Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quietly Keeping Their Charm

Are the Canals still the Venice of Long Island?

By Joseph Kellard

When Joe Lehr returned to the classrooms he attended at East School to speak to elementary students during the school’s 80th anniversary two years ago, he found that all that had changed was the blackboards. “Now they're green,” Lehr said.

The school, at Neptune Boulevard on the west edge of the neighborhood know as the canals, is perhaps reflective of the general area: It has changed some, but retains certain distinct qualities from decades past.

The most defining, of course, are its four canals (named Sarazen, Ouimet, Hagen and Bob Jones) and three arched bridges. The canals are named after pro golfers from the era when they were built, the 1920s. So are nearly all the streets, which are characterized by long, narrow one-ways and dead-ends.

All this contributes to keeping the canals area — nestled in the northeast corner of town and bordered by Reynolds Channel to the north and Bob Jones to the east — relatively secluded and serene, a contrast to the bustling neighborhoods along the beach on the city’s south side.

“There are a lot of people in Long Beach who are truly not even aware of the canals area,” said Karen Adamo, a Long Beach real estate agent who has lived at the end of East State Street since 1991. “There's really no reason to come back here.”

Yet one 40-year resident of Heron Street, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that at least in some areas, traffic has increased considerably, including beach-goers who now park their cars there and walk across East Park Avenue to the boardwalk.

“It’s not nearly as quiet as it used to be,” the longtime resident said. “Drivers try to avoid Park Avenue, so they use East Chester. It's become like a highway. It's the same thing that happens over at Olive and Walnut streets.”

With more two-family homes and illegal mother-daughter apartments on some streets, lack of parking has become an issue, too, she noted.

“Parents who have two children, they have two cars, and that’s the case all over Long Beach,” she said. “And when you add on the illegal tenants, you add to the problem, and it's happening here, too.”

The demographics demonstrate another way in which the relatively quiet neighborhood has changed, yet stayed the same. There are two predominant types of residents: married 20- or 30-somethings who work in Manhattan and have young children, and retirees who have lived in the canals for decades.

Lehr, 77, and his wife, Bobbi, moved into their Doyle Street home, which faces the Sarazen canal, in 1960. They paid $21,000 for the four-bedroom ranch, where they raised three daughters and added eight rooms.

Expanded homes are common in the city, but in the canals most have remained legal single-families. Despite small properties, their proximity to the canals and the bay has given much of the otherwise middle-class neighborhood upper-class property values. Homes with their backyards on the canals begin at $850,000 or higher for those north of the bridges (allowing for larger boats).

“It's an area where you can get away from the craziness near the ocean and the congestion,” Adamo said, “and is more for people who are ready in their life for a little more quiet and where it's safer for their kids to play in the streets. ”

The original homes were Moorish in style and, later, sand castles, and served as second dwellings for the upper middle class. William Reynolds, Long Beach's founder and a former state senator, used his own money, as well as that of his millionaire friends Otto Kahn, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Payne Whitney, to build the waterways in the mid-1920s, calling the project “the canals of Lido.”

They were intended to complement the adjacent original Lido golf course Reynolds had built a decade earlier, all part of his vision to turn Long Beach into “the future Venice of America,” as he advertised it. Canals then, from Venice Beach, Calif., to Boca Raton, Fla., were a new resort concept, and Reynolds aimed to attract his rich and famous friends to the barrier island.

“People wanted an international feel,” Roberta Fiore, a city historian, explained.

In 1928, Reynolds razed the Lido Hotel, originally called the Lido Golf and Country Club, after which the Depression hit and shattered his master plan. (When he attempted to reimburse himself for his project from the city coffers, he was charged with misappropriation of funds and jailed.)

After World War II, more homeowners began to live in the canals year-round. At the time, flat-roofed bungalows (dubbed “daylight homes” for their picture windows) made up the majority of homes. Lehr's was originally built in 1945, and sold for $5,500 to veterans returning from World War II. When Lehr was a boy, he lived on Shore Road, but docked his rowboat on the canals.

The 1950s saw the canals become the least expensive area in the East End, attracting many blue-collar workers, who shopped at the supermarket that was always part of the strip of stores on East Park Avenue. Other notable businesses were O'Rourk's hardware and the Cozy Nook, a luncheonette where East School students could buy candy for a nickel. They played at the Clark Street playground near the bay.

