Service day focuses on restoration, history on CI

Volunteers cleaned and replanted a garden in front of the NYC Department of Transportation Division of Bridges along City Island Avenue.
Photo by Edwin Soto

Preserving the past and volunteerism fueled community efforts on April 20.

Friday’s Viacommunity Day found it’s way to City Island for the first time in the project’s history.

The day of service, hosted by the media company Viacom, took place in different neighborhoods around the country in an effort to better local communities.

However, the efforts made on City Island had so much more significance than a few swept streets and refurbished gardens.

“We’ve been dreaming about a community project like this for years,” said long-time City Island resident and one of the organizers of the project, Maria Caruso.

The area had been home to a New England-type nautical community, which spans all the way back to the early 1600s.

The thriving society of shipbuilders and oyster fishermen received international recognition through the 20th century.

Today, however, most visitors associate City Island with good seafood, even though the once thriving economy appears to be faltering, as evidenced by the many unoccupied store fronts on the main thoroughfare.

So as all the volunteers poured into the downtown area on the sunny, spring Friday, they not only cleaned up a neighborhood, but also brought the essence and promise of the island’s rich history back to the town.

“It’s the best feeling,” said Laurie Vega, a City Island resident and Viacom employee who pitched the project to the company. “Being able to get people to open their gates, their hearts, and their minds to all City Island was and is.”

Volunteers and community members pulled weeds from unkempt garden beds to set in new plantings, painted new murals, posted old photos of the town in empty store fronts and even hung old nautical flags on fences down City Island Avenue.

All involved were given a glimpse of the past while seeing how it could build a better future.

“For me it signifies that people can learn about the future of what a seaside community is all about,” continued Caruso. “We have this history and we have to keep it alive for future generations.”

Through the day, many of those helping out shared stories of what City Island’s history meant to them.

One City Islander talked about his boating career and how he sailed and won the Americas Cup, a boat race that started with a competition with Great Britain, in 1851.

Coincidentally, 24 of the 25 winning vessels of the competition until 1980, were crafted, serviced or stored in City Island boatyards.

Some new sights you can find in downtown City Island as part of Viacommunity Day include a large photo of one of the vessels of the America’s Cup, which was pasted in the empty storefront of 267 City Island Avenue.

Graphic designer and City Island resident, Nick Ruscigno, helped facilitate the installation of this and another large historical photo, located at 296 City Island Avenue, of shipyards along the island’s coast.

Other new sights included a mural, painted by the artist ‘Dister,’ on the fence between Ambrosini Field and P.S. 175.

The mural was a dedication to the ship builders of the island, most notably for a shipyard that occupied the school’s property until 1962, Henry B. Nevins Yacht Builders.

Reach Reporter Sarah Valenzuela at (718) 260-4584. E-mail her at svalenzuela@cnglocal.com.

More from Around NYC

>