March 2019 marks Forgotten New York’s 20th anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, I’ve re-scanned about 150 key images from the early days of FNY from 35MM prints. In the early days, when people including me were accessing FNY with dial-up modems, I had to save photos really small — in some cases, just 4″ across. I couldn’t find all those early photos — I think I foolishly discarded some along the way — but all month, and into the spring, I’ll be picking out some and showing the newly scanned versions.
Sometime in 1998 or 1999, I was crazed from the abominable heat, stumbling down the Coney Island boardwalk, when I noticed some smashed-up bits of wood suggestive of former buildings that had long been abandoned, all arranged on an alleyway between West 32nd and 33rd Streets. They alley was unmarked but was lit by a single standard-issue Department of Transportation lamp on a telephone pole. I suspected that I was looking at an ancient discovery.
That sent me scurrying to the handy online version of the 1929 Belcher Hyde Brooklyn atlas, which revealed the alleyway as Sea Place and the wood houses part of the Lincoln Baths complex.
In the Coney Island history website Amusing the Zillion, Coney-area historian Charles Denson, who grew up in Coney Island in the 1950s and 1960s, revealed that the Lincoln Baths were built around 1900 and were part of a “Presidential series” of Coney Island bathhouses along with the Jefferson, Roosevelt and Washington Baths. Thus you could say that Coney Island had a Mount Rushmore of bathhouses!
“The bathhouses were where people rented lockers and changed from street clothes to swim suits. You could also rent swimsuits and beach chairs and umbrellas,” writes Denson. “They were very social places and generations of families and friends from the same neighborhoods patronized the same bathhouses for years until the last one (Brighton Beach Baths) was demolished in the early 1990s.” [Amusing the Zillion]
A pair of shots from the NYC Municipal Archives reveal what the bathhouses and buildings along Sea Place looked like in the 1940s.
The remnants of Sea Place in 1999.
March 2019. There are still traces of Lincoln Baths to be found here…some stone foundations, and a couple pieces of wood. In the summer this would be an impenetrable weedy lot as suggested by the above photo of Sea Place. According to Denson, the Lincoln Baths houses were abandoned in 1982 and have slowly broken down since.
From 2010-2011 part of the old Lincoln Baths parcel was developed as Coney Island’s first beachfront condominiums were constructed. For a cool $650,000-$1M you can live by the water. Time will tell how successful these dwellings will become. In the above photo, Sea Place has been retained as a driveway, but few if any residents recall it under that name or as the former location of the Lincoln Baths.