The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Boardwalk and Beach have long provided New Yorkers a refuge from the congestion and confinement of city life. Colonized in 1661 by a small Dutch community, the coastal neighborhoods of Middle and South Beach changed little until the l880s. Around that time, local investors recognized the potential of teeming beaches filled with New Yorkers trying to escape the city’s summer heat. With the addition of hotels, bathing pavilions, theaters, beer gardens, shooting galleries, carousels and ferris wheels, the beachfront area became a resort almost overnight.
Soon the casinos and the Happyland Amusement Park took advantage of the summer seasonal closing of most Broadway theaters by staging their own theatrical productions and vaudeville shows. By 1890, ferries, trains and trolleys filled to capacity with vacationers and day-trippers trying to reach Staten Island’s beaches. In the 1920s, the number of Staten Island visitors could run upwards of 40,000 per day. Eventually several destructive fires, increasing local water pollution and the Great Depression (1929-1939) took their toll on the beachfront resort area and the crowds began to disappear rapidly.
In 1935, the City acquired this beachfront property and soon began renovations as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (1882-1945) Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.). While providing jobs for Depression-era workers, the project also revived the community of South Beach. Workers removed the deteriorating music halls, carousels, and shooting galleries and laid down the present two and a half-mile long boardwalk. In 1939, the boardwalk was dedicated to the former New York governor and president; and it has since continued to undergo periodic renovations and neighborhood improvements. Children can now enjoy playgrounds, baseball fields, and handball and shuffleboard courts maintained by Parks. Visitors can also enjoy bocce courts, checker-tables, a skateboard park, a roller hockey rink and a long pier for year-round fishing.