One of the things I love about covering Rockville Centre is just how easy it is to get to. It has its own exit on the Southern State, Sunrise Highway runs through the center of town, and the LIRR stops in the heart of downtown. And the airport is so easy to get to as well.
No, not JFK. I mean the airport on Long Beach Road.
Well, it’s not there anymore, of course. But back in 1928, it was all the rage.
Back in the 1920s, there was a section of town known as the Dry Rez — an abandoned reservoir on the east side of the village. It became a recreation area for residents.
According to Marilyn Nunes Devlin in her book “A Brief History of Rockville Centre,” the area included sports fields and served as the staging area for the circus when it came to town. A pond at the eastern end of the Rez was used for swimming in the summer and ice skating in the winter.
But that all changed in 1928 when Bert Shields, an Oceanside resident and former Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, was flying by and spotted the 80-acre Dry Rez from his plane. He convinced the village to allow him to use it as an air field and the landowner, Robert West, donated the land to be used for just that purpose.
Shields and his flying club, the Sunrise Flying Club, cleared out shrubs and leveled the ground, creating a runway 800 feet long.
On Aug. 19, 1928, the Sunrise Airport of Rockville Centre was officially opened and dedicated. The ceremonies were led by Assemblyman Edwin Wallace, who hoped that he’d be able to fly between Albany and Rockville Centre now.
Miss Ray Powell, an actress, christened the first plane the New Moon, named after her Broadway show. She broke a bottle of water against the plane.
Why water? Because in deference to William Varney, the Prohibition Party candidate for President in 1928, it was decided not to use champagne. Yes, Rockville Centre had its very own Presidential candidate (although he only received 20,106 votes).
“Speakers predicted that within the next ten years ‘there will not be one village on the Long Island south shore without an airport similar to this,’” the New York Times wrote.
According to Devlin, the airport did not last long. It closed in the 1930s after residents complained to village officials about the planes flying too low (some things never change). Although they weren’t concerned about the noise so much as the planes crashing into their homes.
By 1945, the airport was a distant memory. That year, Fred Gibson purchased 21 acres of the property from the estate of Robert West and built homes upon it. You probably know it today as the Greystone area.
Some of the Dry Rez still remains, though, and is still used for fun. Except now it’s called the John A. Anderson Recreation Center.