The Rockaway Peninsula, commonly referred to as the Rockaways, is the name of a peninsula on Long Island, New York, 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. As of January 1, 2007, the peninsula's total population is estimated to be just below 130,000. 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.
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, and to the British in 1685. Finally the land was sold to Richard Cornell, who settled there. 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).
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.
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. The village of Rockaway Park became incorporated into the City of Greater New York on January 1, 1898.
Early 20th century
In the early 1900s, the newly built railroad station opened up the community and the rest of the peninsula to a broad range of the population. The wealthy no longer had a monopoly on the peninsula, as various amusement parks, stores, and resort hotels attracted people from all over the city to spend a day or a whole summer there. Much of the area was developed by James S. Remsen and William Wainwright. In this era, it became known as "New York's Playground". Around this time, Breezy Point in the Rockaways began as summer beach bungalow.
The central-peninsula neighborhood of Hammels, along with the eastern communities of Arverne and Far Rockaway, tried to secede from the city several times. In 1915 and 1917, a bill approving the secession passed in the legislature but was vetoed by the mayor at the time, John Purroy Mitchel.
Rockaway's famous amusement park, Rockaways' Playland, was built in 1901 and quickly became a major attraction for people around the region. With its growing popularity, concern over swimming etiquette became a problem and early in 1904, the Captain of the NYPD, Louis Kreuscher, issued rules for those using the beach, censoring the bathing suits to be worn, where photographs could be taken, and specifying that women in bathing suits were not allowed to leave the beachfront. The park was grand for its time. One of its most popular attractions, the Atom Smasher roller coaster, would be featured in the beginning of This is Cinerama, a pre-IMAX type movie, in 1952. An Olympic-size swimming pool and a million-dollar midway also were built within the amusement park; they would serve the community for over eighty years. It 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.
In the 1930s, Robert Moses came to power as New York City's Parks Commissioner and his extensive road and transportation projects were both a benefit and disaster for the neighborhood. As commissioner, Moses ordered the construction of the Marine Parkway Bridge and the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge. The bridges were completed in 1937 and 1939 respectively. The Marine Parkway Bridge was built further west on the peninsula between Jacob Riis Park and Breezy Point linking the isolated communities to Brooklyn. The Cross Bay Bridge landed in the middle of the neighborhood of Rockaway Beach. The construction of the two bridges started to transform the neighborhood and the rest of the peninsula into a more year-round residential area or commuter town, as people had a more convenient way to travel to and from work. The conversion of the Rockaway Beach LIRR branch to the Rockaway subway line also brought an increase to Rockaway's permanent residents.
Although the bridges were intended to improve the Rockaways, Moses' other projects both directly and indirectly hurt the community. One such failed project was the planned construction of the Shore Front Parkway in the 1950s and 1960s. Wanting to connect Staten Island to the Hamptons, Moses focused on making a highway through the Rockaway Peninsula. His idea was to connect the Marine Parkway Bridge with the Atlantic Beach Bridge, which connected the Rockaway Peninsula to Nassau County. The plan would also provide an extension midway through to include the Cross Bay Bridge. Many feared that a such an extensive project would do more harm to the peninsula than good and pointed to the community displacement that had happened in the South Bronx because of Moses' roadway construction Even though Moses never got to make his highway, he did leave his mark. A piece of the planned parkway that ran west to east in the Rockaway Park and Rockaway Beach neighborhoods was constructed and opened in 1939. Houses were literally cut in half in order to build the four-lane street. Some of these houses are still standing today. The existing, still unfinished street is locally known as the "road from nowhere to nowhere" because it does not have any relevant connections to any other area or highway.
Robert Moses' construction of other recreational areas and facilities, such as the New York Aquarium and Jones Beach State Park, indirectly impacted the neighborhood as well. These more modern recreational facilities lured tourists and beachgoers away from the peninsula. With fewer customers, businesses and hotels closed, and by the 1950s, the area had fallen into economic decline. The transition from a summer vacationing area to a full-time residential neighborhood had taken its toll.
Late 20th century
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.
For example, the city constructed the Hammel Houses in Rockaway Beach. This project would be one of the many so-called urban renewal efforts that dominated the community and much of its eastern neighbors in the last half of the 20th century. The New York City Housing Authority purchased the land in 1952 on the north side of the elevated track. In 1964, the Authority decided to demolish and rebuild the entire area and turn it into a park.
