Bill Bleyer has a knack for finding history – or maybe it finds him. He had front row seats for Woodstock, did battle with Robert Moses, and got tear-gassed at the 1972 Republican National Convention. Now, after a decades-long career in journalism at Newsday, he writes books about the history of Long Island.
Today’s interview covers Bill’s career, his love for rock and roll, and the interesting corners of the Island’s history that he’s found over the years.
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
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
Stewart Udall – Secretary of the Interior, consummate insider and good guy
President John F. Kennedy: wanted National Parks in the East, dammit
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”
Karl Grossman has been an investigative reporter on Long Island since the early 1960s. Barely in his twenties, he cut his journalistic teeth at the Babylon Town Leader taking on one of the most powerful men in New York State: Robert Moses.
Karl covered the developing story of Moses’ plan to build a highway down the middle of Fire Island. Although the plan horrified local residents, many on the Island and in the press supported it. Through the work of Karl and papers like the Suffolk County News and the Long Island Business News and most importantly people like Murray Barbash, Irving Like and Robert Cuhsman Murphy, the plan was washed away. In its place we have the Fire Island National Seashore.
Today is part 1 of our interview with Karl on his early career, the power of the press, and how he was almost an alum of Dowling College (then known as Adelphi Suffolk College). You’ll hear about his further battles in part 2 but first in two weeks we’ll revisit the Moses fight from the perspective of the Barbash family. Stay tuned!