Lights, Camera, Broad Channel!

 Lights, Camera, Broad Channel!

Margaret Wagner and Joe Valva

By Dan Guarino

Broad Channel is telling its own story, with three different sets of documentary makers, each approaching the unique island community with a focus all their own.

One documentary in progress recalls the 1960’s ‘Coachmen’, one of many social clubs sprouting through Broad Channel’s history. Lifelong resident, local realtor, project initiator Margaret Howard Wagner explains her father often shares Channel stories with her. Once “he told me about a club he belonged to, ‘The Coachmen,’ telling me about the guys that belonged to it, the jackets they wore, and dances they held to raise money,” she said.

‘Beck’ Schwab

“It wasn’t about each member owning a car, but more about coming together to try and buy a car for the club. It was a place for them to hang out, to talk about cars, girls, racing and, yes, drinking. As one member said, it ‘kept them out of trouble,’” Wagner added.

Wagner boasts a lifetime of involvement in community life, from Brownies to St. Virgilius Church groups, then later Broad Channel’s Theater Group, Civic Association, United Community Organization, New Life Choir and more. First a Broad Channel Athletic Club coach, Treasurer and Board member, she later became its first woman president. A fourth generation Channelite, her great-grandfather Charles Howard, came to live here around 1910.

Former Coachman/longtime resident John McCambridge suggested if she could get other members together, they might be interested in talking about the club.    To preserve it on video, she reached out to Dan Guarino, who was able to put her in touch with Joe Valva, an award-winning Queens Public Television filmmaker, who “was very excited to get involved with the project!” she said.

“Our goal is to interview some of the Coachmen and capture some of the best moments they had while in this club and living in Broad Channel. Most of the members are in their 80s, the history of their days growing up as teenagers in Broad Channel captures another world,” Wagner said. “So many things have changed, yet a few have remained the same. I am looking to capture some of the good times, bad/sad times, changes that have come to our community. (And) along the way preserve some iconic Broad Channel stories…”

With more interview sessions planned, Valva and Wagner hope to finish the documentary by this summer. It will be added to the Broad Channel Historical Society’s collection and copies will go to all the Coachmen.

Beyond its social life, Broad Channel is well-known for its community activism, even being dubbed “The Little Town That Fought City Hall—And Won!”

Naeem Amarsy

Through interviews and images, the second yet untitled documentary takes on the story of the 40-year fight by Channel residents to buy their own land. Originally owned by New York City, Broad Channel island was leased to Pierre Noel in 1915 to develop a summer vacation community. Though a thriving year-round community had sprung up, even after Noel’s company went bankrupt in 1939, residents could still not own the land under their houses. The City kept residents on a short leash, often threatening to cancel all leases and clear them off the island altogether.

“I met Paddy Tubz ocean dipping with the NY Dippers Club,” says filmmaker Rebecca “Beck” Schwab. “He introduced me to his father, Dan Tubridy, who wanted to make a documentary about Broad Channel.”

Dan Tubridy, a longtime resident, business owner and Broad Channel community activist, is the film’s producer along with Sean Tubridy, Patrick (‘Paddy Tubz’) Tubridy and Lily Mikell. “I am shooting and directing the project,” Schwab says, “with the help of my husband, Warren Renneisen.” Both are Channel residents since 2021.

Filmmaking since childhood, Schwab, has worked professionally on many film and televisions productions, including “Marvel’s Defenders” series, “Power” and her own short film, “The Knot.”

The aim of the project is “to educate people on the history of Broad Channel and the battle for land rights by its 3,000 residents” which only ended in 1982. “I am impressed by people’s love of their island and community and the tempestuous fight of generations!” Schwab said.

Likely to be completed sometime in 2025, the film will be able to be seen locally, though details are still TBA.

Regarding his own project, Columbia School of Journalism student Naeem Amarsy notes, “The piece is a 20-minute film which is on my Master’s thesis.” For this advanced documentary journalism program, Amarsy started doing waterways in New York, which led him to Broad Channel’s backyard. “Someone directed me to Jamaica Bay and its marshes,” Amarsy said.

The first person he met was naturalist and BC resident Don Reipe, who took him out by boat. “I said, ‘Wow, this is such a beautiful place!’ It was amazing that people lived here on the water, seeing houses on stilts, and where you could see the buildings of Manhattan!”

Water, he says continues to shape the Channel, “a small town built on, in the middle of a marsh.”

“It’s what makes Broad Channel ‘Broad Channel.’ It is very beautiful. But it also endangers it over time. As a journalist I am interested in how climate, climate change, how it affects human lives. Obviously (this island) is a place that is kind of fragile. Like many places all over the world, it is threatened, it is endangered by what makes the place very beautiful, which is water,” Amarsy said.

Working with student-partner Natalie Ruiz-Pérez, Amarsy’s project looks both to the present and BC’s future. “The history of this place has bound people together,” Amarsy said. “They have come through a lot of things, like Hurricane Sandy.”

Now as there is sea level rise around the world, their thoughts turn toward the extreme flooding which has become a worryingly frequent occurrence.

Anyone wishing to share their BC experience or find out more can contact Amarsy at The finished documentary will be shown as part of Columbia’s student-film festival in December. Other possibilities may follow.

Together all three of these films are preserving a vibrant piece of Broad Channel to be shared forever.

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