Often when you think of New York City, the first thoughts that form involve the massive, grandiose architecture, the grid system and urban density in one of its truest  examples. But along the coastline of southern Queens County, the Rockaways, as the  island is called, holds one of the city’s little known gems; The Rockaway Bungalows.  Originally built in the early 20th-century, these small houses used to  attract working class city residents with affordable beachfront real estate. Dubbed  the “Hamptons” of New York City, the area was once a lively summer hotspot  of neighborly encounters and porch hangouts. Since their decline (and even large  scale demolition) particularly in the 1970s-1990s, the bungalows were considered  a dangerous location to reside. Although the area has been largely dismissed, some urban  dwellers and historic preservationists have sought to reclaim the vibrant atmosphere  that the bungalows featured in their heyday.

The first bungalow was built in 1905, spurring rapid growth throughout the early  20th century. By 1933, the Rockaway Bungalows numbered approximately 7,000,  and exemplified architecture of the working class, according to Columbia University  professor Andrew Dolkart. Those who enjoyed their summer holidays in the bungalows  reminisce about the porch gatherings, children running through the streets and endless  walks along the shore. The neighborhoods of the bungalows were primarily inhabited  by Jewish and Irish immigrant families. The bungalows afforded the working class  opportunity to aptly enjoy summertime much like their affluent counterparts.

After World War II, the bungalows fell into decline, often falling victim to demolition  in order to transform the one time seasonal destination into a year round compilation  of mundane high-rise condos. As urban renewal hit the city of New York, low income  families were often sent to the Rockaways and provided with un-winterized, poorly  maintained bungalows as a form of housing. The area fell into a state of disrepair and  few resources were directed at maintaining the once charming bungalows. Today, there are roughly 450 bungalows remaining compared to the thousands that once populated  the island.

Because of the unique history of past summertime amusement that once lured city  dwellers to the Rockaways, historic preservationists and local inhabitants have pushed  for zoning regulations that prevent large massed buildings from moving into the  area. The Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association was established in 1984,  aiming to preserve the few remaining bungalows in Far Rockaway. In 2008, the  Department of City Planning approved zoning changes that prevent out of context  development within the area. In 2010, Jennifer Callahan released a documentary film  extensively delving into the importance of preserving the bungalows, by highlighting  their significance historically for the working class families of New York but also the  architectural significance as the bungalow structure moved from the east to the west.

While measures have been taken to preserve the character of the neighborhood,  preservationists are still pushing for landmark designation of the bungalows to prevent  further demolition. The bungalows are a burgeoning topic for those interested in the preservation of New York City’s past, but also have the potential to flourish as more  attention is drawn to their charming and niche existence in the big city.

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