Justin Zizes Jr. fondly looks back:
THE DAY THE SALTAIRE WATER TOWER FELL- LABOR DAY 1968
By G. Justin Zizes, Jr.
I’m guessing today many residents of Saltaire do not know that, until the year 1968, Saltaire had a big black water tower with the name SALTAIRE painted on it in big white letters.
It was a well-seen landmark, from the ocean side and bay side; one knew where Saltaire was on Fire Island from this icon. One could even see the tower from Bay Shore as the ferry pulled out of the mouth of the Bay Shore Marina as it headed to the beach.
I can’t remember the height of the structure, but it was tall and sometimes eerie looking, especially close up at night when one passed by it on the ocean or looking at it from Lighthouse Prom. It did get lost from time to time when the fog rolled in or when there was haze from the ocean. I never got a chance to climb the tower, I am sure the sight over looking Saltaire must have been unbelievable. The water tower stood strong for many years- even through passing hurricanes, lightning storms, howling winds, and snowstorms.
The water tower was located in “the yard”, as the village workers knew it. This is where the shed, the well / pump house and the old cement incinerator, where we once burned our garbage are located.
Back on Labor Day 1968, September 2nd to be specific (I had to get a perpetual calendar to look up the exact date), sometime in the morning, my father, Justin Zizes Sr., came in to the house and said the Village was in the process of cutting down the old water tower on the beach- let’s go up and watch it. What an exciting event for the village! We all peddled up on our bikes to the ocean for a ringside seat.
At the time, the Mayor was Hugh A. O’Brien, Jr. - I recall he had just been newly elected Mayor back in June (the second Tuesday of the month was always the village election day back then.) I cannot remember who the four trustees were at the time, The Village Superintendent was either John Phoe or Bob Hodges at the time, along with Lenny McGahey. Godfred ( a/k/a Gotti) Mahler, and Bob Peterson. They all were the maintenance guys, who lived year round in the Village.
It was a beautiful day on the beach in terms of weather- ideal conditions. As you can see in the first picture that my father took- some of the crowd waiting around. Virginia O’Brien is very visible on the left from the photo along with the back of Charles Lapp Sr. and Bill Weinlandt. From the middle to the right of the photo (I do not if the scan of the picture came out that well to see all, but the original it is clear).
We waited with anticipation, like waiting for the Ball to drop in Times Square, but there was no predictable time. As our eyes were glued to the tower, one could see the welder’s torch arcing the legs by a welder. An air gap appeared after each of the legs were cut one by one- and the lean of the tower was starting to happen and it might have been mistaken for a look like of the Leaning tower of Pisa only a bit of different color and shape.
The tower had a long cable attached from where the walkway at the waist of the tank to a jeep on the beach to help guide it and control the fall. We could also see one of the workers on the beach.
At the time of the fall of the tower, we could see the one worker starting to run in fear of his life. When the tower fell on the beach the worker tried to jump to safety, and we all could see this- we all took a deep breath in hopes that the person was OK- and then he got up and we were all relieved.
After the fall of the tower, we all ran towards the fallen icon of Saltaire- an end of an era. As we got to the tower, others who were watching it from the East end of the village met us.
It was an interesting sight to look inside and see the darkness of this tank that once stood high above Saltaire for many years and now flattened and ready to be removed. From what I was told, the collapsed tower was to be cut into smaller pieces and buried in the dunes. If one looks carefully, one can see old rusted parts of the Saltaire Water Tower peering out of the sand of the dunes at the yard.
Indeed, from time to time when I walk past the site where the tower once stood, I think of that day in September of ’68 and think of those early days of Saltaire in my life. We were a bit simpler back then- no big firehouse, a one fire engine town, no ems squad, no doctor, only two tennis courts at the yacht club. Good trivia question- what year was the tower built and how was it- I a sure there are records somewhere. The village had changed tanks to one that was covered in one of the sheds in the yard. The tower was probably a big expense to the village in terms of maintenance. Back then, I am sure that cutting it down was quite the easiest way- no permits, no one to ask permission. It was made of steel and it was in an environment where steel rusts quite rapidly
The Ball at the top of the water tower was removed and taken away. It was mounted on a pedestal and today sits on the southwest corner on the lawn of the Village Hall as a remembrance of the tower’s former glory and service to the village.
Justin Zizes Jr.
Subm. In memory of dad Justin Zizes Sr.
I am actually in one of the pix of the fallingwater tower. I am in the middle wearing a navy blue shirt and blue bathing suit, myhair is long, brown and pulled back.