One thing that the good people of Queens cannot be accused of is a dearth of patriotic flag displays.

Old Glory is found waving everywhere hereabouts, and is particularly conspicuous in the lead up to the Fourth of July holiday. Independence Day in my neighborhood, Astoria, means that in between the flags, there will be a pall of BBQ smoke hanging about in the air and every neighborhood dog will be hiding in the bathtub when the sun goes down and the neighbors begin to detonate their fireworks.

More after the jump.


This month two artists opened a temporary gallery in Rockaway Beach. The gallery, Topless Rockaway, is in a former eye doctor’s office that had been abandoned since Hurricane Sandy hit. The artists, Jenni Crain and Brent Birnbaum worked with the landlord to renovate the space, pulling down old drop ceilings. They told DNAinfo that they preferred being in Rockway over gallery-heavy neighborhoods like Bushwick and Chelsea because of the community feel.

The pair hope to have four exhibits over the course of the summer. Topless Rockaway is at 90-20 Rockaway Beach Boulevard and is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 8 pm and by appointment.

Artists Open Gallery Space to Help Revitalize Empty Rockaway Storefront [DNAinfo]
Temporary Gallery Moves Into Sandy-Damaged Space [NY1]

Photo: Topless Rockaway


It’s a multi-faceted event for a multi-purposed cause. On Saturday, the eighth annual Rockstock and Barrels Festival will fill the Rockaway peninsula with about 11 hours of live music, gnarly surfing contests, rad skateboarding exhibitions and fun beach games. There will also be art, clothing and food vendors. Last year’s extravaganza attracted about 8,000 attendees, including surfers from as far away as California and musicians from all over the United States, to an area that was still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. This year’s event should be even better and proceeds will support the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit that supports everything the peninsula has to offer, including the work of artists, writers, musicians and all lovers of surf and beach. 

Details: Rockstock and Barrels Festival, Boardwalk at Beach 90th Street, Rockaway Beach, June 28th, 10 am to nighttime. Free.

List of scheduled main stage performers: Matthew Kiss, 11 am; The Mourning War, noon; The Wordy Bums, 1 pm; Exit Verona, 2 pm; The King’s Heartbeat, 3 pm; Groundswell, 4 pm; Symptom 7, 5 pm; and Grim Pickens, 6 pm.

List of scheduled second stage performers: John Simonelli, 10:30 am; Ethoscope, 11:30 am; The Ready Hentchmen, 12:30 pm; The Disfunction, 1:30 pm; Rat-Trap Bumpkin, 2:30 pm; Kilzone, 3:30 pm; The Rev Jefferson, 4:30 pm; Shipwrecks, 5:30 pm; and Indaculture, 6:30 pm.

Plus, Kooly Chat will be the DJ all day long.


The sun, or as Mitch refers to it, the “burning thermonuclear eye of God,” was beating down mercilessly, or as merciless as 80 degrees can get. Unlike Rockaway peninsula residents, I’m not a beach devotee; like Nixon, I keep my shirt and shoes on when walking in the sand, though I skip the jacket and tie, unlike Tricky Dick. We had made our way across the Gil Hodges-Marine Parkway Bridge and along the Riis Park beachfront, and thence along Rockaway Beach Boulevard, as described in Part One, Part Two and Part Three. Before kicking it in the head for the day, we made our way steadily toward the transit hub at Rockaway Park.

Saint Francis De Sales Church, at Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 129th Street, has been in existence since the early 20th Century and has seen the effects from the destruction of the World Trade Center, viewed clearly from the Rockaways; the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 on November 12th, 2001; and Hurricane Sandy, October 29-30, 2012, which devastated the peninsula. The church has played a major role in the succor and encouragement of the victims of these tragedies as well as a focal point of community gatherings and relief operations.


As discussed in prior postings, Kevin Walsh and I decided to take Q’stoner with us to the very edge of New York City when we visited the Rockaways. Here’s Part One and here’s Part Two. This is the third installment, and Kevin will finish up the quartet tomorrow. Now, back to the beach.

This shot is looking back at Riis Park, at the border of what must have surely been an enormous and quite recent industrial endeavor.

From Wikipedia:

The park was largely built on the site of the former Rockaway Naval Air Station, one of the first US naval air stations. Riis Park was designed by the politically powerful New York City Park Commissioner Robert Moses, who had also created Jones Beach as a state park further east on Long Island in 1929. Moses saw Riis Park as a Jones Beach for poor immigrants, and ensured that the location was accessible by public transportation and closer to Manhattan.

