Just months before the Wall Street crash that ignited the Great Depression, New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt and other dignitaries traveled out to Long Island to preside at the opening of Jones Beach State Park.
That was Aug. 4, 1929, and since then an estimated 500 million people have visited the 61/2-mile oceanfront, enjoying the 2,413 acres of sand, surf and so much more.
"I've traveled all over the world, and it's still one of the prettiest beaches that I've been on," said Howard Ruderman, seated on a boardwalk bench on a recent sunny afternoon.
Although the 75th anniversary of Jones Beach, 33 miles east of Manhattan, was formally celebrated last week, the party has been going on all summer. The U.S. Air Force Blue Angels headlined an air show during the Memorial Day weekend. A giant fireworks display was held on the Fourth of July, and other events are planned through Labor Day.
"It is definitely exactly the way Robert Moses envisioned it would be," said George Gorman, the director of operations for New York state parks on Long Island. He said that Moses, the legendary builder behind nearly every major public works project in New York in the 20th century, considered Jones Beach "his crown jewel."
Its two-mile boardwalk was designed to resemble the deck of a cruise ship, and its railing simulates what it might be like to look out on the ocean from a seafaring vessel. There are swimming pools, basketball courts, paddle tennis, shuffleboard, pitch-and-putt and miniature golf, softball fields, volleyball courts, bathhouses, boat basins, playgrounds and picnic areas.
One of the most distinctive landmarks is the 231-foot-high water tower, modeled after the Campanile, the brick bell tower that overlooks the Piazza San Marco in Venice. The decorative tower holds 315,000 gallons of fresh water used to run the sinks and flush the toilets throughout the massive beach.
"To me, it's the scale of it," said park director Susan Guliani, who has worked at the beach since the 1970s. "I travel to beaches all over, and I have found nothing that is this big and this developed and natural."
Gorman, who was hired in 1977, added: "The sand seems to be whiter here and cleaner and easier on your feet. The water seems to be getting bluer and cleaner. It's an everyperson's resort."
He said that when annual attendance hit nearly 8 million visitors in the 1960s and '70s, there were traffic headaches, but the numbers dropped in recent years to about 6 million. Gorman insisted that even on busy weekends, traffic is no longer a great concern.
Save for some concession stands and a souvenir shop, there are no hotels, motels, bars, restaurants or other commercial entities on the property.
Bill Erny said he started visiting Jones Beach as a boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s. Although he had the option of visiting nearby Coney Island, Erny said he enjoys the cleanliness and pristine atmosphere of Jones Beach.
"It was a place where you could find, I guess you could say, the fresh air," he said.
Nights can be fun, too.
For decades, thousands have trekked to the Jones Beach Theater. In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the Guy Lombardo Orchestra serenaded patrons attending such Broadway musicals as "Damn Yankees" and "Finian's Rainbow," at what was then an 8,000-seat amphitheater.
Lombardo, who presided at televised New Year's Eve parties long before Dick Clark arrived on the scene, would delight fans by arriving at showtime in a motorboat from his nearby home in Freeport.
The theater has been expanded several times and now holds about 15,000. The Broadway shows are gone, replaced in the last two decades by a lineup of 30 to 40 concerts featuring an eclectic mix from the Allman Brothers Band and Aerosmith to Josh Groban and Britney Spears.
"We always considered Jones Beach the gem of the state park system," said Joe Scalise, a lifeguard for 43 years. "It is the Disneyland or Disney World of state parks. The sand is white, the water is clean, and in the summertime, it's the place to be."