Monday, September 7, 2009

History Book in the Making

Historians compiling a pictorial tome on Long Beach

By Joseph Kellard

Did you know that Sutton Place restaurant-bar on West Park Avenue was once a library? Or that the Magnolia condos across the street were an elementary school? Perhaps you’re unaware that Lindell School was once the high school.

Well, there are pictures to prove it, and they are among hundreds of vintage snapshots now being considered for a pictorial book on Long Beach.

Next year, Arcadia Press, a publishing company specializing in regional histories, will release a Long Beach book as part of its Images of America series. Started in 1994, the series has published 4,300 titles that feature photos of towns nationwide, including Oceanside, Levittown, Hicksville and Syosset.

“I know Long Beach is a historically rich area, and we’ve gotten a lot of requests from readers and local retailers who’ve wanted a book on Long Beach,” said Rebekah Collinsworth, Arcadia’s acquisition editor.

About five years ago, Arcadia approached the Long Beach Historical Society about compiling a book, but the society’s trustees declined, wanting to create their own book. But last winter the company reconnected with the Historical Society, along with two other local historians, and thereby created a rare competition. The Historical Society’s application was chosen.

“Sometimes it’s tricky trying to find somebody who is qualified and interested, and everything kind of fell into place with this group,” Collinsworth said. “They’ve been wonderful to work with and are super-enthusiastic.”

The Historical Society was given the task of submitting 220 carefully chosen, pre-1960s photographs, complete with descriptive and anecdotal captions, by November. Long Beach families and individuals of note, buildings and houses long gone or still standing, landscapes, sports teams, schools, firehouses and places of worship are some of the many subjects Arcadia wants for its books. The publisher also wants enough intriguing information, capturing the goings-on in towns at important times in the nation's history, to attract a wider readership.

Carole Geraci, president of the Historical Society, said the book, in part, will center on Long Beach’s various neighborhoods and the variety of people who have settled in the city. “We’re looking for pictures that tell a story, that highlight how Long Beach started as a summer resort on a barrier island and developed into a very diverse city,” Geraci explained.

Arcadia requires original photos, not the many photocopies that comprise most of the Historical Society’s archives. So in addition to its own collection, the organization must look to the public to help provide some pictures from yesteryear.

David Roochvarg, a Historical Society trustee, said the best part of being involved in the project is the ability to sift through and scan all these photos for Arcadia. “What’s most gratifying is learning more about Long Beach history, which I have an interest in already, and just combing through the museum’s archives,” Roochvarg said. “I have to be careful about wasting too much time reading about the fascinating history. You get caught up in all these great stories.”

In addition to the many photos that are due by November, the society had to come up with five photographs as potential cover shots by this month. Both Roochvarg and Geraci said the project’s downside has been the stress of meeting such deadlines.

In the end, though, the beneficiary of the book’s royalties will be the Long Beach Historical Museum, and there will finally be a comprehensive book on Long Beach from its early days to today.

“It’s been done in bits and pieces, but never in one book.” Geraci said. “And even though this book will be done mostly in picture form, there will be enough text to connect the dots.”

Photo: Courtesy Long Beach Historical Society

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