In April of 1926 the mega-developer Commonwealth Associates, Inc. announced the latest of their Grand Plans for Staten Island. One can only wonder what the Island would look like today…
In the 1860’s, John J. Crooke, businessman and naturalist bought the peninsula that now bears his name. He lived in a log cabin and took photographs of the beautiful landscapes of nature and collected plant and animal specimens. By 1916 erosion took its toll on the narrow spit of land that lead from Staten Island proper to the Point, that it became an island to itself — the only way off besides a boat, was to wait until low tide when one could once again walk across through the muck. But what a perfectly isolated spot! Soon, a thriving bungalow community took hold of the island, and in the spring and summer, the shores of the island were littered with the rowboats of its seasonal inhabitants. It must have been something to see.
The following is a newspaper accounting of the plans for Crooke’s Island:
Crook’s Island, which makes possible the Great Kills Bay on the south shore of Staten Island, is going to be converted to an amusement resort for families. D. L. Leeger, vice president, and Jacob Malven, treasurer of the Commonwealth Associates, Inc., which-recently purchased the island, along with several hundred acres of mainland, for development into a residential colony, made this announcement yesterday. The Island, which residents of the Great Kills district have anticipated for many years, would be taken by the city for a marine park, is to be preserved for that purpose, but the main right to its use will be reserved for the builders of homes in the newly established Bryan Park and the adjoining developments of the Commonwealth Associates, known as Coolidge Park and Hylan Manor. The Commonwealth Associates are drafting plans for the improvement of the island with a bathing beach, pavilion, amusement and other devices, which will make most appeal to families. Crook’s Island comprises about 28 acres on which there are about 88 bungalows. These were also acquired with the recent purchase of the land and Mr. Leeger said it was the intention to remove them so as to eventually devote the entire island to healthful pleasure and recreations. There will be no charges to residents of the Commonwealth Associates developments to use the island and its facilities, and Messrs. Leeger and Malven view the project as a “health bonus” for those who will build homes hereabouts.
What an ambitious plan! But what ultimately happened was that The City stepped in and bought the “Marine Park” that would eventually be known as Great Kills Park for $700,000 (not to mention what it cost to reclaim the underwater property and the dredging of the harbor) around June of 1929. Of course, Fate being what it is always steps in at the most inopportune time, for in October of that year the Stock Market crashed, and the Great Depression began. All plans were on hold — the land became a landfill and it wasn’t until 1949 that the Great Kills Park was finally opened. Crooke’s Point bears little resemblance to the island of the early 1900′s — it was enlarged with landfill and the area between the park and the Point has been so fortified that it will never (well, most likely never) become an island again. In 1973, the U.S. Government took possession of the park as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area under the National Parks Service.