Sunday, March 1, 2009

Allegria Hotel Holds Job Fair

By Joseph Kellard

Although the job fair was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., some prospective employees demonstrated their punctuality by lining up on the sixth floor of Long Beach City Hall an hour early on Tuesday.

The Allegria, the luxury hotel that is replacing the King David Manor on the boardwalk at National Boulevard, held a two-day job fair Tuesday and Wednesday, looking to fill 100 start-up positions, from dishwashers to concierges to accountants.

Just after 9 there were already some 70 job-seekers seated on benches or standing on line, filling out applications or waiting to be interviewed, some dressed in business suits and pearl necklaces, others in jeans and wool hats.

“They hit me a little sooner than I was ready for this morning,” said Mark Lahood, president of Access Hotels and Resorts, who was hired to oversee the pre-opening process for the Allegria. Lahood expected some 2,000 applicants in two 12-hour days.

Among Tuesdays early birds was John Gyulay of Valley Stream, who had been laid off a week earlier from a health care company in Manhattan, which he said was downsizing due to the faltering economy. “A lot of people are not working, so whatever job they can get, they’ll take,” said Gyulay, who was looking for a maintenance or security job at the hotel.

In line behind Gyulay was Andre Morris of Long Beach, who hoped to get a full- or part-time custodial job. “Right now I’m doing construction, but it’s seasonal and there’s not always work,” Morris said.

The Allegria promoted the job fair with fliers and posters, and advertised in local papers, including the Herald. “We’re really trying to embrace the Long Beach community,” Lahood said.

Long Beach resident Margaret Famigoietti said she learned about the hirings from her children. She lost her job of 12 years at a Brooklyn nursing home in October 2008, in economy-driven layoffs.

“We all have bills to pay,” said Famigoietti, who is collecting unemployment. “It’s getting tough. My savings is going way down.”

A certified nursing assistant, she said she enjoys working with people and wanted to land a job at the hotel’s front desk or in reservations. “They told me they’d call me for an interview,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s a great sign or not.”

The hotel is focusing on finding service-oriented, personable people, Lahood said. “In a hotel environment, we hire a lot based on personality,” he explained. “It’s the one thing we can’t train for.”

Lahood pointed out that people can expect the hotel to add as many as 60 more positions once it is in full seasonal swing this summer.

“Just because someone doesn’t make it this first round doesn’t mean there aren’t future opportunities,” he added.

The hotel expects to have a staff hired by early April, and to open its doors sometime later that month or in May, Lahood estimated.

Danielle Bivens, a Long Beach resident who works in the cafeteria at East Elementary School, said she would take any part-time position.

“I need something for the evenings and when school is over, something for the summer,” Bivens said.

While waiting to be interviewed on Tuesday, Gabrielle Rios of Valley Stream said she has spent the past two years earning an associate’s degree in hospitality from New York City College of Technology. Now, she said, she is eager to work at the hotel, whether in the kitchen or at the front desk. “Whatever position is available now, I’ll take it,” Rios said.

The hotel’s developer, Allen Rosenberg, president of the Manhattan-based Alrose Group, showed up at the job fair on Tuesday morning. Rosenberg bought the King David Manor property for $21 million in August 2007. He was unsuccessful in his bid to buy the Garden City Hotel last year, but opened a Wild By Nature supermarket and a Walgreens on his property on Long Beach Road in Oceanside.

The Allegria is touted as a high-end luxury hotel that will feature 143 rooms -- 31 of them suites -- as well as a rooftop pool, a spa run by the Long Beach salon Joseph Christopher, and meeting rooms for corporate and catered events. It will be the first luxury hotel in Long Beach since the mid-20th century.

“Creating a forum that provides job opportunities will help foster optimism in a gloomy economy,” Rosenberg said, “and will give gifted individuals a chance to grow with a hotel that is the first of its kind in the neighborhood.”

Asked why the Allegria was holding its job fair at City Hall, Lahood said that in addition to the fact that the hotel itself is still a construction zone still, there was no better place in Long Beach.

“We are going to be a long-term fixture in this community,” he said, “so we need to start off in a way that’s going to meld the two together.”

Once All White, Now Full Of Color

L.B. historian details Long Beach's early black history in North Park

By Joseph Kellard

One particular moment from the day in 1958 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took part in the ceremonial opening of the Christian Light Baptist Church remains etched in Roberta Fiore’s memory.

The media and many Long Beach politicians gathered for a photo op in front of the new church, in the city’s predominantly black North Park community, but King suggested another backdrop: the neighboring homes with no front doors.

