Treasures of New York


A World Within a World: The Bay Houses Of Long Island

A World Within a World: The Bay Houses Of Long Island explores the lives, history, and experiences of bay house owners in the Town of Hempstead from both a historical and contemporary perspective.

AIRED: October 15, 2020 | 0:58:20

[ Birds chirping ]



>> I was blessed

with this bay house.

I don't know, it was just


I would kill to protect

this bay house if I had to.

You just can't go and get these.

You can't buy them.

You can't find them.

You can't build them anymore.

The few people that are lucky

enough to have one to take care

of it for their little duration

of time,

this is just a blessing.

>> You know, you grow up out

here, it gets into your blood,

and you really

don't want to let it go.

Fortunately, my nieces

are following through

with the family tradition

by maintaining this

and upgrading it

and keeping it all going.

They'll enjoy it.

They're having kids now.

Their kids are going to be

down here enjoying it.

Hopefully it keeps going

all the way down the line.

>> It was a way to have fun

and freedom

and do things on your own

and kind of grow up.

Whatever our first memories are

in life include the bay house.

>> The happiest times of my life

were and still are at the house.

Playing with toy boats

in the water,

fishing, clamming.

I grew up --

I can remember clamming

when I was 3.

>> If you're young

and you're here,

it's the greatest place

in the world.

You can walk in the marshes,

jump in the water,

pick up horseshoe crabs,

go for a boat ride.

Once you're born into it,

it's in you.

I can't explain it.

I try to explain it to people,

and they don't really


and I don't expect them to.

[ All talking ]

It's just -- It's a special


It's just something

that you either love it or you

don't want any part of it.

>> I come out here,

and I get away from it all.

I do my work out here,

and no one bothers me.

I can come out here during duck

season and go duck hunting.

I could still look

at the craziness of the mainland

right across the canal.

I mean, where can you do that

on Long Island?

Where can you jump in a boat and

go to a little, tiny island

in your own little shack

and listen to the radio

and just shut off the world?





>> For the longest time,

I have been so intrigued

by these otherworldly

type houses

that look as if they're coming

straight out of the ocean.

You can see them very clearly

from the parkways

along the southern shore

of Long Island, New York.

I am on Long Beach

Barrier Island, which is

a unique environment evidenced

by the wind-bent trees

along the southern shores.

Nicknamed "The City By the Sea,"

the island is surrounded

by Reynolds Channel

to the north, east, and west,

and the Atlantic Ocean

to the south.

Located just 20 miles

from midtown Manhattan

or a 15-minute train ride

from Penn Station

on the Long Island Railroad,

people flock to Long Beach

from all the New York City

boroughs, especially

during the summer months.

They come to be entertained

by the fairs,

enjoy the beach, and get away

from the sweltering heat

in the city.

Some of my questions

were answered about these houses

in the ocean

when one day I visited

the Lido Beach Nature Preserve.

And as I wander through

the various flora and fauna

in its marshland, I came upon

a sign.

It was on a pedestal.

And right across

from this sign,

I saw these two houses

in the distance.

When I began reading the sign,

I learned that these are

called bay houses

and their history

was even more interesting

than how they looked.

So with that, my interest

was so piqued

that I ran home to Google

bay houses in Long Island.

At this point, I learned

that there has been a book

written about the bay houses.

Now in its second edition,

"On The Bay" was written

by Nancy Solomon.

I was curious to know how many

other people in this area

knew about these bay houses.

>> My husband, every time

we went over the bridge,

"There's the bay house.

There's the bay house."

>> I know about them.

I don't really know anybody,

I just see them

from the distance.

>> "Newsday" did an excellent

article on the bay houses,

and it really intrigued me.

I've never been there.

I don't know anybody that's ever

been there, but I thought,

like, "How cool is this?"

>> You know,

I guess I don't see the houses.

I guess I'm not that observant.

Now I'll look for them.

>> No, I'm not familiar

with any of the bay houses.

I don't even know

which bay house is --

what area we're talking about.

I would be curious about them.

So, what -- what are they?

>> They have a saying about

what we bring to the bay house.

We always say, "I went to

the shack and I bought apples."

Then the next person has to say,

"I went to the shack and bought

apples and bananas," and we go

through the whole alphabet.

Basically what we brought is

milk, potatoes, bacon and eggs.

Every day we'd have to get ice

because we had an ice box.

I think it just became

a tradition in the family

of wanting to have a bay house.

Aunts and uncles and nephews

and nieces.

We all grew up here.

No TV, no radio,

no cellphones at that time,

and so we communicated with

each other,

which is a rare thing today.

We made up crazy games

and just enjoyed life.

>> We used to spend a week

at a time with my mother.

She got tired of it.

That was very hard living.

There was no plumbing.

It's an outdoor toilet.

It was hard, you know.

Provisions difficult to get,

no cellphones.

We were roughing it

when we were out here.

We learned an awful lot when

we're out here, learned a lot

about taking care of ourselves.

>> We're going to be going

on the boat, and the first house

we're going to be going to

is the Muller Bay House.

>> The author of the book

"On the Bay,"

Nancy Solomon, is also

the director of a nonprofit

called Long Island Traditions,

which is dedicated

to documenting Long Island


history, and culture.

>> The book was really

an advocacy work.

