Panoramic view of Orchard Beach, facing from the bathhouse pavilion
|Location||The Bronx, New York|
|Length||1.1 miles (1.8 km)|
|Area||115-acre (47 ha)|
|Patrolled by||New York City Department of Parks and Recreation|
Orchard Beach is a public beach in the Bronx, New York City. The beach is part of Pelham Bay Park and is situated on the western end of Long Island Sound. Sometimes called the Bronx Riviera, Orchard Beach is the only public beach in the Bronx.
The 115-acre (47 ha), 1.1-mile-long (1.8 km) beach consists of a 13-section sandy shorefront, a hexagonal-block promenade, a central pavilion with food stores and specialty shops, two playgrounds, two picnic areas, a large parking lot, and 26 courts for basketball, volleyball, and handball. It is operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Orchard Beach was built as part of Pelham Bay Park and was originally located on the eastern shore of Rodman's Neck peninsula. In the 1930s, New York City parks commissioner Robert Moses announced a project to expand Orchard Beach northward by connecting several islands in Pelham Bay Park via landfill. The expanded beach was dedicated in 1936 and opened in 1937, along with its pavilion and concession stands. Renovations to the beachfront were made in subsequent years. Sand was restored to the beach in 1964 and again in 1995.
The New York City government acquired the land for Pelham Bay Park in 1887, and the park was officially established in 1888. In spring 1902, in order to accommodate vacationers, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation removed two former houses in Pelham Bay Park and used the remaining wood to build free bathhouses, which were used by about 700 bathers per day during that summer.:116 (PDF p.85) Around 1903, the nearby Hunter Island became a popular summer vacation destination. Due to overcrowding on Hunter Island, NYC Parks opened a campsite two years later at Rodman's Neck southwest of the island, with 100 bathhouses. At the time, Orchard Beach was a tiny recreational area on the northeast tip of Rodman's Neck. Orchard Beach was extended by 400 feet (120 m) that year, doubling capacity; it also gained a new "comfort station". By 1912, Orchard Beach saw an average of 2,000 visitors on summer weekdays and 5,000 visitors on summer weekends.
Robert Moses expansion
The current Orchard Beach recreational area was created through the efforts of Robert Moses in 1934, and was built along with the Split Rock golf course. Fiorello La Guardia had become the mayor of New York City and named Moses as the city's Parks Commissioner. Immediately after his position was announced, Moses ordered engineers to inventory every park in the city to see what needed renovating. He devised plans for a new Orchard Beach recreation area after he saw the popularity of the Hunter Island campsite. At the time, the beach was a narrow sand bar connecting Hunter Island and Rodman's Neck. There was a retaining wall behind the sand bar, and breakwaters allowed water from the Long Island Sound to pass through the sand bar. The retaining wall frequently flooded at high tide, which made the sand bar effectively unusable most of the time. There were approximately 600 families using the bungalows near the sand bar, as well as 30-foot-high (9.1 m) bathhouses made of granite pavers.
On February 28, 1934, Moses announced a plan for an upgraded beach at Pelham Bay, which had been inspired by the design of Jones Beach on Long Island. The beach would be reconstructed through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under the 1930s New Deal program, along with another project to construct the nearby Pelham Bay Golf Course. Moses canceled 625 camping leases in March 1934 so the beach could be built on the land. Most of the campers were connected to the Tammany Hall political structure that had ruled the city at one point. Campers protested to the mayor, but to no avail. Campers subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city, which concerned Moses's right to cancel the leases. The courts ruled in favor of the city in May 1934, and the site was cleared of campers in June.
The beach was designed by Gilmore David Clarke and Aymar Embury II. To make the beach longer and more perfectly crescent-shaped, Moses decided that Hunter Island and the Twin Islands be connected to Rodman's Neck by filling in most of LeRoy's Bay, located west of Hunter Island. The deteriorated Hunter Mansion was demolished with the construction of the beach. Embury also designed a bathhouse pavilion for Orchard Beach.
The beach project involved filling in approximately 110 acres (45 ha) of LeRoy's and Pelham Bays with landfill, followed by a total of 4,000,000 cubic yards (3,100,000 m3) of sand brought by barge from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. Moses had originally wanted to use sand for the new land, but thought that waste from the New York City Department of Sanitation would be cheaper to use, so the material of choice was switched to landfill. Work on placing the fill began in early 1935, but officials opposed the use of garbage to fill in the land. The landfill was placed among Rodman's Neck, the Twin Islands, and Hunter Island. After the garbage began washing onto the beach through the as-yet-incomplete seawall, work on the filling operation was halted. The board allocated $500,000 (equivalent to $9,300,000 in 2019) for 1,700,000 cubic yards (1,300,000 m3) of sand, and the rest of the land reclamation project was done using sand from Sandy Hook and the Rockaways. The sand-filling operations officially began in April 1936. Two seawalls were built: one made of boulders on the east side of the fill facing Pelham Bay, and a smaller wall on the west side facing LeRoy's Bay, now a lagoon. The fill was then landscaped with flowers, shrubs, and various genera of trees, while the naturally planted chestnut, oak, hickory, black locust, and black cherry trees on either side of the fill were kept as is.
