Tucked away on the west side of the small town of Broad Channel in the middle of Jamiaca Bay is a narrow, dead end, street that goes by the name of West 12th Road. Those of us who live there know that the nice part about living in a small town is that when you are not quite sure what is going on, someone else always does!
[Peter J. Mahon West 12th Road, Broad Channel]
Recreational baths that are now baseball fields. A casual diner that is now a favorite breakfast stop. A service station that is now the Call-A-Head headquarters. A post office that was transformed into a residential home. And traditions that have spanned more than a century, such as Mardi Gras and the Volunteer Fire Department. These are just a few of the things you’ll encounter as you travel through Broad Channel Through Time, a new book by Dan Guarino.
Guarino is a man of many talents. Some may know him as president of the Rockaway Artists Alliance. Some may know him for his musical talents. Some may be familiar with his journalistic writing and photographs in local print, now including the Rockaway Times. But he can also add two-time author to his resume. Broad Channel Through Time is the second published book by Guarino.
As a Broad Channel resident for nearly 30 years, Guarino knows his hometown well, so it’s no surprise he was selected by Fonthill Media to create a Broad Channel edition of its America Through Time series. They also knew he could handle the job. Dan Guarino and his late wife, Liz co-authored the first book about the Jamaica Bay Island community, Broad Channel (Images of America: New York), published by Arcadia Publishing in 2008. As the publishers were familiar with his past work, they trusted him with this new project. “They asked me if I wanted to do the book and I was expecting to have to submit a proposal to them with sample writing and photos, so I was waiting for the proposal and it never came. I checked with them and they said we know you did the first Broad Channel book, so you can do this one,” Guarino said.
Broad Channel Through Time presented Guarino with a different, but welcomed task. While theImages of America series focused on Broad Channel history through the use of historical photos, the America Through Time series allowed Guarino to make comparisons of Broad Channel history with the town as it is today and gave him the opportunity to shoot and publish his own present-day photos of the community. “I agreed to this project because I had a good time doing the first book and this was a great opportunity to do a book that was going to be in color and show the now and then of Broad Channel. I got to do a part of Broad Channel history, which is interesting, but I also got to show Broad Channel today and the project allowed me to be both the writer and the photographer,” he said. “It was a lot of fun and there was a lot of discovery because I got to seek out historical photos and then go back to these areas to photograph them as they are today and draw comparisons.”
While working on the project, which started in the summer of 2014, Guarino found a lot of surprises, including many things that have remained the same over time. “I went out with copies of the old photos, some had addresses and a historical record, and I took photos of the same area today. I found it surprising when I came across buildings that look almost the same as today,” he said. Some buildings remain the same but are now used for different purposes. “For instance, I had a postcard a of post office and general store from 1918 near the train station and I went to the area to take photos from a few different angles and when I was comparing the photos, I found a house with an odd roof and a triangle extension and realized that it was the same exact building as the post office, except now it’s a home,” he said. Guarino also found things that haven’t changed in almost a century. “On Cross Bay Boulevard, there’s the home of a great Broad Channel resident, Muriel Berry Stemmann who’s lived there for a long time and I have a picture of the house in the 1920s and I took a picture from today. Not only is the house the same, but the same family has been living in that house since the beginning.” He also found that some buildings are used for the same purpose. “I have a picture of a 1940s advertisement for a diner called Artie’s that used to sell hamburgers and hot dogs, and if you look at the building, it’s the same exact structure that now houses All American Bagel & Barista II. It was a food place then and it’s a food place now, so it’s still serving the same function,” Guarino said. The book also shows how the town, which is prone to flooding, has remained resilient after events like the hurricane of 1938 and Hurricane Sandy.
While the community has changed over time, there’s one thing that has remained a constant within Broad Channel: the people. “Whether it’s the volunteer firefighters, the people who attend the local churches, those who do charitable work or those who celebrate Mardi Gras every year, the character of the community has remained constant throughout. Broad Channel has a very strong sense of community and it’s probably why it’s still there. Maybe it’s due to it being an island so the people really rely on each other and you really get to know your neighbors. There’s that feeling that there’s no place like the Channel. It’s the last inhabited island of Jamaica Bay and the people had to fight for its survival at least four times. The city wanted to push the people off the island but the people banded together and said we’re not going and now it has the nickname of ‘the little town that fought city hall and won.’”
Broad Channel Through Time will officially be available to the public on August 15 and on Saturday, August 20, there will be an opportunity to purchase the book and have it signed by the author himself. The Broad Channel Historical Society will launch the book at Grassy Point Bar & Grill (18-02 Cross Bay Boulevard) with a book signing from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Grassy’s is an appropriate setting for the launch as the bar itself is stocked with historical memorabilia collected by owner John McCambridge. Broad Channel Through Time will also be available at local stores and online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.