We were desperately trying

to save these bay houses,

and at that time in 1991,

there was a state law

that said there were going

to be torn down.

And with the publication

of the book,

The town of Hempstead,

which owns the land that the

bay houses stand on,

started a conversation

with the bay house owners

and with the State Department

of Environmental Conservation,

the DEC.

>> One of the reasons

why the town reached out

to the Bay House Association,

to figure out

a way we could, you know,

keep these in perpetuity.

>> The first challenge was

gaining the trust of the people

who own the bay houses

because there have been so many

negative newspaper articles

that they did not trust anybody

who was not part

of their community.

There were one or two people

at the very beginning

that welcomed our inquiries and

wanted to help us document this.

And I explained to them that,

you know, unlike a journalist,

I was looking to save

these bay houses

so that they could be preserved

for future generations.

>> The combination

of persistence,

presenting a case

that was credible and logical,

and having the historical


the Long Island traditions

and the documentation

that had gone on, we, I think,

had a foundation to make a case

as to why.

>> Keeping the people

involved in the houses

meant we were going to keep

the houses erect.

>> They agreed.

So it was

just a wonderful thing.

And the town of Hempstead

recognized the bay houses

at that time

as having historical value.

You know, in the maritime

history in the town

of Hempstead, which they do.

>> They came to agreements

that bay house owners could,

in fact, pass their leases

on to family members

or to a close family friend.

They could repair

their bay houses.

And that's how we came to have

these bay houses.

>> This is my backyard.

In the winter, this --

I call it my island.

It's quite a nice backyard,


>> Bay houses can only be

transferred by lease for the

ones that are on leased land.

There is a small group

of bay houses on a place

called Meadow Island.

And that is privately

owned land.

The owners of those houses

can sell them.

>> Our homes are different

than the rest of the bay houses.

We have deeded property.

I own this property just

like I own mine in Malverne.

The issue with the storms

was rebuilding, but none of us

have had any issues

getting our permits to rebuild.

There's a new home being built

right now.

As long as it's built

on what's called the footprint,

which means you don't make it

larger than it was,

it doesn't impact

the environment any more than

the old home, we can rebuild.


>> There's a lot of marine life


Supposedly per acre,

there's more diversity

and more life

in this type of environment than

any place else in the world.

>> Every so often, nobody

in the family is interested

in keeping the bay house,

at which point the lease

holder is able to add somebody

to their house on the lease

as long as they are a town

of Hempstead resident.

And if that person's committed

to keeping the bay house,

then eventually

he will inherit that bay house.

The story of Brian Warasila

It is a clear example.

>> When I first came out here,

I was 14 years old

and I was in Eastern Reel Bait

and Tackle.

A guy had owned a tackle place.

His name was Frankie DeGaetano.

>> Frank would take Brian out

as a young boy, and eventually,

as he grew older, asked him

to help with the many projects

that are part of that bay house.

And when Frank passed away,

Brian was on the lease.

And so now Brian

has that same bay house.

>> I got to find somebody

to pass it on to.

I got a couple of people

picked out,

but you got to have somebody

that's into working in the bay,

into being out on a boat,

can be handy fixing stuff,

which you could still teach

somebody how to do that,

and kind of watches out

for it like a child.

You either love it

or you hate it.

Like, some people come out here

and go,

"Oh, God, this is horrible."

My brother-in-law came out.

He was looking around,

and he goes, "Is there any place

to get snacks around here?"

I go, "Snacks,

whatever you want.

We got clams, we got mussels."

They're used to being pampered

on the mainland.

Like, I could go in the house

and take a shower.

I can stop at McDonald's and get

something to eat.

Over here,

you can't really do that.

If you want to have

something good,

you've got to catch it yourself

or dig it yourself.

Nothing works better

than fresh bait.

We got a few.

You're spending all

this money for fresh clams

over in Freeport,

but wouldn't you rather go out

and dig your own clams,

knowing that you dug it yourself

or caught it yourself

and cooked your own meal?

A few animal people out there

that are crying

because the fish are dying

right now on a hot deck,

don't worry, they're not going

to go to waste.

When we leave here, the birds

are going to have a party.

You can pretty much live

off the land if you wanted to,

you know?

Nothing like that, man.

That's a home run.

>> I gravitated

to painting and drawing at

a young age.

It just came natural.

It was the subject matter that

really drew me in at a young age

and that had to do

with the water.

>> Local resident and

award-winning artist Dan Pollera

has a particular fascination

with the bay houses.

>> I'm an avid fisherman,

so being out in the water

all the time,

you know, you start to recognize

these houses.

Different times of the year

out in the bay, it

has personality, and the light

changes through the seasons.

It's an individual

piece of architecture

that plays into the light during

certain times of the year.

And, for me, as an artist

that loves to put architecture

in my paintings,

I get a great inspiration

from watching the light change,

the winter,

the summer, whatever it may be.

When I do a painting,

I try to create a mood

and a feeling through light

and composition

and put the viewer in the piece.





If the bay houses

weren't there,

it would be like

any other salt marsh.

There's no construction

going on around them,

no buildings being built.

It just stays more or less

in a virgin, pristine

setting that they probably once

were back when they were built.

Most of the people

that have these houses

are either fishermen,

clammers --

they're water people.

You know, they're people

that know the bay.

