Tale of two beaches: Jones, Coney Island
Robert Moses, master builder and czar of urban/suburban planning in mid-20th century New York, designed Jones Beach State Park as the antithesis to that beach in Brooklyn he often disparaged.
"Moses was not a big fan of Coney Island," understates Joshua Ruff, curator of "Coney Island and Jones Beach: Empires by the Sea," opening Friday at Stony Brook's Long Island Museum.
To Moses, a beach should complement the natural environment, not compete with it. Jones Beach, considered the crown jewel of the Long Island State Park Region, was intended as a wholesome contrast to rowdy Coney Island.
"Carnival barkers and honky-tonk attractions were forbidden at Jones Beach," says Ruff. "Uniformed attendants enforced the rules against things like changing into or out of swimwear in your car." While one aesthetically minded writer denounced Coney Island as "an orgy of dyspepsia," others extolled Jones Beach for its "apparently endless beach." But each shared an apparently endless ocean.
Here's a bit of what "Empires by the Sea" reveals about greater Long Island's most famous beaches.
CONEY ISLAND Known as "the Nickel Empire," it became a summer escape for the masses. The birthplace of the hot dog and roller coaster went from a barren sandy strip to a teeming seaside resort in the decades after a road connecting it to the rest of Brooklyn was constructed in 1829. The exhibit features artifacts from the glory days, including a circa 1910 horse from the Steeplechase ride and a 1950s sign advising people boarding the Cyclone to "keep arms inside."
See what they were wearing at Coney Island from the Gay '90s to 1910. And in darker hues, another display reflects the nocturnal attractions. "You could see lights from the original Luna Park's amusement rides from Manhattan," Ruff says.
Coney Island's decline in the '60s and '70s and subsequent renewal are reflected, too, as is damage caused by superstorm Sandy and the ongoing recovery -- also represented in the Jones Beach half of the exhibit.
JONES BEACH Moses envisioned the beach as a park where visitors would be greeted by the bright colors of flowers instead of neon. Architects designed the bathhouses. Trash receptacles bore a nautical theme. By the mid-'30s -- the park opened in 1929 -- Jones Beach attracted 100,000 visitors a day. The marine theater, once home to Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians, opened on Zach's Bay in 1952. Check out beach fashion from the '50s and '60s -- including early bikinis -- plus a lifeguard chair and a piece of boardwalk ripped out by Sandy. See a video interview with Reggie Jones, 86, who for 64 years was a Jones Beach lifeguard (no relation to its namesake, Thomas Jones).
"Our show tells a parallel story" -- like city mouse/country mouse -- "all Long Islanders can relate to," says Ruff, "a perfect summer topic."
WHEN | WHERE Friday through Dec. 29, Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages, 1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays
ADMISSION $4-$9; 631-751-0066, longislandmuseum.org