News
09.21.2010
Hope Sinks for Historic Staten Island Bungalows
Brushing off preservationists' pleas, Parks Department set to raze nearly century-old beach colony
Perhaps the last beach community of its kind in New York, Cedar Grove is slated to be demolished in a Parks Department effort to boost public access to the shore.
William Dugan

Twice, the Cedar Grove Beach Community has nearly been destroyed. An idyllic stretch on the South Shore of Staten Island with dozens of quaint bungalows, it was almost bulldozed in the1960s by Robert Moses to make way for an extension of the Belt Parkway. Then, the Great Nor’easter of 1992 destroyed 34 of the 72 houses that once lined the beach.

Now, the Parks Department is intent on finishing the job, having decided to demolish the remaining bungalows to increase public access. The 99-year-old community is dismayed because the city has yet to present any concrete plans for the site.

“These families have been coming here for generations, and now to take it away for no good reason—we can’t take it,” said William Dugan, a public school principal who stays in House 9 with his children, just like his parents before him.


cedar grove in sunnier days (click to zoom).
COURTESY cedar grove beach community
 
 

Dugan has become a spokesperson for the group, fighting for what he sees as an irrational assault from the Parks Department. Dugan points to New Dorp Beach, immediately north of Cedar Grove. Not only has it been closed because the city cannot afford to pay lifeguards to watch the surf, but massive pieces of crenellated concrete litter the border with Cedar Grove—remnants of a former children’s hospital it took the city decades to demolish after Moses seized the land. “If it took them 50 years to demolish that hospital, how long is it going to take for them to get around to Cedar Grove?” Dugan said.

Cedar Grove is arguably the last beach community of its kind, certainly the last on Staten Island. The Rockaways and Breezy Point have been winterized into year-round communities, but Cedar Grove remains seasonal, in large part due to an agreement negotiated with the city following Moses’ failed highway bid that forbids full-time use.

Residents, who first arrived in tents in 1901 and slowly built up to bungalows over the next three decades, admit that they knew the day would come when they would have to leave, but they see no reason properties that pay $6,000 a year to the Parks Department should be forced out at a time when the city is scrambling for money. The Parks Department intends to use the roughly $2 million it has collected over the years to demolish the houses, while saving a few for concessions, life guards, and other uses, though it has no additional money for developing the beach.

A department spokesperson said plans would be revealed to the community board in the fall, presumably after the September 30 deadline for Cedar Grove residents to move out. In a statement, the department said simply: “While Parks wishes the families well and has been happy to allow them to enjoy some time there, they’ve been properly informed well in advance of this decision that this would be their last summer at this site.”

Matt Chaban