They're on the bay,

and they know the tides

and the fish that are in the bay

and the clams.

And it's part

of the environment.

>> Get this wall here.

>> That's a baby, right?

>> Yep, yep.

>> That's the common thread, I

think, that everyone has who

owns the houses and all the

friends of the people

that own the houses.

>> Pull a piece

of the wall down.

Fall off like this

right here.

That's it.

>> It's what we call local

ecological knowledge -- LEK.

And that is what these bay house

owners have many times over.

>> My family isn't your

traditional bay men.

We didn't make a living

on the bay,

but we still have

that bond with it

and respect for the water

and respect for the marshes

and respect for the people

that do work on it.

Watching the guys out there

with their giant seining nets

on the sandbar

and just out there working,

and just, you know,

leathered skin, and you just,

like, "That guy's a worker."

Like that's -- Like, to me,

that's a hard worker, you know?

So it just -- It's just

bay house owners.

It's a love,

a respect for nature.

>> They understand when

certain birds appear,

a storm could be coming.

They know that when certain

kinds of fish that live in

the bay are no longer around,

a storm could be coming.

So they have an awareness

of our ecological systems

and how they work

that far surpasses

many weather forecasts

and meteorologist predictions.

>> You'll see snails here,

periwinkle snails,

blue ribbed mussels.

You'll see killis -- lots

and lots of little killis.



>> Salt marshes appear

in coastal wetlands.

Sometimes called tidal marsh,

this occurs in areas between low

and high tides,

often in estuaries,

where fresh land water mixes

with salty sea water.

This ecosystem serves

many vital functions

and is home to a wide variety

of marine wildlife.

>> We see things in the day

that we're gone

for a really long time.

So it's clear to me that over

in the period when there was

a lot of pollution in the '70s

and into the '80s,

a lot of different species

had either died off

or just not felt that

the environment was hospitable.

Birds have always been

a constant out on the bay, and

I'm a rather avid bird watcher.

And that's part of one

of the reasons why,

just from a very early age,

just watching all the different

species that would come,

asking my grandfather,

"What kind of bird is that?

What kind of bird?"


We have swans that come out.

We have all kinds

of ducks and geese.

We have the glossy ibis.

We have oystercatchers.

We have, of course,

every type of gull

you can think of.

Terns, barn swallows.

We get swallows

that frequently nest

under the deck of the house.

>> The bay houses began

out of a dependent relationship

between farmers and fishermen.

Back in the colonial days,

farmers needed something to feed

their livestock

because the ground was covered

with snow.

And they saw that the salt hay

that was growing on their

marshlands in the bay

had a particular kind of hay

that wasn't covered with snow

because of the warm currents

that came through the estuary.

Back then, the only people

who could get out

to those marshlands

were basically fishermen,

because they were the only ones

who had boats.

This would have been in the late

1700s up into the mid-1800s.

The farmers would pay

the fishermen

to go out there, row out there,

and then come back.

Well, in the wintertime,

you don't have much time

because daylight is short.

And so they would spend,

I would say, a good two hours

to get out to the marshland.

Then they would be cutting

the salt hay,

and then they would have to

turn around and come back in

and not have that much to show

for all of that work.

The fishermen said, "Gee,

if I had a little house

or a little shack that I could

stay in maybe overnight,

I could do some clamming,

I could do some oystering,

and also cut the salt hay."

And that's how the first

bay houses came to be.

The house we're passing on our

right, anybody want to guess

why it has a tower?

That was a lookout tower.

Bay houses were a natural fit

for rum runners, 'cause it gave

you a place to hide.

And when the rum runners

came in, they want to keep

an eye out for the Coast Guard.

>> The rum runners.

I mean, basically,

what I've heard are stories.



>> With the passage

of the Volstead Act in 1917,

many of the bay house owners,

who, again, was this rough

and ready group of fishermen,

and they quickly learned

that they could probably make

a lot of money by ferrying booze

that was docked just offshore.

>> It was a fairly lucrative

business for a good number

of people.

They would meet the ship

offshore, and they'd lower down

the alcohol.

The money would go in a bucket.

They'd send the bucket up.

If it was correct, they'd untie

them and let them come in,

and they'd skedaddle.

>> Bill McCoy would bring up

his ships from the Caribbean

and would anchor just outside

of Jones Inlet and

Rockaway Inlet.

>> That's where the name

"the real McCoy" came from,

'cause he was the one that would

go down to the Bahamas,

the Caribbean,

and bring all the rum up.

And they'd sail that

12-mile line.

They'd stay just outside of it,

and they'd run off,

get it, and come back in

with the small boats.

>> The bay house owners and

some of the local fishermen

had boats, would very quietly

at night go out there

and bring in a case of booze

or two, sometimes bring it

to one of the marshland hotels

and sometimes bring it straight

to shore, where there would

have been cars waiting for them.

>> There are lots of stories

about how the booze got in.

On an incoming tide,

with this wind, the boats

would come in the inlet,

drop the crates off,

like Boardwalk Empire,

like up in Hyannis Port, right?

And the crates would float in.

The kids would run out

and bring the booze in.

>> A lot of the houses

would have trapdoors in the

middle of the living area,

and they can drop

the booze down,

so they had to get

rid of it, you know, when

the other boats would come in

and pick it up.

