Danish-born crusading journalist and photographer Jacob Riis (1849-1914) made his home in Richmond Hill, Queens, beginning in 1886. In 1887, Riis photographed the squalid, inhumane conditions prevalent in New York City’s tenements, and his 1890 book “How The Other Half Lives” has become an influential text to the present day. His cause was taken up by Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, who encouraged legislation that would help ease the burden of NYC’s poorest. Additionally, as one of the most famous proponents of the newly practicable casual photography, he is considered one of the fathers of photography due to his very early adoption of flash in photography.
In 1932, New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses deemed it proper to create a Jones Beach for the hoi polloi, a means for the masses to enjoy a suburban style beach without the screaming barkers and roaring roller coasters of Coney Island. He found such a space on the western end of the Rockaway peninsula, on the former locale of the Rockaway Naval Air Station. The park was named for Jacob Riis.
A bust of Riis was originally placed in a prominent position on the Riis Park boardwalk when the park originally opened. It was stolen in 1964 and never recovered. However, in 2011, students of the Aquinas Honor Society at Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates raised $10,000 for a new bust by Brooklyn artist David Ostro. The bust miraculously survived Hurricane Sandy the next year.