Breezy Point, Queens, at the far western end of the Rockaways Peninsula first emerged as a summer-bungalow community in the first decades of the twentieth century. Similar to Belle Harbor, the community expanded throughout the following decadesIn the decades following the Second World War, the community faced a number of challenges at the hands of both Mother Nature and human beings. The decade of the 1960s was especially challenging as the community faced encroachment by land developers and proponents of a beachfront city park as well as Hurricane Donna in 1960 and the Ash Wednesday Storm in 1962. Fifty years later, Breezy-Point residents again looked to the sky with Hurricane Irene in 2011, a waterspout/tornado in September 2012, and a little less than two months later, Hurricane Sandy. On this page, residents of Breezy Point tell their stories of community, catastrophe, and reconstruction..
A video shot by members of the Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department the morning before Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Breezy Point, Queens. Courtesy of Tim Dufficy.
The Birth of Breezy Point as reported in The New York Times
July 31, 1901: “Philip A. Smith will conduct to-day on the premises an auction of eleven large villa plots on Breezy Point Place, Bay Street and Mott Avenue, Far Rockaway, formerly part of the estate of the late John Donovan.”
July 21, 1907: “A number of fine country houses are being built in Far Rockaway and the neighboring resorts. One of the finest is that of Louis Heinsheimer of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. at Breezy Point on Jamaica Bay. Mr. Heinsheimer has reclaimed the lowlands and surrounded them with bulkheads until the site covers more than twenty acres.”
December 21, 1925: “A gift from Alfred M. Heinsheimer of a country home at Breezy Point, Far Rockaway, with a $500,000 endowment fund, was accepted by Louis Straus, president of the Hospital for Joint Diseases, at the annual meeting of the Hospital Board, held yesterday in the auditorium of the hospital. The home, a waterfront property of fourteen acres, will be used by the hospital as a convalescent home for crippled children, and will be open in the Spring, accommodating 100 children.”
May 25, 1930: “In the area known as Breezy Point about 450 new bungalows are in the course of construction, and cement walks are replacing plank walks.”
February 13, 1937: “The Rev. Edward J. O’Reilly, from St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Flatbush, Brooklyn, to establish a new parish at Breezy Point, L.I.”
September 5, 1937: “Opening of the Marine Parkway Bridge has served to bring added activity to real estate at Rockaway Point, Breezy Point, and Roxbury L.I., which reported the heaviest sales and renting of privately owned bungalows this season since 1930, according to Leo Bishop, sales manager of the Rockaway Operating Company, which has built a number of houses from plans by Theodore Hanneman and sold them promptly. In the neighboring communities of Belle Harbor and Neponsit houses also have been bringing increased prices, Mr. Bishop points out.”
May 21, 1947: “Barefoot, his blond hair matted with sea salt, Lieut. Hubert W. Gainer of the Thirty-Sixth Fighter Group at Howard Field in the Canal Zone stumbled ashore at Breezy Point at Far Rockaway at dawn today looking pretty much like a latter-day Robinson Crusoe. For four hours last night, until his gasoline all but ran out, he had tried in vain to land his eight and one-quarter-ton Thunderbolt in smothering fog and rain at three airfields in the metropolitan area. When all hope was gone he had deliberately headed out over the Atlantic, parachuted out of his fighter, and through the rainy night made shore in a rubber lifeboat. . . . The wind carried him steadily toward the shore. In the surf his little craft capsized. He struck out through combers and fell exhausted on the sand. He got up, surveyed rows of empty summer cottages, then saw one where someone moved at a curtained window. He stumbled to it and tapped on the pane. Mrs. Grace Cornwall—the address was 199 Suffolk Walk, Breezy Point, stared in disbelief at the dripping flier, then opened the door. He said: ‘May I come in Ma’am? I bailed out in the ocean.’”
August 4, 1952: “Marine Maj. John C. Riley, first naval airman to fly 100 missions over Korea, was rescued yesterday from Rockaway inlet after engine failure had forced him to crash land his plane off Breezy Point, Queens. . . . In the sick bay [at Floyd Bennet Field], where he was found to have only minor bruises, Major Riley said that in the hurry of his rescue he did not get the names of the fishermen who rescued him. ‘I wish they’d get in touch with me,’ he said. ‘I’d like to buy them a bottle of whiskey.’”
