The South Edgemere Wasteland

September 30, 2010 - This photo essay is part of a three part series exploring Edgemere, an isolated waterfront neighborhood in The Rockaways. Each photo essay focuses on one of Edgemere's three distinct geographic areas: The South Edgemere Wasteland, The North Edgemere Shore and The Edgemere Landfill.

Edgemere is a Queens waterfront neighborhood split in two. In the north, residents live on the shores of Jamaica Bay. In the south, a vast plain covers more then 20 blocks of abandoned oceanfront. This city-owned wasteland is a part of the Arverne Urban Renewal Area, and may soon be redeveloped as Arverne East. Stretching along the Rockaway shoreline from Beach 32nd Street to Beach 56th Place, this property has remained empty for decades. Forgotten New York once called it "one of the eeriest places in New York City," while New York Magazine has described the Arverne renewal area as "barren blocks and de-mapped streets merging with the emptiness of the ocean to form a single great desolation... a testing ground for urban entropy, a place where a man was once chased and mauled by a pack of wild dogs, a legacy of Lindsay-era slum clearance, Moses-era central-planning hubris, and native New York development inertia."

In a different era, Edgemere's seaside was a thriving resort, with grand hotels, a bustling boardwalk, and thousands of residents. Today, it is devoid of buildings and permanent residents, and "has stood vacant, except for plant life and wild dogs, for more than 35 years, when thousands of summer bungalows and stores were plowed under as part of the Arverne Urban Renewal Project, a massive building project that was put on hold and never revived," according to the Rockaway newspaper The Wave. The city continues to maintain the streets in south Edgemere - to some degree - with signs lurking in the bushes and new curb cuts floating like islands in the urban wilderness. But few sidewalks remain intact, most roadways are pockmarked with potholes or covered in shifting sands, and the entire area is used as a communal dumping ground. Clothing, mattresses, toys and used condoms are discarded in the middle of streets. Some remain undisturbed for over a month.

Abandoned Mattress


Curb Cut Island

Over the decades nature has reclaimed southern Edgemere. Groves of trees, acres of bushes, wild flowers, rabbits, and flocks of birds all thrive within sight of the nearby elevated MTA line. However, few people can be seen walking through this no-mans-land, perhaps because of its history of wild dog attacks. In 2001, two Rockaway residents "were brutalized by a pack of wild dogs" in the Arverne Urban Renewal Area, according to The Wave. The dogs came from an abandoned block, "stalked" their first victim, and "dragged him off the boardwalk onto an adjacent lot and began consuming his flesh," according to The Wave. In spite of this, several homeless camps are currently hidden deep in the Edgemere overgrowth. Some are as simple as a mattress tossed in the bushes or a sofa placed in a clearing. Others are more elaborate, including one camp with platform beds on a stone patio surrounded by a garden and fence. Another camp is large enough to house several families.

Forest Clearing, Truck Bench


Mattress and Clothes

Edgemere is no stranger to beach camps and hand-built shelters. In the early 1900's, it had "the second largest tent city in the Rockaways" according to "The Rockaways" by Emil R. Lucev. Vacationers could rent a tent and sleep on the beach, and "at the end of the season, the tents were folded and put in storage buildings." During this era, the beach was also home to "Charlie the Hermit," according to The NY Times, "the strange old man who had lived for years in a hut on the beach between Arverne and Edgemere." In 1912, as land became increasingly valuable, Charlie was evicted from the hand-built "hovel" he had built from "driftwood and bits of wreckage," and which he had lived in for 31 years.

"A century ago Edgemere's streets were lined with gracious beachfront hotels," according to a 2005 Forgotten New York essay, including the "lavish" Edgemere Hotel, built in 1895, and "the majestic Hotel Lorraine," built in 1908. By the 1920's, "bungalow courts and colonies saturated the section," according to "The Rockaways" and "by the late 1930's, Edgemere literally ran out of space to build year round-residences and summer facilities for the throngs of beach lovers coming down to bathe." It is difficult to reconcile these descriptions with present day Edgemere, which has reverted to its desolate, wild past. For some, it is "a depressing reminder that a place once associated with pleasure for millions of people no longer existed," according to Lawrence and Carol Kaplan, the authors of "Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway New York."


Boardwalk to Emptiness


Hydrant, Sand, Boardwalk

Unlike neighboring Far Rockaway, few artifacts remain from Edgemere's bungalow era, other then dozens of broken fire hydrants. "In the early 60's -- some say particularly because of the coming of the jet age and fast flights to tropical climes -- the Rockaway economy took a turn toward the terrible. The city, in what one local official termed one of its ''urban renewal binges,'' tore down thousands of bungalows, leaving wide tracts vacant or dotting them with low-income housing projects," according to The NY Times. Mayor John Lindsay had hopes "that the federal government would provide money for new housing. But... ultimately, Rockaway fell victim to the economic downturn of the 1970s," according to The NY Times. Today, even the historic boardwalk along Edgemere's shore has been ripped away, to be replaced with a new concrete path. Lumber from the old boardwalk covers a nearby athletic field, which has also been abandoned.

