By Merle Exit
Dan Guarino is an artist, performer, writer, photographer and longtime resident of Broad Channel, the unique community that sits between Howard Beach and the Rockaways.
President of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, Guarino has a long history of chronicling the history and culture of Broad Channel. In 2008 he and his late wife, Liz, produced the book “Images of America: Broad Channel,” part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. Now, the UK-based publisher Fontill Media, as part of of its series “America Through Time: Adding Color to American History,” has brought out Guarinio’s second book on the community, which was battered by Hurricane Sandy.
The book, “Broad Channel Through Time,” is a history composed of pages of old and new photos, along with a caption to explain each. The older photos were obtained through collections from places such as the Broad Channel Historical Society, as well as from residents volunteering to share their own memories. Most of the photos of present-day Broad Channel were taken by Guarino himself.
“I liked the idea of pairing vintage historical images of Broad Channel with modern day photos of the community as it is today,” Guarino said. “It’s also in color so visually everything really stands out. I’ve been in more than three dozen exhibitions and my photojournalistic work has appeared in print many times. So I wanted the book to also be as visually interesting as possible.”
To introduce his book, Guarino recently held a book signing at Grassy Point Bar and Grill, located at 1802 Cross Bay Blvd. Formerly known as the Grassy Point Hotel, pictures of it taken in the 1930s give an idea of Broad Channel’s freewheeling past. “There were dance halls, restaurants, night clubs and during Prohibition, speakeasies and neighborhood rum runners, earning Broad Channel the nickname ‘Little Cuba.’”
Another part of Broad Channel’s history concerns the many battles it has had with the forces of Mother Nature. Guarino said that although Hurricane Sandy was certainly the worst of those, flooding has long been a problem in the area, especially in the early 90s, where there were “a few wild nor’easters.” He also noted that “we sometimes do get very high tides. More recently this past winter we had severe flooding all over. I had to walk barefoot through freezing water to get to work.”
What prompts him to stay is his sense of community. “A sense of being part of this town, and that we are all in this together. It really is like a small town. I once heard someone explaining to someone else what Broad Channel is like. They said, ‘Let me put it this way. Broad Channel is 20 blocks…and one family.’ The Channel boasts a very surprising history that includes hotels, dance halls, nightclubs, cabarets, an air strip, an outdoor movie theater and a U.S. Army base. There are loads of fascinating images and stories here.”