Staten Island in the 1980s: Boom Boxes, Borough Politics, and the Birth of the “Forgotten Borough”

Travel back with me to Staten Island in the 1980s—a decade where neon lights met gritty realism, where the flash of disco gave way to the angular shapes of new wave and hip-hop. The air was a mix of salt from the surrounding waters and the metallic clang of the subway, all layered with the sounds of boom boxes and the chatter of political discourse.

The Staten Island Ferry: More Than Just a Commute

For Staten Islanders, the ferry wasn’t just a mode of transport; it was a symbol of their unique relationship with the rest of New York City. With a newspaper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, the daily commute offered a moment of contemplation, all against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. Each trip was a reminder—Staten Island was part of the city, yet a world of its own.

The Homeport Saga: Politics and Pride

During the 1980s, a significant chapter in Staten Island’s history was the proposal and subsequent development of the Homeport naval base in Stapleton. The decision was polarizing, with supporters lauding the economic benefits and critics wary of the environmental and social impact. Though the base would eventually close in the ’90s, its establishment led to a decade of active civic dialogue, a community torn between tradition and progress.

Walkmans and Wall Street: A Cultural Duality

In this era, Staten Island was a microcosm of wider 1980s culture. Businessmen inspired by Wall Street ambitions rubbed shoulders with youngsters entranced by MTV. The Walkman became the new symbol of personal freedom, a way to have your own soundtrack while navigating the Island’s streets. It was as if Bruce Springsteen and Madonna were both singing the anthems of a generation trying to find itself.

Saturday Night Malls and Midnight Movies

The Staten Island Mall remained a teen haven. Weekends at the mall were an 80s rite of passage, where adolescent fashions—from parachute pants to scrunchies—were both showcased and scrutinized. It wasn’t just a place for shopping; it was where friendships were made and romances kindled, all under the fluorescent lights of retail paradise. And let’s not forget the midnight movies—low-budget horror and action flicks that became cult classics, best enjoyed with a rowdy crowd.

The Forgotten Borough

Despite its unique charms, Staten Island was often dubbed the “Forgotten Borough” during this time. The nickname reflected a sense of disconnect with the rest of the city, but it also galvanized a sense of local pride. Community newspapers, local theater productions, and neighborhood festivals flourished. People began to embrace the moniker, turning it into a badge of resilience and uniqueness.

As the ’80s neared their end, the question of Staten Island’s secession from New York City became a hot topic. Frustrations over taxation and perceived neglect reached a boiling point. While the initiative ultimately failed, the debate itself was indicative of the island’s evolving identity—a community struggling to balance its autonomy with its role within the larger city.

#1 The Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk in South Beach is being reconstructed, 1983.

#2 An Army parachuter sails past the Statue of Liberty during the 100th birthday celebration of the Statue of Liberty, 1986.

#3 The Ferry Club on Bay Street in Tompkinsville, 1986.

#4 Chi-Chi’s and TGI Fridays Side-by-Side in New Dorp, 1989.

#5 Cars Approach the Goethals Bridge Toll Plaza, 1982

#7 Tanks Rumble Up Forest Avenue in Port Richmond on Memorial Day Parade, 1982

#9 More than 250 Feet of the Boardwalk at South Beach in Disrepair after a May Fire, 1988.

#10 Richmond Avenue with a Shot of the Island Theatre, 1983.

#11 Clive Thompson Dance Company Pose Atop the Gov. Herbert H. Lehman Ferry, 1985.

#12 Rehearsal for St. Peter’s Boys High School Spring Concert, 1980.

#13 Car caught in the guard rail-wires on the Staten Island Expressway, 1984.

#14 The 1980 Staten Island Ferry Schedule at St. George Terminal, 1980.

#15 Staten Island Transit Authority Bus Plows Through Surf on Hylan Boulevard, 1980.

#16 Woolworth 5 & 10, Staten Island Location near Tappan Park in Stapleton, Before the Staten Island Mall Opened, 1983.

#17 Bill Taute Riding a Thoroughbred on Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve Trails, 1989.

#18 The Swiss Chalet in Great Kills, Built in 1929, Photographed in the Mid-1980s.