Joelle Bensaid is a 17-year-old high school junior who currently attends York Preparatory School in Manhattan, New York. She is a native of the city of New York, having lived in Manhattan her entire life. When Ms. Bensaid was young, she discovered her passion for the performing arts, but her greatest passion is music. She is a singer and actress, aspiring to become a musician later in her life and desires to attend Berklee College of Music. Ms. Bensaid is a resident of Breezy Point. In the interview, Ms. Bensaid fondly reminisces about her younger days spent in Breezy Point, and all the memories she has made there. She tells multiple stories about when she was younger, such as when she was on a float for the gated community’s Mardi Gras parade. While she was not in Breezy Point during Hurricane Sandy, she was still heavily affected by the storm, explaining that her home was utterly obliterated, and that many items that had lots of sentimental value for her were lost, including a variety of her late father’s “artifacts”.
Mrs. Lynn Bensaid is the proud mother of Joelle Bensaid, who she absolutely adores. She is an independent, strong woman with a solid set of values, which she has passed on to her daughter. Mrs. Bensaid worked as an executive assistant at Scholastic for twelve years, and currently works at a law firm. She found out about Breezy Point because her mother purchased a home in the co-op in the 1960’s, and permanently lived there with her boyfriend. In 2004, Mrs. Bensaid and her husband bought a house there, she mentions that her husband loved it and she not as much, but they bought it mostly for their daughter, Joelle. Mrs. Bensaid talks about how she loves the community in Breezy and has a lot of family there. She and her daughter reside on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.
Damage sustained by the Breezy Point community from Hurricane Donna, 1960. Credit: Sally Anderson Archive/Alamy Stock Photo
Two children inspect a motorboat engulfed by sand at Breezy Point, Queens in the wake of Hurricane Donna, 1960. Credit: Sally Anderson Archive/Alamy Stock Photo.
Mr. Arthur “Artie” Lighthall is a retired resident of Breezy Point and former manager of the co-op. He is also a former fireman and officer of the NYPD. Mr. Lighthall was still a firefighter during the time that Hurricane Sandy hit and was therefore present in the co-op during the superstorm. In the interview, Mr. Lighthall explains what he was doing during the storm. He said that in the beginning, he was surveying the preparations that were made during the storm to evaluate any points of weakness and potential danger. Once he was done surveying the preparations, he went to the emergency command center to notify the others along with other emergency services. Mr. Lighthall was also manning the emergency command center with some of his senior management staff when the power went out within the building. After the power went out, they went to find out why it went out, and found that the natural gas supply for the community had been compromised with floodwater. Once the storm passed, he went outside to assess the damage to the community and to find out if there were any fatalities, of which there were none. However, lots of homes were destroyed by the storm.
The Birth of Breezy Point as reported in The New York Times (continued)
August 8, 1955: “This is a wholly private summer colony. It has 2,700 homes now, as against 1,593 in 1928. Thus, even on the most remote tip of the improbable geography of southern Queens, The lesson of twenty-five years holds there: the space, like the lower half of any hourglass, is inexorably filling up.”
March 5, 1960: “Breezy Point, a colony of about 2,900 summer homes and bungalows occupying the western part of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens has been purchased by Northern Properties, Inc., a land development company, and Finkle Seskis & Wohlstetter, heading a group of investors. . . . No immediate plans for the site, which covers about three and one-quarter square miles. . . . All the houses on the property are on leased land, with the leases staggered to expire over a ten-year period.”
March 15, 1960: “Breezy Point, the summer colony on the western part of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, is planned to be converted into a huge, privately financed community that might house as many as 220,000 persons. . . . tall apartment buildings, twenty-one private and public schools, twelve parks, an art and cultural center, forty houses of worship, marinas, boat basins, shopping centers and miles of ocean beach.”
September 13, 1960: “At Fort Tilden, 200 persons fleeing from the high coastal tides [of Hurricane Donna] at Breezy Point and Roxbury, were expected to be quartered overnight in the service club and barracks.”
November 18, 1960: “Four hundred acres of land forming part of the Breezy Point area in Queens are being sold to 2,650 of the 2,900 families who own and occupy homes there on land leases. . . . The remainder of the tract at the western tip of the Rockaway Peninsula will be improved with apartment houses, private clubs and commercial centers by Breezy Point Venture, a real estate concern.”
