There are corners and dead-end streets in Far Rockaway that appear no less tattered and remote than those found in developing countries. Many of the cutesy beach bungalows, originally built for U.S. soldiers returning from the First World War, have either been looted for scrap or hawked for the price of the land underneath and razed. Some enterprising owners have built additions to their bungalows, installing satellite dishes and modifying the most modest dwellings into surfside mansions; others seem to live in poverty unlike any other in New York. Still, no matter where you are in Far Rockaway, you’re saddled between the beach and the bay, and the air always smells fresh, unsullied, and full of opportunity. “We’ve had it!” says one longtime Lower East Sider who, along with his girlfriend, has decided to give up their $1,000 one-bedroom on Clinton Street to pay $100 more in rent for the bottom floor of a two-family near the beach. “I can surf, fish, sleep without noise, and be inside the city in about an hour.”
Activities: In the summer, the private beach at Almost Paradise (120 Beach 9th Street), one of the few outdoor scuba training centers in the city, fills up with divers eager to sample the rare, exotic, and surprising (for Far Rockaway) underwater life: blue-claw crabs, lobsters, even angelfish. A variety of fried things and chilly Budweisers ($3) are served at the outdoor bar. Just across Jamaica Bay, the Aqueduct Race Track (110th Street and Rockaway Boulevard) holds thoroughbred racing.
Population: The neighborhood, once home to Irish and Jewish immigrants, has changed to become predominantly African American and Caribbean, and now developers from Brooklyn Hasidic communities have been putting up homes at a speedy pace. “Historically, everything changes in cycles,” says Barbara Morris, owner of East and West End Realty (1052 Beach 20th Street and 209 Beach 110th Street, respectively). “But the diversity here and the sense of beach community always stays the same.”
Boundaries: Jamaica Bay to the north, the Nassau County line to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and Beach 32nd Street to the west
Transportation: The A train is the only subway line that goes to Far Rockaway. Once you’re there, transportation is difficult—over the years the public infrastructure has frayed, making the auto a necessity. Two bus companies, Green Line and Jamaica Lines, run the length of the peninsula from abandoned Fort Tilden to the Mott Avenue train station.
Average Price to Rent: Studio, $650 to $750; one-bedroom, $800 to $850; two-bedroom, $1,100 to $1,300. Seasonal rentals are also available.
Average Price to Buy: The main draw for city slickers, real estate experts say, is the elusive “Investor’s Dream!”—which often means buying old, dilapidated Victorian homes near the water, some complete with carriage houses and huge bay windows, and refurbishing them to their original old-time splendor. One-bedroom co-op, $30,000 to $35,000; two-bedroom co-op, $50,000 to $80,000; two-family home, $285,000 to $375,000; single-family home, $220,000 to $299,000; bungalow, $60,000 to $75,000.
Investor’s Tip: Groundwork has just begun for Arverne by the Sea, a $350 million oceanfront development project where as many as 2,300 new residential units are expected. Plans also call for 250,000 square feet of commercial/retail space, a day care program, a rec center, and a charter school. The entire Rockaway peninsula, experts say, will soon get an injection of raw economic power. Not the perfect time to buy—but not too late either.
Main Drags: Mott Avenue, Beach 20th Street, the boardwalk
Green Space: Just off Jamaica Bay, Bayswater State Park is 17 acres of handball courts, a baseball field, and nature trails. Once the estate of a wealthy city banker, this ideal perch for bird-watchers is now managed by the Audubon Society. Other sites to spot endangered wildlife are the nature trails within the marshes at the end of Mott Avenue.
Happenings: Says one local teen, “I’m bored out of my mind, all the time.” Adults echo that sentiment. Currently, there are no movie theaters, bars, or worthwhile shopping centers; for kids, locals say, the only thing to do is wait for a driver’s license, then cruise around and look for trouble; vandalism is prevalent.
Crime: Recent headlines about rival teen gangs from Far Rockaway allegedly opening fire in Times Square nightclubs are disturbing, though maybe misleading. Crime complaints at the 101st Precinct have been on a steady decline. Over the last two years, complaints of robberies have fallen 7 percent, burglaries by 26 percent, and grand larcenies by 50 percent. Police attribute the falling numbers to crime prevention programs established in the early ’90s.