#19 The Mall Decked Out with Santa Banner and Ribbons Adorned with Bells, 1982.

#20 Friendly Grin from Kevin Scharfstein and Brother Brian at Halloween, 1985.

#22 Horses on the Loose Led by Police Officers to Corral in Bloomfield, 1980.

#23 Cars Pass over the Four-lane Bridge in Greenridge, Scheduled for Replacement, 1984.

#24 Waiting for the Skating Rink on Main Street to open in 1979, and the rink in 1989.

#25 Stalled trucks and submerged cars sit in the floodwaters on Amboy Road at Ainsworth Avenue, 1988.

#26 Inside Control Room at Con Edison’s Travis Power Plant, Where Emissions Are Monitored, 1981.

#27 Horse Riders in Elm Park Independence Day Parade, 1982.

#28 Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and Good Year Blimp over South Beach, 1985.

#29 Christine Bozzo and TerryAnn Como at South Beach Amusement Park, 1983.

#30 Children Enjoy an Open Fire Hydrant in Stapleton, 1983.

#31 Road Resurfacing Project Preparation Near Targee Street Overpass, 1986.

#32 U.S. Air Force Color Guard Marching in the Memorial Day Parade, 1982.

#33 Tall Ships Participating in Operation Sail Passing the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, 1986.

#34 Commuters Stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder Aboard a Packed Staten Island Ferry, 1982.

#36 Eager Customers Line up for Grand Opening of The Wiz Store, 1989.

#37 The Lane Theater on New Dorp Lane Showing “Nighthawks,” 1981.

#38 Everything Yogurt in the Staten Island Mall Food Court, 1985.

#39 Bikes Alongside Cars Aboard a Manhattan-Bound Staten Island Ferry, 1980.

#40 The Aircraft Carrier Intrepid Is Towed to a Bayonne Shipyard for Renovation as a Museum, 1982.

#41 Staten Island Favorites: Dairy Queen, Lenny’s Clam Bar, Paul Miller, Style-O-Pedic Shoes, 1983.

#42 Balloon Launch Is a Sign of Spring for Students at St. Joseph Hill Academy, 1981.

#43 Staten Island Mall in the 80s: The Transfer Store, an Elevator, and McDonald’s, 1988.

#44 Resident Discount VZ Bridge Sticker Photo from 1983.

#46 Joseph W. Bishop in His Sandy Ground Blacksmith Shop, the Bishop Forge, 1982.

#47 Eltingville Train Station at Richmond Ave and Amboy Rd., 1985.

#48 Ariemma’s, the Beloved Italian Deli in Dongan Hills, Mid-1980s.

#49 Skaters on Mill Pond in Richmond, Waterfall at Pond Is Frozen, 1985.

#50 Two Hockey Players on a Frozen Pond Near the West Shore Expressway in Charleston, 1980.

#51 The community of Meiers Corners was once called “Nanny Goat Hill,” named for Joachim Meier, 1981.

#53 Texaco Gasoline Storage Facility Explosion in Port Newark, 1983.

#54 Staten Island entry in the Macy Thanksgiving Day parade, a stagecoach holdup tableau prepared at the Clove Lake Stables, 1980.

#56 Staten Island ferryboats Pvt. Joseph Merrell and the Verrazzano out-of-service in Tompkinsville, 1984.

#57 Clove Lake Stables, Staten Islanders enjoyed seeing the barn and grazing horses, 1986.

#58 Clothing discarded by marathon runners at the race’s staging area at Fort Wadsworth, 1988.

#59 Marathon fever at the twelfth New York City Marathon at the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, 1981.

#60 Joe Giunta Finds It Easier to Travel Down Hylan Boulevard in a Raft After Flooding, July 29, 1982.

#61 Staten Island Community College in St. George, first class, merged to create College of Staten Island, 1986.

#62 The Lane Theater in New Dorp, one of Staten Island’s most popular movie houses, 1980s

#63 Workers Give Lady Liberty a Facelift during the Centennial Conservation-Restoration, 1984

#64 Cars Washed Away during Flooding at Armstrong Avenue, Richmond Avenue, Staten Island, 1988.

