THE DAVIS PARK CASINO AT 50 First there was Mr. Davis of Blue Point who owned a tract of land on Fire Island. When he died he left most of it to the Town of Brookhaven and that eventually became Davis Park. He left some of the land to his three sons. One of the sons sold his part to four friends, Lee Coffin, Ed Sembler, Joe Gerard and Al Brown. The result of that transaction was the Casino. The grand opening took place on June 6th 1945, the same day that the Allied troops hit the beaches of Normandy. But we get ahead of ourselves.
The leading light or at least the most forceful personality in the foursome was Al Brown. When he was a year old, his parents moved to Patchogue and opened a restaurant. His father died suddenly two years later. His uncle, a maitre d’ at an elegant Manhattan restaurant, gave up his job and moved to Patchogue to help Brown’s mother run the restaurant. Money was scarce and young Al dropped out of High School to help support the family. Despite the educational setback, Brown preserved and finally graduated from a business school in Jamaica, Queen. He got his first job as an accountant with Joe Gerard’s construction company, South Shore Contractors. There he befriended tow engineers, Lee Coffin and Ed Sembler. It was Joe Gerard who came up with the idea of opening a restaurant on Fire Island, but Brown was certainly familiar with the restaurant business. Having acquired the land, the four men petitioned the Brookhaven Town Board to have the land zoned for business. The petition was granted. Al Brown said in a 1987 interview, “Gerard, Coffin, Sembler and I knew of a vacant restaurant on the water in Blue Pint (behind where Flo’s now stands) that would be perfect for our Fire Island enterprise. We brought it and hired the Davis brothers, who were in the moving business, to transport it across the bay by barge and tugboat. It was the first Building on that part of Fire Island.”
The original Casino consisted of a bar, snack bar and grocery store. The second addition came when a man called Robinson died. He owned a building East of Davis Park and the consortium got permission to move it. It was used to build what is now the Casino bar. Business was slow to begin with and there were teething problems with the generator that supplied the electricity and the well that provided the water. More serious was the relative lack of access. Only sail boats could make a decent mooring. A few years after the Casino’ opening, however, the Town of Brookhaven built an open pile dock and that meant that there was mooring for motor boats. Business began to build. The partners wanted a name for their part of the beach to distinguish it from the Brookhaven Town holding and ran a contest in the local papers. A young lady submitted the name Leja. It was composed of the first initials of Partners’ first names – Kee Coffin, Ed Sembler, Joe Gerard and Al Brown. Leja Beach was officially born.
Though business was still slow, the men felt that the area would grow and they had positioned themselves well. A ferry boat would obviously help. Gerard retired from the contracting business and sold it to the other three. He started a ferry company with one boat, the ‘Joseph E. Gerard’. As the need grew, he bought several other boats and then sold that business to Fred Sherman and Hobby Miller. Davis was being developed and Gerard decided that he wanted to be part of it. He relinquished this interest in the Casino in return for property in Davis Park. The Casino in turn, expanded by removing the grocery store and rebuilding it closer to the harbor. Hobby Miller, in his spare time, assisted Gerard in building houses in Davis Park. He was responsible for building many of the homes in Davis Park and Ocean Ridge, as well as the Church of the Most Precious Blood that stands in the middle of what locals now call Hobbyville. Brown, reminiscing recalled that, “In the old days, Sunday service was held at the Casino bar. A sheet was thrown over the top of the bar and a little altar was set up. A priest would come over from Patchogue to say Mass.”
o will be 70 years old. This article reproduced from The Fire Island Tide, July 21, 1995 “The Davis Park Casino at 50”. See the actually up on our wall.