Ocean Bay Park
by Barbara Gaby Placilla
THIRTY YEARS AGO, I rode the Long Island Rail Road and got off at the stop called Bay Shore. I took the David’s jitney down Maple Avenue, boarded a ferry that crossed the Great South Bay, and when it landed got off in a community called Ocean Bay Park. I had never been to Fire Island. All I knew about it was that there was a certain notoriety and mystery about this place and the man I was dating at the time, was an OBP “grouper.” …Not the fish, but a renter and a member of a group house called “One Flew Over.” I will never forget that day. I walked off the ferry, got lost but somehow found the house and on my first day on Fire Island, it was love at first sight.
Ocean Bay Park consists of 10 streets, five of which are named for the Great Lakes – Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior. Three streets are named for Native American nations – Cayuga, Seneca and Oneida. Another is Champlain named for the New York State lake – a lake which was briefly declared a Great Lake by President Bill Clinton on March 6, 1998, and then had that status revoked by Congress on March 24 that year – even our streets have their own story! Then there is Ocean Bay Boulevard, which leads to/from the ferry and is in the middle of the community. At one time it ended at Ocean Crest Boulevard, a promenade behind the dune and a road that no longer exists. OBP has the Fire Island Hotel, two restaurant/bars, Schooner Inn and Flynn’s, a sandwich shop called So Tastee, a market called The Island Pantry, Island Pizza, and Flavors – an ice cream shop.
OBP is a free spirited, easygoing community that has come a long way since its inception in the 1920s. It is about 3,000 feet long, sandwiched between Point O’ Woods with her “fence” to the east, and Seaview to the west. I am fortunate to have one of The William H. Moffitt Realty Company’s original posters advertising building lots for sale. It calls Ocean Bay Park “Long Island’s Greatest Summer Resort” and offered inland lots for $125, bay front lots for $450 and ocean front lots for $600! There were originally 40 cottages that were marketed to the “blue collar” community, particularly New York City cops and firefighters. The poster called Ocean Bay Park a “delightful, convenient and healthy locality; one which equals that of Atlantic City, Long Branch or Long Beach at just one-tenth to one-twentieth the price.”
The community suffered great damage in the hurricane of 1938, and as a result had to be substantially rebuilt. Instrumental to the rebuilding of OBP was the Flynn family, headed by patriarch John, and his five sons who opened a casino, aka restaurant, on the bay and the Fire Island Hotel, which consisted of a repurposed former U.S. Coast Guard Station and an army barracks that was floated over from the mainland. The Flynn and Lindsey families, and others built houses for rent and the group rental houses were born.
A volunteer Fire Department was formed over 60 years ago by a handful of men and soon after a “Ladies” Auxiliary was added. Today the OBP FD has both male and female firefighters, many of them second and third generation and the Auxiliary has dropped the designation ladies, as it is coed as well. The Ocean Bay Park Association, founded in 1956, acts as our liaison with the Town of Brookhaven and represents both homeowners and renters. It is a volunteer organization that works to maintain and improve the quality of life for all residents of the community.
Over the years, the community has evolved from those swinging 70s-90s “grouper” days when houses were known by names such as “The Gong Show,” “One Flew Over,” “Erospace,” “Divine Decadence,” “The Playhouse,” “The Right Stuff,” “Pioneer,” and “New Spirit,” to name only a few, and The Schooner Inn held its annual Mardi Gras where the houses competed with each for the best costumes and themes. Most of the group houses are gone, as many former renters morphed into homeowners, a testament to the commitment they have to this town.
Today, the residents are predominately homeowners, the houses renovated or rebuilt and the population includes many more newcomers who are looking for a place their children can truly be free to enjoy the unique environment that is Fire Island. Bay View Avenue is now a sea of kids zipping by on bicycles on any given Saturday. Kids play soccer outside the firehouse. While our community is evolving, as it must, we have never lost our sense of diversity and inclusion. Ontario Street, where I live, was affectionately known, years ago, as “La-di-La Lane,” a reference to the fact that many of the homes were owned by gay members of the community who considered Ocean Bay Park a “calmer,” lower key alternative to Cherry Grove and The Pines.
That first day I spent in Ocean Bay Park 30 years ago, set the benchmark by which I have measured every beach I have visited since. I have been to beaches all over the world and always find ours the most beautiful and the one I long to return to. So welcome to OBP, the best town on Fire Island. There are so many more stories to tell, but that’s for another time. The PS to this story is that I got engaged that summer and married that man, Stephen Placilla. We bought a house, moved to Fire Island year round and embarked on an adventure that is still unfolding for us on this little strip of sand that we call home.
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