Saturday, April 3, 2010

City Island: A Bronx Boat Building Village



When I was spending a lot of time in City Island, there were a handful of people who would often  compare this Bronx neighborhood to Cape Cod or some other New England coastal region. Immediately, my internal BS Detector would start flashing Code Red. It was obvious to me that the person stating this had never been to Chatham, Stonington, or whatever town they were comparing it to. Rather than start a drunken argument, I would usually try to make nice-nice by continuing to mind my own business and eat my halibut
The release of the movie City Island, has my detector flashing once again. I have not seen the film, but my Google Alert box is flooded with reviews that describe the island as a "quaint New England fishing village". Some even give the impression that it is located in the middle of Long Island Sound, with a fishing armada supplying the seafood restaurants  dotting it's shore.
Like most of Long Island Sound, City Island had it's share of oystering and lobstering. It's real claim to fame however, was shipbuilding. Numerous yards lined the eastern side of the island that built, outfitted, and repaired large yachts. Eight of these boats went on to win the  America's Cup. That is an impressive legacy, and the City Island Nautical Museum does an excellent job at presenting it. 
As for the New England comparisons? The island has some narrow streets with a few colonial and victorian homes, but so do lots of towns. Through careful editing, filmmakers can portray it as a much quainter place than it is. I think Tom Andersen put it best when he said:  "It doesn't (look like a little fishing village). It looks like the Bronx waterfront".
I remember how disappointed I was when I first saw the movie, Mystic Pizza. Sure, it was fun checking out a young Julia Roberts, and seeing parts of Mystic on the big screen. But I was really turned-off by how the film portrayed the town as some ethnic theme park, where the girls married young; the boys all went fishing; and everybody ate Lobstah.  Hardly very accurate.

Eventually I will make it to the theatre to see City Island. But if Andy Garcia's neighbor is a tuna fisherman, and the house has a widow's walk, I'm heading for the exit.

City Island Nautical Museum: (highly recommended museum)

photo credit: City Island Nautical Museum

16 comments:

S/V Veranda said...

I've been to City Island ONCE...Somebody told me it was quaint. I didn't realize until that moment that the word "quaint" was interchangeable with "seedy" or "creepy".

Ocean Girl said...

Movies can change a place to their desires. But the advertisements they provide are invaluable. City Island will benefit.

matthew houskeeper said...

Ocean Girl,
Oh I agree! But movies like THE PERFECT STORM helped Gloucester because they were based in reality.
They had flaws, but they were trivial in the big picture. I am not sure that City Island portrayed as a quaint New England Fishing Town serves any purpose. You end up with a couple of T-Shirt shops, but thats all.

matthew houskeeper said...

S/V Veranda,
I certainly understand your point. I know exactly what you mean. But my point was not to trash City Island, as much as to gripe about it being portrayed as something it is not. Yeah it is seedy; but so is New London, or Biddeford, Maine.
You hit the nail on the head when you said it was described to you as a place that was quaint.
It seems to me, they would be better off describing it for what it is. A former yacht building town that is a unique part of the Bronx on Long Island Sound.

Erin @ I Heart New England said...

Wow, thanks for this information! I never knew about City Island.... your post made me laugh because I know many people who will call anything "New Englandy" when it's anything BUT!
Would be interesting to check out one day though; the museum sounds very nice.

Baydog said...

I once went there in the early 90's to check out a boat for sale. Having never been there before, I was amazed that the Bronx could have such a sailboat friendly place. It was encouraging. Was it New Englandy? No, not really. But it did have a typical nautical feel to it, which made me feel like if I had to, I could keep my boat there and sail from there as well. It didn't hurt that there were seafood restaurants with waterfront decks and patios. In a way, it reminded of my roots in New Jersey, where I worked in waterfront restaurants for years during school, all the while having a clear view of the scallop boats coming in and out of the Manasquan Inlet. Often, I prefer the blue-collar seafaring community to the blue-blooded regatta and cocktail party set.
Not every sailing village is like Newport, Edgartown, or Annapolis. But obviously there were enough sailors that felt they could call it their home port.
I don't necessarily like the saying, but "It's all good".

matthew houskeeper said...

baydog,
I think you kind of nailed the way I feel about it. I always liked City Island because it was a working, urban, neighborhood on the water. Like you said, many are often shocked to discover that it is part of the Bronx. To me that was the appeal. Portraying it as anything else seems foolish.

Cindy said...

Interesting post. Didn't know that about the place. But i would never have called it a quaint New England town. Quaint it ain't.

bowsprite said...

I like City Island. The name fits: no bull.

matthew houskeeper said...

Erin,
The museum is well worth a trip.

Bowsprite,
I like it too, but that is not the issue. My gripe is that it is refered to as a "New England fishing village". It is not a fishing village, and it does not look like New England.
It looks like the Bronx.

Baydog said...

And furthermore, and in conclusion, it is not in New England!

Larry said...

I was interested in seeing Mystic Pizza but was dissapointed that the movie didn't remind me of anything about Mystic except for the title.

matthew houskeeper said...

Larry,
Agree. It's portrayal of Mystic was a complete fabrication full of lazy stereotypes

Monica said...

Author, Thanks a lot for this informative post. I never I never knew about this great City.

matthew houskeeper said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it Monica.

Carmina said...

cool