>> The crates

were set up and tied together

with an anchor.

And when they got chased --

If they were caught and

the Coast Guard came or whoever

the law enforcement was,

they would throw them off, and

the weight would take all these

crates down

and they'd disappear.

They wouldn't be on the boat

any longer.

And then when they got stopped,

they wouldn't be arrested

or, you know,

caught for bootlegging.

And then what they'd do is come

back another day,

put a grappling hook down,

get the line, pull it up,

and then bring the booze in.

>> You know, off of Hewlett

Point Park, this guy Bob -- I

don't know if he's still alive,

but his father had a hotel

out there, across

from where the park is,

and they had a speakeasy there.

And they used to have

the rum runners come in

and out of there all the time.

And there's a spot over there

where the hotel or the bar was.

And they got raided, and they

pulled the plug on the boat.

I guess the boat that ran off

the beach to get the booze.

And to this day,

that boat is still down there

with booze bottles in it.

This is what he says. Who knows?

>> We have an old log book

from the original

1898 bay house.

And it dates back

to, I'm not even sure,

but there's talk about

Uncle Stuart and Uncle Russell

bringing down their bathtub gin.

And here's to Prohibition.

And it's tough to make out,

but my cousin has the log

still secured away.

So there was definitely

some enjoyment going on here.

>> I do have a ring

with a rum diamond

because my great-grandfather,

at the time -- He had $10,000

with him at all times

because he may come across

somebody that would have rum

to buy.

One of the times,

he was traded diamonds for rum.

One of the stories was if he had

known it wasn't going to last,

he would have worked

a little harder

and made more money rum running

and never had to work again and

everybody would have been set.

>> Captain Jack Combs

and his buddy

who's named One Arm Charlie

went out to a boat

and had him

brought back a case of booze,

dropped it off at a hotel,

and had the money

and went to their bay house.

>> He talked about it

as if they were, you know,

they were going out

to the grocery store.

They'd run off shore,

and they'd pick up stuff from

McCoy at the 12 mile line

and they'd run it back in.

>> There's an extra high tide

that night.

So they had to put the money

in a box.

And when the tide came in to the

bay house, all the money

got wet.

>> They had it at one the bay

houses, all tacked up on the


Somebody came in there,

I guess one of the wardens, and

they had all this cash

tacked up on the walls

because it was all wet.

>> And the Coast Guard decided,

"Okay, now's our chance."

They knock on the door,

and Charlie and Captain Jack

comes, looking at each other.

"Who knocks at a bay house?

This is not good."

And so when they opened up

the door, they found

these federal marshals,

you know, with their guns

and they said,

"You're under arrest."

And they said,

"Well, what for?"

They said, "For rum running."

"We don't have any booze here."

And meanwhile,

the Coast Guard was looking

at all this money on the wall,

and they said, "Well, where

did you get the money from?"

They said, "It's not against

the law to have money."

And these poor federal marshals

had to walk away empty handed.

>> The New York

metropolitan area

had seen its fair share

of storms,

but nothing at this point

in time was as destructive

and powerful as the hurricane

that struck Long Island

and southern New England

on September 21, 1938.

>> September 21st,

in mid-afternoon,

this tropical terror struck,

swept over outer Long Island,

struck with winds rolling 100,

150, almost 200 miles an hour.

Tidal waves 30 to 40 feet high

struck a section unprepared.

The great wind-driven waves

swallowed the sandy bulwarks

of the coast,

washed away the pleasant beaches

of Long Island's southern shore,

literally changed the coastline.

Bridges joining islands

to the mainland were destroyed

almost instantly.

Men risked almost certain

death trying to swim

to their isolated homes,

and the Coast Guard restrained

them when it could.


Thousands of homes along

the seashore were shattered,

mansion and modest home alike.

The storm tore timber from

timber, leaving only tangled


>> After World War II,

motorboats were affordable,

and there was such a huge influx

of people that were moving to

the south shore of Long Island.

>> Something is bringing people

to Long Island.

>> If you ever lived

in the city,

you'd know what attracts

people to Long Island.

They all come

for the same reasons.

Out here,

there's room to breathe.

>> They all wanted a bay house.

When they saw the first ones

that were built in the 1800s,

they said, "I want

one of those."

>> There's room for the boys

to grow among the trees

and open spaces,

the way I did, not surrounded

by asphalt and concrete.

>> Pretty soon you had,

you know, maybe, you know,

20 or 30 bay houses

go into the 300,

maybe even 400.

We'd seen photographs

of marshland islands

that are completely

dominated by bay houses.

As we start to travel, I want

you to think back in time before

your parents' generation,

when there were hundreds of

bay houses on these marshlands.

>> People don't realize that

this whole area was bay houses.

>> They had houses every so many

feet on the entire meadow.

I know across the way there

was houses.

It's probably just the way

it was because he had 200

or 300 houses out here.

Pretty compact.

>> You see that

foundation there?

There used to be an estate

there with a swimming pool

that was supposedly owned

by Gloria Swanson.

>> That's her built-in

swimming pool you're looking at.

The land used to extend a lot

further, and over time,

it's gotten eroded away.

But there are all these actors

and actresses and people

that just wanted to be off

the grid for a while.

We'd come out here back

in the '20s, in the '30s,

I guess it was,

and they would hang out

for the weekend.

