Editor’s note: This article is part of a series in which Newsday attempts to answer questions from Long Islanders about life on the Island. If there’s a question you want us to answer, send it to us here.
Why don’t most Long Islanders know about San Remo? “Growing up in Queens in the mid-60s, I remember bungalows and clamming, and these days when I recall to others, they always say, ‘Never heard of it!’ ”
Short answer: It seems that the question is not really why many Long Islanders today have never heard of San Remo, but why so many New Yorkers from the 1920s to the 1960s had. The answer to that question is: advertising.
Long answer: Way north of East Main Street in Kings Park is a hilly, woodsy residential neighborhood bordered by the Nissequogue River. Most Long Islanders looking at a map would call it Kings Park, but inside this neighborhood, residents have a different name: San Remo.
San Remo began as a summer retreat in the 1920s. Like the Hamptons and the Gold Coast, its visitors came from New York City. It was founded by Generoso Pope, the publisher of the Italian newspaper Il Corrierre — later called Il Progresso — who partnered with a developer to offer a deal: buy a 20-by-100-foot plot of land for $250, get a free subscription. The more subscriptions, the more Il Corrierre could make in advertising revenue.
Mindful of his readership’s heritage, and noticing the area’s resemblance to the Italian Riviera, Pope named the new neighborhood after Italy’s San Remo.
Italian immigrants would take the train or travel by private boat for weekends, summers and holidays, and set up a tent on their $250 lot. Families would catch fish from the Nissequogue River for dinner and eat among the apple trees under the moonlight, Roy Conforte, a longtime resident and the neighborhood’s unofficial historian, said.
“It’s our own acre of heaven,” said Conforte, 75, who spent his first summer in San Remo in 1946.
Conforte grew up in Brooklyn and spent almost every summer in San Remo. At the time, many San Remo residents were enjoying post-World War II economic prosperity, so the tents of the 20s were replaced by bungalows, he said.
In the early 1960s, most summer residents built new houses and expanded their bungalows. Conforte, an engineer and construction worker by trade, built his house with the help of his childhood friends in 1973.
“San Remo is all family and friends,” Conforte said. “We grew up as kids and became adults together.”
The population of San Remo leveled off to about 3,500 after the building boom, he said. The families that had once flocked to the area to vacation were now living there year-round.
Five decades after Il Progresso first advertised San Remo, it had matured from its resort beginnings. The community never again received that level of press or name recognition.
The last time San Remo was prominently featured in the newspapers was in 1988, when the San Remo Elementary School closed. In 1989, The New York Times made a small mention of San Remo — as a middle-income “suburb” of Kings Park — in a real estate article.
There is also little changeover among San Remo homeowners, according to real estate agent Stephanie Hagstrom, who has lived in San Remo for 51 years.
When she does sell homes in San Remo, Hagstrom said most prospective buyers haven’t heard of it — unless they are Kings Park or San Remo natives.
Joe Tekverk, a second generation San Remo resident, said that the dynamic of San Remo has not changed. Sure, the houses have electricity, but the beach is still busy in the summers, just as it was 90 years ago.
“San Remo is like the best kept secret on Long Island,” Tekverk said.