Images of America: Oceanside
by Richard Woods
Reviewed by Joseph Kellard
Try to imagine Dee's Nursery as a lone greenhouse, trolley tracks running along Woods Avenue, or polo players riding their horses on an open field behind Salamander Firehouse on Foxhurst Road.
Can't picture it? Then pick up "Images of America, Oceanside," a historical book by Richard Woods.
Hitting bookstores his month, "Oceanside" features vintage photographs of many such scenes in the town originally known as Christian Hook. Accompanying the photos are lengthy captions filled with historical anecdotes. Families and individuals of note, buildings and houses long gone or still standing, landscapes, sports teams, schools, firehouses and places of worship are some of the many subjects offered in this slender, handsome volume.
"I wanted to write this book to give the town where I grew up the recognition it deserves," writes Woods, a lifelong Oceansider, in the introduction.
Comprising 10 chapters, the book chronicles Oceanside from its geological origins, and the array of photos date from the horse-and-buggy era of the late 1800s, when the town was renamed Oceanville, to the present. Collectively, the photos and captions capture the town's evolution and development, reflecting its history and that of the nation.
Readers learn, for example, that Oceanside's surrounding bays provided a major source of income, particularly in clamming, up until the early 1900s. Woods notes the effects of the post-World War II population boom on the town. In 1950, Oceanside had about 18,000 residents. From 1951 to 1957, however, 3,400 houses were built on vacant lots and hundreds of acres of marshland.
It may surprise some to know that from 1929 to 1936, Oceanside had a semipro football team, the Paragons, who played on a field now occupied by Nathan's and attracted as many as 6,000 fans to a game. Other gems include how the high school sports teams, once dubbed the 'Siders, came to adopt their current nickname. Joe DeBaun, a student and cheerleader, wore a sailor's outfit to games during the 1930s, after which the Sailors name caught on.
Photos reveal that the original, mostly glass Carvel Ice Cream shop, still located on Long Beach Road and Cortland Avenue, looked nothing like the brick building it is today. Other photos show that many areas have long since changed completely. The southeast corner of Long Beach and Foxhurst roads, for one, where Commerce Bank now stands, was the site of Mitchell's Luncheonette, a house-like structure that seems right out of "The Waltons." The Triangle, at Long Beach Road and Lincoln and Davison avenues, figures often in "Oceanside," an area that, around the turn of the last century, served as a trolley stop.
In a caption for a photo of the original post office, readers learn how the town came to be called Oceanside: "In 1889, Oceanville applied for a post office. Lorenzo Davison was to serve as the town's postmaster. Since the name 'Oceanville' was already in use for two other post offices, the community's name was changed."
Through carefully selected photos, Woods captures the goings-on in Oceanside at important times in the nation's history. One comes in the form of a photo of Congressman Allard Lowenstein, an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, who was the center of controversy when seniors at Oceanside High School asked him to give a commencement speech at their graduation in 1970.
Woods also offers portraits of Oceansiders who became prominent, either here or elsewhere, including Walter S. Boardman, a principal at OHS and later the superintendent; Gilda Gray, who originated the "shimmy" dance that was the rage in the 1920s; David Paymer, a character actor featured in "City Slickers," "Mr. Saturday Night" and many other films; and Jay Fiedler, quarterback for the Miami Dolphins.
Sprinkled throughout "Oceanside" are various memorabilia, such as the masthead of the town's now defunct newspaper, the Oceanside Beacon, a football program from 1931, and a Ku Klux Klan membership card from 1923.
A collector of such items, Woods, a biology and environmental science teacher for 23 years at OHS, always wanted to compile a book like "Oceanside." His nostalgia was originally inspired by the dated photos at OHS's sports Hall of Fame. The spark that initiated his book project came when he attended the hall's inaugural Circle of Pride induction dinner at the Knights of Columbus in May 2003. That night, Woods was riveted by every inductee, former and present Oceansiders alike, who reminisced about the years growing up in their native town.
"After that, I just felt it was time to finally make something happen," said Woods.
While browsing in a bookstore, he chanced upon the Images of America series by Arcadia. The publishing company specializes in regional history, and Levittown, Hicksville and Syosset among the towns in its series.
When he proposes to Arcadia a book on Oceanside, the publisher required that he come up with enough intriguing information about the town to capture a broader audience than Oceansiders. His application included a description of the Roadside Rest, a 1920s fruit stand that expanded into a large food and entertainment facility that hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey, and which evolved into Nathan's Famous in 1959.
Another attraction to outsiders was an underground shrine at St. Anthony's Church, which was built in 1928 and lost to a fire in 1960. Woods offered a description of this shrine in his application, along with some other fascinating facts about Oceanside: The town boasts the first motorized fire-fighting vehicle in Nassau County, and resident Arthur Elder was the Boy Scouts of America's first Eagle Scout.
In compiling "Oceanside," Woods visited various libraries and historical societies, met with many families to record their stories, sifted through hundreds of photographs, and interviewed former Oceansiders all across America. "It was exciting," Woods said about being handed the first finished copy of his book.
"I hope 'Oceanside' will reach many people," Woods writes in the introduction, "instill in them a sense of pride, and help them recognize the importance of their hometown and its history."
* This review originally appeared in the Oceanside/Island Park Herald in 2004.