The 115-acre, 1.1-mile-long engineering marvel was created on Long Island Sound by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses during the 1930s. "The Riviera of New York" consists of a 13-section sandy beach, 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.
While the beach’s name recalls the orchards that once graced private estates in the area, the site is in fact the product of a large public works project incorporating landfill and barge-loads of sand. The beach was one of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses’s (1888–1981) most beloved projects.
Moses’s ambitious plan to renovate what was then a largely undeveloped area, called for a parking lot, bathhouse, and, most impressive, 115 new acres of land using over 3 million cubic yards of sanitation landfill to join Rodman’s Neck and Hunter Island. Construction crews added white sand from the Rockaways in Queens and Sandy Hook, New Jersey to the beach at a rate of 4,000 cubic yards a day. A 50-foot-wide promenade was built parallel to the shore and a massive 1,400 foot-long, 250 foot-wide mall led to the 90,000-square-foot bathhouse, which also offered a restaurant and other concessions.
Although the project was not fully complete until 1938, construction crews rushed to finish enough of the beach to open it to the public in 1936. On July 25, 1936, more than 18,000 people attended the opening-day festivities, at which Robert Moses and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia (1882–1947) spoke and which featured fireworks, music from the Police Department Band, and a diving exhibition. A raging success, the so-called “Riviera of New York City” attracted over 50,000 visitors the first weekend it was open. In 1947, the beach was extended 1.1 miles by filling in the shallow water between Hunter and Twin islands, adding even more acreage to the beach.
In the 1970s, the city’s budget crisis led to cutbacks in maintenance and patrolling, and the beach lost some of its luster. By the early 1980s, Parks had removed scores of illegal vendors who occupied a section of the beach, and the beach’s renaissance began. Today, the revival of Orchard Beach is being completed as Capital Projects restores Moses’s original vision.
is available at this beach.