Sun, Sand, and Secrets: The Untold Stories of Neponsit Beach Hospital

 

Neponsit Beach Hospital Looking From the Water


While delving into the historical aspects of this place has been extensively covered by reputable news media, I humbly defer to their expertise. To explore its storied history and its significance as a safe haven for LGBTQ+ Riis beachgoers, please refer to the source material linked below.


Neponsit Beach Hospital, also known as Neponsit Beach Hospital for Children, Neponsit Hospital, and  Neponsit Children's Hospital, Neponsit Beach Hospital, once a tuberculosis sanatorium, holds a rich history. Originally dedicated to children's treatment, it later served veterans during World War II. Located in Queens, New York, adjacent to Jacob Riis Park, it transformed into the Neponsit Home for the Aged and later the Neponsit Health Care Center. Discover its fascinating journey in the annals of healthcare, linked to the Belle Harbor district and cherished by the LGBTQ+ community at Riis Beach.


The Past



Beach Hospital Look From The Side From Beach


Comprising three buildings, two of which face the beach, Neponsit Beach Hospital boasts an architectural marvel. The original 1915 structure, designed by McKim, Mead & White, features a four-story red-brick facade with open-aired balconies and enclosed porches. Renovations in 1938 and 1958 enhanced its allure. Adjacent is the nurses' residence, a WPA project completed in 1941 by Dodge & Morrison. The power plant, along with laundry facilities and administrative center, fronts Rockaway Beach Boulevard. While a fourth building, once a parking garage turned office, has vanished, the hospital's seaside location provided patients with sunlight and beach recreation.



Image credit via New York City Municipal Archives


In old photos, they were balconies part of the structure before they were remodeled into closed-off walls. See it here per New York Times and Columbia University Digital Collections (here).


Neponsit Beach Hospital and Nurse Residence Building Courtyard View




The Queer Beach




Oceanside View Inside Building Door
Nurse Residence oceanside views. Just below beachgoers used the fence line as an impromptu urinal.

Roof View on Top Abandoned Tuberculosis Hospital

Brooklyn View From Roof with Smokestack in Foreground
Looking toward Brooklyn with the power plant smokestack in the foreground.


Nestled amidst the prosperous enclave of Neponsit Queens, the abandoned hospital became a striking fixture adjacent to manicured houses, serene tree-lined roads, and the leisurely stroll of beachgoers. Its illustrious history as a former municipal tuberculosis sanatorium, founded in 1915 and later transformed into a nursing home facility until it closed in 1998, cast a long shadow over its surroundings for 34 years. Remarkably, this blighted edifice became a sanctuary of revelry, spirited gatherings, and unabashed expression for the vibrant LGBTQ+ beach community. Affectionately dubbed the "Queer Beach" or "The People's Beach", it symbolized their resilience and camaraderie.



Queer LGBTQ Colors with Eyelashes Graffitied on Main Neponsit Building Central Window





Adjacent View From Roof Looking at Power Plant Building
Power plant building in middle. I was unable to infiltrate this building before and during demolition.


One could witness the celebration of identity through an act of artistic defiance—a rainbow-hued window with delicately painted eyelashes transformed the center of the building into a human face. This poignant artwork served as a beacon for marginalized individuals who sought solace and connection on the sandy shores that stretched before it. Graffiti adorned the outer walls, proclaiming empowering messages of "QUEER TRANS POWER" and urging all to "KNOW YOUR POWER." In this remarkable space, beachgoers embraced freedom, indulging in memorable moments of uninhibited joy, nude sunbathing, and cherished privacy amidst the warmth of the sun.


The hospital's presence, while abandoned and decaying, became a steadfast testament to the resilience and tenacity of a community that found solace and acceptance within its dilapidated shadow. It stood as a symbol of unity, love, and the unyielding spirit of the LGBTQ+ beachgoers who created their own haven amidst a backdrop of privilege and exclusivity.


Sunset View On Top Roof of Rockaway Hospital
In the distance, the Marine Parkway–Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.



Looking Up at Neponsit Power Plant




The Goldfish Basement Dwellers





In a twist of fate, my exploration of the long-abandoned shoreline hospital led me to an astonishing revelation. Unbeknownst to me during my initial visit, extensive research later unveiled the existence of a hidden treasure residing in the subbasement - a school of goldfish. It was a revelation that left me both ecstatic and disheartened, realizing I had overlooked this remarkable discovery.


