Happy 50th, Atlantic Beach

A summer community became a village


Cy Gruber’s family came to Atlantic Beach in 1932, when he was a youngster. They had a summer home on Fulton Street, and Gruber remembers the smell of the ocean air, which they didn’t enjoy at their apartment in the Bronx.

“I remember the camp days,” he said, referring to Camp Eaglette, which took campers from Atlantic Beach over the original Atlantic Beach Bridge to the Rockaways. “They would take 10 to 12 kids in the old trucks over the rickety wooden bridge.”

When he was older, Gruber was a beach lifeguard, and recalls how the “riptides would sweep along the beaches” before the stone jetties were built along the shoreline. “Everything was close by once you were over the bridge,” he said.

That proximity to people and places is what makes Atlantic Beach unique, said Gruber, who, after living in Lawrence for more than 40 years, moved to Atlantic Beach a dozen years ago.

Now, the place Gruber calls a “hidden jewel” is celebrating its 50th anniversary as an incorporated village. An Anniversary Eve dinner is scheduled for June 20 at the Sunny Atlantic Beach Club. The following day, the anniversary of the incorporation date, there will be afternoon and evening activities marking the occasion, including live music, carnival games, rides, a vintage car show, arts and crafts for children, and exhibits and demonstrations by community groups.

More than 80 years ago, people began populating Atlantic Beach, either as year-round residents or summertime visitors. In 1962, residents won their fight to establish a village. Twenty-five years later, a marine recreation district was created to preserve the beaches. The 1-square-mile village, whose Catalina Beach Club was used for scenes in the movie “Goodfellas” and the television show “Royal Pains,” has a permanent population of 1,891, according to the 2010 census.

Susan Lager Jaffe chaired the Anniversary Committee that began planning the celebration about a year ago. Jaffe has a unique perspective: Her father, Fred Lager, was one of several members of the Atlantic Beach Property Owners Association, which helped resurrect the village incorporation campaign in 1957, a decade after an attempt to incorporate had failed due to resident opposition and legal issues. Lager eventually served as the village’s first mayor, from 1962 to 1988.

“My dad lived through it, and I had a lot of the history and documentation from my dad’s papers,” said Jaffe, who, along with other committee members, collected the history of the community and produced a DVD.

ABPOA members revived the effort to incorporate when there was a possibility that the beaches would be opened to the public. Originally deeded to the property owners, the beaches were eventually put under the jurisdiction of the Town of Hempstead Park District. After a five-year battle, the Village of Atlantic Beach was incorporated after a public referendum.

“Celebrating the incorporation of the village means a lot,” said lifelong resident Carl Baessler, whose grandfather, Otto Baessler, was one of the first people to buy property in the community, in 1927. Eleven years later the family had a house built. “We were in charge of our own destiny — budget, contracts and beaches,” Baessler added.

Decades later, in 1986, concern about the beaches was a rallying point for residents when four beach clubs were purchased and there were rumors that condominiums would be built. The village board passed a resolution to create a marine recreational district throughout the shore strip that preserved the beaches by prohibiting the construction of houses. The measure received strong support from the Five Towns and neighboring communities, an enthusiastic endorsement from the Nassau Herald and the unanimous approval of the Hempstead Town Board. The protective zoning went into effect in 1987.

“It’s been the most rewarding experience I could possibly imagine, a trip down memory lane,” Jaffe said of going through the many boxes of her father’s paperwork. “How dedicated these people and my dad were. How much time it took to have this type of passion. It’s amazing.”

Atlantic Beach was the first village in New York to be incorporated after the state allowed counties to amend their charters in 1938 to prohibit newly incorporated villages from having zoning powers. In 1986, Mayor Lager agreed to end a campaign to obtain zoning powers in exchange for the establishment of the marine recreational district.

But current Mayor Stephen Mahler led a successful fight more than a decade ago to gain zoning jurisdiction for the village. Anticipating the need for countywide support, he enlisted the assistance of village mayors throughout Nassau. “We won that countywide referendum 52-28,” Mahler said of the 2002 vote.

For Gruber, Atlantic Beach remains a unique community. “The fact that it’s small and everyone keeps their homes so clean,” he said, “it is quite a little community.”