#65 Amboy Road in the ’80s: D&L Video Club, Before Streaming Services, 1980s.

#66 New York Harbor View of July 4 Centennial from Wards Hill, Twin Towers in the Background, 1986.

#67 The Ferryboat John F. Kennedy Jammed with Passengers, St. George Ferry Terminal, Staten Island, 1980.

#68 Dawn Bellach Near the Original Skippy’s Truck, Staten Island, 1984.

#69 Staten Islander Canio Casertano Works on the 110th Floor of World Trade Center Tower, 1980s.

#70 The Riviera Chateau restaurant on Amboy Road in Bay Terrace before its closure, 1986.

#71 Talk of the Town, Great Kills, a granddaddy of the South Shore bar scene, opened in 1942, circa 1980s.

#72 The New Ferryboat Samuel I. Newhouse Docks at Pier 7, Tompkinsville, After Trip from Louisiana, May Achieve Early Service, 1982.

#73 Demyan’s Hofbrau, Famous Bar and Restaurant; Former Site of Brewery; Destroyed by Fire in 1980.

#74 A motorist makes his way along a flooded road during heavy rain, causing traffic and disruptions in the area, 1985.

#75 Remember, Everyone’s Got a Mom: Collared Peccaries at the Staten Island Zoo in West Brighton, 1983.

#76 Paul’s Sweet Shoppe, New Dorp Shoe Repair, Plaza Pizzeria, and Rivera Travel in New Dorp, 1987.

#77 Invention of Modern Chewing Gum at Wrigley Factory, Staten Island, Closed in 1949; Smokestacks Demolished in 1986.

#78 Beatrice Dickey Scraping Snow off Her Car, Staten Island, April 6, 1982.

#79 Eltingville SIRT station packed with commuters due to a transit strike, April 1, 1980.

#80 Women who made a difference: Elizabeth Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity, established the first Catholic child-care institution in the U.S., canonized in 1975, 1989.

#81 People protesting the establishment of a Navy home port in New York Harbor, four arrested, 1987.

#82 Beware of a Fire Hydrant in the Middle of Woodrow Road Near Rossville Avenue, 1980.

#83 Soapsuds from Procter & Gamble Erupt from Western Avenue in Port Ivory, 1987.

#84 Blizzard of ‘83 Grounded Planes at South Beach Amusement Park, 1983.

#85 Crazy Eddie’s Located at the Richmond Avenue Shopping Center; Popular Electronics Store, 1980s.

#86 Waiting for the Motor Vehicle Department Office to Open in New Springville, 1989.

#88 Annadale Junction, a popular stop with SIRT commuters, 1982.

#89 Santa’s Village Christmas Display at Staten Island Mall, 1985.

#90 Strawberry Shortcake Float was a highlight of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the 1980s.

#91 Azure club in South Beach hosted disco and soul bands like the Trammps and the Sugar Hill Gang, 1980

#92 Kevin and Brian Scharfstein with a spider decoration on Demorest Ave., Westerleigh, October 29, 1985

#93 Bill Taute Riding on the Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve Trails, 1989.

#94 Fire at Former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Pier 6, St. George, 1980.

#95 1371 Forest Avenue Has Been Home to Various Saloons, Including Dewey’s Place, Cullen’s Bar, Coady’s Emerald Bar, and Jimmy Breslin’s, Now Home to Mother Pugs, 1980s.

#96 Who Remembers the Old Jailhouse Cafe on Van Duzer Street in Stapleton, Later Crocodile Cafe, Now an Evangelical Church, 1980s.

#97 St. George, the seat of local government and transportation center on Staten Island, along the waterfront, 1982.

#100 Willie Mosconi, professional pool player, performing at Staten Island Mall, 1980.

#101 Centennial conservation-restoration of the Statue of Liberty, 1984-1986.

#102 “Back to the Future” was playing at Century’s Richmond Theater, New Springville, 1985.

#104 The Oakwood flood gate during Hurricane Gloria, 1985.

#105 Cars search for spots in the parking lot of the Hylan Shopping Center in New Dorp, 1986.

#106 Staten Island Mall fountains, lower-level fountains near center Mall escalators, 1981.