“One of the things we loved about living in the canals is that you can do your life in whatever social fashion you choose,” Lehr said. “You can do it in black tie or jeans or shorts. It's a phenomenally mixed community where you can have a major head of a hospital live next door to a policeman. ”

The area drew the interest of the city's politicos, with Kerrigan Street turning into something of a “who's who” block in the 1960s, its residents including the likes of Larry Elovich and Arthur J. Kremer. Elovich, an attorney and Long Beach's former Democratic Party leader, bought his first home in 1963 on Kerrigan, across the street from Kremer, who, two years later, was elected to the state Assembly and became chairman of its Ways and Means Committee. Their annual summer block party included political dignitaries from around the state, including Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

“We would have this huge party every year where literally a couple of thousand people would come,” Elovich recalled.

At the end of Kerrigan, where former county Legislator Michael Zapson lives today, is a house overlooking the bay that was once owned by Joseph Ehrenreich, who had the exclusive rights to market Nikon products in the U.S.(Fiore said, however, that silent screen star Clara Bow neither honeymooned nor lived in a Moorish house on East Pine at Vinton Street, as is widely believed.)

During the 1960s and ’70s, waterfront property became more desirable. “I think more families who liked boating recognized it, and the property values weren't really escalating at that time,” said Joe Ponte, a real estate agent who was raised on Barnes Street and attended East School with Billy Crystal.

Lehr's house, like most “upland” homes on the canals’ east side, has a grassy strip of city-owned land between the street and the bulkhead — another feature that distinguishes the neighborhood, where residents typically put their lawn furniture and hammocks and build picket fences around the plots.

When he moved to the canals, the original bulkheads were in terrible disrepair, said Lehr, the longtime president of the East End Civic Association. From 1970 to 1972, the city installed steel bulkheads, dredged the canals and overhauled the bridges. For 30 years, until 2000, upland homeowners paid a portion of the cost of the rebuilt bulkheads —about $550 annually — as well as a dollar a foot to lease the property lining the canals, according to Lehr.

Today, the bulkheads have deteriorated considerably in some areas, including the Clark Street playground and on East State Street, where Adamo lives, and where the topsoil has sunk into the canals and bay water creeps into the park. In August, the City Council voted to approve an $8 million bond, a portion of which fund repairs of the city-owned bulkheads in the canals and at the park.

Nef Albergo, a 15-year resident of the landlocked Kirkwood Street, hopes that when the city refurbishes the park, it will also create a pier for avid kayakers like him. “My biggest problem is that if you don't live on the water, you don't have access to it,” Albergo said.

Albergo and Lehr were among the residents who were up in arms when the state ordered the city to reconstruct the bridges earlier this decade. Lehr argued that their cracks could have been easily repaired. “It was just a phenomenal waste of taxpayer money,” Lehr said of the project.

Albergo said that the new walls built on the bridges, which obstruct views of the canals, created more controversy. “They weren't what we wanted,” he said. “... They're more or less highway bridges.”

But the 40-year Heron Street resident said she speaks for others who believe the reconstructed bridges are a great new change to the area. “I think they came out good,” she said.

Prefabs Made To Order

Lido couple builds custom-made modular home

By Joseph Kellard

One day in late September, Michael Longworth found his future home spread down his block, Nantwick Street in Lido Beach.

Each of the modular home’s five sections rested on separate trailers lined up along the narrow street in the order that a stationary crane waited to piece them together.

Unlike the construction of standard skeletal homes, modular builders must measure the streets and other potential obstacles before the choreographed construction of their factory-built sections can unfold. And the Lego-like building of Longworth’s boxy, modern-style home became a spectacle for his neighbors.

“They were standing by the crane during the whole process,” he said. “We had a crowd.”

While modular home construction is something different in Lido, Longworth’s modern, custom-made dwelling remains a relatively new, evolving feature in the world of prefabricated homes, since most maintain a certain generic, cookie-cutter style. Even more individualized homes like Longworth’s are constricted by certain prefab parameters, never deviating too radically from the standards of the factories where they are built, and shaped also by local zoning codes.

Enter Paul Coughlin, a prefab architect with the Manhattan-based Resolution: 4 Architecture, who works with homeowners to fulfill their particular needs, from their home’s basic structure to the door hinges or pivots.

“I think what makes this house distinct is that everything in here was designed for Michael and [his wife] Victoria, right down to the sink and faucet and how they want their vanity to work and whether they want a window next to the tub,” Coughlin said. “All those features are what make it unique.”

