I found myself browsing ilovelbny.com at length over the last week and was blown away by their collection of all things Long Beach. With so much development in Long Beach recently, I couldn’t help but notice how many iconic buildings LB once had, but no longer. And these sites weren’t bulldozed for condos, or leveled because of dilapdation, or trashed by a hurricane. Instead, they all suffered the same fate.
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
To followup my recent post about the demolition of the remnants of the Fire Control Tower, I went down to the SUPERBLOCK Monday and Wednesday to take another look at the site and see the construction progress. I’ve put in a few photos here to show you what they’ve done, what they’re doing, and the comical amount of work left.
A few days ago, a reader commented regarding the Quiksilver Live Site on the SUPERBLOCK and how they were “tearing up and getting rid of the remains of [what] was known as the Monuments on the Broadway lot. ” Further, they commented it was a “shameful thing.”
First things first, I wanted to know what they were talking about. For years I’ve seen concrete in varying degrees of disarray mixed into the SUPERBLOCK, but always assumed it was the ancient foundation of the the Long Beach Hotel or its successor which never was.
So, when the reader commented that it actually tracked it’s heritage back to WWII, I was excited to look into it. The best info I could find was over at http://www.ilovelbny.com/ (which is an incredible resource for all things LB History). There, they write that this site was actually a spotting tower for Battery Harris – but more commonly referred to as the Fire Control Tower or the Lookout Tower. You can see a great shot on the header of this post, dated around the 1950s, courtesy of ilovelbny and the Tydings family.
The site was built during WWII to keep an eye out for unwanted German naval ships trying to get near New York Harbor. Whether they were looking for surface ships, or the dreaded U-boats seems to be up for discussion, but the fact remains, that this site served as a part of the U.S.’s network of coastal defenses during World War II. According to ILoveLBNY, there was also a similar tower built at Atlantic Beach. There are a few more photos courtesy of the Tydings family here.
So onto the more contentious issue: Quiksilver (or the city) has come in to finally rip out what remains of its concrete foundation to prep the grounds for the Live Site. A shameful thing? I think not. The SUPERBLOCK has to be looked at as one of the greatest eyesores in Long Beach. A massive lot that has done nothing but grow weeds, collect garbage, and was turned into a snow melting zone after the record snowfall this past winter.
A month from now, after some rubble that has nearly been forgotten is removed from the site, the area will (hopefully) become a vibrant carnival ground, featuring music and entertainment for the public at large. I’m the biggest proponent of history and remembering what has been here before. More of a reason to put up a plaque, write a book, or have a blog gather some info on the site and write a post.
Quiksilver will leave the superblock in better condition than they found it in – and will certainly be held accountable if they do not. The City of Long Beach and its residents will benefit much more from this refreshed area as opposed to leaving it in its current state.
In closing, let’s raise a drink to this once imposing monument on the boardwalk, but also look forward to how much more the SUPERBLOCK can be, with the Live Site being the first of many new uses.