Thursday, November 10, 2016

Earning your sea legs in Broad Channel

Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2016 10:30 am
Dan Mundy Sr., a lifelong Broad Channel resident, observes Jamaica Bay from his boat.
The waterborne form of transportation was a big part of his upbringing on the island.
The children of Broad Channel didn’t have a ball field, basketball court or even a proper blacktop street to play on — the roads were paved with ash, the byproduct of a nearby Rockaway factory.
“We’ll probably find out that it was toxic or something like that,” said lifelong Broad Channel resident Dan Mundy Sr., 79.
So, residents of the island took to the one thing they couldn’t get away from — the water.
Earning your sea legs was a rite of passage in the community when Mundy was growing up and still is to this day.
“You just couldn’t wait until your parents let you into a little rowboat,” he said. “You’d be on a little tether and be able to go up and down the canal but you could never go past so-and-so’s house. You know, ‘Don’t go past Mr. Bury’s house, that’s halfway up the canal.’ But, you’d try to go a little further and further each time.”
Even though they were tethered to a post, Mundy and his friends found a way to make their sea ventures as fun as possible.
“We’d get a Borden’s milk bottle and put a piece of bread in it and with that you caught fish and because the neck was smaller than the top, they couldn’t get out,” he said. “Then you’d use that to catch crab. That’s what growing up in Broad Channel was like.”
As children on the island grew older and, for the most part, more responsible, their parents allowed them to not only go farther up the canals but navigate boats with small motors.
“And once you were old enough you were allowed to get just to the edge of the bay and when you got there you were like ‘Wow, there it is,’” Mundy said. “But with that you had to be careful because then you were bumping into your neighbor’s boats and that caused a whole lot of trouble.”
Today, growing up in Broad Channel is similar to that, with the exception that children are allowed in much faster boats much earlier than Mundy was.
“You’d look out into the bay and see your grandchildren and call them and say, ‘Hey you, be careful,’” he said.
Although there wasn’t a blacktop road in Broad Channel until relatively recently, that didn’t stop the kids from playing stickball or football. But it also proved to be painful at times.
“If you fell down, your knees were red and bloody because of the ash. It was some rough stuff,” Mundy recalled. “But we just put something around it and continued playing.”
Going to school in Broad Channel was a learning experience in more than one way.
“From one end of Broad Channel to the other it was almost like ‘Who are they?’” Mundy said. “It wasn’t until you got to school that you learned about the other people on the island. But even then you didn’t really hang out with them. Your friends were the people on your block or those across the street.”
When Mundy was growing up, many of the homes were still classic bungalows.
But it wasn’t because the residents chose to keep the classic look for historical purposes — they were limited on what they could do to the exterior because the city owned the land underneath the houses.
“Everyone had beautiful homes on the inside,” Mundy said. “But you were limited on what you could do on the outside.”
At the same time, the city refused to invest in Broad Channel’s infrastructure, whether it be the roads, putting a library there, installing sanitary sewers or adding another school.
“Behind the scenes, the city wanted us out for one reason or another. Either it was expanding the airports or [Robert] Moses wanted to make the island into a park,” Mundy said. “There was a lot of behind-the-scenes political work to get us out of here.”
That ended in 1982 when Mayor Ed Koch ordered the land under Broad Channel residents’ houses to be sold to them.
“Got to give credit to Ed Koch,” Mundy said. “Before him there was a lot of talk and newspaper articles about whether there would be a land sale. Mayor Koch came in and just said ‘Just do it.’ And everyone else sort of fell in line.”
With the land sale, homeowners were able to get a mortgage and either sell their homes or use the money to add extensions or renovate the exterior. Following the land sale, the city finally invested in the island.
“They put a library here, which we never had before,” Mundy said, adding that new ball fields and a school also came to the area.
“That was the first big change in Broad Channel,” he said.
In the ’90s, Mundy and his group began noticing a phenomenon that has grown into an international point of contention: sea level rise.
“The city-owned bulkheads at the end of the block were falling into the bay,” he said. “We didn’t know what it was called at the time but we knew we had a problem.”
The civic association began lobbying for state funding to raise the streets above the sea level and succeeded in getting the funding. The work, however, was stopped by an Oct. 29, 2012 storm named Sandy.
Mundy said about a third of the more than 900 homes in Broad Channel are in the Build it Back program, which besides fortifying people’s houses will once again change the look of the island.
“A home that you can see under is no longer a bungalow,” Mundy said. “So now you’re going to get a mixture of the two.”
Mundy elected to keep his house the way it is, but storm-proofed the lower level of it.
Still, that doesn’t stop water from coming in. But for Mundy, that’s just the price of living in a place like Broad Channel.
“To outsiders, it must seem strange,” he said. “But when I take them upstairs and show them my view of the bay, then they understand why.”

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