>> He had a friend

who had an amphibious car.

That's a car they could turn

into a boat.

>> Out of your garage,

down the street,

and into the bay for a cruise.

>> They would put it

in the water at Freeport,

and I guess drive the car

with the propeller and park it

in front of his bay house.

And when the day was done,

he would drive back,

drive out the boat ramp,

and go home.

>> It returns to land safe

and sound for the ride home.

>> There's a lot of actors

out here.

Jimmy Durante was out this way

and Esther Williams.

Burl Ives had a beautiful one

out here with porches around it.

And Johnny Weissmuller

and Buster Crabbe.

Buster Crabbe

was my coach -- swimming coach.

So who's ever that

age would know who he was.

Flash Gordon.

>> We've been trying to figure

out why my grandfather

came down here

to build the bay house in 1898.

He was a Swede,

and there are places in Sweden

that kind of look like this.

So we think when he saw this,

he decided that he wanted

to replicate where he came from.

There was another house up here

that one of the first bay

constables, Ralph Combs, owned.

My parents purchased

that in 1955.

The first memories that I have,

I was probably about 5, coming

out here with my parents.

My mother and father would row

my sister and I over, get

to the other side, and open it

up and be ready for our weekend

or however long we stayed.

>> When I was younger,

just the anticipation

of coming down here

for the first time

was just unbelievable.

Like, nothing else

really mattered.

I can just remember we would

open up Memorial Day weekend,

and that was like the best day.

You're like, "Okay, school.

So we have a month of school

left, whatever, but we're at the

shack and it's opened up and

we'll be there till Labor Day."

For like two

or three weeks in the summer,

we would just come out here

and load up, and I remember

taking my GI Joe toys

and whatever I was bringing,

because you're there

for three weeks.

That's all you have.

That's what it's going to be.

>> No "Mister Rogers"

or "Sesame Street."

>> There was nothing.

It was just your imagination

and have fun.

>> I actually lost my house

in 1992 in a winter storm.

The point of that, there were

10 or 11 homes.

They were beautiful.

Every one was different -- old,

with families that had been

around for a number of years.

It was a nice time back then.

Every Labor Day,

there was a party.

Every Memorial Day,

there was a party.

Fourth of July,

someone would say, "Okay, we'll

meet," and we'd put together

our best dishes

and celebrate the holidays.

>> We going to go into water?

Gonna go in the water?

>> That's my favorite time

of the year.

It's just barbecuing, you can do

some fireworks and music,

and just your friends

and your family.


Just basics, but just everyone's

tubing or jumping in the water,

going for short boat rides,

fishing and having a great time.

>> Whoo!


>> The summers are a great time

for parties and gatherings

at the bay houses,

especially holidays like

Memorial Day and July 4th

and even some holidays

that the families make up,

such as the celebration

of flotilla at the

[indistinct] bay house.

>> You're all gonna get wet.

[ Laughter ]

Get back like this.

Get back.

>> I'm very fortunate.

My father, when he bought

the place, he bought it

to keep me out of trouble.

You know, one of those things.

He was somewhat successful,

but I can't imagine the kind

of trouble I might have been in

if I didn't have my bay house.


>> The layout was for

a 2-car garage.

Initially, it was supposed

to be a little 8x12 shed.

I just couldn't do it.

I felt I needed

to build a house.

So I went a little above

and beyond

what my father would have done.

My father used to always say,

"Don't put too much money into

it because there's a good chance

you're going to lose it."

He was right.

You know, he we did lose it

in 1992.

But hopefully we won't lose


And hopefully Sandy shows

that we built it high enough

and strong enough

that it should sustain

through any future storms.

We have a propane stove,

electric refrigerator.

The electric runs off of solar

panels and a battery bank

that stores the energy.

The 12 volt

runs through an inverter

and turns it into 110.

And anything at home

runs out here.

We have

beautiful digital quality TV

and running hot water.

We have well water.

Just sent it out to have

it tested again,

and hopefully it'll be fine.

We still drink bottled water.

I figured if we drink

bottled water inshore,

we should definitely be drinking

bottled water out here.

One of the problems you have out

here is getting materials,

supplies out here.

And then getting

what you don't need back.

You know, this entire house,

everything on it came out

basically on a 14-foot

Boston Whaler.

It's every bit as nice.

I would buy a house

like this inshore.

Come on upstairs.

I'll show you upstairs.

We always have some

fishing rods at the ready

just in case some fish show up.

So this is nothing fancy.

They have a pretty bathroom.

We have an incinerating toilet,

which is not working right now.

It's in the midst of repair.

That's what I'm saying.

There's always a job.

This was supposed to be my --

This was supposed to be

the icing on the cake.

If you'd say,

life should have been

great with this toilet,

but it's been nothing but --

I love being out here.

I love working on my house.

I'll be done with construction.

Then I'm stuck with maintenance

because this is a lifetime.

You're a slave

to maintenance,

even if you have

a beautiful home built.

Mother Nature is

brutal out here.

>> You can see it swirling right

over my shoulder here.

What's being called

a superstorm tonight.

Hurricane Sandy is more than

200 miles off the coast

and is about to crash

into two other systems

when it makes landfall.

It's a massive storm,

1,000 miles across.

Really anyone east of the

Mississippi will be affected.