A vast wall of sand was found, dissimilar in color to the beach sand which the bathers and sun worshippers at Riis were gamboling about upon. This beach is now the built environment, it seems.


In the Rockaways, long stretches of sand are less weekend paradise and more construction zone. Forget your sun visor. This is hard-hat territory.

“It looks like hell,” said Kevin Boyle, a Rockaway community activist. “It’s not exactly ready for the top 10 list anywhere, but it’s coming along. I’m pretty sure by 2020, the boardwalk will be there and the beach will look good.”

It should be mentioned, by the way, that everybody seemed to be having a much better time than Kevin and myself. We were the two weird looking old guys walking around on the beach with cameras… the ones who looked uncomfortable and relatively pale. The suntans people sport out here are actually outrageous for this early in the summer.


Of course, nobody wants to sleep with the fish, but it is fun to check them out in their natural habitat for a few hours every now and then. Summer is whale- and dolphin-watching season in Queens, and American Princess Cruises offers four-hour trips from the Rockaways through local waterways to observe the marine ecosystem as well as seabirds, turtles, seals and other aquatic creatures…and hopefully spot a whale or dolphin. According to the Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, about 25 whale species — including fin, humpback, and sperm — and bottlenose dolphins swim in New York City and Long Island waters during the warm weather months.

Details: Whale and Dolphin Watching, Riis Landing, Rockaway Point Boulevard at Heinzelman Road, Breezy Point, now through August with special trips during the fall, usually noon to 4 pm, $45 for adults/$35 for seniors/$25 for children.


In 1984, Tony Carey sang about “The First Day of Summer,” and Mitch Waxman and I thought that on the first day of summer thirty years later, it would be appropriate to seek out the spot that many New Yorkers think about when the subject of summer comes up, Jacob Riis Park and the sandbar of which it is a part, the Rockaway Peninsula.

Rockaway, depending on what translation is used, means “sandy place” or “place of our people.” A small coterie of Canarsie Indians occupied Rockaway Peninsula until European invasions began in the 16th century; by 1640 it was under Dutch control. Its story as a resort begins in 1833 when a wealthy group calling themselves the Rockaway Association purchased beachfront property from the Cornell family, which owned much of Rockaway from colonial times, and built the Marine Hotel, which was patronized by many of the era’s bright lights including Washington Irving, Henry W. Longfellow and assorted Vanderbilts; the hotel lasted only until it burned down in 1864, but another of the Rockaway Association’s projects remains intact today, the turnpike they built the length of the peninsula from today’s Riis Park to Far Rockaway… today’s Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

Things were going, shall we say, swimmingly. A steam railroad — the precursor to today’s IND A train — reached Rockaway Park (Beach 116th Street) in the 1880s. In 1896 the Seaside Amusement Company officially opened its doors to the public and renamed itself Playland in 1901; it was run by the Geist family for most of its existence. Yes, things were fine indeed. Then, of course, the Irish arrived.

Just kidding. According to The Wave, Rockaway Park’s community newspaper, “a local map dated in 1886 revealed examples of some of the following Irish surnames in Seaside: O’Brien, Norton, Curley, McLain, Farrell, Fannagan, Coghlan, Griffin and Ryan. As early as 1881 there were 48 bars in Seaside [a small section of Rockaway centered around Beach 102nd Street], most of which were operated by Irish owners…After World War II, Old Irish Town had a marvelous rebirth. In the 1950′s, Playland was the center of attraction. The main attractions in Seaside now were the many bars in the area. These included O’Gara’s Sligo House, The White House, Harbor Rest, Maher’s, Smyth’s, the Park Inn, the Mermaid Inn, Boggiano’s and McWalter’s, the Last Stop Inn, Riordan’s, Gildea’s, and the Irish Circle. In the name of civic improvement, less than a decade later, most of the section was torn down. Hi-rise apartments, a sewage disposal plant, shopping centers and parking lots, replaced the bungalows, bars, hotels and gaiety of Old Irishtown.”

In 1932, New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses deemed it proper to create a Jones Beach for the hoi polloi, a means for the masses to enjoy a suburban style beach without the hip-hooray and ballyhoo, the screaming barkers and roaring roller coasters of Coney Island. He found such a space on the western end of the Rockaway peninsula, on the former locale of the Rockaway Naval Air Station; a few buildings from the naval station are still standing, as shown in Part One. In 1932 the Gil Hodges-Marine Park Bridge had yet to be constructed (it opened in 1937) and the only nearby vehicular access to Moses’ new park was via the Cross Bay Bridge over Jamaica Bay. There was and remains no subway access; when the park opened in 1932, the closest approach of any train was the Long Island Rail Road terminal in Rockaway Park, Beach 116th street, a good 40 blocks away. Buses and autos would be the prime movers. Moses made sure a vast parking lot was built adjacent to the new park, enough to hold 5000 cars, big enough to launch and land small airplanes.


