Commemorating a groundbreaking party on the Pines
Bobby Bonanno (right) wrote a book about the legendary Beach Party that took place in the Fire Island Pines in 1979 and helped raise funds for the Pines Fire Department. He’s pictured here with his book, “Beach Fire Island ’79,” and Sayville Ferry staffer Bruce Van Brunt, a Pines Fire Department firefighter who helped with the event.

SCN/Leuzzi

Commemorating a groundbreaking party on the Pines

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
8/8/2019


Forty years is a long time ago, but events always happen along the way that shift attitudes and make inroads. Take Beach, for instance, the Pines’ all-night party in 1979 that brought together the straight and gay communities to help the Pines Fire Department raise funds for a new truck. The glamorous, all-night affair of the decade, which took 10 months of preparation for both groups with 60 volunteers overall, was host to about 3,000 people (they were staggered in; as people left, others with tickets were admitted) and drew international stars and celebrities, including Bonnie Pointer of The Pointer Sisters, who took center stage. Tickets were $20 each and ultimately raised around $40,000 for the new truck.

But a lot of people aren’t aware of its significance and Bobby Bonanno, a Bellport resident who transports himself to the Pines on weekends during the summer, wrote a book about that groundbreaking time. “Beach Fire Island ’79” is available on Amazon.

 

How the book evolved

“The 40th anniversary was coming up and I felt it has to be celebrated,” he said. Bonanno, president of the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society, has used social media to build a website of Fire Island history, pineshistory.org. He has already authored two photographic books, “Lessons from the Beach” and “Reflections of Love from Fire Island.” He began taking the Sayville Ferry to Fire Island over 35 years ago, first to Cherry Grove, then to the Pines.

“The reason for the party was to raise funds for a fire truck,” he said. “I thought a story would be great. The key thing I want people to come away with after reading the book is the age of volunteerism. In that era, the call went out for help and 25 people came out right away. And it changed the culture. Gays and straights came together; before that it was sort of segregated.”

The hardcover book is 64 pages, nicely laid out with photos, personal quotes, and an interesting chronological account.

 

Architect Scott Bromley’s help

Bonanno’s research led him to influential architect Scott Bromley. “He has given me photos and in the course of doing this, I also spoke to Ron Martin,” Bonanno explained. “I talked to so many people, but Martin wrote up a 26-page personal remembrance, so that really helped me define the story.” It took Bonanno almost a year in the process before its recent debut.

Bromley was the architect who designed Studio 54. He threw a party in 1978, Sunrise, attended by 2,000 people. An all-night extravaganza, it set the example for the Pines’ event. At the same time, another house at the Pines was creating its own reputation for parties that included housemate Jimmy Meade. Meade was a new member of the Pines Fire Department and suggested a bash to raise funds for their first pumper. Meade, fire chief Dick Van Brunt and Clern LaFountaine had attended Sunrise and realized a similar all-night gathering could be the solution to raise money for their new truck.

“We were all pals,” said Bromley of the New York professionals who jumped on board. “The graphics, interior design and food guys, and we were all on this little island. There was no jealousy of what we did. We had done this party called Sunrise and people from the fire department came and said, ‘could you raise a party for the fire department, we need a new pumper,’ and there was no hesitation. We all love the beach and wanted to give back.” Sunrise took place at a time where no permits or police were required as was Beach. 

Fern Mallis, who would become executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America from 1991-2001 and creator New York Fashion Week (now president of Fern Mallis LLC, an international fashion and design consultancy), pitched in at the time, too.

 “She’s an old pal,” Bromley said. “I’ve known her since 1972. She came to the beach fairly often and had a small public relations firm at the time and joined up with Ron Martin on public relations. The two of them wrote about the event to Architectural Digest and the New York Times.”

Bromley is still a die-hard Pines lover; his firm has worked on 80 projects up and down the beach. “I’m there 48 weekends a year,” he said. “I can be in Europe and think, ‘why am I here, I have to get home.’” 

Interior designer Stan Fedinick was part of Bromley’s firm as Robin Jacobsen’s assistant, when it was Bromley Jacobsen. “There were concessions for alcohol and food,” Fedinick recalled. “The party cost a bundle and we were scrambling to get stuff for free. It was a lot of work, but it was a blast,” he said. Everyone changed clothes at Fedinick’s house, recalled Bromley, which was located across from the party. 

 

Creating a historical website

People take up a historical mantle in various ways. Bonanno, who is a hair stylist, grew up in the Bronx; his family moved to Lindenhurst in 1976.  He’d aim for Smith Point Beach when visiting his grandmother in Shirley; when he got older, he discovered Cherry Grove and the tea dances. Bonanno began his love affair with the Pines in 2006, and shared a house.  

He picked up the historical gauntlet in 2010 when there was talk of renaming the Blue Whale, the famous Pines bistro, marina, bar and grill. “I thought, ‘how can you replace a name with so much history?’” Bonanno went on social media to voice his concerns; the name was never changed. “I’d like to think I had a hand in that,” he said. “Later that season I went to a talk about the music and thought about creating a historical social media site. There are young people I want to mentor and older people who have something to say.” So Bonanno created a website with bite-size pieces of history. “My goal was to have a great picture with a paragraph so people would walk away with ‘I didn’t know that,’” he said.

Bonanno eventually applied for a grant that would include digitalization of historical images in Long Island University’s Digitization Project; he got the nod in February and credits Tony La Rocco for giving him access to his vast collection of historical photos and memorabilia. “We’ve scanned a lot already,” he said. “And I’ll pick it up again in the fall. But I need a large scanner, especially for posters. I’ve gone to the Patchogue-Medford Library and they were wonderful.” 

He hopes “Beach Fire Island ’79” and the website and merchandise, including T-shirts, hoodies, and maps, will help create income for events (www.pineshistory.org).