These are pictures I shot today on our way to comfort family in Howard Beach who got flooded out during last night’s storm surge. On the way into Howard Beach, we took Linden Blvd going east. Two cyclers were drag-racing down Linden, all the way to South Conduit. When we got to Howard Beach, the scene was solemn. Residents who had access to generators and sump-pumps were siphoning water out of their basements, while others were using buckets. Evidence of the power of the storm-surge is clearly illustrated by the cars that were lifted and moved onto curbs as the water levels retreated. The Army Corp lined Cross Bay Blvd, and cars were being directed by traffic police since the power was out in the neighborhood.
The canal that runs up along Cross Bay Blvd in Howard Beach began to rise above flood stages at about 7PM on Monday night and the ankle deep water was cascading throughout the entire neighborhood on both sides of Cross Bay Blvd. By high tide at around 8PM the seawater was rushing through the entire community and was waist deep in areas closer to the canal. Old Howard Beach, which is between the canal and Jamaica Bay suffered worse than the rest of Howard Beach, although the Rockwood Park area, which to locals is called “New Howard Beach” was also badly flooded – with water coming from both the bay and canal. Hamilton Beach, which is the only designated area in Zone A – was naturally devastated, as was Broad Channel. Residents in Zone B, adjacent to the canal should have been warned to evacuate or vacate their basements. Many basements in and around the canal area had water up to the ceilings, some only receiving a foot or less.
The house adjacent to the rear of Waldbaum’s parking lot had an electrical fire the moment the seawater entered the basement and burned to the ground in minutes, the residents escaping with only moments to spare. Personal effects like family photographs and religious items mixed with seawater, leaves and other debris as they quickly inundated basement apartments.
In Broad Channel, it was even more depressing. Most of the residents had already put their waterlogged furniture on the curbside. A boat had drifted into the median of this small island community that has witnessed many devastating floods in its history – but Sandy will be a hurricane that will long be remembered as the storm that uprooted their lives.
By 1908 William Howard owned 137 acres of land west of Hawtree Creek. The dredging had raised his land above the high water and more dredging would be on the way. Within the next decade the Shellbank Canal and East Hamilton Canal would be built and Hawtree Creek and Basin deepened. This was due to a government plan to build submarine pens within the sheltered creeks inside Jamaica Bay. The plan was eventually cancelled, but only after the dredging added more sand onto previously flood-prone marshes.
Bill Howard was now in a good position, even after the tragic loss of his hotel, the City of New York was debating various plans for Jamaica Bay area improvements and Howard stood to gain regardless of which competing plan was adopted.
The Bay Harbor Plan was the most ambitious. It called for construction of shipping ports, terminals, customs and warehouse facilities on the bay islands, the deepening of channels to support ocean going firefighters and the creation of a new port to relieve congestion in New York’s inner harbor
In addition, this plan called for the construction of twin Cross Island Canals from Flushing to Jamaica Bay. This would allow ocean-going ships to travel from Long Island Sound to Jamaica Bay and back without having to circumnavigate all of Long Island. The twin canals were surveyed to run just east of today’s Van Wyck Expressway.
The Tompkins Plan, in comparison, favored private and residential construction instead of a second port. These plans were proposed before the invention of the airplane. The Tompkins Plan meant more dredging and the bulk heading of waterfront property and encouragement of private real estate development. Howard couldn’t lose by either of the two plans; he could build either homes or port facilities.
The Tompkins Plan was approved in 1912 (while Tompkins was NYC Commissioner of Docks, making the Cross Island canals a footnote to Queens history. This decision gave a green light to William Howard for home construction; Howard Estates would soon become a reality.
Developers flocked to the area after the Tompkins Plan was approved. E.E. Meacham & Sons advertised in the New York papers to sell lots at Ramblersville starting at $59! Signs were erected in Ramblersville and South Aqueduct announcing the development of “Marcella Park. ” But the locals on the creek lived in Ramblersville and had no need to change their name to suit developers. It seemed that everyone now wanted a piece of the action, but Howard was already in place with the acreage in hand; none of the newcomers would catch him now. Home construction was about to begin in earnest on both sides of the railroad.
The first project for the Howard Estates Development Company was construction of Sand Beach and a private park for residents of Howard Beach Estates. Howard would build his beach and park (now Frank M. Charles Memorial Park) before he built his first home! - Howard Beach dot com