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Walking Through Long Beach History: 1869-1945

A look at the barrier island's development from its first house to the Lido Hotel.


In 1869, Davenport "Deb" Wright, a South Shore bayman, built the first house on the barrier island later known as Long Beach, that today is made up of several neighborhoods, from the West End to the Walks to the Canals and the President Streets, most of which had been established by the 1930s.

The future city began to grow in the 19th century, thanks to the Long Island Rail Road. In 1880, the railroad crossed the channel and that same year a railroad syndicate built the largest seaside resort in the world at the time, the Long Beach Hotel. In 1906, New York Sen. William Reynolds, a master builder from Brooklyn, began implementing his vision for the island.

“What Reynolds did was created an ultra-modern planned community,” said Long Beach historian Roberta Fiore.     

A year later, Reynolds built the 2.2-mile boardwalk as well as a casino at what is now the corner of Shore Road and Long Beach Boulevard, and the Nassau Hotel, now the Ocean Club apartments, on West Broadway at National Boulevard. Soon the boardwalk was dotted with other hotels, bath houses and tennis courts. “Reynolds was creating an Atlantic City for New York,” Fiore said.    

The first neighborhood was the Estates, built in 1908, which stretched from today’s Lindell and Long Beach boulevards. Long Beach became an incorporated village in 1912, and the first school was built two years later. The West End, an appendage to the village, became part of the village 1918, and around this time the Walks neighborhood was developed between New York Avenue and Lindell Boulevard.

When the U.S. military took over the Nassau Hotel and it became a hospital, Long Beach became a military settlement, and pre-fabricated bungalows, that sold for $2,500, were transported from Yapank, and were installed on property owned by Reynolds in the Walks. The uninsulated pre-fabs were meant for summer use, but for $500 more a fireplace could be built. Today the Walks consists of 10 blocks of walks that have no street access, with the houses on each walk, facing east and west, sandwiched behind homes facing north and south from West Park Avenue, the neighborhood’s northern border, to West Beech Street to the south.  

In 1922, Long Beach became a city, and "The Million-Dollar bridge" was built over Reynolds Channel. A few years later four canals — and three arched bridges — were built. The original homes were Moorish in style and, later, daylight houses, and served as second homes for the upper middle class. Reynolds used his own money to build the waterways, calling the project “the canals of Lido.” They were intended to complement the adjacent Lido golf course, which Reynolds had built a decade earlier, with his millionaire friends Otto Kahn, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Payne Whitney, all part of his vision to turn Long Beach into “the new Venice for America.”    

Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, as entertainment thrived and Long Beach developed homes and industry, Southern black migrants worked at the hotels lining the boardwalk or as domestic servants. Some lived in the stately homes where they worked, but a handful began rent and buy homes, many of which were converted garages, in what is now North Park, the area north of Park Avenue roughly between Magnolia Boulevard and Long Beach Boulevard.

“North Park was where the railroad and the more industrial section of the city were located, and the blacks didn’t have cars, so they traveled by train," Fiore said.

Reynolds’s last development on Long Beach island was a hotel called the Lido Golf and Country Club, built in 1928. (Today the building is the Long Beach Towers.) The beachside hotel offered swimming pools, tennis courts and cabanas. In the 1930s, "sand-castle" homes were built on neighboring streets; during the Great Depression a developer could buy a vacant lot and build a sand castle for $5,000. This 10-block neighborhood — which today is bound by the ocean, Roosevelt Boulevard, East Walnut Street and Maple Boulevard — is known as the President Streets.    

During World War II, the hotel’s owner at the time, Abe Seidon, rented it to the U.S. Navy, and after the war a new community was created, today's Lido Beach.

To learn more about Long Beach history, visit the Long Beach Historical Society website.

Mike Charles February 14, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Joe, As a fellow amateur historian and a Patch writer, I appreciate this look at local history, especially the LIRR and local development. Thanks.
Eddie June 01, 2012 at 11:56 PM
I disagree with the assessment of North Park. Quite the contrary. North Park was once the most influential parts of the Beach. Black residents were never segregated in Long Beach, as they are now. Quite the contrary. Those who could afford nice homes, lived anywhere they wanted. Those blacks who couldn't afford nice homes, as with many whites, lived as servants, drivers and maids in the homes of the more wealthy. The big change came in the 20's when more blacks came to community to serve as domestic help. Then many homes had "wings" added to them as servant's quarters which permitted separate bathrooms for the blacks - a tradition at the time. This is why most of the earlier homes have an addition in the back with a small bedroom and bathroom. This accommodated the black maid or butler of the 1920's.

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