#107 The Island Chateau, a Grasmere catering hall, pictured in the 1980s.

#108 The Century Inn, Now Home to Killmeyer’s on Arthur Kill Road, 1986

#109 The Windjammer, Seafood Restaurant on Mansion Avenue, Great Kills, 1986

#110 Woolworth 5 & 10 in Staten Island near Tappan Park, a Popular Shopping District Before Staten Island Mall Opened, 1983.

#112 Remembering Monte Bianco Catering Hall, Later Renaissance, Near Midland Avenue on Hylan Boulevard, 1980s.

#113 Bay Street and Victory Boulevard in Staten Island, 1989.

#114 Slow Traffic in Brooklyn-Bound Lane of Staten Island Expressway Near Woolley Avenue, 1981.

#115 “Back to the Future” Sign at Century’s Richmond Theatre, New Springville, 1985.

#116 Cars Exiting the Ferry John F. Kennedy at Whitehall Terminal, 1984.

#117 Kids Pushing Stuck Cars out of Water, Hylan Blvd. and Midland Avenue, Staten Island, 1988

#118 Closing Down Sale at the Korvette Store on Richmond Avenue, New Springville, Staten Island, 1981

#119 Staten Island Expressway & College of Staten Island (Now Petrides), Circa 1989

#120 A Youngster Uses Raft in Front of His Home on Gauldy Avenue, 1984

#121 Richmond Terrace in Mariner’s Harbor During Installation of Giant Sewer, Circa 1988

#124 Tall Ships Participating in Operation Sail Pass the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, Liberty Weekend Celebrating the Centenary of the Statue of Liberty, 1986.

#125 Tottenville High School Marching Band marches across the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, 1989.

#126 Video High, the club for the under 21 crowd in Great Kills, 1985.

#127 Mario Strong’s Staten Island Bodybuilding Club, First Gym of Its Kind on Staten Island, Closed in 1986.

#128 Pepper Martin Runners at Silver Lake Park Entrance, Circa 1982.

#129 Staten Island Ferry/St. George Area, Circa 1980s.

#130 Motorists Crawl Along the Staten Island Expressway, Circa 1988.

#132 View of the “New” New Dorp High School and Miller Field, Circa 1982.

#133 Bus Drivers Negotiating Richmond Avenue During the Blizzard of 1983

#134 Crippling Storm, Known as the Blizzard of 1983, Hit Staten Island, 1983.

#137 Skaters at War Memorial Skating Rink at Clove Lakes Park, 1987.

#138 Who went to the Paramount Theater? Bay St., Stapleton, 1987.

#139 Alice Cooper performs at the renovated St. George Theater, 1981.

#141 The Blizzard of ’83 grounded the planes at the South Beach Amusement Park, Staten Island, 1983.

#142 Coast Guard ship Eagle in Operation Sail with tugboat escort, 1986.

#143 Colonial Lanes, served the North Shore community for 48 years, closed its doors in 2000, Clifton, 1988.

#144 The Samuel I. Newhouse Ferryboat Heads to Staten Island Past the Twin Towers, 1982

#145 West Shore Expressway, Travis, including the UA Theater, 1987.

#148 Original La Candela Location, Great Kills, Circa 1980s.

#151 Blockbuster Video and Video Store Memories on Staten Island, 1989.

#152 Silver Lake Park Takes on a Magical Look After Snowstorm, 1984.

#153 Water Pours over Sidewalk from Flooded Lot on Amboy Road, Princes Bay, 1983.

#154 Sewer Construction on Clove Road Westbound Disrupts Traffic, 1982.

#155 Brooklyn-Bound Motorists at Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge Toll Plaza, 1987.

#156 Hylan Blvd., New Dorp, before the post office was built, Diner of the 80’s on the left, Bowling on the Green, center and Star Pontiac on the right, 1985.

#157 South Beach Boardwalk by Seaview Avenue under repair, 1984.

#158 Students at P.S. 32, Great Kills, celebrate the school’s 20th anniversary, May 1988.

#159 In 1983 Hyatt Street and the surrounding St. George area looks more like the governmental hub, 1983.

#160 Three boys watch waterfall into a backyard on Bradley Avenue in Meiers Corners, 1983.