Through the vast realm of social media and a solitary website, HellGateNYC,  I stumbled upon accounts affirming the presence of these aquatic residents in the subterranean depths. The realization struck me with a profound sense of regret, as I recollected the perilous moment when my fellow explorers almost unknowingly submerged themselves in the subbasement's crystalline waters, mirroring the very steps they were about to take. Curiously, I inquired with my companions if they had noticed any signs of aquatic life, only to find that they had missed the spectacle entirely. Although I had glimpsed the water myself, its impassable and inundated state had deterred me from considering its hidden inhabitants. No life showed itself inside the crystalline waters.







Determined to witness the aquatic marvels without re-entering the building, I made several attempts armed with newfound knowledge. However, my endeavors were consistently thwarted by the presence of active beachgoers, strolling pedestrians, and passing vehicles. The opportune moment to discreetly slip beneath the gates had evaded me, and now, with a heavy heart, I must come to terms with the news that the hospital met its fate, succumbing to partial demolition between March 13th and 18th, 2023.


In a remarkable turn of events, a captivating and informative article published in The New York Times shed light on the fate of the 300 goldfish residing in the subbasement. Driven by a sense of community, friends from the LGBTQ+ spectrum and a compassionate contractor skilled in trapping fish orchestrated a rescue mission, ensuring the safety of these aquatic beings. Swiftly, all the fish were delicately scooped out and entrusted to the caring hands of NY Fish Rescue. While the larger fish found solace in a private pond in Mount Vernon, a sanctuary away from prying eyes, the smaller ones were taken under the wing of an anonymous volunteer. A select few were also welcomed into the tranquil embrace of a Catholic Church pond.



Interior room inside the main 1915 structure.




As the demolition dust settles and the hospital becomes a mere memory, the story of these resilient fish serves as a testament to the indomitable spirit of both human compassion and the vibrant LGBTQ+ community. They not only safeguarded the delicate creatures from an uncertain fate but also symbolize the power of collective action in preserving the beauty and wonder that often goes unnoticed beneath the surface.



Sub-Basement of Decaying Vacant Hospital







Nurses residence hallway




Current status: 

The Nurse's Residence and primary hospital edifice were brought down before the power plant, which was the final building to be razed to the ground. The entire process of dismantling was accomplished by May 26, 2023, just before the onset of the Memorial Day weekend. Consequently, the only remnant left behind was a vast heap of bricks.



May 9, 2023



May 19, 2023




Source:

1. Jane, Talia, "The Mystery of the Fish Living in Riis Beach’s Abandoned Hospital", October 12, 2022, HellGateNYC

2. Jeffrey Furticella, Tanner Curtis and Rebecca Lieberman, "Is this the end of People's Beach?", NYTimes

3."The Riis Beach Goldfish Have Actually Been Rehomed", March 17, 2023, HellGateNYC

4. Nir, Sarah, "When Helpless Fish Need a Hero, She Answers the Call", March 17, 2023, NYTimes

5. Iezzi, Annie, "Queer Riis Beachgoers Celebrate Community as Demolition of Nearby Hospital Looms", August 29, 2022, The City

6. Reuters, "LGBTQ beach sanctum faces demolition in New York", October 13, 2022, NBCNews

7. Yeager, Nicky, "‘The People’s Beach’ is a Queer Landmark That Deserves to Live On", October 7, 2022, The Indypendent

8. Otis, John, "A ‘Time Capsule’ in Photos, Just in Case a Beach Changes", September 18, 2022, NYTimes

9. Columbia University Digital Library Collection, columbia.edu

10. NYC Fish Rescue

11. Honan, Katie & Iezzi, Annie, "Demolition Of Long-Abandoned Medical Center Could Leave Queer Beachgoers Exposed", May 10, 2022, Patch

12. Iezzi, Annie, "LGBTQ Riis Beachgoers Celebrate Community As Demolition Of Nearby Hospital Looms", August 30, 2022, Patch

13. Iezzi, Annie, "Hospital Demolition Plans Worry Queer and Nude Beachgoers", September 15, 2021, Pavement Pieces

14. Reuters, "LGBTQ beach sanctum faces demolition in New York", October 13, 2022, NBCNews


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