Demolition of Landmark Memories— The End of an Era for The Irish Circle

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 When a photo of the former Community House building being demolished went viral on Facebook page, Friends of Rockaway Beach (FoRB), locals felt as though they were sucker-punched, bemoaning the end of an era for an unofficial landmark full of local history and memories.

 Since 1893, the iconic building at the corner of Beach 102nd and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, has served as a community gathering space—bearing names such as Schilling’s Roadhouse, The Irish Circle, The New Irish Circle, and finally, Community House. It has long been a place where locals met loved ones, celebrated momentous occasions and created memories worth remembering, and some they couldn’t quite remember after a night out.

That history come down, piece by piece, sparking heavy reaction. Many clamored on Facebook, expressing some of those bittersweet memories with one local lamenting, “Nothing really changed in 40 years. Just too bad they tore down what should have been a landmark.” Others added fire to rumors that the site is going to be transformed into low-income housing, over-priced condos or even a homeless shelter. In April 2019, the building was sold by Kelley Brooke to the Marcal Group, the same developer behind the One Sixteen Condos on Beach 116th Street. However, according to Marcal representative Seth Caller, it isn’t condos in store for the land’s future, but market-rate rentals.

Understandably for born-and-bred Rockaway natives, the demolition of property felt like the last call for Rockaway’s heyday as Irish Town. As old timer, John Baxter shared in an article for The Rockaway Times Summer and Community Guide, “My first experience with Rockaway’s bustling music scene was in 1958, when I was 18. At the time, Beach 102nd to 108th Streets were officially dubbed, ‘Irish Town.’ It was all Irish people, Irish pubs, and Irish life. In one block, there were at least 37 pubs. It reminded me of ‘The People’s Street,’ in Galway, Ireland.”

As the wrecking ball already leveled most of the site located at 101-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd, ironically across the street is Dayton Tower’s West high rises, which was once home to scores of Irish pubs that were torn down to make room for the co-ops.

The building’ demolition is yet another new start for the future of Rockaway. According to Caller, the Marcal Group’s 45,000 square feet, three-story apartment development is only going to add to the area with rentals, parking and amenity spaces, including for retail.

“We understand that there might be some personal feelings about what the old project was, but I can say that this building will be a landmark of its own. Once it’s complete, it’s going to be one of the most unique looking buildings in the neighborhood. What was there before was great, but was exclusively for restaurant use, and in order to make this project financially viable and being able to build within the zoning calculations in this neighborhood, we not only had to demolish the building, but also purchase some neighboring property around the corner on Beach 102nd Street. Only after doing that, are we able to build,” Caller said.

According to Caller, the new building will fulfill a need in the community. “We see that the amount of people looking for places to rent in Rockaway, especially in this area particularly, has been increasing year after year; and also based on our Beach 116th project and in this part of town closer to the Beach 90s, we see this project as having a real rental opportunity for residents,” Caller said.

Caller emphasized that the Marcal Group only wants to build toward enhancing Rockaway’s housing options. “The Marcal Group is not doing any low-income housing or building shelters in the Rockaways. We’re too invested and we are a part of the community now. From our projects on Beach 116th and now on Beach 102nd, and other developments that we’re looking at, we just want to bring the best housing options for the neighborhood properties that we own and that’s our intention,” he said.

Caller said building plans are still being finalized with the Department of Buildings. The timeline for completion is 18 to 24 months.

However, despite the new building development, the site will always be a landmark of memories and a symbol of the Rockaway that was. 

 By Kami-Leigh Agard

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