Dunewood Turns 60

By Laura SchmidtFrom a barren patch of sand used as a dumping ground to a lush, family-oriented community, Dunewood has gone through quite a transformation in its 60 years on Fire Island.Irwin Chess and Maurice Barbash began developing the small town in 1958.“The reason we selected Dunewood was because it was developed as a residential, family community,” Like said. “It became, to us, a place we could all gather together so that was a very important part, from our perspective, that it was a family community.”Barbash’s daughter, Cathy, was just a child when the development occurred but she recalls spending weeks there each summer and falling in love with the small, underdeveloped town.“They [Barbash and Chess] began building houses and each of the families kept a house for themselves,” Cathy said. “Usually builders don’t live in the communities they build, but it was such a utopia for kids.”At the start, there were less than 10 original houses built, and they were all identical, simple and functional.“The original intent of my father was you’re at Fire Island to be active outside so you don’t need a big house,” Barbash said. Of course, as the years went on, homeowners began to add decks, rooms and other accessories to their homes to give it their own personal flair.When Chess and Barbash first bought the land, it was a dumping ground for the surrounding towns and had barely any trees or greenery. So another important aspect of the development was the fact that it was created to be strictly residential. There is no commercial zoning to allow for pollution of any kind.“There were no trees,” Like said. “That all changed, and the community began to take shape as not only a beach community but a green, wooded community with flowers and trees.”As the community grew larger over the course of 15 years, more amenities were offered to residents such as tennis, swimming and sailing lessons. In the early 1960s, the Dunewood Yacht Club first gave young adults the opportunity to learn how to sail on the bay with instructors and other islanders their age.“As soon as kids could swim you could basically let them out in the morning and not see them again until dinner time,” Barbash said.The first generation of Dunewood residents would often get together at various times throughout the summer for barbecues and picnics, according to Like. And at the end of the season, the Fire Department would hold a parade and drive up the streets with trucks for the kids and families to see.As a small town consisting of about 100 homes and lacking a market or restaurant of any sort, Dunewood acts as a quiet getaway from more fast-paced towns on the island. With Fair Harbor just to the west and Ocean Beach to the east, Dunewood is a middle ground for families looking for peace and relaxation.“Don’t come here expecting anything like Ocean Beach,” Like said. “It’s a very quiet community and, to some people, that’s boring, but to the people who go there for tranquility and serenity and to be out in the open and with their children, it’s ideal.”This article was updated July 17, 2020.