New York City is composed of a bunch of islands – Manhattan, Long and Staten just to name a few. Once upon a time it was quite fashionable to “summer” at one of the many beach resorts located on these islands. They were chock-full of bungalows, hotels, restaurants, summer cottages, etc., etc. and the regular folk and well-to-do would flock to them every summer. Society columns in papers from NY and NJ would always have mentions such at “Miss Gertrude Soandso has been spending the week with Miss Harriet Whosawasit in The Rockaways,” and I believe that’s where the 1984 film The Flamingo Kid was supposed to have taken place too.
Back in 1935, part of South Beach, Staten Island looked like what you see in this fabulous picture from the NYPL Digital Collection. You are standing on Sand Lane with Oceanside Avenue on your left and straight ahead is Seaside Boulevard, now known as Father Capodanno Blvd.
In the distance you will find Jaeger’s Steam Baths and Beer Garden and to your left are the bungalows that were so prevalent in beach communities at the time. The next picture, also from NYPL, is the beachside view of Jaeger’s from 1929.
I tried to make the pictures larger, but if you click them, you’ll be transported take to NYPL’s page and you can them zoom in and out on your own. They’ve all but disappeared here in South Beach yet some have held on in other places. If you ever get a chance to, you should really check out a documentary called The Bungalows of Rockaway where you can see some of what has remained and what it was like to live there.
Obviously now, my next step was to find out who this Jaeger fellow was. I scoured the 1930 census and could find no one named Jaeger living in Staten Island who owned a hotel or a beer garden or a steam bath and no Jaeger living in this part of Richmond county. Sigh. I also realized that the 1930 census was taken in April, at least a month before resort season, so he was probably at his regular residence which could be anywhere, even in NJ. I then found a snippet from an obit published in the NY Times in 1951 that mentioned that a Joseph Jaeger of Staten Island had owned a lot of property in South Beach, so maybe it was him. But if I wanted to read the whole thing to find any other clues it would cost me $3.95 and they’re not getting my cash.
But this Jaeger dude wasn’t the only person in South Beach area and as I looked through each page a little grouping of Greek musicians caught my eye. They are Kostas & Marikas Papagikas and their nephew Angelo Greggo. Mary sang and Kostas played the cimbalom. They came to America in 1915 and had a club over on 34th between 7th and 8th. If you search for Marikas on the internet, you should actually be able to find lots of stuff, even some of her songs I believe. Their club, named after the lady of the house, closed in 1930 after the stock market crash – I wonder if that’s when they moved to Staten Island? Maybe they worked the beach clubs? They lived in Arrochar, about a 10 minute walk from where our pictures are and Marikas died in Staten Island in 1943.
Peter Bessi owned one of the gajillions of hotels on South Beach from at least 1910 until his passing. According to his obituary from the October 1st, 1928 edition of the New York Evening Post, he came to America in 1882 and originally owned an alabaster and marble place on the island of Manhattan over on 14th and Broadway. It mentions that he entertained many Italian notables visiting from overseas. He died from asthma at the age of 72. Interestingly enough, after some rummaging around Fulton History, I discovered that the Bessi hotel lived on in the 1940′s but in another popular resort destination – The Poconos! This ad from 1942 informs us that the full staff of Bessi’s On The Boardwalk, formerly of Staten Island, was ready to take care of you.
Other places you could have stayed if you decided to go on a vacay to good ol’ SB were J. Boeger’s Hoffman Island Hotel, the Eureka Hotel and Chowder Fred’s Famous Chowder House owned by H. Loesch. John Gebhardt’s Hotel was touted as the oldest hotel on South Beach. There was Nunley’s Railroad Hotel and Casino, The Naphtha House, Peerless Hotel and The Victoria to name a few. You could also visit Skinner’s Toboggan Carousal and MME. Elbner, the renowned Egyptian Palmist and Card Reader.
Over the years, South Beach and it’s hotels, amusements and bungalows, along with so many others in NYC, fell victim to fires, floods, urban renewal, neglect, gentrification and the simple fact the things change. But there are plenty of new entertainments at these places, and even though you can’t go to a casino, you also don’t have to wear one of those old-timey bathing costumes.
The history of NY’s beaches is vast and you can find tons of stuff just about the amusement parks alone – South Beach had Happy Land which opened in 1906 and Bachmann’s, probably owned or named after the brewer from Clifton, SI. I won’t tell you about all of them, you’ll have to find them on your own. I can’t do all the work ya know!
Anyway, this is what Sand Lane from Oceanside towards the formerly named Seaside Blvd looks like on an August afternoon in 2011. Even though all of the resort stuff is gone, it’s a nice beach all the same.