March 7, 1962: “Twenty-three persons in Far Rockaway and six in Breezy Point were evacuated when high tides threatened their homes. Thirty-seven power lines and three poles toppled, according to the police, half a dozen trees were felled, almost a score of windows were broken and four signs were blown down.”
March 8, 1962: “The worst of the flooding in the city was in the Rockaways and near-by sectors. Water covered the tops of parked automobiles in some areas. . . . About 100 marooned families were evacuated from Breezy Point at the west end of the Rockaway Peninsula.”
April 10, 1962: “A top city planning official warned yesterday that a private housing project in the Rockaways, Queens, threatened to deprive the city of a potentially valuable public park. . . . The developer of the proposed housing, the Atlantic Improvement Corporation, owns about half of the 3 ¼-mile-long tract that occupies the western tip of the Rockaway peninsula, generally known as Breezy Point.”
August 15, 1962: “A proposal to develop the area from Jacob Riis Park west to Rockaway Point in Rockaway, Queens, as a vast waterfront park was made yesterday by the Regional Planning Association, Inc. . . . The waterfront park proposal, backed in principle through parallel thoughts expressed by other civil and planning groups, was put forward in an avowed effort to block the Atlantic Improvement Corporation’s $200,000,000 ‘city within a city’ at Breezy Point.
October 3, 1962: “Mayor Wagner announced that Stewart L. Udall, Secretary of the Interior, would join him in a helicopter inspection of Breezy Point tomorrow afternoon. . . . It was hinted that official Federal-city views on the waterfront park proposal might be discussed at the conference. . . . Soon after the plan for the Udall-Wagner inspection became known, the Atlantic Improvement Corporation said it planned ‘to go right ahead’ with construction of its $200,000,000 ‘city within a city’ at Breezy Point.”
October 4, 1962: “Ten prominent New York residents announced last night that they had joined in the effort to convert the Breezy Point area of the Rockaways, Queens into a vast waterfront park. . . . The group of ten are Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. Marshall Fields, Mrs. Stanley M. Isaacs, Mrs. Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Marian Anderson, Lloyd K. Garrison, Edward S. Lewis, Joseph Monserrat, Whitney North Seymour and Harrison Tweed.”
October 5, 1962: “I am writing as a Director of the Breezy Point Cooperative, Inc., made up of approximately 3,000 families which own a parcel of over 400 acres of land on the Breezy Point peninsula. . . . All concede that the reason for the decrease in population [in New York City] is the lack of adequate housing. No one has ever contended that there is a flight of middle-income people from the city of New York because of the lack of beach facilities for use during the summer months. John P. Hale”
October 29, 1962: “The regional planning association urged yesterday that a $25,000,000 bond issue for state aid to acquire park lands be approved by the voters in the Nov. 6 election. . . . The association in a statement cited Breezy Point on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens and Fire Island off Suffolk County as the type of recreational area that might be purchased.”
May 11, 1963: “Breezy Point would provide for thousands of minority and low-income citizens who live in Manhattan and Brooklyn the only outlet for their children to enjoy oceanfront beach facilities and desperately needed parkland recreational resources. These families cannot afford the cost or the time to travel to suburban New York where such facilities are available. Nor will they be financially able to purchase or rent in appreciable numbers the high-cost housing now under way in this location. Whitney M. Young, Jr., Executive Director, National Urban League, Inc.”
July 22, 1963: “The first public test of strength on the proposal to create a four-and-a-half-mile oceanfront park at Breezy Point in Queens comes today at a public hearing before the City Planning Commission at City Hall. Eight members of the Breezy Point Cooperative, which represents 2,750 bungalow owners, last night walked the 15 miles from the Rockaway Peninsula to City Hall, carrying a 50-pound scroll containing 100,000 signatures against the park proposal. Submission of the scroll today will be a feature of the opposition’s presentation. Twenty-two leaders of the negro and puerto rican communities in the city, actively identified with the fight for the park, sent a telegram yesterday to the Planning Commission urging the park as ‘an outstanding example of democracy in recreation.’”