The beach was dedicated in July 1936 despite only being partially complete. The dedication attracted an estimated 18,000 beach-goers. Orchard Beach was set to open along with the upgraded Jacob Riis Park in Queens on June 19, 1937, but the openings were pushed back due to unfinished work. Both beaches were opened on June 25, 1937, and the bathhouse pavilion at Pelham Bay Park also opened that year. Orchard Beach was completed in 1938. Later that year, the bathhouse and beach were damaged by a hurricane. Sewage from nearby City Island also seeped onto the beach, and Moses was threatening to close the beach until the city agreed to build a new sewage pipe for the island.
In 1939, one year after the beach was completed, there were plans to expand the beach. The southern locker room was the first to be renovated, with a 150-foot (46 m) extension in 1939. Work was halted from 1941 to 1945 due to World War II. The water between Hunter and Twin Islands was filled in during 1946 and 1947, with new jetties at each end of the beach. The promenade was extended over the fill, gaining its current hexagonal tiles as well as refurbished concession buildings. The extension, opened in May 1947, consisted of 7 acres (2.8 ha) of new land and 5 acres (2.0 ha) of restored beach. Further improvements were made to the bathhouse pavilion in 1952 and to the northern jetty in 1955. A new concession stand was added north of the pavilion in 1962. The beach was renovated starting in 1964.
A proposal for a 3,300-seat outdoor theater at Pelham Bay Park, replacing Orchard Beach's northern locker facility, was canceled in 1974 due to community opposition. In 1980, NYC Parks proposed a renovation of the beach for its 50th anniversary. By then, the beach had become so rundown that there was garbage covering much of the sand, and there were prostitutes and gamblers along the promenade. The $1 million renovation of the pavilions (equivalent to $2,332,000 in 2019) was completed by 1986. After the renovation, the pavilions contained some shops and fast food, with a nature center and museum planned for the buildings. In 1985, parts of Orchard Beach, as well as three other city beaches and Central Park's Sheep Meadow, were designated as "quiet zones" where loud radio-playing was prohibited.
A second renovation of Orchard Beach started in 1995, with a new sand-filling project to replace the sand that had been lost since the last such project in 1964. A proposal for a water park at Orchard Beach was revealed as part of a plan to bring visitors back to the beach. That proposal was effectively canceled in 1999 due to large opposition from City Island residents. A few years later, as part of the city's ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics, several facilities in Pelham Bay Park were proposed for upgrades. The city had planned to renovate the beach's pavilion at a cost of $23 million, with the south wing being used for fencing and the north wing for swimming and water polo.
In 2010, construction began on extending the jetty at Orchard Beach. Approximately 250,000 to 268,000 cubic yards (191,000 to 205,000 m3) of sand were pumped onto the beach to replace sand lost over the years. The jetty project cost $13 million, with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) paying $7 million and NYC Parks paying $6 million. Proposals to renovate Orchard Beach's bathhouse pavilions surfaced in the late 2010s, and some funding was provided starting in 2016; up to $75 million had been raised by early 2019. In mid-2020, a drive-in movie theater was set up at Orchard Beach's parking lot.
The beach is located in the eastern section of Pelham Bay Park. It is the Bronx's only public beach. An icon of the Bronx, Orchard Beach is sometimes called the Bronx Riviera or Hood Beach. The 1.1-mile-long (1.8 km), 115-acre (47 ha) beach faces the Long Island Sound and is laid out in a crescent shape with a width of 200 feet (61 m) during high tide.
Orchard Beach contains a 1,400-foot-long (430 m), 250-foot-wide (76 m) center mall connecting the bathhouses and boating lagoon. At the time of opening, there were also nine baseball diamonds, seven football fields, 32 tennis courts, a children's playground, and a field house. Nowadays, the beach contains the Orchard Beach Nature Center, as well as two playgrounds, some basketball courts, some handball courts, and three tennis courts. When the beach opened it contained a pavilion with two bathhouses, a cafeteria, a small-boat lagoon, a 5,400-person locker and dressing facility, and two parking lots with a collective 8,000 spots. The beach could host up to 100,000 bathers simultaneously as well as 7,000 people in the bathhouses. The bathhouse contained an upper terrace, which contained small plants and a large fountain that was removed in 1941, as well as a lower terrace with trees and a dance floor and bandstand that were later removed.
For its entire length, the beach is also fronted by a 50-foot-wide (15 m) promenade with hexagonal gray tiles. Four brick utility buildings were built along the promenade: two to the north of the bathhouse pavilion, and two to the south. At the north end of the promenade is a fence that separates the promenade's end from a rock shelf. The shoreline then curves north, following the old boundary of the former Twin Islands.
Both pavilions were landmarked by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2006. The deteriorating 170,000-square-foot (16,000 m2) eastern bathhouse pavilion, which had been neglected since the 1970s, was closed in 2007 and fenced off in 2009. The similarly sized west bathhouse started undergoing $7 million in repairs. In 2016, the pavilion received $10 million in initial funding toward a future renovation. The next year, $50 million had been procured to fund the full renovation of the pavilion, and by January 2019, there was $75 million available for the renovation.
South of the beach is a 25-acre (10 ha) meadow that hosts the only known population of the moth species Amphipoea erepta ryensis. Another population formerly existed in Rye, Westchester County.
MTA Regional Bus Operations's Bx5 bus served Orchard Beach during the summertime only from 1984 until Labor Day 2015, and the Bx12 and Bx12 SBS services serve Orchard Beach during summer weekends.
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