Concrete Path Construction


The Old Boardwalk

The city has never completely forgotten the Arverne Urban Renewal Area. "For nearly four decades, grand plans were offered for the 52-block stretch from Beach 32nd to 84th Streets, between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and the boardwalk. They fell through," The NY Times wrote in 2003. These plans ranged from "a phalanx of mid- and high-rise condominium and rental apartment buildings" that failed with "the collapse of the real estate market in the early 90's," and a "more than $1 billion... enclosed amusement area on the Arverne site, to be called Destination Technodome, with rides, movie theaters, an indoor ski slope and a hotel."

In recent years, a new development called Arverne By The Sea has grown in the western end of the Arverne Urban Renewal Area. In 2010, New York Magazine celebrated this growing community as "a new urbanist experiment" and "New York City’s newest and most improbable neighborhood," with "an emphasis on traditional streets, generous public spaces, and architecture meant to look old in its newness." Edgemere's empty lots may be developed next. They are scheduled to be remade into Arverne East, a development which "will consist of 47-acres of housing and commercial space, a 35-acre nature preserve and a 15-acre dune preserve," according to a 2006 report by The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Arverne By The Sea Development


Arverne Rising

Unfortunately, as in the 1970's and the 1990's, the recent economic slump has cast a shadow over the plans for Arverne East. "Since the economic downturn, funding has stalled and darkened the project's outlook," The Wave reported in 2009. Long term residents are not holding their breathe. "For the people who live east of Beach 59 Street, urban renewal are just words and promises that come every decade or so," wrote a commentator in The Wave in August, 2010, calling Arverne East "a pipedream." Ground has yet to be broken on any new homes in the Edgemere wasteland.

Perhaps the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti best summarizes the region's troubled, cyclical history in his poem "A Far Rockaway of the Heart," writing "Everything changes and nothing changes/Centuries end/and all goes on/as if nothing ever ends."

Wasteland Hydrant



Child's Shoe



Hidden Beach Camp



Clothing Mound



Flower Mattress



Empty Frames



Abandoned Court



Edgemere Avenue



A Walk On the Edge



Broken Sidewalk Sunset

23 comments:

  1. Awesome man....really interesting. Great job again!

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  2. Hard to believe that all this empty space exists in NYC! Haunting images and I love the closing quote from Ferlinghetti.

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  3. Wow, that is fantastically eerie; it really gets the imagination going. It reminds me a bit of J.G. Ballard's "Concrete Island".

    When I used to commute regularly between Virginia and NYC, the train passed through an endless expanse of vacant swamp and industrial areas just before the tunnel to Manhattan. I often wondered who or what inhabited those neglected areas.

    Among other things, desolate spaces like that inspired my "City Series": http://www.russellrichards.com/CITYSERIES.htm
    Especially pieces like "Dogs" and the Wasteland prints.

    Glad I found your blog, thanks to io9, and look forward to seeing more of your work!

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  4. I was born and raised on Beach 74th Street, 1943 - left the area in 1960. My parents left about 1970. A sad, but true story. A well done portrait of how politicians can screw up a wonderful creation of sand and sea.

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  5. Nate - I am a friend of Sarah's, met you awhile back. This photo essay is so inspiring! Pilar and I traveled out to this neighborhood yesterday to check it out. I am your new biggest fan!
    Amanda

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  6. I used to live in a place like that: Mississippi.

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  7. looks like a perfect place for paint ball.

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  8. I grew up on Beach 59th Street in Ocean Village. I remember days (early 1980's) when people would come from all over NY to go to the Rockaway Beaches. Many of the business in the area back then made good money and the neighborhood flurished. The demise of Rockaway Beaches started in 1985-1986 when drug users would leave used seringes on the beach. People were so scared to get stuck by the needles and possibly catch AIDS. Slowly, less and less people came to the beaches during the summers....and more busninesses closed. I't so sad to see what once was such a beautiful place come to this.....call it what you want to, but with SOME of "us", we destroy neighborhoods instead of building/keeping them up.

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  9. I lived in Far Rockaway during the Summer between 1962 - 1969. We stopped going there in 1969 when our mother died. I have wonderful memories. We lived between 35 & 36th street on the ocean. You have no idea what a wonderful place it was. To me, it is sacred ground.

    Jeffrey H

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    1. Spend summers on B. 36th Street also, around '67-'69 Remember, sitting out on the porch bungalows at night, skeeball on the boardwalk and the beach as my backyard...went back to see the fallen boardwalk recently and my block, non-existent. Very sad.

