Rockaway, Queens

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Neighborhoods of New York City
Rockaway Peninsula along the coast of Queens
Rockaway Peninsula along the coast of Queens
Country United States
State New York
County Queens
Named for Corruption of original Lenape language name
 • Estimate (2007) 130,000
Area code(s) 718, 347, 917
Aerial view of Rockaway, Queens (looking northeast)
Aerial view of the Rockaway Peninsula at dusk (looking southeast)
Rockaway Boardwalk
Residential buildings in Far Rockaway

The Rockaway Peninsula, more commonly referred to as The Rockaways, is the name of a peninsula of Long Island, all of which is located within the New York City borough of Queens. A popular summer resort area since the 1830s, Rockaway has become a mixture of lower, middle, and upper-class neighborhoods. Its relative isolation from the urban areas of the city, especially Manhattan, has traditionally made it a popular summer retreat. The neighborhood is part of Queens Community Board 14.[1] As of January 1, 2007, the peninsula's total population is estimated to be just below 130,000.[2]

Rockaway is entirely in New York's 5th congressional district, under Congressman Gregory Meeks. All ZIP codes in Rockaway begin with 116- and the central post office is in Far Rockaway. In October 2012, Rockaway was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.[3][4]


Early history[edit]

What is now known as Rockaway was inhabited by the Lenape Native Americans, but sold to the Dutch by the Mohegan tribe along with most of Long Island in 1639,[5] and to the British in 1685.[6] Finally the land was sold to Richard Cornell, who settled there.[7] The name "rockaway" is the later corruption of a Lenape language word that sounded phonetically something like "rack-a-wak-e", and referred to the area. It may have meant "place of sands"(see: Toponymy of New Netherland).[8]

Prior to the consolidation of Greater New York City in 1898, the Rockaway Peninsula was part of the Town of Hempstead, then a part of Queens County.[9] The village of Rockaway Park became incorporated into the City of Greater New York on January 1, 1898.

Late 19th/early 20th centuries[edit]

Rockaway became a popular area for seaside hotels starting in the 1830s, and popularity grew with the coming of the Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch in the 1880s. The bungalow became the most popular type of housing during the summer months. Even today, some of these remain, converted to provide modern amenities, although the vast majority were razed in urban renewal during the 1960s.

In 1893, Hog Island, a small sandbar island off the coast of Far Rockaway washed away in a storm.[10] Plates, along with older artifacts, still wash up along the shore of Rockaway Beach.[11]

Rockaways' Playland, a world renowned amusement park opened in 1901, and was a popular place for New York families until 1985 when insurance costs and competition from major regional parks made it impossible to continue operations.[7]

The completion of the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge in 1939 (at the center of the peninsula which was replaced by a new Cross Bay Bridge in 1969)[12] and the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge in 1937 (at the western end of the peninsula)[13] increased the accessibility to Queens and Brooklyn, however, the development of Jones Beach by Robert Moses drew tourism away from both Coney Island and Rockaway Beach.

Late 20th century[edit]

With the advent of inexpensive travel, air-conditioning, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and the Interstate Highway system, Rockaway lost its luster as a recreation area, and development transformed much of it into residential communities.

The peninsula's main communities are Belle Harbor and Far Rockaway. Other important neighborhoods on the peninsula include Arverne, Neponsit, Rockaway Beach, Rockaway Park, Breezy Point and Edgemere. Broad Channel, located on its own island in Jamaica Bay between the peninsula and the mainland of Queens, is generally considered to be psychographically part of the Rockaways. The Rockaway area, including Broad Channel, is served by the IND Rockaway Line (A S trains) of the New York City Subway, formerly the Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. Until 1975, an additional fare was charged to passengers departing any of the Rockaway-area stations, including Broad Channel, if the trip originated or terminated outside the area (in addition to the standard entry fare).

In the years immediately following World War II, several public housing projects were built in the region, and these eventually became hotbeds of crime and related social pathologies. This provoked a backlash from some of the peninsula's more established residents (many of whom are of Irish Catholic heritage). A strong Jewish community (many of whose members are Sephardi Jews) also exists in the area around Far Rockaway.

21st century[edit]

Redevelopment has started in some areas of the peninsula. Although various plans, including casinos, sports arenas, and other real-estate projects had been proposed in the past, many of these did not come to fruition due to either lack of funds, development stagnation, or resident resistance. However, in 2002, a "revival" began on the peninsula, as a new residential development plan started construction in a large vacant section between Rockaway Beach and Arverne. The new areas have become known as Arverne By the Sea[14] and Arverne East.[15] Far Rockaway Shopping Center, in downtown Far Rockaway between the Far Rockaway A train station, and the Far Rockaway LIRR train station, got its first new store in decades, with others soon to follow as the run-down center gets renovated.[16]

The new development projects however, have sparked a new building boom in the neighboring communities. This has caused some concern and has led to various debates regarding development within those neighborhoods. The main problem has to do with Rockaway's zoning laws: those laws, decades old, cater to large multiple dwellings because of the hotels that had once existed in the area. This has led to construction of taller and wider buildings in areas that currently contain lower density housing. In response, some communities have approved rezoning plans for their neighborhoods in order to stop "out of character" development.[17]

