A massive overhaul of the deteriorating Orchard Beach pavilion is breathing new life into the Bronx Riviera.
The city seeks to transform the 200,000-square foot pavilion built in the 1930s as part of then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses’s vision to revitalize the area. But the once-grand building with towering columns, sweeping terraces, and a unique crescent shape fell into disrepair.
Now, portions of the landmark are closed to the public amid safety concerns, but an ambitious, multimillion dollar project aims to revamp the building into a year-round destination for New Yorkers. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has spearheaded the efforts to revitalize the architectural gem, amassing a combined $60 million from his office’s coffers and allocations from Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the City Council and the state Assembly.
“Ultimately, what we want is for Orchard Beach to be revitalized and be its majestic self all over again,” says Diaz, who grew up splashing around on the shore of the waterfront with his brothers.
The NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is spearheading the project design and construction for the Parks Department, with project funds going toward sprucing up the pavilion, upgrading the electrical system, and building new facilities (restrooms, an elevator, and ramps) for easy access to the shore from the promenade.
“We’re excited to work with NYC Parks to revitalize the historic Orchard Beach Pavilion. We look forward to delivering this important project for the Bronx community,” says Shavone Williams, a NYCEDC spokesperson.
Diaz envisions the pavilion packed with shops and eateries that would showcase local business owners, while the adjacent South Yard could include a garden that serves as a venue of sorts, housing Latin jazz concerts, comedy shows and even weddings.
“We want this to be a year-round destination,” says Diaz. “Can you imagine being able to go to a restaurant there in February and seeing the beach covered in snow? That would be something.”
On December 4, the Parks Department hosted the first of a series of meetings to gather community feedback on the project. Locals raised a variety of suggestions, including beefing up off-season programming at the beach, extending the seasonal Bx12 Orchard Beach bus past September, and bringing in food trucks, a beer garden, or seasonal markets to the South Yard. Using the project to showcase the community’s diversity and history is also a priority for locals, says the district manager of Bronx Community Board 10, which includes Orchard Beach.
“The Bronx is all about diversity and the community wants to highlight that here with local retailers and restaurants,” said Matthew Cruz, who also spent summers there as a kid. “Orchard Beach is finding its groove again.”
Cruz hopes the completed structure will include space that highlights the history of the pavilion and the beach itself, which is the city’s only man-made stretch of sand. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission recognized the pavilion and the promenade as a landmark in 2006, touting its Modern Classical design.
“This is an educational moment,” says Cruz. “This gives us a chance for young people to learn more about the pavilion and to see it how it was way back when.”
The first leg of the reconstruction includes the pavilion and the South Yard, but Diaz—who has made it his “mission” to secure funds for the project over the last five years—says he continues to “knock on the doors of all of my friends up at Albany” for money to continue the beach overhaul with hopes to upgrade the boardwalk, the beach’s shower infrastructure and to revamp the neighboring North Yard.
“This is a hidden jewel that has been neglected for far too long,” says Diaz.
NYCEDC’s design team is in the midst of surveying the area to develop a concept design, according to Williams. Shovels are expected to hit the ground by mid-2020. The pavilion is anticipated to be complete by 2022, and fully up and running in a matter of months after that, the Bronx Borough President’s office told Curbed.