The Legendary Beach Favored by New York's Greatest Families Gets a Revival
It’s official. Rockaway, New York has been “discovered.”
Athletes, hipsters, bikers, Moma P.S1, and families sick of sitting in traffic on the L.I.E have fallen for the skinny peninsula at one end of Long Island. Not an hour away on the new ferry (wifi, open bar) await miles of wide, sandy beaches and boardwalk, the city’s only legal surfing, superb Uzbek dumplings and the chance for a Patti Smith or whale-sighting. Rockaway is an "It" destination for 2017.
And yet, there is still little if anywhere to stay. Ugly high rises mar the view in places. If you truly want to summer here in style, you’ll have to do some time traveling. Because of course, Rockaway has been “discovered” before—and not just by the native
1830. John Leake Norton, married to a sister of Governor George Clinton sees the spot’s resort potential. He buys the homestead of Joseph Cornell, the area’s first white settler, and persuades a group of the city’s wealthy and well-connected to finance, at then the huge sum of $43,000, the area’s first hotel. This is followed by the construction of a shell road (now the Jericho Turnpike) which cuts through meadows to shorten the journey—several hours just from Brooklyn.
Above: Rockaway Beach’s boardwalk today. Below: The boardwalk in the late 19th century.
In the interim, Manhattan has a sudden outbreak of cholera. Panic ensues. The moment the Marine Pavilion opens in 1834, the rich and famous flock to its massive, breezy piazza. “…coaching to Rockaway became extremely fashionable,” writes Bellot in History of the Rockaways. “Beautiful teams of horses attached to elaborate ‘tally-ho’ turnouts made the journey in fine time, and noted sportsmen vied with each other in the excellence of equipages.”
Along with the Astors and Vanderbilts listed as frequent guests in the
Above: Blake Lively shooting a scene for Gossip Girl at Rockaway Beach. Below: Beachgoers in fashionable swimwear circa 1897.
In his diaries, Philip Hone,
Both versions have the puffy “leg of mutton” sleeves so in vogue in the 1830s, but the bathing costume is made of a dark, flannel which will not turn translucent when wet and has weights sewn
Female bathing costumes had weights sewn in the hems to keep the skirts from floating.
The wild success of the Marine Pavilion (coupled with the advent of the railroad) soon spawns construction plans for hotels of all classes. Perhaps, desirous of exclusivity, the upper crust moves on.
“A banquet-hall deserted” is how Hone gloomily describes the Pavilion by 1835. “The establishment, gotten up and supported at so great an expense, has been neglected by the New Yorkers, with the exception of my family and connections and a few others….The fashionable people of our city have preferred the Virginia Springs, Saratoga, Newport and a place they call Sachem’s Head, to a house of their own possessing advantages greater than any other.”
For one summer, “We had a pretty sight at Rockaway.”
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.