The sewer system in Howard Beach was one of the most difficult problems facing successive administrations in Queens Borough Hall. By 1940, Old Howard Beach had been developed with many houses on streets that didn’t even appear on planners’ maps for the area. In most instances they were built only a few feet above the tide.
Starting in the early 1950s, Sherman Selly’s Rockwood Homes development was built on the west side of Cross Bay Boulevard, creating what residents called New Howard Beach. There were still no officially approved sanitary or storm sewers in the new development. Young World War II veterans who bought the homes wrote to the Veterans Administration complaining of the common floods disrupting their lives. They had to hire scavenger services to pump out their overflowing cesspools.
Washing machines and other home appliances became taboo for fear of waste matter backing up into sinks.
In 1954 a 1,500-unit housing development was planned near Shore Parkway. Developer Efrem Kahn (1904-1996) of Douglaston agreed to install sanitary and storm sewers at a cost to himself for his new Lindenwood project, solving part of the problem. Finally in the late ’50s, through the repeated efforts of Ed Orenstein of the Rockwood Park Civic Association and James Braton of the Howard Beach Civic Association, sewers and storm drains began to be installed elsewhere in the area.
Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on South Queens, and Lindenwood flooded badly a couple weeks back, apparently due to the failure of city equipment in Brooklyn. Newer residents can only imagine how it was when there were no sewers at all.