Preserving the history of the Fire Island Pines

Mike Marza Image
Saturday, June 11, 2022
Preserving the history of the Fire Island Pines
Step off the 20-minute ferry from Sayville and you'll find bamboo-lined pathways welcoming you to The Pines on Fire Island.

FIRE ISLAND PINES, Suffolk County (WABC) -- Step off the 20-minute ferry from Sayville and you'll find bamboo-lined pathways welcoming you to the Fire Island Pines.

"Everyone is unique, everyone is different," said Bobby Bonanno, with the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society.

The main arteries that carry the lifeblood of this place are the people.

"People say, like, when did you realize it was gay?" homeowner Gary McGregor said. "I said, you know what? I never really realized it. I remember my parents having really cool friends."

McGregor spent summers growing up there, and his late father, a well-known hairdresser, built the house in 1967.

It's steps away from breathtaking views of the beach and the battle for LGBTQ freedoms.

"Because gay was just not really accepted back then, guys would be getting off the ferry and almost just ripping off their suits," McGregor said.

His neighbor? Calvin Klein, who later sold the beachfront home to Hollywood legend David Geffen.

"Guests included Andy Warhol, Steve Rebel, fashion designer Chester Weinberg," Bonanno said.

It's the last stop on Bannano's 90-minute historical homes tour.

"This home right here was the home of John Whyte," Bonanno said.

Part of the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society, a non-profit he founded in 2010, is guiding visitors past more than 40 properties and parts of a painful history of the island.

"Men were not allowed to dance with men," he said. "If two men were getting close together, the flashlight would be shown on them because there were raids that happened here."

Now the Pines have become of beacon of Pride.

"This is a brand in Bali that hand makes these," said Ryan Espinoza, of Denizen.

Espinosa opened Denizen a couple of years ago.

"I wanted this to be a communal space where people could gather that was very free and very playful," Espinosa said.

He and his fiancé recently bought a home here.

"The homeownership has completely changed in the last two years," he said. "20% of the properties have turned over."

Adding to a new Pines foundation Bonanno is hoping to help build with perspective.

"People coming here, it is essential to me, that people know things happened here, things that allowed them to have the freedoms that they have now," he said. "Yes, you can be gay anywhere in the world for the most part, but there is no gayer place than Fire Island, where you can be whoever you want."

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