July 23, 1963: “More than 2,000 pickets—most of them foes of the Breezy Point park proposal—demonstrated outside City Hall yesterday as their leaders argued the merits of the plan before the City Planning Commission. . . . But proponents of the 1,352 acre recreation project more than held their own in total presentations before the Planning Commission on the immediate questions whether to remap for park purposes 152 acres that now are under development as an apartment project. Mrs. Rachel Weinstein, an Edgemere housewife favoring the park, said all the opposition talk ‘merely masks one fear—integration.’”
August 27, 1963: “A deep split in the Board of Estimate over the proposal for a waterfront park at Breezy Point became apparent yesterday. . . . Roy Wilkins, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said a park at Breezy Point offered a ‘recreation area in the city for a segment of the population who have difficulties getting out of the city.’ . . . There are 2,700 homes in the cooperative site. The park proponents want the city to acquire this land also, but do not seek it for 20 or 30 years. Cooperative owners are among the most vigorous opponents of the entire waterfront park proposal.”
Abandoned structures from the Atlantic Improvement Corporation and abandoned vehicles at Breezy Point, Queens in 1973. All images courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA).
Caroline Matticoli is an alumna of York Prep and a current college student at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). Ms. Matticoli has recently finished her freshman year at SCAD, and is studying for a major in fashion design and a minor in drawing. Caroline is also a longtime resident of Breezy Point. During Hurricane Sandy, Caroline was not in Breezy Point, however she was heavily affected by it nonetheless. Her grandmother, the owner of her home at Breezy Point, had passed earlier that year, and Caroline and her mother had not yet decided what to do with her home and belongings. The superstorm had devastated the home and destroyed most of the belongings of Ms. Matticoli’s grandmother with the house.
Ms. Kathleen Lahey inspects the remains of her family's bungalow at Breezy Point, Queens on November 4, 2012. Courtesy of Allison Joyce/Getty Images.
Ms. Kathleen Lahey is a resident of Breezy Point and a New York native. Ms. Lahey grew up in the Bronx and is a VP in the Family Office at Goldman Sachs, a financial investment company. In the interview, she explains that she went to purchase her home in Breezy Point along with her mother and her grandmother. She states that at the time, her grandmother was searching for a summer home that was in a nicer neighborhood, and they eventually found out about Breezy Point. Her family found out through a friend of her mother’s, as the friend had a sister-in-law who was selling their home in Breezy Point. Her home was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy and she lost almost everything that was in the home, which includes lots of artifacts from when her mother was still alive, as she had passed away only a few months prior to the superstorm. Ms. Lahey has yet to rebuild her residence in Breezy Point, as she does not wish to rely on organizations like Build-It-Back and has not yet made plans to rebuild.
Mrs. Jerilynn Lalor is a longtime resident of Breezy Point. Mrs. Lalor has been a resident of Breezy point for close to 50 years and is a nurse. In the interview, she begins by explaining how she discovered Breezy Point. Mrs. Lalor says that her uncle on her father’s side was one of the first residents of the Breezy Point co-op, and that she and her ex-husband moved to Breezy Point in 1970. Later, she explains her process of preparation for the storm. At first, Mrs. Lalor and her husband were going to stay in their home for the duration of Superstorm Sandy, but after they saw the sand being pushed up in the direction of the ocean as a precautionary measure to help prevent as much damage to the homes as possible, she and her husband decided to leave Breezy Point and stay with her son for the duration of the storm. Mrs. Lalor then says that within the first few hours of the storm passing through New York, her son heard water, so they went down to the basement to see what was wrong. They reached the basement to find it overflooding with water, so they spent time salvaging what they could from the basement and bringing it to the second floor of the home. During the storm, her car was destroyed, as the flooding outside caused critical damage to the car’s electronics. Her home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and has since been rebuilt.
Ms. Meghan Kerr is a native of Warwick, New York, and works in digital media for Carat Global. Ms. Kerr both plays and coaches lacrosse, and she played in the Women's Lacrosse World Cup in 2017. She graduated from the University of Scranton in 2017 with a major in communications and a minor in business. Ms. Kerr plays lacrosse, having went to London in the summer of 2017 to play on the Women’s World Cup team. During Hurricane Sandy, she was a senior at John Burke Catholic High School in Goshen, New York, and volunteered for community service. She went to Breezy Point to give supplies such as clothes, cleaning supplies, medical supplies, water, tools, and food. Ms. Kerr also assisted in the cleanup of the community, which included tasks such as cleaning debris out of peoples' homes, collecting garbage, and more.