, Pelham Bay, Bronx, New York, “The Bronx
Riviera”, created by the federal Work Projects Administration
(WPA) from a plan developed in 1934 by NYC Parks Department
architects, landscape architects, and engineers paid by the federal Civil
Works Admininistration (CWA).
It was a
massive project that joined several islands to the mainland and involved
an athletic field,
two boat harbors,
a huge bathhouse with locker rooms and restaurants and shops and
a dance floor,
and the beach itself ,
not to mention cleaning up the water.
The photo above, taken July 29, 2014, shows only a small part of the
beach and half of the bathhouse. Maximize your browser and click on the
Enlarge button to see it full size. See the following
pages for more views taken the same day.
Orchard Beach opened on July 25th, 1936; here is an excerpt from the
NYC Parks Department press release:
Although the entire development, a WPA project, has not been
completed, the facilities to be opened include a crescent-shaped white sand
beach approximately 200 feet wide at high tide, and 2500 feet long facing
the Sound; a beach walk and concrete seawall, which forms the backbone of
the beach; two temporary parking fields that will accommodate 3500 cars and
a section of the two-story bath house having 1568 lockers for men and 540
lockers and 192 dressing rooms for women.
A new four-lane traffic road approximately two miles long, running from
Eastern Boulevard to the bath house, eliminates the former narrow circuitous
route from Eastern Boulevard to City Island. Bus and taxi service will be
in operation from the bath house to the Pelham Bay station of the Lexington
Avenue line of the Interborough Rapid Transit.
When completed, Orchard Beach will compare favorably with Jones Beach.
Over 115 acres of land will have been added to Pelham Bay Park by the
addition of between 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 cubic yards of fill and the new
beach, approximately one mile long, will not occupy any land that was
formerly part of the park.
There will be a brick pavillion with limestone trim and colonnades of
simplified Greek architecture, with lockers and dressing room facilities for
over 5400 persons, a cafeteria, rest rooms and a [doggie?] terrace on the
second floor facing the Sound; a Mall 250 feet wide and 1400 feet long, with
benches and trees along the edges, connecting the bath house with a large
lagoon for small boating. This lake will be provided with a tidal dam to
keep the water a permanent level.
In the Rodman Neck section there will be a parking space for 7000 cars;
athletic fields with nine baseball diamonds, seven football fields,
thirty-two tennis courts, a completely equipped children's play area and a
field house with dressing room, lockers, toilet and shower facilities. A
small boat harbor will be provided. The Split Rock and Pelham Bay golf
Courses and Golf House, about one mile distant from the beach, were opened
The entire development is fitted into a landscape scheme taking full
advantage of the natural rocky hillside and weeded areas.
In December 1938 , Robert Moses commented:
In Pelham Bay Park in The Bronx a new Orchard
Beach has risen from the haphazard ruins of the Pelham Bay Naval Training
Station, famed during the World War. Five million yards of fill topped on
the Sound side by one million yards of clean, white sand, has created this
new development on a site where formerly open water divided Hunter Island
from Rodman's Neck. The mile-long beach and boardwalk, the bathhouse for
6500 patrons and the parking space for 8000 cars have made this area so
popular that the Park Department has, on occasion, been forced to close it
because of the excessive crowds attracted by its facilities.
According to Lehman College historians, “At one point up to 4,000 relief
workers, bused in from the Pelham Bay subway station, were kept employed on
the Orchard Beach facilities during the Great Depression. This was the
largest Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) project in New York City at
the time ... When Orchard Beach opened on July 25, 1936 it was only
one-third completed and there was only a temporary beach and Bathhouse. Most
of the present Bathhouse, its colonnade plus the Promenade and parking lots,
were still under construction. By the following year, the facilities were
completed and the city planned additional expansions.”.
May 2021: Stalled renovation project back on track;
|Renovation Plan 
Once constructed, the magnificent concrete
with its "towering columns, sweeping terraces, and a unique
crescent shape" was allowed to deteriorate to the point where it was covered with black mold
and was closed for public
safety. Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr.
announced in January
2019 that after a five-year campaign he was able to secure
in funding to restore it to its former glory. The
Parks Department has contracted with the NYC Economic Development
Corporation to "spruce up" the pavilion, upgrade the electrical system, and
build new restrooms, an elevator, and ramps. The concession stands and
restaurant will be reopened and there will be performance spaces, gardens,
food trucks, and seasonal markets, and bus service will be available
year-round. "Díaz [who grew up splashing around on the shore of the
waterfront with his brothers] hopes the completed structure will include
space that highlights the history of the pavilion and the beach itself,
which is the city's only man-made stretch of sand. The city's Landmarks
Preservation Commission recognized the pavilion and the promenade as a
landmark in 2006, touting its Modern Classical design."
Nowhere in any of the publicity or announcements is the New Deal
mentioned. However, it is worth noting that this massive project, that
will create thousands of temporary jobs and hundreds of permanent ones once
the renovation is complete, is a direct result of the the original creation
in 1934-1937 of Orchard Beach and its pavilion and other facilities by the
Progress Administration and
Works Administration New Deal agencies, as described in these pages,
and an excellent example of how public investment grows the economy for
ordinary working people and improves their lives at the same time —
both then and now.
Architectural renderings of Orchard Beach Pavilion renovations -
click images to enlarge.
- NYC Parks Dept press release,
May 15, 1934
- NYC Parks Dept press release,
October 29, 1934
- Documents dated
May 22, 1935,
June 1, 1935,
Department archive for 1935.
- NYC Parks Dept press release,
July 23, 1936.
- Robert Moses,
"Progress in the Park Department:
1934-1938", December 1938.
College Art Gallery: Orchard Beach.
- Caro, Robert A.,
The Power Broker, Vintage Books (1975), p.366.
- Spivak, Caroline,
Beach reno will make it 'best beach in the state,' says Bronx
BP", Curbed New York, 9 January 2019.
Beach Bathhouse and Promenade, Landmarks Preservation Commission,
June 20, 2006, Designation List 377 LP-2197: "The Orchard Beach
Bathhouse and Promenade, which since 1936 has served as the major
waterfront recreation complex for Bronx residents, is an outstanding
example of the federally-funded public works projects executed during
the Great Depression of the 1930s ... Orchard Beach was constructed in
1934-37 during the administration of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Park
Department Commissioner Robert Moses with funds obtained largely from
the Works Progress Administration."
Construction Will Start Soon On $75 Million Renovation Of Bronx's Historic
Orchard Beach Pavilion, CBS TV News New York, 19 May 2021: "Bronx Borough
President Ruben Diaz Jr. has been trying to restore this piece of area
history, which was built in the 1930s, but it took years to raise the $75
million needed. 'It's not just about allocating money. It's not just about
planning, but doing it with a long-term purpose so that we can have a
year-round economic destination point,' Diaz said. The city's Parks
Department and Economic Development Corporation are partnering on the
project. 'We were paused a bit due to COVID, but with COVID in the rearview
mirror, we are restarting design and advancing the project,' Economic
Development Corporation President and CEO Rachel Loeb said." The TV news
segment said every effort will be made to preserve the original 1930s
design, but some ramps will be added. And that work will commence in
Spring 2022 and take about two years. Díaz said the result will be a
year-round destination with shops, restaurants, entertainment.
(And plenty of parking!)