premises, the beach, etc. He and Doug often saw a young man there, not too much older than themselves, who was a guest of the club and an actor on the stage in New York: Humphrey Bogart! There was a steam room there at the beach, frequented by a group of the older men, and Dad told us he and Doug would often see Bogart waiting till a bunch of men were inside, then turning up the heat themostat, and smiling when he heard yelling from inside. Am looking to find one of those sepia pictures from the archive boxes: Dad and Doug in their uniforms, with brooms at hand.

(I can't be completely sure of any of these details, and other things I heard and remembered, but always think the aura surrounding the stories feels right.)

Now here's the F.Y.I. question-and-answer about Humphrey Bogart, and Bogart Street in Brooklyn, with a lovely photo of him and his shadow in concord:

 Michael Pollak's F.Y.I. column, Sunday, January 5, 2014

Columbia Pictures/Photofest

Launch media viewert
Q. There is a Bogart Street in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Does it have any connection with Humphrey Bogart?
A. Yes. According to “Brooklyn by Name,” by Leonard Benardo and Jennifer Weiss, both the street and the actor are descended from Teunis Ghysbertse Bogaerdt (1625-1699), a native of South Holland who settled in Brooklyn’s Wallabout area, around where the Brooklyn Navy Yard was built. His name is thought to be a corruption of “boomgaard,” the Dutch word for “orchard.” In 1654 he married Sara Rapelye, a widow who happened to be the first European woman born in New Amsterdam. Teunis Bogaerdt was a trustee and an overseer of Brooklyn in the late 1670s. Over time, the name was sandpapered down to Bogart.
Bogie was born in New York City on Christmas Day 1899, the son of Dr. Belmont DeForest Bogart, a prominent surgeon, and Maude Humphrey, an acclaimed commercial illustrator. He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.