In the series ... "I REMEMBER THE ROCKAWAYS"... Stevie S. Stevens writes about
"A Landmark Intersection "

 
Photo #6, Central Avenue in 1938 - Postcard Print from the Vincent F. Seyfried Collection.
 

Over a period of one hundred years, the main intersection of Central and Mott Avenues certainly has ranked as one of the most recognizable locations in the small village of Far Rockaway. For the purposes of this photo essay, we shall assume a position at this particular spot and facing due south, we shall observe and make appropriate comment as to changes having taken place over time.

Our main focus for this article will be three structures which will occupy the southeast corner of Central and Mott Avenues during the twentieth century. Of course, these buildings did not exist all at the same time - but due to circumstances, these structures would end up replacing each other over the normal and natural course of time and events.

Like most small towns and villages formed during the early 1800s, Far Rockaway "grew up" around the railway terminus which eventually came to be situated on a large parcel of land on the northwest corner of Central and Mott Avenues - approximately 1830. The impetus for moving the railroad that far south and into the Rockaways was the first major seafront hotel resort - located a little over a mile southward. The Marine Pavilion has long been credited as being the very first full-sized luxury summer resort hotel ever to be established anywhere on the entire peninsula.

It is unclear as to why the train ceased service at such a distance from the grand hotel - but it is certainly a clear-cut fact that it did. So, from that point on, visitors and guests were forced to disembark in the center of the town and they then had to engage other means of transportation to carry them to their final destination. Shortly, a direct (straight) route was established - Catherine Street (later to be re-named Central Avenue). Over the next few decades, homes, a few stores, taverns, road houses, small hotels, and rooming houses would emerge and cover the available acreage in between the railway station and the famous inn.

The important "strip" we would later come to realize as the main shopping area (between Mott and Cornaga Avenues) was the very first block to become fully developed. On the west side of the street, a continuous flow of disconnected shops occupied the entire block. On the east side, a connecting road (west to east) labeled "James Street" (now the Beach19th Street continuation) divided the block and hosted a large hotel: The Morrison House Hotel, a Chas A. Schilling property - occupied much of the northeast section right to the corner of Central and Cornaga Avenues. But as the area became more and more developed and desirable as a commercial center, civic leaders had the Morrison House (which burned out in 1892) torn down, the small side street eliminated and converted into commercial space -- which in turn quickly became home to an additional multitude of storefronts. It has been reported that the Columbia Theater (built in 1916) took up the very spot which had once been the grand entranceway to the former hostelry.

But our story concerns itself with the southeast corner of Central and Mott Avenues - an area which had originally been the "side lawn" to a private residence built on that plot shortly after the train station was completed in the early 1800s. As the village became increasingly commercial, that particular parcel of land became valuable and "wasteful" to house only a single home - so the corner became available, but not for long - because quite soon some crafty developer came along and bought the plot and built a series of small two-story wooden store fronts. Of course, as was the practice, the first floor became commercial shops and the small apartments over them were rented out as living spaces.

Photo #1, Central Avenue in 1903 - Postcard Collection of Stevie S. Stevens (Click on Image to Enlarge)

Our first photo (Photo #1) shows Central Avenue at the very turn of the century. A grouping of four mismatched but connected two-story structures occupy the property. Back in those early days, most important intersection corners housed pharmacies and Central and Mott were no exception. Dennis Little's Drug Store is seen on the southeast corner and would remain there for about thirteen years. Of course, other storefronts can also be seen in the photo (left side of the postcard). In 1903, most transport was by horse and buggy and the ever-popular trolley. The tracks can easily be discerned as they run down the east side of the avenue ~ and they will continue on until they reach South Street (now Seagirt Boulevard).

It is most probable that our druggist Dennis Little and his family resided directly above his shop - which was a very common practice back in those days. By the time of the photo, overhead (wire) electricity, and in-ground water (wooden pipes!) and gas lines were in place and a basic sewage system is in evidence by the "manhole" cover placed in the street.

Shortly after the summer season of 1910, a neglected burning candle set fire to one of the overhead flats and even though the small fire station was only a block away (north) - by the time the (one) pump engine arrived, severe damage had been inflicted and the facade frontage to all four of the small apartments had fallen away - exposing terminal damage to the small group of buildings. Although the basic structure was still standing, the property owner having received a substantial offer for the land, decided to take "the easy way out" so he simply sold the property. Within a month, demolition was complete and construction was already underway on a new and modern commercial building.