#161 Overflowing parking lots near the St. George ferry terminal following shutdown by the Department of Consumer

#162 Homes at Arthur Kill Road and Richmond Road, Richmond, May 1981.

#163 Proximity of Arbutus Lake to St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School, 1987.

#164 The Parsonage, Richmond, Built in 1855, Became The Parsonage Restaurant Between 1993 and 1995, Ceased Operations in 2008, Circa 1980.

#165 Two tugboats guide the Peking, a four-masted barque ship, through choppy waters off Staten Island, 1987.

#166 Firemen attack the fire in Demyan’s Hofbrau in Stapleton, 1980.

#167 The Bus Stop at Victory Boulevard and Arlene Street in Bulls Head, circa 1980.

#168 A runaway filly leads Emergency Services Police Officers on a chase by the West Shore Expressway, 1980.

#170 Seaview and Mason Avenues, Staten Island University Hospital, South Beach Psychiatric Center Seen Directly Behind the Hospital, 1980s

#171 U.S.S. Reverend Vincent Capodanno Exits New York Harbor with Twin Towers in Background after Weekend at Howland Hook, 1981.

#172 Taxis Line at the St. George Ferry Terminal, 1981.

#173 Mary Scholnicoff Looks out Her Door on a Flooded Ontario Avenue, Sunnyside, May 1983.

#174 The Arthur Kill, New Jersey’s petro-chemical plants on the left; Staten Island’s landfill and Con Edison on the right, 1985.

#175 War Memorial Ice Skating Rink opens in Clove Lakes Park, 1980.

#176 Prall’s Island, an uninhabited bird sanctuary in the Arthur Kill between Staten Island and Linden, New Jersey, 1987.

#177 Volunteers pull the John Noble barge/studio into a dock in West Brighton, 1984.

#178 New traffic light at Richmond Hill Road and Marsh Avenue for Staten Island Mall traffic, 1985.

#179 A&W Drive-In Restaurant on Hylan Boulevard, Filming Location for Commercial, July 1980.

#180 Lenny’s Clam Bar and Heavy Traffic Along Hylan Blvd., New Dorp, 1983.

#182 View of Castleton Avenue from Broadway, West Brighton, 1983.

#183 Gary Altini Carries Deborah Strohm to Drier Ground at Old Town Road Staten Island Rapid Transit Station, 1980.

#184 The Old Department of Motor Vehicles Location on Richmond Avenue in New Springville, 1984.

#186 Traffic Light Finally Installed at Hylan Boulevard and Armstrong Avenue in Great Kills, 1982.

#188 Fireworks Display at Great Kills Park from Richmond County Yacht Club Balcony, 1984.

#189 Family Affair, Hylan Cinema, Diner of the 80’s; Traffic Jam at Hylan Boulevard and New Dorp Lane, 1985.

#190 Police Officers Survey a Car that Shot Through Barricades at the Page Avenue Bridge, Tottenville, 1982.

#191 The Kreischer Mansion in Charleston, Pictured in May, 1989.

#192 Vintage Photo in the Staten Island Advance, 1982.

#193 Robert Magee of Tottenville Cleaning Spray Nozzles in the Main Fountain of the Staten Island Mall, 1983.

#194 Youngsters Sprayed in Clove Lakes Park on a Day with 93 Degrees Temperature, 1981.

#195 Cars and Truck Traffic at Intersection of Arthur Kill Road and Richmond Avenue, Val’s Pizza in the Right, Great Kills, 1985.

#196 South Beach Boardwalk Renovation Between Doty Avenue and Sand Lane, 1982.

#198 King Kullen, a Supermarket in Clifton on Bay Street, Part of Staten Island’s History, 1980s

#199 Aircraft Carrier Intrepid Towed to Bayonne Shipyard for Renovation, Twin Towers in Distance, 1982.

#200 “Back to the Future” Sign for the Blockbuster Movie at Century’s Richmond Theatre in New Springville, 1985.

Written by Wendy Robert

Brand journalist, Ghostwriter and Proud New Yorker. New York is not a city – it’s a world.

Leave a Reply

Comment using name and email. Or Register an account

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings

One Comment