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Fun Facts About Ocean Beach

We've not had much beach weather this week, but you can have almost as much fun digging up interesting snippets about Ocean Beach’s history as you can building sandcastles--almost.

1. Crime-fighting lifeguards. The lifeguards who worked at the beach starting in the 1920s were all members of the Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps. They were also “sworn in as special constables” to ensure that no city ordinances were broken at the summer resort.

2. Obvious v. Wrong. The undeveloped area that became  was originally called White Sands Beach. This was obviously because of the beach’s fine “sugar sand.” It’s debatable whether obvious is better than just plain incorrect: Ocean Beach is obviously not on the ocean.

3. Not exactly Work Out World.  In 1892, a year before the city purchased the land for $25,000, the buildings along what would be Ocean Beach’s waterfront consisted of just three cottages.

4. Electric train. Trolleys along Montauk Avenue took beachgoers to and from the Park until 1932, when buses became the preferred mode of public transportation.

5. Heyday at the beach. Early Ocean Beach buildings included bath houses, bungalows with verandahs, a shore dinner hall called Wordell’s Pavilion, and a ballroom called Danceland.

6. Hurricane 1, NL 0. The hurricane of September 21, 1938 devastated New London and mostly swept away Ocean Beach. Photos showing the haphazard destruction (scenes we've become accustomed to thanks to television's constant coverage of natural disasters) are surprisingly riveting. Buildings are tilted at perilous angles or reduced to stacks of boards. Unharmed people standing uncertainly amid the chaos look remarkably sturdy in comparison.

7. Hurricane 0, NL 1. After the storm, the city quickly started planning to rebuild the rubble into the Park we know today with a wide beach and boardwalk. The City Council sought the advice of controversial urban planner Robert Moses (who, irrelevantly, was born in New Haven). The rebuilt park opened on June 30, 1940. More than 12,000 people turned out to cheer the city’s resurgence.

8. New London-6500. Most of the major swing bands played at Ocean Beach throughout the 1940s, including the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1947.

9. Polkabration? Polkabration! The park grew to include amenities such as miniature golf and amusement park rides. At night there were concerts and fireworks. For many years the Park hosted Polkabration, a festival of polka bands from across the United States. (This is one of those New London things which I assume are common knowledge, but I had no idea.)

10. Lies, damned lies, and boardwalks. According to the book Reinventing New London, the boardwalk was often said to be a mile long but is “actually about a third of a mile long.” The Park itself describes its wooden walkway as being one half mile long. Hmm.

This column started out with nine factoids but I figured, seeing as you already have to put up with a boardwalk that’s either one-half or two-thirds of a mile too short, you shouldn’t have to read a list that ends with an odd number.

Tom Santos March 26, 2011 at 01:43 PM
11. They used to have Dodge-em cars, I believe where Work Out World is. It used to be a very active beach, with a lot of rides and amusements for the kids. A true destination venue.
Wayne Vendetto June 03, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Work Out World was part of the bath house. The bumper cars were in the building contiguous with the water slide. What a blast we used to have there.
Ken June 04, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Bumper cars! I had forgotten about those. There are many things in NL that are icons of the 'NL experience'. I suspect Ocean Beach tops that list for most NLers. For me, other icons include: Riverside Park, downtown NL (State and Bank streets including the Parade), Ledgelight lighthouse, NL's public library, NL's public school system and its three college campuses. Every generation has the responsibility to preserve for the next, as best it can, those things that helped define them and their experiences. I am glad Ocean Beach is still there and I hope it continues to be a source of summer fun for all NLers.
Kathleen Mitchell June 04, 2011 at 05:04 PM
How about the paddle boats? Doesn't anyone remember them? I don't think I just made them up and, if by chance, I did then I did a bang-up job of it because they were great fun!

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