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 and Arverne East. Far Rockaway Shopping Center, in downtown Far Rockaway between the Far Rockaway A train subway station, and the Far Rockaway LIRR station, got its first new store in decades, with others soon to follow as the run-down center gets renovated.
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.
Opponents also contend that due to the rapidly growing population, 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". 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.
With more and more people moving to the city, the Rockaways become a destination for adventurous day trippers. The area appears in New York magazine's 2007 spring travel issue as a place for "male bonding" and to "scuba dive for sunken ships" via Sheepshead Bay's Jeanne II docks at Pier Five. 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 the 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. After 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. The Rockaways became popular with the hipsters: There is even a summer shuttle bus which transports people from Williamsburg to the Rockaways.
Disasters and events
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.
Over 70 Rockaways residents were killed in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, including people who worked there and New York City Fire Department firefighters and EMS personnel dispatched to the location.
Two months later, on November 12, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in 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. The incident remains under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rockaway was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Many homes in the Rockaways, especially in Breezy Point, were damaged or destroyed by high water. Residents lost everything in their basements, and hundreds of vehicles were ruined by the storm. One car caught fire when someone tried to start their vehicle, but residents put the fire out before help arrived.
Soon after Hurricane Sandy, 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. The FDNY found 130 homes burned to the ground. Nearby, another 50 homes were damaged by the fire. According to an official report in December, rising seawater caused the fire by contacting a house's electrical wires.
- Arverne – between Beach 56th Street and Beach 79th Street
- Bayswater – located to the northeast of Far Rockaway, along the southeastern shore of Jamaica Bay
- Belle Harbor – between Beach 126th Street and Beach 141st Street
- Breezy Point – located on the westernmost portion of the Rockaways, west of Beach 141st Street
- Edgemere – between Beach 32nd Street and Beach 56th Street
- Far Rockaway – between Nassau County line and Beach 32nd Street
- Hammels – along Beach 84th Street; also extends to Beach 79th Street
- Neponsit – between Beach 142nd Street and Beach 149th Street
- Rockaway Beach – whole south side of island between Beach 102nd Street and Beach 149th Street
- Rockaway Park – between Beach 105th Street and Beach 126th Street
- Roxbury – within Breezy Point, on the north side of Beach Channel Drive
- Seaside – between Beach 84th Street and Beach 105th Street
- Far Rockaway High School
- Beach Channel High School
- Stella Maris High School
- Scholars' Academy High 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
- P.S. 215
- P.S. 225
- M.S. 53
- M.S. 183
- Church Of God Christian Academy
- St. Mary Star of the Sea
- Scholars' Academy
- Channel View School For Research
In popular culture
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. 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 the Rockaways. 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.
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- "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.
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- Arverne East Website
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- Wilson, Michael (April 5, 2011). "Pilot With Sick Passenger Lands on Rockaway Beach". The New York Times.
- Tomassini, Jason (April 6, 2011). "Morning Buzz – Beach Landing Raises Questions". The New York Times.
- "NYC Neighborhood Startled By Unexpected Tornado". Huffington Post. September 8, 2012.
- 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.
- Conlin, Michelle (October 30, 2012). "Huge fire in Sandy's wake destroys New York City beach community". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer http://www.seattlepi.com/news/us/article/At-least-80-flooded-houses-destroyed-by-NYC-fire-3991949.php#photo-3662958
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- Nessen, Stephen. "The First Neighbors Return to Devastated Breezy Point". WNYC.org. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
- "Superstorm Sandy's toll: Mounting deaths, historic destruction, stranded residents". CNN. October 30, 2012.
- Sandy (2012-10-30). "Update: Breezy Point, Queens blaze upgraded to 6-alarm fire, at least 50 homes completely destroyed by fire - @FDNY". breakingnews.com. Retrieved 2014-06-11.
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- http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/30/superstorm-sandys-wrath/ hpt=hp_t1
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- P.S. 197 The Ocean School
- "Church Of God Christian Academy". Retrieved 18 September 2014.
- "Christine Lavin". Christine Lavin. Retrieved 2014-06-11.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rockaway, Queens.|
- History of Rockaway from The Wave
- Downloadable copy of History of the Rockaways from the year 1685 to 1917 by Alfred H. Bellot
- US Geological Survey for Breezy Point
- The Rockaways by Henry Isham Hazelton (1924)
- Far Rockaway High School Alumni Website
- St. Francis de Sales Parish, Belle Harbor
- Gateway National Recreation Area official website
- Housing Mania in The Rockaways by Angelo Guarino