A Cover Up for a Brighter Future


It’s the end of an era for one of the iconic wave bus shelters. Late last week, the Surf’s Up mural on the bus shelter at Beach 107th and Shore Front Parkway, was covered up, leaving a blank canvas, and leaving many nearby neighbors wondering, why?

Built around 1939 for the World’s Fair, the bus shelters on Shore Front Parkway have long been a Rockaway icon. So much so, that in 2015, when the NYC Parks Department suggested knocking down the Surf’s Up shelter by Beach 107th Street, to make way for the new Sandpiper Playground being constructed after Hurricane Sandy, there was an uproar from local residents. After hearing plenty of feedback, Parks ultimately decided it would work around the shelter, instead of knocking it down, while constructing the new park. So many were surprised to find that as construction takes place, last week, the mural on the shelter was effectively erased.

In the ‘90s, local artist, Esther Grillo, took on the job of restoring Rockaway’s bus shelters, that after many years of deterioration, were known as an eyesore. So she began a beautification project, using the murals as her canvas, and painted large, detailed paintings on each of the four bus shelters. In 1999, she painted Surf’s Up, on Beach 107th. The mural contained several surfing figures, with the central piece being a female surfer, to empower females to engage with the sport. However, the mural soon became more personal. “While I was working on it, a lot of people asked to be a part of it. Thomas Intrabartola was a well-loved surfer and lifeguard who died in 1998. His family commissioned his portrait and asked if I’d paint him, so I did. Then other people would come up to me and told me their stories about surfing in Rockaway, so I paid homage to that,” Grillo said.

Now those images will be known in photographs and memories, since the mural was covered. However, according to Grillo, covering the mural wasn’t an accident, but a bittersweet necessity. Grillo said she was aware that the mural was going to be covered, and says she even advised the Parks Department to do so, in order to preserve the deteriorating bus shelter. “The structure itself is not stable,” she said, adding that she spent many years trying to renovate each mural, only for her work not to last long. “The shelters are porous and I when I paint the surface, water comes in from the roof and walls, and it kept causing the paint to crack. I told Parks that unless they waterproof the roof and back surfaces, I can’t fix them anymore because it’s too labor intensive for it to only last until the next rain,” Grillo said.

The Parks Department confirmed what Grillo said. “The bus shelter is being stabilized as part of the $3.68 million Sandpiper Playground reconstruction project,” a Parks spokesperson said. “Though the 1939 bus shelter substantially survived Hurricane Sandy, it was cracked and the reinforcement underneath the concrete was exposed in some areas. In order to stabilize it and make sure it’s structurally sound, our contractors needed to sandblast areas and replace the concrete.”

While covering the mural was a necessity, the bus shelter won’t go bare. Standing now as a blank canvas, the bus shelter will once again be painted, whether it’s by Esther Grillo herself, or another local organization. Grillo says she’s willing to paint it again, if the circumstances are right. “I’ll do it again if they add waterproofing elements. Parks has already been calling me, asking about estimates for the paint because local groups are trying to raise funds for it. They’re saying the site may be ready to paint in the spring. I think I’ll do it again if everything falls into place,” she said, adding that if she’s the one to repaint it, she’ll be enlisting the help of young artists that she can mentor, as she has done in years past.

So don’t fret, Rockaway. The bus shelter’s future may once again be bright.