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Rockaway Beach and Other Private Resorts

Photo: Daniel Avila

Until the 19th century, the city's Long Island Sound and Atlantic shorelines were pristine, rugged, and hard to get to. But beginning in the 1820s, seaside resorts sprang up, and their development accelerated after the Civil War. In the early part of the 19th century, the first beach enterprises served wealthy patrons, who summered down at the shore, taking the Long Island Rail Road to Rockaway, Coney Island, and Brighton Beach.

Coney Island's resorts opened in the 1820s. In the mid-1870s, the Brooklyn Parks Department oversaw the construction of the Coney Island Concourse, a fashionable carriage drive. The Parks Board of Commissioners saw promise and danger in the Coney Island waterfront, commenting in 1880 that the area had “latent possibilities for becoming one of the most popular seaside resorts in the world [yet] some of the petty speculators minister to depraved tastes and offer cheap allurements of a flashy and questionable character . . .”

As early as the 1830s, the Rockaway Association, a group of wealthy New Yorkers, built exclusive resorts along the beach in Rockaway, Queens.

The community of Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn was created in 1877 by real-estate developer Austin Corbin as a self-contained summer resort situated on 500 acres of former salt marsh. An upper-class clientele stayed at the Oriental and Manhattan Beach hotels, and was treated to concerts led by composer and bandmaster John Philip Sousa (who composed a Manhattan Beach March). The rise of amusement parks brought on the demise of the hotels, and Manhattan Beach was reinvented with residential development that started in 1907.

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