Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum
The sun is out and I want some
It's not hard, not far to reach
We can hitch a ride
To Rockaway Beach
This song by the Ramones was playing everywhere when I was a teenager, and I loved the song and the band because they came from Queens like I did. When it was hot and we kids wanted to get to the beach, Rockaway was the place to go because it could be reached quickly and easily as the song indicates, even without hitching a ride. I have very fond memories of going to Rockaway Beach, but that was a long time ago in a place that seems very far, far away.
A while back I wrote about taking a trip down to Coney Island, and it was a positive visit for me. I mentioned that New Yorkers felt that it was their best beach, and I received a few complaints about that comment, noting that Rockaway Beach in Queens was as good or better than Coney Island. In the interest of fair play and refreshing my own rusty memories, I took my trusty camera and ventured down to Rockaway Beach (I've not been there in about 25 years) to see for myself.
The history of Rockaway Beach is similar to Coney Island in that it was considered a resort area in the early 1900s. The Indian name "Reckowacky" (the place of bright waters) became anglified, and because of the large numbers of Irish immigrants settling in the area, it was sometimes called "Irish Town" because they were the ones working in the hotels, bars, and Playland, the large amusement park that opened on the ocean front in 1901.
Playland as it was in the early 1960s before its sad decline.
The boom times for Rockaway Beach lasted until after World War II, and Playland with its roller coasters, numerous other rides, and Olympic-size swimming pool attracted millions of people over the years. By the late 1970s, the place was sadly in decline. While the amusement park still opened its gates to the public, everything seemed to be rickety and the luster of the old days was long gone.