By Natalie Abruzzo
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The waterway traditionally seen as the entry to New York City is the Narrows, a tidal strait between the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn. The Narrows and the surrounding military forts have been protecting New York Harbor for centuries. In 1964, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge – connecting the two boroughs – became the newest guardian of the Harbor. As the bridge celebrates its 50th anniversary, Natalie Abruzzo looks at the structure’s controversial beginnings…and the tensions it represents for New York’s so-called “forgotten borough.”
Staten Island was once comprised of farmlands and beach fronts. Prior to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the 69th Street Ferry from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn used to bring passengers between the two boroughs as many people who lived in other parts of New York City visited Staten Island as a weekend and summer getaway spot. There were resorts up and down the east shore of the Island – from Tottenville to South Beach. Midland Beach and South Beach were filled with bungalows, resorts and hotels. There was even a passenger train that went from St. George to South Beach regularly, because of the large amount of visitors.
Previously accessible only by boat, the city’s fifth borough was now connected to the rest of the city by road. Services for the 69th Street Ferry ended once the bridge was completed.
The bridge also brought a real estate and business boom to the sleepy beach resort island. However, between the rise in traffic and the demise in neighborhoods, such as Arrochar, not all Staten Islanders would see the building of the Verrazano as an unmitigated good.
At the time of this reporting, a toll hike has been proposed for the bridge. It will be the fourth one in the past 7 years. Many of the boroughs’ elected officials chose not to support the Verrazano’s 50th Anniversary ceremony as a silent protest to the MTA’s proposal.
Here are a few photos of Staten Island prior to and during the building of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. They are from the Collection of the Staten Island Museum.