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The Sunny Saga of Jones Beach: Sand, Surf and Robert Moses

The Bowery Boys Podcast’s new mini-series Road Trip to Long Island featuring tales of historic sites outside of New York City. 

In the next leg of our journey, we visit Jones Beach State Park, the popular beach paradise created by Robert Moses on Long Island’s South Shore.

Well before he transformed New York City with expressways and bridges, Robert Moses was an idealistic public servant working for new governor Al Smith.

In 1924 he became president of the Long Island State Parks Commission, tasked with creating new state parks for public enjoyment and the preservation of the region’s natural beauty.

But preserving, in the mind of Moses, often meant radical reinvention. The new Jones Beach State Park featured glamorous bathhouses, proper athletic recreations (no rollercoasters here!), an endless boardwalk and even new sand, anchored to the coast with newly grown beach grass.

Sometimes called ‘the American Riviera’, Jones Beach made Moses’ reputation and became one of the most popular beachfronts on the East Coast. But more than that, Moses and the Jones Beach project transformed the fate of Long Island’s highways (or should we say parkways).

PLUS: Greg and Tom hit the road to give you a tour of Jones Beach up close — from one end of the boardwalk to the other!

AND Those controversial overpass bridges of Southern State Parkway. Did Moses develop them with low overhead clearance to prevent buses (i.e. transportation for low income families) from coming to Jones Beach?

Listen Now: The Sunny Saga of Jones Beach

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

FURTHER LISTENING:

After listening to this show on the history of Jones Beach, check out these shows with similar themes and historical figures:


High Hill Beach 1910. Courtesy the Long Island Herald
Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York, was the luncheon guest of Robert Moses, president of the Long Island Park Commission when he visited on July 26, 1931 in Jones Beach, on his tour of Long Island. (AP Photo)
Jones Beach in 1940. New York State Parks
Rosebud Yellow Robe at Indian Village, 1933
Yellow Robe, photographed in 1927, a few years before getting her Jones Beach job. (Courtesy Denver Public Library)
Postcard of an Indian Village ceremony with the water tower in the background.
Vintage videos of Jones Beach
Images from our day at the beach

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7 replies on “The Sunny Saga of Jones Beach: Sand, Surf and Robert Moses”

I grew up on Long Island (Levittown) and we went to Jones Beach all the time! I remember the Indian Village and in addition to dance performances I remember beading classes. I was one of those kids at the nearby archery range. The targets were indeed facing the ocean/ boardwalk so no stray arrows into the crowd. In fact, the targets were up against huge walls of hay. They provided the bow, arrows, basic instructions and a hard leather “shield” you slipped over the forearm of the hand holding the bow in case the sling (not sure what they call the wire that you pull back on to launch the arrow) snapped hard and hit your arm. Safety first! Thanks for the fun trip and history lesson!

The kids and I love listening to your podcast! Except for leaving for college, I grew up on the South Shore and now live on the North Shore of Long Island. Two things–people live ON Long Island, not IN Long island. It sounded funny to us to live “in” LI. I am not an expert but I always thought it was the Great South Bay that separated Jones Beach and the other barrier beaches from Long Island not “South Oyster Bay” –maybe that’s the official name but I wasn’t aware of it–could you clarify?

They are more-or-less the same body of water, but South Oyster Bay is the body of water just south of Massapequa and Seaford (think of the “Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway” which, if it continued south, would go straight into that bay.) The Great South Bay is, as the name suggests, bigger, and separates Long Island from Fire Island to the East of Jones Beach Island.

Thank you for taking this little old lady in the Missouri Ozarks on this delight trip to Jones Beach. You guys always describe everything in such a colorful and detailed ways. And y’all sound like you are having a blast!

Were any of the projects done by WPA and/or CCC? The photos on the website of bathhouse etc made me think of that type of buildings.

My Uncle, Moe Hornstein, founded Horn Construction Co. located in Merrick, NY. Before it was absorbed into the Halliburton Company, it was the 2nd largest heavy construction company on the eastern seaboard, just behind Perinni.
Horn did a lot of work for Robert Moses–including the building of Jones Beach!
The whole thing!!

Been going to Jones Beach ever since I was a little child growing up in Queens, New York. Jones Beach is not just a place it’s a tradition. A tradition which I pass down to my children just like any traditional real New Yorker would do for their families.

Robert Caro’s book titled, “The Power Broker” is a biography of Robert Moses and may interest listeners/readers.

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