During travel, landmarks are a helpful way to ensure that one is headed in the right direction, especially if one is in unfamiliar territory. “Take a left at the light by the Home Depot and if you pass the diner, you have gone too far” are examples of directions from others that have helped many of us from straying off the path and arriving at our destinations without getting lost.
As a child, I always knew that we were close to home when we passed the neon “Henshaw’s Furniture” sign on Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown. That landmark always told me that our “long journey” from Islip had almost drawn to a close, especially as I yawned and longed for the comfort of my bed. Another familiar sighting was the North Village Green, which Dad often cut through on our way back to our house. As we passed the deli, the drug store, the supermarket and the bowling alley, I anxiously awaited our next stop, which was our own driveway.
One sighting that always held a lot of charm for my sister and I was the tall water tower that stands at the crossroads of Wantagh and Ocean Parkways. Most of our friends called the water tower “the Needle” or “the Pencil.” My sister and I referred to it as “The Eyes and Nose and Mouth”. To our young minds, the top of the water tower looked a lot like a face.
Last year, the “Needle in the Sky” or “Pencil in the Sky” celebrated its 90th year at that spot. The landmark, which is a functioning water tower, is more than 230 feet high and more than 20 feet wide. It supplies water to the entire park with a tank capacity of 320,000 gallons. The wells have a combined capacity of 1300 gallons of water per minute, which is treated before it reaches the park. The water is tested twice weekly for contaminants. There are about 200 steps on a steel ladder that workers must ascend to reach the top of the tower for inspection. The design was originally inspired by the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy and was erected in 1930. It also extends more than 1,000 feet into the ground. The top of the “pencil” has flashing red lights that serve as a warning for aircraft in the area.
The Needle, Pencil or Jones Beach Water Tower is a friendly welcome to Long Island beachgoers everywhere. While Hubby and I approach the traffic circle that surrounds the landmark with extreme caution, we are always happy to see the bookended anchors and the “eyes and nose and mouth” upon our approach to one of the Island’s most beautiful shorelines. Several years ago, I covered the Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s Air Show. I was able to snag a few pictures of the Blue Angels as they rounded that water tower, which was a beautifully patriotic sight.
While the Jones Beach water tower is closed to the public for tours, there are several videos online by News12 Long Island that offer a quick peak inside. The tower underwent a $6.2 million renovation about 10 years ago, which included replacing brickwork and steel beams inside the structure.
Landmarks are an important part of our landscape. The next time you take a drive to Jones Beach and pass “The Pencil,” you should now have a better understanding of the fully functional building that stands as a welcoming beacon to beach lovers everywhere on this beautiful island.
Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.