Long Beach is a city in Nassau County, New York. Just south of Long Island, it is located on Long Beach Barrier Island, which is the westernmost of the outer barrier islands off Long Island's South Shore. As of the United States 2010 Census, the city population was 33,275. It was incorporated in 1922, and is nicknamed The City By the Sea (as seen in Latin on its official seal).
The City of Long Beach is surrounded by Reynolds Channel to the north, east and west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south.
The community became an incorporated village in 1913 and a city in 1922.
Long Beach's first inhabitants were the Algonquian-speaking Rockaway Indians, who sold the area to English colonists in 1643. While the barrier island was used by baymen and farmers for fishing and harvesting salt hay, no one lived there year-round for more than two centuries. In 1849 Congress established a lifesaving station. A dozen years before, 62 people died when the barque Mexico, carrying Irish immigrants to New York, ran ashore on New Year's Day.
Austin Corbin, a builder from Brooklyn, was the first to attempt to develop the island as a resort. He formed a partnership with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to finance the New York and Long Beach Railroad Co., which laid track from Lynbrook to Long Beach in 1880. That same year, Corbin opened Long Beach Hotel, a row of 27 cottages along a strip of beach, which he claimed as the world's largest hotel. In its first season, the railroad brought 300,000 visitors to Long Island. By the next spring, tracks had been laid the length of the island, but they were removed in 1894 after repeated washouts from winter storms.
On July 29, 1907, a fire broke out at the Long Beach Hotel and burned it to the ground. Of the 800 guests, eight were injured by jumping from windows, and one woman died. The fire was blamed on defective electric wiring. A church, several cottages and the bathing pavilion were also destroyed. Trunks belonging to the guests, which had been piled on the sand to form "dressing rooms", were looted by thieves. A dozen waiters and others were apprehended by the police, who recovered $20,000 worth of jewelry and other stolen property.
The Riviera of the East
In 1906, William Reynolds, a 39-year-old former state senator and real estate developer, entered the picture. Reynolds had already developed four Brooklyn neighborhoods (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Borough Park, Bensonhurst and South Brownsville) and Coney Island's Dreamland, the world's largest amusement park. Reynolds also owned a theater and produced plays. He gathered investors and acquired the oceanfront from private owners and the rest of the island from the Town of Hempstead in 1907; he planned to build a boardwalk, homes and hotels.
Reynolds had a herd of elephants marched in from Dreamland, ostensibly to help build the boardwalk; he had created an effective publicity stunt. Dredges created a channel wide on the north side of the island to provide access by large steamboats and sea planes to transport more visitors. The new waterway was named Reynolds Channel.
To ensure that Long Beach lived up to his billing it "The Riviera of the East", he required each building to be constructed in an "eclectic Mediterranean style," with white stucco walls and red-clay tile roofs. He built a theater called Castles by the Sea, with the largest dance floor in the world, for dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. He restricted owners and renters to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs). After Reynolds' corporation went bankrupt in 1918, the restrictions were lifted. The new town attracted wealthy businessmen and entertainers from New York and Hollywood.
In the 1940s, Jose Ferrer, Zero Mostel, Mae West, and other famous actors performed at local theaters. Jack Dempsey, Cab Calloway, Humphrey Bogart, Lillian Roth, Rudolph Valentino, Florenz Ziegfeld, James Cagney, Clara Bow, and John Barrymore lived in Long Beach for decades. Other natives include Billy Crystal (his brother Joel Crystal has served as president of the Long Beach City Council)), Joan Jett, Derek Jeter, John Lannan, and "Long Island Lolita" Amy Fisher.
Corruption and scandal
In 1923, the world-famous prohibition agents known simply as Izzy and Moe raided the Nassau Hotel and arrested three men for bootlegging. In 1930, five Long Beach Police officers were charged with offering a bribe to a United States Coast Guard officer to allow liquor to be landed. The police had another problem a year later: a mystery that captivated the nation in the summer of 1931. A beachcomber found the body of a young woman named Starr Faithfull. She had left behind a suicide note, but others believed she had been murdered.
By the early twenties, corruption became rampant in Long Beach. In 1922, the state Legislature designated Long Beach a city and William H. Reynolds was elected the first mayor. Shortly thereafter Reynolds was indicted on charges of misappropriating funds. When he was found guilty, the clock in the tower at city hall was stopped in protest. When a judge released Reynolds from jail later that year on appeal, almost the entire population turned out to greet him, and the clock was turned back on.
In 1939, Mayor Louis F. Edwards was fatally shot by a police officer on the front steps of his home. Officer Alvin Dooley, a member of the police motorcycle squad and the mayor's own security detail, killed the mayor after losing his bid for PBA president to a candidate the mayor supported. Jackson Boulevard was later renamed Edwards Boulevard in honor of the late mayor. After the murder, the city residents passed legislation to adopt a city manager system, which still exists to this day. The city manager is hired by and reports to the City Council.
Urban decay and renewal
By the 1940s and 1950s, with the advent of cheap air travel attracting tourists to more distant places, and air-conditioning to provide year-round comfort, Long Beach had become a primarily bedroom community for commuters to New York City. It still attracted many summer visitors into the 1970s. The rundown boardwalk hotels were used for temporary housing for welfare recipients and the elderly until a scandal around 1970 led to many of the homes' losing licenses. At that time, government agencies were also "warehousing" in such hotels many patients released from larger mental hospitals. They were supposed to be cared for in small-scale community centers.
The boardwalk had a small amusement park at the foot of Edwards Boulevard until the late 1970s. In the late 1960s, the boardwalk and amusement park area were a magnet for youth from around Long Island, until a police crackdown on drug trafficking ended that. While there are few businesses left on the boardwalk, it attracts bicyclists, joggers, walkers and people-watchers.
Beginning in the 1980s and accelerating in the 1990s, Long Beach has begun an urban renewal, with new housing, new businesses and other improvements. Today, the city is again a popular bedroom community, for people working in New York who want the quiet beach atmosphere. With summer come local youths and college students and young adults who rent bungalows on the West End; they frequent the local bars and clubs along West Beech Street.
Just behind the boardwalk near the center of the City, "vacant" lots now occupy several blocks that once housed hotels, bathhouses and the amusement park. Because attempts to attract development (including, at one time, Atlantic City-style casinos) to this potential Superblock have not yet borne fruit, the lots comprise the city's largest portion of unused land.
In 2012, the "iconic" boardwalk was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. With the help of FEMA & Army Corps of Engineers, the boardwalk will be rebuilt to withstand hurricanes and flooding. City Manager Jack Schnirman said they will rebuild Long Beach "better than ever."