Jacob Riis Park Bathhouse – Queens, New York - Atlas Obscura
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Queens, New York

Jacob Riis Park Bathhouse

A former seaside jewel built for the everyman is now simply a neglected art deco fortress. 

Nicknamed the “People’s Beach,” Jacob Riis Park at the southern most edge of Queens was designed as a public beach that might cater to every aspect of New York’s economic landscape, from its rich to its poor. The grand Art Deco bathhouse built on the site was meant to act as a symbol of this democratic shore, but today the structure sits more as a mostly empty eyesore. 

Opening in 1932, the public beach was named in honor of New York social reporter and groundbreaking documentary photographer Jacob Riis. Himself an immigrant (from Denmark), Riis championed the inhabitants of the slums around the infamous Five Points area.

Once easily accessible public transportation was established from the city to the shore, the beach was finally crowned with a magnificent Art Deco bath house, which added a level of opulence to the site that many of the local visitors had not experienced. With two octagonal red brick towers and sweeping curved changing rooms more akin in style to Berlin’s vanished Templehof airport, it was a lavishly tiled and glittering gift to the city’s less well off. 

But time and neglect soon caught up with the bath house, and in the 1990’s ownership was transferred to the federal Gateway National Recreation organization who planned on completely renovating the site. But after $20 million in restoration, funding dried up and the bath house was left abandoned. The windows were boarded up and the bath house started to be covered by sand dunes and weeds. In addition to the ravages of time, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy devastated the area.

Whilst Jones Beach and Coney Island continue to draw huge summer crowds, the Jacob Riis “Peoples Beach” Park is more unknown, and its opulent bath house remains boarded up and forgotten, used mainly as a station for lifeguards. 

Know Before You Go

The 2 train to it's final destination and then the Q35 to it's last stop.