Kevin Walsh and I were chatting recently, and it was decided that we should go out to the Rockaways and do a bit of exploring. We agreed to not reference a certain song as well. Leaving from Astoria, an R Line train carried me to 59 Lex, and that’s where I transferred to the 5 Line. The 5 took me the end of the run, nearby Brooklyn College at the so called Flatbush Junction. That’s where Mr. Walsh and I had arranged to meet, which was accomplished, and we boarded the Q35 bus toward Rockaway. All told, the trip from Steinway Street in Astoria to the southern border of Brooklyn and Queens took a little more than an hour and 20 minutes.

That really isn’t bad, I have to say, bravo MTA.

We debarked the bus just shy of our goal, on the Brooklyn side of the Gil Hodges Marine Parkway Bridge. The span’s birthday is coming up on July 3rd — read more about the structure in this Q’stoner post from January of this year.

This is a pretty scary place to be a pedestrian crossing the road, I have to say. Luckily, the plucky spirit of my companion buoyed me up. Our intention, upon crossing the very end of Flatbush Avenue, was to stroll across the bridge and photograph both it and the surrounding scenery… but…

Unfortunately 911 era signage adorns the thing, carrying one of those meaningless and unconstitutional missives which attempted to equate photography of the public space with terrorist activity. This is an MTA bridge, by the way, but you see this sort of signage on TBTA and Port Authority properties as well. I won’t get into the whole “War on Photography” rant, but you can’t expect to restrict access to reflected light.

Shame on you MTA.

Luckily, on the Queens side of the bridge, the structure reveals itself from the public thoroughfare. Kevin and I marveled as the lift bridge was activated just as we started encountering beach sand on the sidewalks.

There was quite a bit of shoreline reconstruction going on just at the foot of the bridge. The presence and effects of Hurricane Sandy are everywhere you look in the Rockaways, although some areas we encountered are clearly FAR worse off than others.


Nothing — not even Hurricane Sandy — can stop the Rockaways. On June 29th, Rockaway! Opening Day will take place at the restored, renovated and historic Fort Tilden in the Gateway National Recreation Area. Thousands of attendees are expected to check out this eight-hour event, which will close with a free concert by local resident Patti “the Godmother of Punk” Smith (below). Here’s a brief schedule.

  • Noon: Fort Tilden opens. Food trucks begin operation. Rockaway Little League concessions open. Rockaway Artists Alliance provides free water and lemonade.
  • 12:30 pm: Welcome ceremony with National Park Service, Rockaway Artists Alliance, Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, and elected officials. Parking shuttle to Riis Beach begins operation.
  • 1 pm: Children’s art activities, film screenings, camping and kayaking.
  • 2 pm: Pick-up baseball games. More screenings.
  • 7 pm: Patti Smith concert.
  • 8 pm: Fort Tilden closes. Rockaway Surf Beach Club after-party begins.

This is the kick-off event for Rockaway! (above), a large-scale, public contemporary art festival that will run through Labor Day. It will feature site-specific works by local and internationally acclaimed artists.

Details: Rockaway! Opening Day, Fort Tilden, Gateway National Recreation Area, June 29th, noon to 8 pm, free.

Top photo: Rockaway Beach Surf Club; bottom photo: Michael O’Kane


Poland celebrated its first Dzień Dziecka (Children’s Day) on June 1st, 1952, as part of an international observance that the Women’s International Democratic Federation had established in 1949. As it takes place near the end of the academic year, the festivities are mostly school-based, and parents often buy gifts for their children. This year the fun heads to “The Peninsula,” as the Beach 116th Street Partnership will launch its first annual Poland’s International Children’s Day this Sunday. Honoring all the world’s youth, this extravaganza will have a distinctive Rockaway style with over 30 food/drink vendors and stalls, live music and entertainment, folk dances, a Junior Miss Polonia competition, face-painting, crafts, rides, carnival attractions, and a petting zoo, among other programming. Expect everything from pierogi to kielbasa to Mazowsze-style dancing.

Details: Poland’s International Children’s Day, Beach 116th Street between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and the Ocean Promenade Walkway, Rockaway Beach, June 1st, 10 am to 9 pm, free.

Photos: Poland’s International Children’s Day