Friday, August 5, 2011

Walks Home Retains Vintage Features

The couple that bought the bungalow, built in 1922, decorated it in retro style.

By Joseph Kellard
Glyn and Kelly Jaime were living in their new summer home, a 1922 single-level bungalow, only a month before it was included on the Long Beach Historical & Preservation Society’s annual Heritage House Tours in June 2008.

When the Manhattenites bought the home on October Walk it had been vacant for two years and was filled with cobwebs and sheet-covered furniture, including a vintage 1950s Herman Miller kitchen table and chairs that the Jamies kept, since it fit their retro style.

“We just had time to get it cleaned up and organized for the tour, which was a bit of a challenge, but we loved it,” Glyn recalled.

The bungalow has three small bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom, and it retains many original features: a white stucco exterior, a brick fireplace, a claw-foot cast iron bathtub, beaver-board walls and linseed linoleum floors.

A description of the home in the house tours' booklet reads: “This bungalow truly exemplifies the long-ago and continuing charm of Long Beach as a vacation locale.”

Other original features that drew the Jaimes to the house are its kitchen sink, which Kelly estimates it weighs as much as 800 pounds; windows with wavy panes that look out onto the enclosed front porch; and an outdoor shower at the home’s rear, where the fenceless property mingles with their neighbors’ concrete plots.

While the Jaimes were house-hunting they looked at some 25 Long Beach properties before discovering the Walks, a neighborhood where homes are divided only by a sidewalk and are without street access. The couple was instantly sold on the area and bought a bungalow that was built by a Brooklyn lumber producer, Louis Bossert, after World War I.

Of course, as with any dated home, it needed upgrades. The 1940s toilet had a crack that was not fixable, so they had to change it along with the lead pipes, and they painted the outside, a task that was last performed in 1976.

“This was one of the first things on our to-do list,” Glyn said about the repainting. “We wanted to bring the house back to its original vintage beauty.”

Glyn knows these all these details because the home’s second and last owner, Lydia Leiner, left behind impeccable records of everything she bought. The first owner was a barrister from Brooklyn who bought the house for his wife.

The Jaimes have added their own touches that include a wall adorned with a mid-century street map of the Columbus Circle area, framed black-and-white vintage photos of Manhattan and replicas of the Statue of Liberty (since they were married on Liberty Island).

They have only been to the house from late spring to early fall, so they’ve never had to shovel snow there.

“It’s instant relaxation,” said Kelly about their sojourns to Long Beach from their Manhattan apartment. “It’s like a vacation every weekend we come out here.”

Kelly works in Levittown as vice president of sales for Premier Merchant Processing, a company specializing in credit card processing for businesses, and Glyn owns a packaging design company in Manhattan.

Having a yard is something new for Glyn, who was born and raised in Greenwich Village and has always resided in Manhattan. In the seven years she and Kelly have lived together in their Manhattan apartment building, they’ve never seen any neighbors on their floor. But they know all the families around them on the Walks. One of their young neighbors even waters their flowers and lawn during the week.

“It’s a whole different speed in New York City,” Glyn said. “I look forward to coming to Long Beach all week long.”

Walks Neighborhood Had Military Beginnings

Historic community had mostly year-round residents by the 1970's.

By Joseph Kellard
What residents of the Long Beach’s historic Walks neighborhood lack in asphalt and yard space, they make up for in neighborly intimacy, whether it’s picking up groceries for one another or shoveling snow together to clear the sidewalk that separates their homes to get to surrounding streets.

The 10 blocks of Walks have no direct street access, driveways or garages. The bungalows on each walk face east and west and are sandwiched behind homes facing north and south from West Park Avenue, the neighborhood’s northern border, to West Beech Street to the south. Named for the months of the year, the walks themselves run north-south, from Lindell Avenue, the eastern border, to New York Avenue.

The homes are little more than arm-spans apart, and their “yards” are best described as patches of grass. Homeowners make the most of their small properties, though, lining their front picket or chain-link fences with flowers, while some leave their backyards barrier-free, blurring the property lines.

“I love it because it has so much charm,” said Roberta Fiore, a Long Beach historian who calls the Walks the city’s most distinct neighborhood. “It’s a cute little community with a lot of creativity.”

The neighborhood was first developed in 1917 and 1918, when the U.S. military took over the Nassau Hotel and Long Beach became a military settlement like Camp Yaphank in Suffolk County, where pre-fabricated bungalows were built for $2,500. They were shipped to Long Beach and installed barracks-style on property owned by Brooklyn developer and former State Sen. William Reynolds. The uninsulated pre-fabs were meant for summer use, but for $500 more a chimney could be built.

Louis Bossert, a Brooklyn lumber producer, developed the second wave of homes there starting in the late 1920s. By the mid-1950s, tenants started to live in them year-round. “The expression then was, ‘Throw some heat in the bungalows,’” Fiore said.

By the 1970s, half the homes became permanent dwellings, said Jim Hennessy, a former City Council president who was raised on January Walk. Hennessy fondly remembers the closeness not only of the neighborhood, but also in his family’s bungalow: He was one of nine children. He and a younger sister, two older brothers and single mother occupied the standard three bedrooms, and his five other sisters shared the attic-turned-bedroom.

Fun for Hennessy meant running with friends through stretches of then mostly wide-open yards, throwing a football across a few lawns and jumping from one rooftop to the next while playing hide-and-seek.

“There was a house across from ours where two elderly French-Canadian women lived,” Hennessy said in an interview in 2009. “If I had to go to the bathroom and one of my other siblings was in our bathroom, I would just run outside my house and use Jean and Isabella’s bathroom. That’s what it was like. It was really close and a lot of fun.”

One typical and long-time feature of the neighborhood homes are the front porches, many of which are now enclosed but were once open to catch breezes from the ocean a few blocks south.

“The whole design of the Walks,” Fiore said, “was to build houses without street access, but an aside was the terrific breezes.”