His name conjures an image of a suave, outgoing gentleman dancing with a woman on a Latino ballroom dance floor. But this man’s passion is far from a ballroom dance floor and is deeply rooted in nostalgia of the local kind.
Joey Chacha is his name, and thousands of Port residents know him by name, but rarely meet him in person. That’s because he’s immersed in researching the archives of the Port Washington Library online at his apartment on lower Main Street, scanning through decades of nostalgic photos that he posts on what has become the #1 go-to Facebook page about the colorful history of Port Washington.
“The Real Port Washington” is the name of his page, and on the first day of implementation a year ago, he had 500 people sign up to view the postings. Since that time, the site boasts 4,057 members, many from across the country who once called Port Washington their home. Photos of the sand miners mining sand used for skyscrapers to build Manhattan; the building of Main Street School and the Long Island railroad; old hotels that served as summer getaways for Manhattan’s elite; “Mom & Pop” stores where everybody knew everybody by their first name; and of course, the Town Dock, the hub of Port Washington’s activities for over a century.
The real truth is that the page evokes intense memories and flashbacks of the tiny peninsula once named Cow Neck that evolved into a thriving suburban town that attracted immigrants from all over the world for sand mining, fishing and other skills needed to build America’s towns. It also draws visitors to the page for strikingly clear visuals of life in Port from every angle, including photos of multifamily generations who to this day are deeply rooted in Port Washington.
So who’s Joey Chacha? For those from the Schreiber classes of the early ’70s, he was Joey Ciulla (class of ’74), an only child with a large, extended family that included the Arresta family (Doc Arresta’s kids are his second cousins). “Port Washington is in my blood,” says Ciulla, who is nearing retirement soon. “It was a great place to grow up in and I want to leave a legacy to its memories through Facebook and create ongoing dialogues with those who love it like I do.”
And indeed there is ongoing chatter. One posting or photo alone by Joey can solicit over 100 comments in a single day. “It’s like all of us being in a room together, hanging out and talking about all things Port Washington. But it’s a virtual Port Washington lovefest.”
Wit is a strong characteristic of Joey Chacha. He often uses Photoshop to insert his photo into scenes that are side-splitting. For instance, there is a photo he posted from 1900 of trolley tracks being built on Main Street and Joey appears supervising the construction. In another photo he appears as a guest on Jimmy Fallon’s show. Brian Williams is shown quoting Joey Chacha, “And I said to Joey Chacha, this town should be called Port Washington!”
When he’s not scanning the 10,000 plus photos from the library, he turns his passion to painting, and his apartment is lined with many of his creations.
But creating nostalgia is his top priority, and Joey says he enjoys the attention that attracts so much excitement from posting a single photo of “Charlie the Barber” cutting hair in his Manorhaven barber shop (’50s and ’60s), or the old Texaco station on the corner of Manorhaven Boulevard and Shore Road that was once owned by Donald Cocks’ father. A shot of McCrory’s in the Soundview Shopping Center elicits record-breaking postings, along with a photo of the interior of Bay Bowl. And the memories go on and on.
The one regret he has is not being able to find a single photo of The Barge at Capri. “I’ve tried and tried and can’t find anything. Maybe somebody reading this can scan and send a photo to the Real Port Washington Facebook site. That would make me and thousands of other people very happy. I look forward to you becoming a member of The Real Port Washington on Facebook.”
See examples of Chacha’s art below: