Friday, August 5, 2011

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.”

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