Sad History Of Gateway

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 Dear Editor:

I would like to respond to Paul King's letter in your "We Get Email" column regarding Gateway National Recreation Area.  Paul is absolutely right in his diagnosis.

First, as the area is known, it is called Gateway National  Recreation Area and specifically not named a park,  so you would think recreation would be their first thing.  However, for way too long they have been pushing all the local recreation groups out of the park, the kids baseball and soccer, etc.

Case in point is The Rockaway Music & Arts Council.  We were the first group to use the park for a local event, long before the RAA or the Rockaway Theatre Company.  Approximately thirty years ago, we approached Gateway to have a one-day Craft's Fair on a Sunday after Labor Day..  They were thrilled with the idea and worked with us to present a Craft Fair on their Parade Grounds.  The festival was so successful (approximately 1 to 2 thousand people) that we eventually made it a two day event, a Saturday and Sunday and moved it over to the area in front of the Bathhouse where there were events for children, a petting zoo, pony rides, face painting, picture taking, a food court and the local garden clubs had a tent and there was an "antiques" table for those looking for something old.  There were local artists selling their paintings and the craftspeople came from all over the country. This was strictly a crafts fair, no flea market items were allowed. There was free parking for everyone in the lot since there was no charge after Labor Day. The only part of the event that involved Gateway was having the garbage picked up at the end of the day and we even went around and picked up items left on the grass. Additionally, their security drove through during the night as the vender tables were left there. RMAC additionally had our own security as well.  By the Park's estimate  20 to 30 thousand people came to the Festival each year.

We had our meetings with Gateway each year to formulate plans for the following year and things were going well even though they sometimes set meeting times and then cancelled them.  However, the Festival continued for many years along with the Sunday Picnic Concerts and when the Rockaway Theatre Company came in we even presented Opening Night Parties when their shows opened.  Things were just humming along until Gateway started coming up with ideas for us; one being for us to supply both the men's and ladies rooms with toilet paper.  After getting really mad, we all had a good laugh and many jokes.  Another problem was the use of their property.  At that time the area in front of the Bathhouse (the grass area) was City property and the walkways were National.  We received permits from the city and used the grass area for our vendors and the walkways were used just for that, walking and everything went along smoothly.

After the last year of the Festival when meeting with Gateway management, they came up with the idea that we should pay for use of the park the next year and their number was $14,000. We were willing to discuss the matter with them but after all was said and done, we felt we could not agree and that was the end of it.  To this day, I still get questioned as to why and when the Festival may return but that won't be happening.

Even the Bathhouse, where I had my first job as a teenager, handing out towels and keys to the lockers way back when has been destroyed by the government.  They replaced the inside with offices, broke down the areas where the lockers were and just left it.  That building would have been a great place for wedding and other events.  It is big, had a beautiful floor and would only have needed a kitchen and some other renovations.  It could have been rented out, with parking available, but they just left it and went to Floyd Bennett Field.

The pictures in The Rockaway Times a couple of weeks ago, made me very sad and I hope that someday things will change for the better.

Sharon Gabriel

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