“What I remember distinctly was that across the street from the church was the worst section in Long Beach,” said Fiore, who was then 18 and is now a Long Beach historian. “Dr. King had Newsday take photos of those houses instead of the church. He knew enough to say, ‘I don’t want my picture taken in front of this new building. I want it taken showing how blacks live.’”

Still, a new church in the black community was a far cry from Long Beach’s beginnings. William Reynolds, a former state senator who since 1906 had owned most of Long Beach island, sold property exclusively to the wealthy. “The laborers — the Italians, the Greeks, the blacks — were escorted out of town at night to Barnum Island,” Fiore said.

But before his business went belly-up in 1918, Reynolds asked the City Council to allow a black man named Ben to stay overnight. Ben was a servant for a woman who owned an estate on Edwards Boulevard that became a boarding house. She demanded that Reynolds accept him, and the council voted unanimously in Ben’s favor. Thereafter his black brethren called him “King Ben.”

Fiore described Ben not only as “a colorful character” who led the annual Memorial Day parade, but as one of the first influential blacks in Long Beach. “He became a very respected person in town,” she said.

Other early black influences were Dan and His Boys, a jazz quartet that entertained at Long Beach establishments and traveled with Reynolds, and James Reese Europe, an internationally known conductor and writer for Vernon and Irene Castle, a ballroom dance duo who owned a nightclub on the boardwalk. “Long Beach had an early history of music that was given by the African-American people,” Fiore said.

Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, as entertainment thrived and Long Beach developed homes and industry, Southern black migrants worked at the hotels lining the boardwalk or as domestic servants. While some lived in the stately homes where they worked, a handful began renting and even buying homes, many of which were converted garages, in what is now North Park, the area north of Park Avenue between Magnolia Boulevard and Long Beach Boulevard.

“The political idea back then was to keep the blacks concentrated on the other side of the tracks,” Fiore said. “North Park was where the railroad and the more industrial section of the city were located, and the blacks didn’t have cars, so they traveled by train.”

During the summers, fishermen stayed at the Bayview Hotel on Reynolds Channel, and black laborers moved into the dilapidated structure the rest of the year. Around World War II, a wealthy black woman, a Mrs. Reeder, invited them to board in the garage of her nearby stucco estate. “She gave these domestics comfort, warmth and clothing,” Fiore explained. “This was the beginning of the black community in Long Beach.”

During the 1940s, however, the Ku Klux Klan was active on Long Island, and when a black woman moved into a home on Pine Street, Klansmen burned a cross on her lawn, according to Fiore. The woman soon left town.

But around the same time, one of Long Beach’s most celebrated African-Americans, the Rev. Jesse Evans, moved with his family to an estate house that he rented in North Park. An Army chaplain who became the spiritual leader at Christian Light, Evans originally traveled from Jackson Heights, Queens, on Sundays to preach to the black laborers at the former First Baptist Church. Evans and his first wife were acquaintances of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta. “Evans was a good man who believed in peaceful resistance,” Fiore said. “Some thought he was too nice.”

In 2000, Fiore, then the president of the Long Beach Historical Society, interviewed Evans’s two daughters; the then 20-year-old organization had no documented history of North Park, and Fiore thought it important to create an oral record. That same year, the Long Beach NAACP Youth Council learned that a community journal created for the city’s 75th anniversary made no reference to their neighborhood. They responded by making a video documentary called “Long Beach in Color.”

Among the many black elders and leaders the young people interviewed was Hazil Garrie, who moved to Long Beach in the 1950s. On the video, Garrie called King’s visit to Long Beach the most significant event during her years in the city. “That was a happy day in my life,” Garrie said, “to see him in person, and he was very, very charming.”

In 2002, Patrick Graham, who was raised in Long Beach and is a former director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center on Riverside Boulevard, completed his doctoral thesis on the growth of the city’s black community. “The majority of African-Americans in Long Beach, from 1940 to 1980, were migrants from the South,” said Graham, who is now a college professor and president of the Urban League of the Central Carolinas in Charlotte, N.C. “Southern migrants in Long Beach and other parts of Long Island used their cultural knowledge of the civil rights movement to pursue human rights initiatives in Long Beach.”

Bill Owens arrived in Long Beach in 1960, and found that housing for blacks was scarce. He joined the local NAACP and took part in the organization’s sit-ins in the lobbies of apartment buildings that refused to admit blacks. Others picketed on the streets.

“Police came and arrested some of our people and took them to jail,” Owens recalled in “Long Beach in Color.” But after the demonstrations, inter-racial relations gradually improved, and, Owens added, “Things did start to open up.”