Coughlin also tries to further distinguish each home by upgrading the quality of its features, including the Longworths’ large, high-end Andersen windows, bamboo flooring, Merillat Masterpiece cabinets and Corian kitchen counters.

The more fundamental challenge is how to build from the foundation. In Longworth’s case, his previous home, a one-story, 1929 bungalow, abutted the flora-thick dunes that blocked his family’s view of the beach and ocean. “For Michael, it was really important to engage the beach,” Coughlin said.

So Coughlin designed the house upside down, in that the bedrooms are on the ground floor and the kitchen, living room and dining room are on the top section, overlooking the ocean, where, along with a roof deck, the Longworths and their two daughters, ages 11 and 9, spend most of their waking hours.

“We obviously wanted the view,” said Longworth, who moved with his wife from Manhattan into their former bungalow in 1997.

Their kids’ bedrooms share the ground floor with the master bedroom and bathroom, and the Longworths wanted and got a dressing room with closets that divide the two areas. The master bathroom features a sauna in addition to the bathtub and a separate shower. A thick door with milky, laminated glass is just one of the home’s many upgrades.

The middle section has a playroom and guest room, and two smaller decks on the north and south sides. The ceilings on one level, however, don’t serve as the floor for the level above — each section has its own ceilings and floors.

“I think that adds to the stability,” said Matt Henry, owner of HKH Construction in Long Beach, who will complete the building.

The home’s five sections are tied together with steel-threaded rods. And while the transport can stress a prefab’s structure, Coughlin argues that modular homes are not the house of cards that has been their stigma, but are actually more stable than stick homes, with potentially just as long a shelf life. “The fact that it’s built in a factory in a dry, controlled environment makes a big difference,” he said.

After Longworth wrestled for two years through bureaucratic red tape for zoning variances and permits, he had the bungalow demolished in late August and, two months later, the house is on its way to being completed by year’s end.

“It went from knock-down to having a structure in less than a month,” said Longworth, who owns a Web site development company. “It saved us a hell of a lot of time.”

The prefab philosophy is that homes are typically constructed much more quickly than standard homes, and can be less costly. Coughlin said it usually takes about 16 months from the time a homeowner signs a contract to when the house is completed.

At first, he had five meetings on design with the Longworths, after which the architect submitted the custom layout to Resolution: 4’s factory in Scranton, Pa. There, the five sections take about two weeks to build, and some three months of prep time.

Once the house is set on site, about four months are allowed to complete two stages: first, tying together the exterior features, including the cedar siding and trim, and then installing the electric, floors, plumbing and roofing. With standard homes, this process usually takes between eight months and a year, Henry said.

“It’s exciting for people to see how fast their home can go up,” he added.

“My wife and kids are completely stoked,” Longworth said about the prospect of moving in around Christmas.

While he declined to reveal the cost of his new home, upgraded prefabs are generally comparable to site-based homes, but usually are less expensive in areas with more open space for transport and construction, and an average of 20 percent can be saved on building costs, Henry said.

Coughlin said that around 80 percent of Resolution: 4’s business is in the New York metropolitan area (including the Catskills), with the majority of the homes raised in Nassau and Suffolk counties. While the company has been building prefabs for some 25 years, from Maine to Hawaii, the Scranton warehouse has turned out more modern and custom homes in the past decade.

Henry said that prefabs are seeing greater exposure now, and their negative image — particularly that they are identical homes with cheap fittings aimed at a mass housing market — is changing for the better. “And the way they used to come together, and the way they looked in the end,” he said, “you most likely could pick out the modular home on the block. Now, I know for sure that people never expected modular could be done like this.”

Economy Slows Real Estate Sales

By Joseph Kellard

Developer Jan Burman expressed cautious optimism about the Long Beach real estate market after Congress approved a $700 billion bailout bill last week.

The president of Engel Burman Group, a Garden City-based developer of properties from Montreal to Miami, is in the midst of building the Aqua, an eight-story, 36-unit luxury condominium complex overlooking the ocean on Shore Road. So far, Burman has sold six units, including two penthouses that went about $3 million each.

Despite the faltering economy, interest in the Aqua has been “pretty good,” Burman said, particularly among Manhattanites seeking beachfront property closer than the Hamptons, as well as retired homeowners from the North Shore, Five Towns and the boroughs of New York City. Next month Burman plans to display the development’s sales model — featuring units that range in size from 1,730 to 2,400 square feet and start at $1.3 million — and he believes he will have the building fully occupied within a year to 18 months.