Hundreds of thousands have

already been evacuated tonight.

>> This is Sandy right here.

Seven feet up.

>> This is Hurricane Irene.

The water level was up to here.

Hurricane Sandy was over

our heads, and the water

came into the house.

Well, the wall got tore off.

But I have hatches

in the floors.

The old-timers used to

cut hatches in the floors

so the buildings would flood.

But I think what happened

in our case is either the waves

tore off the back wall

or the rugs covered the hatches

when the water receded,

so the water had no place to go.

So it went for its weakest point

and it blew out the back wall.

>> When we came out here,

everybody was praying

and saying something

and this and that.

But when we got here,

these doors were gone.

The windows were gone.

I had a kitchen. That's gone.

The chairs and stuff that was

in there, anything was gone.

>> After Sandy, some of the FEMA

personnel came out with me

and wanted to learn

more about these bay houses

that would help mainland house

owners understand.

And, you know, they used

a lot of the technologies

in their formal

building guidelines for people

building post-Sandy.

The bay house owners helped

FEMA understand

what it would take for a house

to become storm proof.

[ Motor buzzing ]

The biggest challenges

for bay house owners

is the continuous need

to educate people

about how hard it is

to care for the bay houses

and the knowledge that

is necessary in order to build

and strengthen a very vulnerable

structure that's out

in the middle of the bay.

>> It's a heck of a lot of work.

It's one thing to show up

on this dock

when it's sunny and it's

nice out and the drinks are cold

and there's a nice breeze,

but we work our tails off.

In our minds,

it's well worth it.

It's been in our family

since 1898, and

just count our blessings.

>> To maintain a bay house,

it's very, very time-consuming,

and it's very, very expensive.

You constantly have to be

looking out on the

underpinning, the docks,

all of those things,

because they rot, obviously, and

you have to keep on top of them.

Otherwise you're

going to lose them.

>> We all have our own little

chores here.

I do the fine points.

They do the big stuff.

>> It's never ending.

There's always something to do.

I could be here

for the next 20 years,

if I ever live that long,

and I could do something

every minute of every day

and still never get caught up.

>> We're hitting something

that's been buried for 75 years.

>> The foundations

of bay houses vary.

Some of them are built on

mud sills, which are planks,

and then there are studs

on those and then built on them.

Some of the pilings

are put into the marsh,

and then there are mud sills put

on, and so they would sink

with all the weight.

This house is a combination

of mud sills

and some pilings.

>> Basically a mud sill

is just a piece

of flat lumber that literally

sits on top of the marsh.

It's not anchored to the marsh

in any way.

The house is literally built

on top of that.

One of the things

that the Army Corps

is more concerned with

was not necessarily how the bay

house was going to be built,

but how we were going

to anchor it to the marshland.

Their big concern was they

didn't want

these bay houses floating away

and moving across the marsh

at high tide.

The marshes are

a very sensitive, ecological

type of area.

>> The only thing that kept it

in place was the screw piles

that are in the ground,

or the HeliCoils

and the stainless steel cables

that we put up.

>> After Hurricane Sandy hit,

there were two houses

next to Frankie's house,

the one I had worked on,

and they were gone.

Frankie's house was still there.

So yes, I guess it was.

There was actually a house

wedged underneath a loop bridge.

I think it was going toward

Long Beach.

Probably a lot of them just

sort of built on the mud sill.


>> Prior to the advent

of generators and solar panels,

there was no electricity.

That was one of the pleasures

that people enjoyed.

Being out at the bay house,

it seemed quiet.

You can have television.

You might have a small

transistor radio.

But pretty much people

wanted to get away

from modern conveniences.

They go to their bay houses to

be part of the bay,

to go clamming,

to go fishing,

to work on their house.

And they don't find themselves

looking at Facebook unless

they want to take a picture

and share it with people,

what it's like to have

a baby house.

>> Okay. Keep going.

Get the water out of there.

>> You're winning!

You're winning!

>> I'm winning?

>> I think so!

>> The cellphones

are nice because you capture

everything on video

or take a picture.

>> Whoo!

>> Wow!

>> Whoo!

>> Here it comes!


She's coming up strong!

We have a -- We call it the

shack -- a shack Facebook page,

so there's -- We don't have

to worry about

where all the pictures are,

because they're in one location.

>> You used to have a hard day

at the office, you know,

not even feel like,

have the energy to come out

on the boat, but as soon

as I get on the boat,

as soon as I hit this water,

I get relaxed.

I feel at home.

We have lots of friends

that say, "Don't you worry

about losing your bay house."

And I never really worry

about it because it's just --

It's like part of my life.

If something goes wrong,

I'll just fix it.

>> When you're here,

I mean, it's like

there's nobody on the bay.

And it's perfectly silent,

and it's beautiful.

And we're very lucky today

because the planes aren't coming

into Kennedy, because sometimes

this is the flight pattern.

It's very peaceful at night.

It's peaceful,

and it just, you know,

you just feel at ease with

yourself and the surroundings.

>> I didn't have to put solar

electric in.

I didn't have to put

the well in.

and I didn't have to put

a incinerating toilet.

All of that stuff

is kind of challenging.

And who gets to do

that these days?

Not that many people.

I also love duck hunting.

There's nobody out here.

You're all alone.

