“My Kind of Conservationist”

Murray, Susan and Cathy Barbash (l-r). Photo courtesy of the Barbash Family.
Murray, Susan and Cathy Barbash (l-r). Photo courtesy of the Barbash Family.

 

It’s 1962 and a Nor’easter has just torn through Long Island. In its wake is another storm, Long Island Parks Commissioner Robert Moses with his plan to build a road down the middle of Fire Island. It will stabilize the beach, he says. It will provide beauty and ease to the motorist, he says.

But local builder Murray Barbash notices that the road will run right through his new development of Dunewood, flattening it and pretty much anything else in its path (including Sunken Forest). Murray gets together with his brother-in-law Irving Like and the rest, if you don’t know already, is history.

Murray’s daughters Cathy and Susan knew the story but over the course of the last year they set about documenting that history. Sifting through a number of local and regional archives (including Dowling’s) they pieced together the saga of the road-that-never-was. On this episode you’ll hear from Cathy and Susan and their mother Lillian about how an unlikely coalition of Long Island “vigilantes” outwitted and outlasted the great Robert Moses.

You can soon see Cathy’s and Susan’s research for yourself when the exhibit they created is permanently installed with Seatuck at the Suffolk County Environmental Center in Islip. For now, use the handy scorecard below to keep track of who’s who in this gripping story of intrigue and power set against the natural beauty of Fire Island.

Many thanks to the Barbash family for sharing their time, memories and photos.

Scorecard for this Episode

The Long Island “Vigilantes”

  • Murray Barbash: builder with an eye for beauty, developer of Dunewood
  • Lillian Barbash: his wife
  • Irving Like: indomitable lawyer and Murray’s brother-in-law
  • Paul Townsend: “The Wizard,” publisher of the Long Island Business News
  • Robert Cushman Murphy: the tallest ornithologist in the world

The State

  • Robert Moses: New York’s [insert your own adjective] Master Builder
  • Nelson Rockefeller: the not-to-be-bullied Governor of New York
  • Laurance Rockefeller: Nelson’s brother and noted conservationist

Long Island’s Legislators

  • Stuyvesant Wainwright: Congressman from New York’s 1st District, proposed a Fire Island National Seashore when no one was looking
  • Otis Pike: wins Wainwright’s seat with Moses’ backing, becomes reluctant sponsor of the Fire Island National Seashore bill

The Feds

  • Stewart Udall – Secretary of the Interior, consummate insider and good guy
  • President John F. Kennedy: wanted National Parks in the East, dammit

The Media

  • Charles Collingwood: Saltaire resident and CBS newsman
  • Wolcott Gibbs: writer for the New Yorker and Fire Island playwright
  • Teddy White: Fair Harbor resident and chronicler of presidents
  • Julius Monk: New York cabaret impresario whom we have to thank for the classic “Slow Down Moses”

Further Research

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