August 15, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Reigniting Fire Island
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Ascension beach party in Fire Island Pines, N.Y. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

FIRE ISLAND PINES, N.Y. — Gay resort communities on New York’s Fire Island have largely recovered from Superstorm Sandy that devastated large swaths of the Northeast coastline nearly a year ago.

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The rebuilt Pavilion nightclub in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on Aug. 3, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Pavilion, a nightclub that burned to the ground in a November 2011 fire that destroyed a quarter of Fire Island Pines’ commercial district, reopened in June.

Karen Boss, a year-round resident of Fire Island Pines, told the Washington Blade earlier this month during an interview in her office that overlooks the hamlet’s harbor that the Pavilion’s reopening has had “a major psychological” impact because it is “the first thing you see when you get off the ferry.” Her husband, Walter Boss, who is a member of the all-volunteer Fire Island Pines Fire Department, agrees.

“It’s a connection to our community,” Walter Boss says. “It’s an attraction that brings people to Fire Island.”

Former Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, who frequently visits Fire Island, also concurs.

“The reopened Pavilion restores a much-needed spark,” he told the Blade.

A number of oceanfront homes in the Pines that host annual fundraisers for Lambda Legal and other LGBT advocacy groups lost pool decks and fences during Sandy that brought a nearly 14 foot storm surge to parts of nearby New York City. The storm also damaged many of the bulkheads along the Great South Bay that separates the barrier beach from Long Island.

Walter Boss told the Blade the majority of the damaged oceanfront homes have been repaired and they have begun to rent once again.

The annual Fire Island Dance Festival in July raised nearly $400,000 for HIV/AIDS service organizations. The hamlet this year also continues to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

“Everything’s really coming back together,” Walter Boss says.

Fire Island Pines and neighboring Cherry Grove escaped Sandy with comparably little damage compared to other Fire Island communities.

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Sandy’s storm surge destroyed the end of Lewis Walk on the east side of Cherry Grove, N.Y. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The storm washed more than a dozen oceanfront homes in Davis Park, a hamlet that is roughly two miles east of Fire Island Pines, out to sea. Sandy also destroyed the police station, ferry terminal and docks in Ocean Beach, a village west of Cherry Grove.

Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, told the Blade her community has had “a banner season” in spite of Sandy.

She said her organization has thus far raised more than $500,000 to restore the Cherry Grove Community House, an old barn crews floated from Long Island to the hamlet in 1948 that is among the first venues in the country that featured gay-produced shows and performances. The National Park Service in June placed the structure onto the National Registrar of Historic Places after U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) made the request.

New York officials have also deemed the Cherry Grove Community House a historic site.

Promoter Daniel Nardicio has brought a number of high-profile performers to Cherry Grove so far this summer that include director John Waters and comedian Margaret Cho.

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Promoter Daniel Nardicio with Lynda Carter at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove, N.Y., on Aug. 3, 2013 (Photo by Jeff Eason)

Lynda Carter, who was a grand marshal of the D.C. Pride parade in June, performed at the Ice Palace, a Cherry Grove nightclub, on Aug. 3. Tony Award-winner Chita Rivera is scheduled to perform at the same venue this weekend, while the Ice Palace will host Carol Channing and Justin Vivian Bond on Aug. 24.

“[Fire Island is] a cruise ship that doesn’t move,” Nardicio told the Blade as he discussed the growing popularity of the Ice Palace performances he coordinates. “It’s very scheduled. They go Friday nights to the Grove because I’ve made that happen.”

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The beach in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on Aug. 3, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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