Sunday, September 19, 2010
Last time we went to Staten Island, to visit Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn, we stopped at the Snug Harbor museum. Snug Harbor was designed as a retirement home for merchant seamen -- a sort of Les Invalides for men who might otherwise have ended up with nowhere to go. The museum is beautifully done and worth a visit, and the sample room they have done up with the original furniture is actually beautiful. (Indeed, all the furniture was Stickley.) I was shocked to read that the whole place was nearly the victim of developers only ten years ago, and was only saved by the volunteer efforts of some very dedicated locals. I got to talking with the (rather eccentric) volunteer working the gift shop, who told me that before they intervened, the developers had managed to toss all the original Stickley into a dumpster -- a few enterprising people managed to rescue a few pieces before the garbage trucks came.
I was shocked and asked if this was common (I'd heard about the destruction of Dorothy Day's Spanish Town.) By way of example, he said that as we spoke, a developer was destroying the first free-black community in America: a hamlet settled by oystermen in the 17th Century! He explained that the borough is so mobbed up, and the developers so corrupt and insensitive, that things go on all the time that would appall folks just across the bridge.
So it was dismaying to see this week's Village Voice cover story, (by the terrific Foster Kamer) about the destruction of Cedar Grove Beach Club. Read the story, but here's the gist: for the past 40 years, a group of 41 families has leased this Staten Island beach from the city and had a summer community which is now the last remaining bungalow village in NYC. (Moses did away with the rest.) They've kept the beach in beautiful condition. Now the Parks Department, seemingly rather arbitrarily and vindictively, is reclaiming it and evicting them all, with the stated intent of tearing down all the (darling) bungalows and making the beach public space. Okay, except they have no plan, no budget and the adjoining beach -- from which they evicted everyone 40 years ago -- is filthy and neglected. This beach is only nice because it's been privately maintained. You don't need to have finished The Power Broker (seriously, has anyone?) to be wary of Parks Department muscle, and after my visit to Snug Harbor, I have a dim view indeed of SI's regard for history.