Making the Beach Scene

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THERE ARE TIMES WHEN BEING A NEW YORKER is a little like being a character in a Dickens novel. And with an upturn in the ongoing interactions with numerous city, state, and federal agencies regarding beach restorations post-Hurricane Sandy here in the Rockaways, where I live, the Dickensian factor has been on the rise.

But sometimes the agencies get it right. The new bleacher-style stairs/benches leading to the beach from the surviving Robert Moses-era bathhouses and concession stands were a brilliant addition. Though subsequent phases of the rebuild involved covering them over with sand they were nice while they lasted.

Other well-designed and much welcomed additions to the beachfront are the new prefabricated lifeguard and comfort station modules designed by Garrison Architects and manufactured by Triton Construction. The radical design departure from the usual ground-level concrete-block park house caused quite a controversy, but I’m a fan and hope they’re here to stay.

Built to withstand future storms and floods, they’re raised high on cement pilings set in the sand at rakish angles. It looks as if they simply waded out of the water, walked up the beach, and set up shop one day. And that’s more or less what happened given that they arrived—prêt-à-habiter—by barge.

All the units share the same chassis design. The interiors are meant to be custom finished to suit the station’s function. There are two units at Beach 86th Street near my house—one serves as a first aid station, the other a lifeguard headquarters—so I’d only snooped around on the ground below until a recent visit to the Beach 67th Street bathhouse stations. They are a little intimidating and, from their five hundred-year-flood-level resistance heights, give off a certain air of distant aloofness. But you’re met with a sense of openness as you make your way up the approach ramps to the metal louvered floor-to- ceiling double doors. Up close the feel is light and airy. With skylights, rows of clerestory windows, and a large ocean-facing window panel offering an impressive view, there is plenty of natural light. My only censure is that the windows don’t open, but the double louvered doors on both sides swing open wide to create a luxurious breezeway with plenty of cross-ventilation. Self-sustaining with a photovoltaic renewable energy system, the modules feel like the twenty-first-century love children of a sleek and sexy Airstream and a classic surfer’s Woody. What could be more perfect for making the beach scene?


PAMELA POPESON is a New York-based playwright and a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. She also writes for arts, architecture, and design journals and web-based publications. She lives in Rockaway Beach, Queens.