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  10. STOP BUILDING MORE HOMES WE HAVE ENOUGH PEOPLE THERE IT IS URBAN RENEWAL IS WHAT DESTROYED THE ROCKAWAY WE ALL NEW !!! MAYBE A AMUSEMENT PARK (LIKE PLAYLAND) AND SOME NICE BEACHFRONT HOTELS AND SUMMER HOUSE'S AND A WATER PARK AND MAYBE LIKE CONEY ISLAND A MINOR LEAGUE BALL PARK OR DARE I SAY IT CASINO'S(BUT TRUMP WON'T HAVE IT)

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    1. I agree, Let it be duly noted that a man (Commissioner) of the sanitation dept (personal friend) Mario Russo tried effortlessly to get casinos along the beach built, but it kept getting knocked down as crime would rise, well Mario believed it would bring jobs, thanks to the Mayors, Governers for voting it down, But we can certianly have a casino in Yonkers.

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  11. Thanks for the pictures Nathan. Do you think it's safe to go there?

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    1. M7y answer to your question.....it is not. Safe ? Well when surfers clothes are stolen, cocaine addicts walk this boardwalk, I'm from here, your life is in your hands, walking the boardwalk, dont be suprised if you are held up by a gang at gun point, cops from the 101 Pct only patrol the boardwalk every 3 hours.

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  12. Wow... I moved to Edgemere Projects(54th St) in 1969 and lived there until 1981. My parents stayed there until 1986 or so.
    We moved from Crown heights brooklyn., and i can remember our very first summer.
    We went to the Beach EVERY day., I felt like a brand new person.
    This was literally a RESORT for me., Rockaway had so much diversity and so much to offer.
    A nice area to live., with very little crime., it's hard to believe how it's changed... but then again not really..!!
    The last time i was there was in 2006 for my 30th high school reunion at the former FarRockaway High School.
    What a shame., really.
    Also. Nathan.., thanks for bringing back so many Memories with your pictures.
    I can remember climbing on the empty bungalows with my friends during the summer.

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  13. I am a former resident of this washed out waste land. Where junkies and Jamaicans rule the streets, or at least try too. My grandparents had a flooring business there. They opened what was one of the biggest flooring stores in Queens (Tile City) with a fully carpeted car on the entire exterior. I grew up here, I attended the schools, even made my daughter there. Around 1976 is when it really hit rock bottom, and a guy named Jerry Faus burned down 90 % of the bungelows out of hatred and enjoyment. I was friends with his younger brother Billy. Derelicts of all types came to Farrockaway and ran it down, convicts, too Coacaine dealers flourished there. The addicts just brought it further down. I remember litterily running around the Breakers Hotel & The Palace Hotel around the age of 5-9. Mrs. Lieberman The grandmother of the famous Nany Lieberman Basketball star from Farrockaway High used to scold me for sitting in the curb. Nancy Liebermans Grandfather produced and built 90 % of Brookhaven Avenue to beach 25th street. History of the Libermans can be traced back to Brooklyn as Millionaires. The finest people I ever grew up with and I lovefd them as my own family. I'm truly saddened by the view of the Rockaways, I walked that boardwalk many years.I even worked for Rockaways Playland as security for Mrs Guist.
    Maybe some day it will be beautiful, for now, it's an eye sore.
    My Name is Jimmy Marciana

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    1. Billy was a cold blooded killer !

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  14. Let me also add that Some of the pictures you view are the results of mere neglegence, Contractors of all types dumped their trash here, and it was just too much for law enforcement to protect.I wanted to also add that along Edgmere avenue used to be very large Milk and juice machines, I remember them as either green or blue.PBS ran a film about the Rockaway Bungelows, I hope you'll respect it, and try to find some attraction in it. The only way to bring back Rockaway, it to do what was done in Garden City NY.
    Take care
    Jimmy M.
    Any questions about how life was back in the 60's-70's-80's email tony.marciana@mail.com

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  15. You can see all these pics in the movie with Jennifer Anniston in the Bounty Hunter.

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  16. I lived on 59th street back in 1964 when that location was nothing more then an empty lot. I watched that complex go up, I watched the 40s projects go tp when I lived on bch 43rd street back in the 70's from my front porch, what do these projects both have in common, a murder rate.

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  17. I was a founding resident of the Edgemere projects. My lower middle class Jewish family moved there in 1960
    when I was 5. I've lots of fond memories. The festive summer bungalows. Long strolls on the boardwalk Wednesday nights to see the fireworks from Rockaway Playland. The little mom and pop shops along Edgemere Avenue...and then it came. Mayor Lindsey, Robert Moses, urban 'renewal', and the city's new, generous welfare program followed by the influx of poor southern blacks attracted to it. The 'dumping' began. The middle class fled. Murders and mayhem ensued. The rest is history...

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