They are among the last of the summer bungalow people: nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters who toil all year with the beach on their minds and finally, come summer, pack up their apartments in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx or their houses in the suburbs and head to Queens for the season.
Shore Colony of Bungalows Is Still Sheltering
the Fugitives of Summer
By SARAH KERSHAW
There, inside a colony of 100 tidy wooden A-frame houses on Beach 108th and Beach 109th Streets in Rockaway Park, virtually hidden among the hulking housing projects, nursing homes, crumbling old hotels and empty lots, the summer people continue a century-old tradition begun by their grandparents and great-grandparents and all but erased from the local landscape.
The migration begins on Memorial Day weekend, as it did in the late 1800's and early 1900's, when the Rockaway peninsula beaches first became popular as the summer destination for the working class. Back then, air-conditioning was a block of ice, the subway ride to the beach cost a nickel and the poorest families could always rent a tent on the sand.
later, the Rockaways' heyday is long gone and most of the bungalows have
been torn down. But Mary Turner, a visiting nurse who lives in Yonkers
from September through May, is summering in her tiny wooden bungalow, built
in about 1915 on Beach 108th Street. The bungalows of her childhood were
only a few blocks away, but all that remains of them are her
memories: visiting her grandparents and spending summers with her father, a truck driver, and her mother, a nurse, and three siblings.
May, Mrs. Turner recalls, her family left its stifling tenement in Manhattan,
and, for three magical months, savored the ocean breezes and the sandy
sheets at their summer home on the Queens shore. She made lifelong friends
— three of her bridesmaids were bungalow kids — and even as much of that
part of the Rockaways was transformed from a bustling summer getaway to
a set of downtrodden urban neighborhoods, she and her summer neighbors
At one point in the late 1980's, livable summer bungalows were so scarce that Mrs. Turner, 47, and her husband, Bill, a credit union treasurer, had to go a few summers without one.
"It's 1988 and I'm pregnant," Mrs. Turner said, as she sat on her bungalow porch the other day, with two of her closest friends from the colony, Millie Scanlon, a teacher from Medford, N.J., and Susan O'Hanlon, also a teacher, who lives in Rockland County. "I said to my husband, `I'm having a baby in July, and if I don't have a bungalow, there's going to be a divorce.' "
Eventually, Mrs. Turner found one for rent on Beach 108th Street, and the couple later bought it for $25,000. It is, by all accounts, part of the last remaining colony of intact summer bungalows, although much smaller colonies and individual bungalows, some in serious disrepair, are scattered throughout the western end of the peninsula.
Mrs. O'Hanlon, 55, grew up in the Bronx and also summered every year in Rockaway Park, in a bungalow — five houses from Mrs. Turner's — that she bought in 1979. She said some of her friends and neighbors in New City find her summer destination a bit odd, often saying, "Wait. You go to New York City for the summer?"
"Where else could you have all this?" she said, pointing to the Atlantic Ocean a half-block away, her friends and the bungalows.
That a summer bungalow colony of such size still thrives on the peninsula, after most were deserted, sold to the city and then demolished, or winterized for year-round housing, is surprising even to historians and the many nostalgia buffs who collect old postcards and photographs and lament that lost era.
"It's a historical curiosity," Vincent F. Seyfried, a Queens historian and a co-author of "Old Rockaway, New York, in Early Photographs" (Dover Press, 2000).
Until about 1950 summer bungalows stretched for miles, most of them concentrated between Beach 30th and Beach 90th Streets. But after World War II, Mr. Seyfried said, the area began to lose its lure as a summer resort and "the new generations began to think that Rockaway was old hat and if you were anybody you would go to Europe or South America."
the number of summer renters dwindled, landlords began to neglect the bungalows
and eventually sold them to the city, Mr. Seyfried said. By 1961, most
were so decrepit that the city, under Mayor John F. Lindsay, demolished
hundreds of them in one fell swoop, leaving only scattered pockets of summer
housing. To this day, most of the land where the bungalow colonies stood
remains largely barren, as various plans to develop the area have failed
The bungalows that survived are privately owned and typically passed down from one generation to another.
On each Memorial Day weekend, when Mrs. Turner arrives at the small cottage with the "Turner Bungalow" sign tacked to a wooden shingle out front, she joins dozens of friends, people she has known for 50 summers or more. Most of the occupants of one court, as the clusters of 10 bungalows built around a concrete courtyard are called, are from Yorkville, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Other courts have people from all over — upstate, Long Island and New Jersey.
And even if the summer neighbors, most of them Irish like the bungalow residents before them, have not spoken once during the previous nine months (unless there was a wedding or a wake), it is as if time had stood still.
On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, the beach was out for most except the teenage surfers, but the courtyards bustled. A group of girls sold sea shells on the Beach 109th Street sidewalks. But most "bungaloonies," as the residents sometimes call themselves, chatted, read books borrowed from a local branch library, played cards or sipped tea on porches that were so close together there was almost no point in whispering.
ran between the bungalows, holding damp towels, tablecloths and T-shirts
that weren't getting any drier. Next to the Turner bungalow was a handwritten
sign taped to a wooden post offering to clean children's scooters, for
a fee: "Clean wheels and body! 25 cents to get done. We'll tell you when
to pick it up." Along Mrs. Turner's court, there was talk of
organizing a barbecue, and soon the children would begin rehearsing for the Labor Day talent show, an annual event that goes back at least 50 years.
Labor Day is a three-day party when bungalow dwellers go from court to court, eating, drinking and sharing stories until the first light. Then they close down their dwellings for the winter and leave for another nine months.
Mrs. Turner said that before leaving, she and her friends often filled water bottles or apple sauce jars with sand to take back to their apartments and houses, so they could sprinkle it on their children's sheets.
helps with the transition," she said.
Return to Home Page