Rockaway Beach is a place filled with memories from the locals, as well as a destination for those traveling to New York. It is located in the Borough of Queens on the South Shore. The beach is operated by the city park and recs department, and was once called the Irish Rivera due to the large population of Irish-American immigrants who settled in the area.
The neighborhood was once two separate villages known as Holland and Hammels. When the neighborhoods merged in 1878, they became known as Rockaway Beach. The early 1900's saw the opening of a railroad station which allowed people to visit the amusement parks, stores, and hotels that had popped up all over the area. Rockaway was sometimes known as "New York's Playground'', partially lending its nickname to the amusement park built in 1901 called Rockaways' Playland.
During the mid-1900's, the area continued to grow and added bridges, creating a gateway to the Queen's area. It soon grew into a commuter town. A major player in the town, a man whose construction dreams both enhanced and destroyed parts of Rockaway, Robert Moses created a variety of recreational facilities and areas including the Jones Beach State Park and the Coney Island Aquarium. He was responsible in many ways for luring tourist back to the area and following the 1950's, there was a bit of an urban renewal. It was the building of the Hammel Houses that truly launched this resurgence in popularity. The Hammel Houses were built on land owned by the New York City Housing Authority. These were 13 story buildings that were built close to the beach. The town was now filled with surfside housing which attracted both buyers and renters to the area. These buildings can be seen today on the shorefront, reminding beach goers of the areas rich history.
Aside from being a popular tourist and beachcomber destination, Rockaway Beach has held its own in the land of entertainment. The punk rock group The Ramones have a song titled Rockaway Beach and the beach was also referenced in a Dire Straits song. Woody Allen filmed Radio Days on location at the beach and the late off-color comedian George Carlin has stated he was conceived at a beachside hotel. The beach has also been referenced more recently in televisions shows such as Seinfeld and The Nanny. Perhaps most famously, the beach is mentioned in Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick.
Perhaps what Rockaway Beach is most well-known for would be viewed by many as a detriment. While people can plan beach getaways to the Caribbean or Mexico and enjoy floating in pristine, crystal clear blue waters, those vacation will never full encapsulate the family feel of a beach like Rockaway. Seeped in New York lure, but also reeking of its seedy underbelly, this beach is a must see for all who travel to the area, and for anyone who wants to recapture a bit of their seaside memories, albeit a bit cloudy. Located in the Borough of Queens, Rockaway is a slice of Americana.