Breezy Point: Tested by Wind, Flood and Fire
I’d like to talk about a community that I know very intimately: Breezy Point on the Rockaway Peninsula of Long Island. Many of you have seen the horrible images of Hurricane Sandy ripping through the shore communities of the Eastern United States. Towns and cities took a fearsome blow from this monster storm but none were subjected to the triple whammy of wind, flood and inexplicably, out-of-control fire.
My family has summered on the Rockaway Peninsula for over 100 years. My great grandparents used to cross Jamaica Bay by ferry in June and return to their home in Canarsie after Labor Day. They lived at a bungalow that was a raised platform on the Bayside with a canvas roof. They brought everything that they needed for the summer with them and took it home in September.
My own parents bought the bungalow still owned by three of my siblings in 1950. I was still an only child but they eventually filled it with five children. Their children have since brought their wives and children to enjoy the sun and the surf of the “Irish Riviera.”
You see, Breezy Point is what you would call an enclave. Almost 50 years ago, the home owners were threatened with the loss of everything that they had built. The Federal government was being pressured by who-else, the liberal establishment led by New York City Mayor Robert Wagner and Mrs. Marshall Field. “Let’s make a new park out of Breezy Point’, they opined. Their plan was to sweep aside the homeowners of Breezy Point and get the feds to pay for everything.
They didn’t account for the determination of the homeowners to keep their little community. Against the forces of an all-powerful government, we sent the mothers of Breezy Point. My own mother, pushing my brother Brian in a stroller, took a ferry to Manhattan and picketed City Hall. We formed an association whose watchword was ALOHA. One wag translated that to mean, “Aw Leave Our Homes Alone.” Another guy painted it on his roof.
Our parents, along with all of the other parents collected $500 per bungalow as a downpayment to buy the property under our homes. It was a lot of money back then. Many families had to dig deep into their savings but they did. Up until then the land had been leased on 99 year leases. We formed the Breezy Point Cooperative and went to war to preserve our homes and community. In the end we won after a hard and long fight.
Our community has been battered by storms for as long as it has existed. My sister has gone there to assess the damage to our bungalow and told me that the beach front bar had been flattened. My response, “They’ll rebuild it like the last ten times.”
My family’s roots are deep in the sands of Breezy Point. Five generations have sat in the sun and enjoyed the surf. Our summers were always accounted for as we grew up. We arrived before Memorial Day and spent weekends scraping, painting and hammering. I learned how to paint a deck at Breezy Point. I d the nails when I accompanied my father there to “winterize” our bungalow. I was six at the time. My former brother-in-law once bragged about painting the whole bungalow. My response, “Twenty-two more years and you’ll catch up to me.”
Breezy Point is a unique community in New York City. It’s populated now by active and retired cops and firemen. It lost 37 on 9/11. Parents have passed homes down to children who intend to pass them to their children. The loss of 110 homes to the horrible fire was shocking for all but someone got Governor Cuomo to promise to help them rebuild.
Although, I haven’t visited Breezy for several years and have lived away from the New York area in Wisconsin and Virginia, I’ll always consider myself a Breezy Pointer. Please pray for them, they deserve your prayers and help. But understand one thing, Breezy Point will survive and rebuild. You see their roots are deep in the sand!
If any of you can help, here’s the link: https://www.wepay.com/donations/572081337