A lot of people

can't really imagine

that right here on Long Island,

that there's a variety of ducks

that could be hunted.


>> I first started out

as a boater and enjoying

the life on the water.

Living right here on

the south shore of Long Island,

that desire to stay out

on the water lended itself

to becoming a duck hunter.


>> Here we go.

[ Duck call sounds ]

Oh, boy.


>> Well, the season lasts

from around Thanksgiving,

goes through the last week

of January.

The colder it gets,

the better the hunting is.

So typically towards the end

of the season, we like to think

the hunting gets better.


[ Duck call sounding ]

>> Yeah, yeah.

Oh, man.

>> Once we get out there,

we're going to strategically

place our decoys

so that ducks passing

by feel invited to come in

and land.

>> What I want to do is I'm

gonna put a group of

bufflehead up in here

in the deeper, choppier water.

Yep, six or eight.

And we're going to make

a nice V and make a nice

V shape of the [indistinct]


And we'll tuck some of those

mallards up in that flat water.

>> While being out there

in the summer,

I think I almost love

being there as much

in the winter as well.

So different feel out there.

There's no buoys.

You really got to know your way


It's a sense of home.

You get to see everything

from a different light.

The water's clearer.

Nobody around. It's different.

>> It has a tranquility to it

where you can be on the bay.

If you're not in love

with the sun,

the salt, and the sand,

maybe Long Island

isn't the place for you.

We'll see what the tide

is doing,

whether it's coming in,

whether it's going out,

and where we can physically get

the boats from the south shore

of Long Island here, where we

hunt, we have a five-foot tidal

swing, so we can hunt in a place

that has two foot of water

or we can hunt in a place

that has five foot of water,

but the tide is going to drop.

We want to make sure

we can get out of there.

>> Well, the tide did get

to the better of us that day,

and our film crew

had to be escorted

on foot back to another boat.

Although environment

protection laws

were put into place

to protect the local wildlife,

broader environmental concerns

like erosion

due to human activity

and global warming have created

a new set of concerns regarding

the future of salt marshes.

>> The environment

around the bay houses

has changed enormously.

There have been such a growth

in the number of people

who have powerful boats, that

they're creating massive wakes

that every year take off

a little bit of the marshlands

on which bay houses stand.

>> Back in the day,

you had clam boats

that are little boats,

and that's what's made for these


Not these big sea rays that have

these big wakes and everything.

It makes it dangerous for us.

It makes the marsh fall down.

So much of our marshland

was farther out

to the poles when I was a kid.

I hope the message goes out,

like respecting the waterways

and going slow isn't just

because we want you to go slow

and you're bugging us.

It's because you really

are a factor

in changing the ecosystem

in this area completely.

>> I remember not too long ago

when I first started

in the 1980s,

you could almost walk

from one marshland to another,

especially at low tide.

>> This marsh that we're on,

when I was a kid and went out

another 40 feet right out there,

and now it's just destroyed.

Even from last year,

with the bad winter we have,

you can see if you look

over here, if you look closely,

we lost probably 2 1/2,

3 foot of moss.

And that's because of all

the junk that's in the water

from the nitrates,

from the fertilizers,

and things like that.

It doesn't allow the roots

in the marsh to grow and repel

the erosion.

>> Now you have

enormous channels

separating those marshlands.

They've probably lost close

to 20 feet of marshland

in the 20 years

that I've been documenting.

Due to erosion, pure and simple.

Too many big boats going

too fast.

And the numbers of big boats

have grown exponentially.

>> Wetlands is so important.

It's called the nursery

to the ocean.

It absorbs water.

So the less we have, the more

water is going to go inland

during a storm.

The marshland actually helps

to absorb any surge.

So the more that this

marshland disappears,

dissipates, the greater chance

of coastal flooding.

>> When Irene came

across Long Island,

that was one of the places

it hit hard, and, of course,

Superstorm Sandy

brought an enormous storm surge,

and there's been quite a bit

of erosion of the marshlands.

Just from those two storms,

there have been many storms

in between the late '80s and


>> That happened gradually.

And when things

happen gradually,

they kind of fly under the

radar, because one storm may

claim a few one year.

Then the next year,

it may claim a few more.

So that slow process,

it's a disappearing that

doesn't have a strong impact.

Under normal tide conditions,

the tides seem to be

almost normal

over the last 20 or 30 years.

But here's the difference.

Anytime we have a new moon,

a full moon,

astronomical moon,

with east winds or a storm,

the tides get much higher

than they've ever been.

Now, either the land is sinking

or the tides are rising.

So, you know, my assumption is,

you know, the water,

the sea levels are rising.

>> We're seeing many more seals

and dolphins and whales

that are coming closer,

and they are eating

a lot more of the fish.

So there's a drastic decline

in the kinds of fish

that used to be numerous.

>> If you went out fishing,

you came home with all

the fish you possibly needed.

If you wanted bluefish,

if you wanted striped bass,

you wanted sea bass,

you wanted flounder,

you had a bucketful,

no matter what.

The population of the fish

started to dwindle down.

>> We're seeing a major growth

in the cormorant population.

That's a sea bird that eats


And they're illegal

to hunt cormorants.

So they have been

growing and growing

and taking a lot of the fish

out of the bay.

>> Right now, it's -- I don't

know how much lower

it could get in the area.

