The historic Jacob Riis Park Bathhouse is finding renewed life decades after it was built to welcome crowds to the People’s Beach.
The weathered art deco structure, battered by superstorm Sandy in 2012, has been renovated and now boasts an eclectic array of food and music as well as an arcade with video games and pool tables as the Riis Park Beach Bazaar.
And for the first time, people can use its spacious courtyard to camp out in style.
“When I moved to the city, I started surfing out here and I realized the beginning and the end of the day are like magic moments out here,” said Kent Johnson, an architect and founder of Camp Rockaway, which rents out tents in the courtyard. “I wanted to figure out ways to spend more time here and get more of those golden hours.”
Johnson said he was also inspired by old postcards of tent cities that cropped up along the Rockaway shoreline in the early 1900s. After years of planning, he launched Camp Rockaway last year at nearby Fort Tilden.
Like other so-called “glamping” sites, Camp Rockaway offers an outdoor experience with some luxuries you don’t expect while sleeping under the stars.
The 10-foot-by-12-foot canvas tents are mounted on raised wooden platforms. Inside is a queen-sized bed with fresh linens, towels, a locked box for valuables, two solar-powered fans and an overhead light. A small outside deck features two canvas lounge chairs.
Hammocks are available for the ultimate beach lounging experience, while another area of the campsite offers games and books to borrow along with unlimited coffee in the morning hours. A fire pit is ready to roast s’mores and a solar-powered battery is available to keep electronic devices boosted.
Rates are $195 a night Sunday through Thursday and $249 a night for Friday and Saturday.
The main attraction, the sand and the roaring Atlantic, is just a quick stroll away while the landmarked bathhouse, completed in 1933, cuts an impressive figure on the shore,
“For me as an architect, working at this building is amazing,” said Johnson, who lives in Forest Hills. “I get to just soak this up every day and the whole notion of this being the People’s Beach.”
Former city Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who oversaw the massive expansion of city and state beaches during his controversial career, designed Riis in the image of Jones Beach on Long Island as a getaway for the working people of the five boroughs. It was named for crusading journalist and social reformer Jacob Riis, who documented the lives of the poorest New Yorkers.
Riis Park, originally a city park, became part of the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area in 1972. It is well-known as a popular gathering spot for the LGBTQ community, especially the western portion of the sprawling beach.
At one point, the Bathhouse had thousands of lockers, restaurants and other facilities, including a Howard Johnson’s eatery, according to Daphne Yun of the National Park Service.
“The Bathhouse did not have any food or beverage services between Hurricane Sandy and this summer,” she said.
Earlier this year, the National Park Service signed an agreement with Brooklyn Bazaar to use the Bathhouse. The company has brought food trucks and live entertainment to Riis Park since 2015, setting up in parking lots and areas adjacent to the building.
“We knew how much potential Riis had and we’ve been trying ever since to bring it back to its heyday,” said Aaron Broudo, co-founder of Brooklyn Bazaar. “Getting the Bathhouse going as a pop-up this season has been a dream come true. The Art Deco building is iconic and the true entry point to Riis . . . we are honored for the opportunity to be the first ones to occupy the entire first floor in decades.”
Camp Rockaway has an agreement with Brooklyn Bazaar to operate 12 tents in the Bathhouse courtyard. So far, more than 300 people have camped at the site since it opened on July 4. Camp Rockaway runs through Oct. 31.
“I love the beach,” said Kate Neuman, an actor and writer from Manhattan, as she sat outside her tent on a recent Friday evening. “I’m looking forward to sleeping on the beach, waking up in the morning and being able to go right out there.”
Xiomara Luna of the Bronx learned about Camp Rockaway through Instagram and convinced Jadi Tention to give it a try.
“This is totally different than anything I would normally do,” said Tention. “It’s good for me to come out of my comfort zone.”