Historical Pines tour offers fun, surprising stories

About half an hour of 20 stops


You can kick back with a beer or margarita on Memorial Day weekend. (Quell boring!)

Or, you can ride the ferry to the Fire Island Pines and join a guided walking tour that highlights architecture, stories of celebrities, parties, and gossip via “A Walk-Through History: The Shaw/Shore Walk,” and its accompanying guide.

Bellport resident Bobby Bonanno is president of the nonprofit Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society. He’ll be leading the tour, along with Pines homeowner and FIPHPS board member Jack Dempsey. They’ll regale you with the glamour, allure, and fascinating times that took place here.

This is Bonanno’s second Pines walk; he conducted a highly successful one last year.

Hint: This year, you’ll find out where Madonna stayed. And also, stories about a famous disco club as well as Robert Moses. “The daughter of one of the women who led the fight against him, lives in one of the homes,” Bonanno explained.

The tour has 20 stops, all in front of homes (no tours inside) where a talk will take place. The boardwalk stroll lasts from 30 to 45 minutes. There are two tours: 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. More will be added as the tours sell out. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased through their website, pineshistory.org. (P.S.: They are selling out fast, so get your reservation in.)

“The area was called Shaw in historical documents,” he said of the off-the-beaten-track locale. “It was a family that owned a lot of property. You can see it was crossed out on early maps and became Shore. The guide gives you a hint of what you’re seeing. In my tour, I give you the rest.”

Bonanno literally carries a blazing historical torch for the Pines. He’s worked on the guide all winter, researching stories, amassing photos, talking to the homeowners. “Last weekend was my first rehearsal,” he said. “I’ve met with the people on that walk, and there’s been a real owner turnover.”

You’re in for a treat, especially with Bonanno’s background. He wrote “Beach ’79 Fire Island” (available on Amazon), about the Pines all-night party in 1979 that brought together the straight and gay communities. The call went out to help, and gays and straights collaborated in offering to help the Pines Fire Department raise funds for a new truck. The glamorous, all-night affair of the decade took 10 months of preparation with both groups, was host to about 4,000 people, drew international stars and celebrities, and ultimately raised around $40,000 for the new truck.

He’s written two photographic books as well. But his passion for preserving Pines history has become a true mission.

Bonanno, a hair stylist, doesn’t own a house there and never did. He was drawn first to Cherry Grove by the music. He shared a house at the Pines in 2006, and in 2010 an epiphany occurred. “There were new owners of a commercial property, The Blue Whale, and they were going to change the name,” he recalled. (The famous Tea Dance was created in 1966 by Blue Whale owner John Whyte at the time.) “And I thought, How can they take away that history? I went on social media to inform the owners of its iconic reputation.” P.S.: The name wasn’t changed.

The FIPHPS website is a fun, interesting historical vehicle with snappy descriptions and great photos. “We post mostly every day. Today, May 4, is Star Wars Day,” he said during the interview. “I worked with photographer Meryl Meisler. She was at the Star Wars Party in the Pines.” He showed the post on his phone. It was a wowser.

“Sometimes, the post is relevant to the day.”

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, first to Cherry Grove, then to the Pines.


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