Opponents also contend that due to the rapidly growing population,[18] the current infrastructure is inadequate and that there are environmental issues to consider. Those in favor of the development, however, contend that the development will help spur economic development and that the infrastructure cannot be upgraded until the population has reached a more noticeable level. Furthermore some developers have questioned the legality of "down zoning".[19] On August 14, 2008, however, a drastic rezoning plan was approved by the New York City Council for five communities on the peninsula covering 280 blocks. The communities that were included are Rockaway Park, Rockaway Beach, Somerville, Edgemere, and Far Rockaway. The goal of the rezoning plan is to stop overdevelopment in these areas but at the same time allow growth within the context of the neighborhoods.[20]

Today the area still draws crowds during the summer with well-tended beaches. Jacob Riis Park and Fort Tilden are situated towards the western end of the peninsula, and are part of the Gateway National Recreational Area, which was created in 1972 as one of the first urban national parks. The 5.5 miles (8.9 km) long Rockaway Boardwalk and 170 acres (0.69 km2) of sandy beaches, fully accessible by subway, make this a popular summer day trip for New York City residents. Toward the western end of the boardwalk, several portions of the beach are fenced off to preserve the nesting habitat for several species of terns and plovers, making for a unique urban birdwatching locale. Post 2010 there was a major resurgence in the Rockaways popularity. Various media began reporting on artists such as Andrew VanWyngarden, co-founder of popular psychedelic rock band MGMT, purchasing homes on the beach.[21] The Rockaways became popular with the hipsters: There is even a summer shuttle bus which transports people from Williamsburg to the Rockaways.[22]

Disasters and events[edit]

On June 6, 1993, a ship called the Golden Venture beached on the shore off Fort Tilden, located on the western half of the Rockaway Peninsula. The ship contained 296 Chinese illegal aliens including 13 crew members. Ten people drowned trying to reach the peninsula's shoreline.[23]

Over 70 Rockaways residents were killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, including people who worked at WTC and FDNY firefighters and EMS personnel dispatched to the location. Two months later, on November 12, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in the Rockaway neighborhood of Belle Harbor killing 265 people—260 on board the aircraft and five on the ground. The impact of the two incidents on the community was the subject of the book Braving the Waves: Rockaway Rises, and Rises Again by Kevin Boyle, the former editor of The Wave, Rockaway's local newspaper and the oldest weekly newspaper in New York City. The book contained many personal accounts of Rockaway residents and is liberally interspersed with historical interludes dealing with many times that the Rockaways have been devastated by fire and how its citizens and summer residents have met the adversity.

On Tuesday, April 5, 2011, Georgetown University medical student Jason Maloney landed a single-engine airplane carrying two passengers on the beach at Beach 56th St and Shore Front Parkway. After initially claiming he was required to make a forced landing due to a sick passenger, the pilot admitted he was inspired to perform a beach landing after watching the Discovery Channel show Flying Wild Alaska.[24] The incident remains under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.[25]

Rockaway was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. A fire which spread between the closely spaced houses of Breezy Point while firefighters' access to the area was greatly hampered by flooding, destroyed 126 homes and damaged 22 more. Thousands of other houses were damaged by flooding. The Rockaway boardwalk was swept away by the floodwaters, leaving only its supporting piers visible.[26][27][28][29][30]



High schools[edit]

Other schools[edit]

Channel View School
  • St. Francis de Sales
  • St. Camillus
  • St. Rose of Lima
  • West End Temple
  • Yeshiva of Far Rockaway
  • Beth El Temple
  • P.S. 43
  • P.S. 104
  • P.S. 106
  • P.S. 114
  • P.S. 197 The Ocean School[31]
  • P.S. 215
  • P.S. 225
  • M.S. 53
  • M.S. 183
  • Church Of God Christian Academy[32]
  • St. Mary Star of the Sea
  • Scholars' Academy
  • Channel View School For Research

In popular culture[edit]

The Rockaway Arts Council provides a wide range of events throughout the year. Two art groups in Rockaway, the Rockaway Theater Company and the Rockaway Artists' Alliance, hold most of their productions in Fort Tilden.

The Ramones song "Rockaway Beach" is probably the most commonly known pop culture reference to this region.[33] In the early 1980s, Christine Lavin, New York based folksinger, wrote the poignant song "Rockaway" about her family home, eventually washed away by Hurricane Sandy. Herman Melville refers to it in Moby-Dick. Woody Allen's Radio Days was filmed in Rockaway Park, with period facades and cars turning back the clock during the shoot. Jill Eisenstadt's bestselling novel, From Rockaway (Knopf) fictionalizes the world of local lifeguards in the 1980s. Denis Leary's TV series Rescue Me filmed in many locations on the Rockaway Peninsula. In the Seinfeld episode "The Marine Biologist", Kramer suggests that George and Jerry accompany him to Rockaway to hit golf balls into the ocean. The title of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's book of poems, A Far Rockaway of the Heart is a reference to the region. Boardwalk Empire, a popular HBO series is partially filmed at Fort Tilden and the Beach 30's boardwalk, standing in for Atlantic City in the 1920s. On All in the Family, in the "Archie's Fraud" episode, Archie Bunker automatically assumes his IRS examiner lives in Harlem because he is black - only to have the examiner tell him that he lives in Far Rockaway.