And it's a shame

because it was so pure.

If you looked in this water,

it was like the Caribbean at

the time, and now it's not.


>> When Sandy hit,

it wiped quite a few out.

That was a devastating storm.

And prior to that storm,

these houses, they got destroyed

by Mother Nature.

The protocol was they could

never be rebuilt.

>> You are not allowed to build

a new bay house.

If you do not have a bay house

today, you are never going to

have a bay house unless somebody

adds you to their lease.

We don't want to go back

to 1965 where we had hundreds

of bay houses,

all whom were polluting the bay.

And now with the erosion of

marshland such a critical issue,

it would be an environmental

hazard that would not

be permitted by the DEC.

Every year, I get calls

from people saying, "I want

to own a bay house,"

and I said, "Unless you know

and become very good friends and

help a current bay house owner

who might or might not

add you to the lease,

you are not going

to have a bay house.

>> The town of Hempstead,

which governs a lot

of the permits and fees to have

access to use these houses,

change their rules

and regulations,

and let the people who lost

their homes during Sandy rebuild

within a three-year window

with the same footprint.

>> That's going to be

the biggest threat,

that the next big storm could

take out all of the bay houses

that we have today.

>> We couldn't rebuild it.

It was totally gone.

We still --

We don't know where else to go.

This is our spot.

It's gonna take a lot more than,

you know, ruining the house to

get rid of us, that's for sure.

>> They wanted to preserve

whatever's left,

and I think that's extremely

important, because when

they're gone, they're gone.

>> The other major challenge

for the bay house owners

is whether their children

and grandchildren are committed

to keeping those bay houses.

>> The younger people, they just

don't go out on boats anymore.

You know, when I was a kid,

everybody wanted to go, "Oh,

I'll be a Boston whaler,"

and wanted to go out on the bay

and go clamming and go fishing

and do stuff.

But now they want to play

video games.

You know, you'll see them

on a half a million dollar boat,

sitting there playing

a video game.

So, the world has changed

quite a bit.

But you don't have break-ins

in the bay house anymore,

either, 'cause the kids don't

go on the bay.

>> I look forward to my kids

using it and enjoying it

and them finding out

how much they can enjoy it.

I don't know if they enjoyed it

as much as I did,

but they do love it.

>> There are so many

distractions today for younger

people that I don't know that

they have that same appreciation

that their parents

and grandparents did

for the solitude

and the natural environment

that is the draw for many

of the bay house owners.

>> The moment that I feel

really blessed about is

seeing my family enjoy it

and being part of it, being part

of something that is --

something that's unique

and something that's very, very

important and having them

enjoy it.


>> It's a beautiful place.

It's misunderstood

by a lot of people.

They believe it's a smelly,

dirty, yucky place.

And meanwhile, it's the nursery

for the oceans.

And unless it is taken care of,

unless people pay attention

to the needs and to protect it,

the oceans will suffer

and that means our food supplies

will suffer.

>> I just hope these houses

last for many years to come

so other people can see them.

The older structures that still

exist today, from the original

construction, are just something

to be seen.

The rustic boards inside these

homes, the beams,

and to go inside a bay house

and look out the windows of

these bay house, from the inside

of the rustic dwelling,

gives you an unbelievable

360-degree panoramic view

of open salt marshes.

It's majestic.

And if the sun sets

and hits the tip -- tips of

those marsh grasses

with a golden color, it's --

you feel like you're in heaven.

It's unbelievable.

It's special.

>> Well, the bay house that we

currently have is the

culmination of three years of


Lugging materials out

and getting work parties

together very similar to the

way the Amish do a barn raising.

It's still the bay house,

and as the years go by, it will

become even more like it was.

The houses need to remain there.

They are important to the

maritime history of the island.

These houses really are

little gems on the marshland.

>> This house has, like,

a spirit to it.

It has so much story, so much

family tradition built in it.

It's not just a house.

It's not just a vacation spot

for us.

And it's not just wood put up.

It's everything to us.

>> It's a part of Long Island,

and unless this is preserved,

you're never gonna see anything

like this again.

Once these houses are gone,

they're gone.

>> I think one of the most

precious treasures

we have here on Long Island

are these bay houses.

Being out on the water brings

out the best of everybody.

There is no place else

on Long Island or, you know,

on the Eastern Seaboard

except for these small shacks

that are in the town

of Hempstead

and the town of Islip.

And I think we're quite

fortunate to be able

to appreciate the generations

and the centuries of living

on the water that initially

brought people to Long Island.





>> It's still the same

in the sense that we sit around,

we listen to music, we tell

the old stories a million t--

over and over again,

and we still laugh about them.

>> Even if you're not from

Long Island, like myself,

these are really precious

landmarks that remind all of us

of Long Island's heritage.

>> One thing that people should

know about having a bay house,

that we're the luckiest

family alive.

We really are.

I'm not a religious person

by any means, but I tell people

this is my church,

this is my happy place,

this is my home,

and you can sit --

I've watched that sun set in the

same spot -- I'll be 48 in June.

Every year of my life, I've

watched that sun set in the same

spot, and it's the most

beautiful sunset you can ever






[ Birds chirping ]

>> Funding for this film

has been provided by the

Robert Lion Gardiner Foundation

and the MediaEd Project.


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