“The hope is that once this economic crisis gets resolved, the mortgage money will open up,” Burman said, “because a lot of people who would like to move have to sell their first house to buy the second house, and they can’t sell the house unless there’s some way to get mortgages.”

Like Burman, Long Beach real estate agents who spoke with the Herald last week said the city’s real estate market remains generally stable, but some confessed to uncertainty.

“The Realtors are definitely concerned that they are going to lose buyers,” said Karen Adamo of Century 21 Petrey in the West End. “... The buyers are going to have to be what I would call super-qualified: very good credit, a good percent down and their closing costs.”

Joe Ponte, an agent at Prudential Douglas Elliman on West Park Avenue and a former director of the South Shore Chapter of the Long Island Board of Realtors, called Burman’s 18-month forecast a safety zone. “In 18 months the whole world can change,” Ponte said. “But if I had to predict, the whole market should be robust in that time, because everything should be straightened out within six months to a year.”

Though the mortgage crisis remains headline news, New York state’s foreclosure rate, as of August, ranked 33rd among the 50 states, according to RealtyTrac, an online site listing available foreclosures. Adamo said that while some areas of Nassau County have seen many foreclosures, such as Baldwin and Freeport, the South Shore is otherwise “not so bad,” and on Long Beach island “it’s not terrible” — though those words hardly inspire confidence.

Today, Long Beach island homes are on the market much longer — an average of about six months — before they sell, most for between $450,000 and $699,000. Ponte said the trend is that people who bought homes before 1980 are holding on to them.

“They’re retirees who find there’s no reason to sell, because they’re all going to relocate to Florida and they’re waiting for a better day,” he said. “They want top dollar.”

Although housing prices have dipped about 6 percent since 2007 in Long Beach, real estate agents are finding that sales of lower-priced condos — and particularly co-ops — are on the rise. “What is not selling in Long Beach are homes, but what are holding their own are condos and co-ops, especially on the ocean,” said Joyce Coletti of Prudential Douglas Elliman.

Many lower-priced condos and co-ops — studios and one-bedrooms — are selling in the $275,000 to $400,000 range, mostly to singles and young couples. “They’re selling because they’re lower than buying a house,” Adamo said.

The Windward, at 251-255 W. Broadway, between Laurelton and Lafayette boulevards, is a newly renovated, less-costly co-op development. The three-story building has 29 units, either studios (400 square feet) or one-bedrooms (800 square feet), that sell for $219,000 to $400,000, Coletti said. She has sold 11 of the pet-friendly units since they were first offered in July. “Really, if someone is looking for a place just to hang their hat for the summer, this is perfect,” she said.

Meanwhile, agents say that higher-end condos aren’t selling as well as their lower-priced counterparts. A case in point is the Riverside, at 125 E. Broadway, between Riverside and Long Beach boulevards.

According to a few agents, the 50-unit Riverside was unable to show a high enough percentage of sales for owner David Shokrian to close on the building, and he has started to put most of the units on the market for rent. Shokrian declined to comment.

Ponte attributed part of the slower sales in high-end buildings to once-willing buyers with $300,000 to $500,000 nest eggs who were wiped out in the Wall Street-mortgage meltdown.

“That money was their money to buy a home or condo,” Ponte said. Ponte compared the Riverside to the Avalon Towers, at 10 W. Broadway, which was built in 1991 as a condo complex but had to turn to rentals when the economy teetered on recession.

“This is history and economics repeating itself almost 20 years later: overbuilding in Long Beach and they couldn’t sell anything,” he said. “They were building all these condos in the late 1980s and there was a boom and then the market fell out.”

Nevertheless, Ponte and other real estate agents believe that despite the present difficulties in the local market, Long Beach remains an attractive locale for many people looking to move. The agents note that the city is rare among Long Island communities not only because of its beachfront property, but also because it has a vibrant downtown with many restaurants and shops, as well as convenient transportation.

“It is still the hot place to move,” Adamo said. “People on the North Shore used to look down on Long Beach, and now they’re selling their big homes and downsizing because they want to be directly on the ocean, and this is what they can afford.”

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gallery Opens By The Sea

By Joseph Kellard

“Oh, when did this open?” a woman asked with pleasant surprise while biking past a West End storefront two Saturdays ago. Her discovery was of a rare species on the South Shore: an art gallery.

“Today at 11 o’clock,” answered Scott Evers, owner of Evers Place, sub-named “A gallery by the sea.”