Patricia Reilly Giff's 1998 Newbery Award-winning novel Lily's Crossing is set in Rockaway, New York. The story, about a girl's friendship with a Hungarian refugee, was partially inspired by the author's own childhood memories of Rockaway Beach during the Second World War. A companion book, Willow Run, features Rockaway as the home of Margaret Dillon, a child whose family in summer 1944 relocates for the rest of World War II to Willow Run, Michigan (now between Ypsilanti, Michigan and Belleville, Michigan) to work at Henry Ford's Willow Run B-24 Liberator bomber plant as part of the United States civilian war effort.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Queens Community Boards, New York City. Retrieved September 3, 2007.
  2. ^ Briano, Nicholas (March 21, 2008). "Rockaway Population Popping At Record Pace". The Wave. Retrieved October 18, 2008. 
  3. ^ Shapiro, Lila; Knafo, Saki; Hallman, Ben (October 30, 2012). "Rockaways Face Widespread Destruction: It Was Like Sitting 'In The Middle Of The Sea'". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Conlin, Michelle (October 30, 2012). "Huge fire in Sandy's wake destroys New York City beach community". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Governor Kieft's Personal War, Retrieved November 28, 2006.
  6. ^ Matinecock Masonic Historical Society: History, Retrieved November 28, 2006
  7. ^ a b "Rockaway..."place of waters bright"". The Wave. Retrieved October 19, 2008. 
  8. ^ Also, see Metoac#Exonyms.
  9. ^ "Before the Five-Borough City: Queens".  This map shows the boundaries of the former towns and the former city within the present Borough of Queens.
  10. ^ The Big One, New York Press, Retrieved October 18, 2008. "In the years after the Civil War, developers built saloons and bathhouses, and Hog Island became a sort of 1890s version of the Hamptons. During the summers, the city's Democratic bosses used Hog Island as a kind of outdoor annex of Tammany Hall."
  11. ^ The Big One, New York Press, Retrieved October 18, 2008. "In the dredged-up sand, Coch's students found hundreds of artifacts—plates, whiskey bottles, teapots, beer mugs, lumps of coal and, what proved to be the most telling clue of all, an old hurricane lamp."
  12. ^ Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge, Historical Overview, Retrieved October 19, 2008.
  13. ^ Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, Historical Overview, Retrieved October 19, 2008.
  14. ^ Arverne by the Sea Website
  15. ^ Arverne East Website
  16. ^ Rosenberg, Miriam (February 2, 2007). "Rockaway Park Votes 'Go' On Rezoning". The Wave. Retrieved April 7, 2007. 
  17. ^ Colangelo, Lisa (June 6, 2012). "Renewed hope for barren Far Rockaway Shopping Center". New York Daily News. Retrieved Oct 16, 2012. 
  18. ^ Magoolahan, Brian (March 23, 2007). "Pop! Number of New Residents Surges". The Wave. Retrieved April 7, 2007. 
  19. ^ Rosenberg, Miriam (July 14, 2006). "RB Downzone Debate Rages On". The Wave. Retrieved April 7, 2007. 
  20. ^ Rockaway Neighborhoods Rezoning New York City Department of City Planning
  21. ^ Rockaways Hipsterfication Report: MGMT Buys A House, Beer Garden Looms, Gothamist. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  22. ^ Rockaway Beach is the Hipster Hamptons, Am New York. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  23. ^ Stout, David (November 18, 1995). "Suspected Organizer of Golden Venture Operation Is Arrested". The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2008. 
  24. ^ Wilson, Michael (April 5, 2011). "Pilot With Sick Passenger Lands on Rockaway Beach". The New York Times. 
  25. ^ Tomassini, Jason (April 6, 2011). "Morning Buzz – Beach Landing Raises Questions". The New York Times. 
  26. ^ Nessen, Stephen. "The First Neighbors Return to Devastated Breezy Point". Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  27. ^ "Superstorm Sandy's toll: Mounting deaths, historic destruction, stranded residents". CNN. October 30, 2012. 
  28. ^ Sandy (2012-10-30). "Update: Breezy Point, Queens blaze upgraded to 6-alarm fire, at least 50 homes completely destroyed by fire - @FDNY". Retrieved 2014-06-11. 
  29. ^ [1][dead link]
  30. ^ Leitsinger, Miranda (2012-11-05). "Parting with life's props: A tough cleanup begins in Breezy Point - U.S. News". Retrieved 2014-06-11. 
  31. ^ P.S. 197 The Ocean School
  32. ^ Church Of God Christian Academy
  33. ^ "Christine Lavin". Christine Lavin. Retrieved 2014-06-11. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°35′29″N 73°48′58″W / 40.591286°N 73.816112°W / 40.591286; -73.816112