Up to the mid-1800s, the area that is Manhattan Beach was known as Sedge Bank, a farming section of what was later Coney Island and part of the original English town of Gravesend.
Manhattan Beach was the creation of Austin Corbin, a wealthy banker who created entertainment for the rich in the 19th century. Corbin was originally looking for a healthy home for his ill infant son and spotted 500 acres of seaside land for his new dream: a pair of hotels.
The Manhattan Beach hotel hosted 306 rooms next to its higher-priced neighbor the Oriental.
Hundreds of actors, clowns and dancers reenacted episodes of the destruction of Pompeii and the storming of the Bastille among other performances at the Manhattan Beach until new tastes in entertainment and an increased interest in creating a year-round community changed the area’s spirit.
When popular amusement parks opened in Coney Island, the neighborhoods around it were developed as suburbs and both the Manhattan Beach and the Oriental were closed and demolished.
Permanent residential development began in 1980 with large modern homes being built, leaving the world of the entertainment-centered Manhattan Beach in the past.
How Manhattan Beach Got Its Name
Until the mid-1800s, Manhattan Beach was known as Sedge Bank, a farming settlement of what was later Coney Island and originally part of the English town of Gravesend.
Its street names today are derived primarily from England.
When neighboring Coney Island became popular as an amusement site, it was subdivided into Norton’s Point or West End (later Sea Gate), West Brighton, Brighton Beach — and Manhattan Beach. Developers saw the potential of the area. Austin Corbin, a banker, bought 500 acres of swampy seaside land at Sedge Bank, and renamed it Manhattan Beach.
Corbin built two hotels, the Manhattan Beach, dedicated by former President Ulysses S. Grant in 1877 (closed in 1911) and the Oriental, dedicated in 1880 by President Rutherford B. Hayes (and demolished in 1916). He hoped to make the area a vacation spot for the wealthy. Corbin also built the New York and Manhattan Beach Railway in 1876-77 (it no longer exists) and provided ferry service by the East 23rd St. ferry from Manhattan to Brooklyn’s 69th St. ferry slip.
Realtor Joseph Day, who had bought out Corbin in 1908, divided the land north of the old hotels into building lots and it became a residential neighborhood as well as a summer destination.
Residents today get to neighboring Brighton Beach or Sheepshead Bay by a pedestrian path over the Ocean Ave. Bridge, built in 1882. The current version of the bridge was built as part of a WPA project in the 1930s.
The 40-acre Beach Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan Beach, was officially opened in 1955, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean in the south and east, Sheepshead Bay on the north, and Brighton Beach to the west.
Brooklyn-born Norm Goldstein is retired, after working 44 years for the Associated Press, the global news agency, where he served as a reporter, feature writer, editor, author and administrator. He also worked for AP as director of Educational Services and editor of the AP Stylebook.
He graduated from Brooklyn College and the Penn State Graduate School of Journalism.
He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.