“It’s beautiful — I’ll have to stop back when it’s not so crowded,” the cyclist said. Sept. 20 was the gallery’s grand opening, and it was abuzz with caterers, curious art lovers and artists eager to sell their works. An estimated crowd of 450 passed through the gallery’s doors that afternoon, some 300 more than Evers had bought food and drink for.

Despite the initial excitement, however, Evers said he understands the risk he is taking in transforming his late father’s home-improvement repair shop, Dan Evers, a fixture at 949 W. Beech St. since 1949, into the first West End gallery in memory. Recent history shows that art galleries have had a short life span, at least in some neighboring towns. Around mid-decade, an Oceanside gallery devoted to Southeast Asian art closed its doors after about two years in business, and a studio in Island Park, which featured local artists, opened last December but is already out of business.

Evers, however, expects that his gallery will avoid the endangered species list. Since it is smack in the middle of the West End’s booming restaurant and bar scene, and with a wealth of artists living in town, he believes he’ll have no shortage of either customers or artists willing to display their paintings, drawings, photographs, collages and sculptures. It also helps that there are a few local groups that promote the arts, including the Long Beach Art League and West End Arts, both of which Evers belongs to, as well as other smaller, niche organizations such as the Artist Mothers Group.

“We have almost an art underground here in Long Beach,” said Evers, a native who was inspired by his father’s World War II snapshots to pick up his first camera at age 6. “We have so many good artists.”

Artists are attracted to the city by its lengthy stretch of seascape as well as Reynolds Channel, which is an “undiscovered country,” Evers explained. Landscape artist Kathleen Regan used to visit a friend in Long Beach and set up her easel on the beach before she moved to the West End 12 years ago and joined the local art group.

At Evers’s grand opening, Regan displayed some of her paintings, including one of a sand dune on the Georgia Avenue beach in 1980 titled “Chauncey’s,” named for and featuring the legendary former bar. “I feel that this is such a blessing for us,” Regan said of the gallery. “I mean, we have so many artists on this barrier island, and this is the first fine arts gallery that I know of.”

Regan and many other local artists have displayed their work in the halls of the Long Beach Public Library or at local gift shops and restaurants, as well as at annual arts fairs around town. When they do get an opportunity to show their work in galleries, typically they have to trek to Manhattan or the Hamptons.

At the grand opening, Michael McLaughlin, a native West Ender who often paints Southwestern scenes, displayed a painting titled “Mermaid,” which shows the sea creature lounging on a crescent moon with a star in hand.

“We’ve never really had something where the artists had a venue to promote their work,” said McLaughlin, whose works have been exhibited in restaurants. “We artists feed off each other, and with Scott doing this it’s a really great endeavor.”

By day, Evers is a corporate consultant who travels nationwide. When his father died last year and left him the shop, he finally had the opportunity to pursue his dream of opening a gallery. He renovated the 1,200-square-foot shop and opened Evers Place with Amy Castillo, who owned Listen To Your Art, a gallery and picture frame shop on Park Avenue.

The works on display range from $40 to $7,500. For $750 a customer can own an impressive piece by Long Beach photographer Jonathan Spector, a poster-size image of a boardwalk bench looking out onto a gold-tinted, desolate winter beach and ocean illuminated by a bar of sunlight piercing through clouds as icicles form on the guardrails.

Evers has also hung some of his own pieces, including “Wharfside,” a digitally enhanced photo of fishing boats lined up at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Also on display are the collages of Long Beach resident Veronica Schliemann. One consists of torn colored paper in the form of a muscular man lying by a river, titled “Sleeping Giant.” Another, “Nature And Her Vista,” shows a similar giant sitting in a gorge that was created by puzzling together sectional photos of Utah’s Bryce Canyon.

And what would a West End gallery be without an artful surfboard on display? One board sports a painting of a tropical beach, a typical scene by Dan Macken, an international artist who collaborates with Brian Wilson of Beach Boys’ fame. Evers met Macken at an art expo at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan last year, and invited him to his grand opening.

That kind of networking is part of Evers’s long-range plan to keep his gallery not only breathing, but thriving. He also hopes to attract more Manhattanites, who come to Long Beach on the Long Island Rail Road, to the West End. “A lot of them don’t even know the West End exists,” he said. He plans to focus on Web marketing on Craigslist and other sites aimed primarily at New York City audiences.

“Really, one of the big untapped resources out here is the city,” Evers said.

To learn more about Evers Place, visit the gallery’s Web site,, or call (516) 729-3168 or 208-7000.