Once, you could afford a summer place. Didn't have to be Ralph Lauren. Or Bill Simon. Martha Stewart. Mort Zuckerman. Kay Graham. Bruce Wasserstein. Streisand. The front page of The New York Times last month reminded me. The story was about Breezy Point.
Want a house on the ocean? Breezy Point. Right on the beach, no intervening road to cross? Breezy Point. Great, swimmable water? No pollution? Breezy Point. A house you could afford on a working man's wage? Breezy Point. No traffic and within an hour of midtown Manhattan? Wait just a damned minute. There are no places like that.
No? Try Breezy Point.
The story in the Times dealt with the fact there are still a couple of old, "gated" communities around New York, actually part of the city itself, one of them being Breezy Point, which is and long has been essentially blue-collar Irish and Catholic. And Seagate in Brooklyn, not all that far away and also on the water, said to be "98% Jewish," by one account.
And naturally, since Seagate and Breezy Point are both pretty desirable places, there is an outcry every few years to tear down the gates and let everyone in. Why should the Irish and the Jews have all the fun?
The news peg to the Times' piece was the geological fact that since 1960, because of the tidal flows and the surf and the oddities of the Atlantic Ocean itself, Breezy Point has added about a hundred acres of beach to its expanse. While, at the same time, the number of family-owned houses in the community has remained flat, at about 2,800 dwellings. As the paper put it: "a tantalizing prospect in Queens; acres of unspoiled land in a gated community with private beaches and practically no crime."
Hey, they can't get away with that! Why can't Breezy Point be just like everywhere else?
I must confess to a certain bias. Although my family sold off the place 25 or 30 years ago, we once owned a bungalow in Breezy Point, at Number 40 Kildare Walk, and for many summers that was where we went. Just like rich people. And our betters.
The family bought the house (you didn't buy the land, that belonged to something called the Point Breeze Association to whom homeowners paid modest yearly dues) in 1942, just after the start of the war. There were blackouts; there were actual ship torpedoings offshore (oil and debris would wash up); there were shortages; and summer bungalows were hardly in hot demand. So we bought the place.
A three-bedroom bungalow, no heat, running water, screened-in porch, wooden deck outside, OK kitchen, small bath, two showers, one outdoors, fully furnished (some of the big wicker armchairs were great), knives and forks, dishes and a few cups, as I recall, the whole deal, seven hundred and fifty bucks.
That's $750 for a house on the ocean. Look at it this way. Maybe we'd lose the war and what would it be worth then?
So we took it. Here's who lived there: my mother, my brother and me; Aunt Helen and Uncle Martin and their three kids; Uncle Tom; Aunt Mary. Ten people. Aunt Kate would come and visit. So would Sally and Bill from New Jersey. Uncle Martin was allowed to have his family out once a year. Ten people full time with three bedrooms.
It was heaven! And even then there was a gate. No cars except along the single blacktop road and the bordering parking lots. Kildare Walk and the other paths were too narrow for a car, designed that way. You walked, cycled, and/or pulled a red wagon. Aunt Kate, old and fat, sat in the red wagon and we pulled her from the parking lot. People came out and cheered as she passed and she waved, like the queen. We swam and played ball and had block parties and sat out nights on the deck telling ghost stories and remembered boys from up the Walk who were away in the war. And when we got into our teens we fell in love and danced on the ferry pier to the music from inside Kennedy's, the one tavern there was, set on stilts out over the water of the bay. It was where we grew up.
I've not been there for years. The story in the Times said except for prices (the sort of cottage we bought for $750, today starts at $70,000), it hasn't changed much. As an Argentinian woman who married a local man told the newspaper, "For me it's a backward community. They're not very well educated and