104 years ago today, the symbol that started Long Beach, burned to the ground, leaving only a chimney and what was feared to be the smoldering remains of one man’s dream.
The Long Beach Hotel was the cornerstone of an ambitious plan to create a vacation resort community only a short distance from New York City’s urban sprawl. The plan included, what the developer called the largest hotel in the world, and further a way to get there – the creation of the New York and Long Beach Railroad Company which laid tracks from Lynbrook to Long Beach. I had heard apocryphally that the original tracks went all the way to the hotel down National Blvd., but the more I’ve looked into this, the original stop was seemingly called “Club House” on the intersection of what is now National and Market Street. That would still put the station north of Park Ave, and a brief walk to the hotel. If anyone has better sourcing on this, let me know. Those tracks though would have to be rethought over the next 30 years due to them being repeatedly washed out by an angry Atlantic Ocean. When the NYLB Railroad merged with the LIRR, they moved the station back to Reynolds Channel, where it stands today.
Austin Corbin, a Brooklyn based builder, called a real estate mogul and banker in some places, an antisemitic “robber baron” in others, saw the potential in Long Beach after walking the beach in Coney Island. He formed a partnership with the LIRR and used the “if you build it they will come” theory of construction.
The basically uninhabited sliver of sand – aside from a a U.S. Lifesaving Service station (the predecessor of our modern Coast Guard) was prepped for construction and before long, miles of track crossed over Reynolds channel (which wasn’t called that yet) and the 1100 foot-long hotel was opened. Within the first season, some claim 300,000 passengers used the train to get to the beach. I do find that number comically exaggerated considering 2009 ridership for the entire Long Beach branch was 6.5 million riders.
Corbin’s tracks blazed a path south from Lynbrook, and ended at the the megahotel, built in 1880, costing around $1,200,000. In 2010 dollars that would be more than $267 million. For some perspective, Citi Field cost around $850 million. The massive hotel built between Riverside and Edwards (east to west) and Broadway to Penn (north to south) had a capacity of around 800 guests. While there was a boardwalk at the hotel, it should not be confused with the later boardwalk built in the early 1900s that we all know and love. This was was literally just boards on the sand and served as a walkway to the beach.
And if you wanted something a bit more private, to the east of the building were 22 individual cottages situated along the beach. The hotel was described as a “playground for the rich, famous and monied crowd from New York.” Oscar Wilde was a guest of the hotel during his 1882 visit to America.
Corbin would die from a carriage accident in 1896, and the hotel would eventually hit hard times and be sold to William Reynolds in 1906.
On this fabled day more than 100 years ago, around 5am, a fire started in a guest room on the fourth floor which rapidly spread through the entire wood structure. At full capacity with some 800 guests present including Reynolds himself, state senator Patrick McCarren, and W. Johnson Quinn the fire quickly moved through what was a tinderbox. The scene was surely chaos as the dawn light mixed with the spreading conflagration. Somehow, only one person was seriously injured – a broken leg from jumping out of a window – and no one died.
Long Beach at the time did not have a fire department of any variety, and the only responders came from Rockville Centre’s force. The fire though, did spurn the creation of a volunteer force, founded in 1910. The only thing that remained after the fire burned itself out was the 16-foot-wide brick chimney which rose as a smoldering monument to what was left of Corbin’s dream.
But in a defiant attitude that is the epitome of most of America, and especially those that build on the shifting sands of the coasts – Reynolds declared he would rebuild a new Long Beach Hotel, bigger, better, and of course fireproof. Some mockups are below. The plan was for it to follow the design of the Élysée Palace in Paris. Only a partial foundation was ever laid – which is now being removed – as Reynolds’ company went bankrupt.
But Corbin’s and Reynolds’ dreams did not die in the blaze. Others took up the call and were successful. From the Hotel Nassau built to the west of the site in 1909 – which still stands today as the Ocean Club condos to Castles by the Sea. Castles, a dance theater and beach club even used bricks from the fallen Long Beach Hotel to serve in its foundation – giving the Hotel new life. Though Castles would later burn like many other structures in Long Beach.
While Long Beach has moved towards year-round condos, apartments, and homes over the last hundred years, the 2009 opening of the the Allegria and its eventual success or failure will signal whether Long Beach may begin to swing back towards its vacation resort roots (This is not an introduction for a thread on whether you love or hate the Allegria, resist the urge – I’m looking at you Jmack).
What follows is every other photo I’ve been able to track down of the hotel. If you have any additional shots or info, please send them so we can put them all in one place on one page for safe keeping (and easy distribution).
The Cottages that were built to the east of the hotel.
This photo may in fact be the last ever taken of the Long Beach Hotel, the post card it was attached to has a post mark from after the fire.
A color drawing of the hotel. I have no idea if it ever had the red and green color pattern shown above
The new Long Beach Hotel that never was. Oh, how I prefer an abandoned lot, aka SUPERBLOCK.
And finally a shot of the pier that was to be built off of the hotel.
So that’s what I’ve been able to put together on the Long Beach Hotel of New York, built 1880, burned to the ground July 29th, 1907, only here for 27 years. It was the anchor to a dream of building a resort community steps from New York City. Though it burned down, do you think its idea was still a success? 104 years later, this guy certainly does.
All photos courtesy ilovelbny.com or other open source locations, big thanks