Historic Orchard Beach Bathhouse crumbling

Architect Urs Bamert discusses study underway to determine if historic Orchard Beach Bath House can be saved or should be replaced.

The fabled Orchard Beach bathhouse, victim to years of salt water in the air and “benign neglect,” is crumbling.

Now officials are weighing whether to replace it.

The storied Depression-era building that welcomes crowds to Orchard Beach is now being studied to determine if its crumbling facade, as well as its often off-limits 90,000 square foot interior, should be repaired or replaced with a new “green” building, Parks Department officials said.

The department has hired consulting firm Urbahn Architects to study the bathhouse – more commonly referred to as the Orchard Beach Pavilion – to determine if the building that recently celebrated its 75th anniversary has the structural soundness to stay in place.

As part of this process, Urbahn and the Parks Department solicited community input at a Community Board 10 parks committee meeting on June 10, and most recently at the City Island Community Center on Monday.

“The is a very important site to us,” Bronx Parks Commissioner Hector Aponte said at the June 18 meeting. “We hope to come up with some ideas that make it a destination point.”

The goal is to develop a master plan that would include the scope of work to be done on the bathhouse, said Urs Bamert of Urbahn Architects.

“It is beautiful, and what we have heard from the community, everyone loves the structure,” Bamert said. “There are a lot of memories. I think a lot of people can attest to that.”

Bamert said that parts of the building appear to be deteriorating through an Alkali-Silica Reaction – something common to some buildings and railroad bridges built during the same period as the boathouse.

The study has not yet determined if the ASR is effecting the building’s foundation. Deterioration can be hastened by the salt water air. After the foundation is checked through extensive tests, it will be determined if the current structure can be saved, Bamert said.

Many at the meeting were pulling for the historic building to be saved, if possible.

“Every time I walk on the boardwalk and look at the pavilion, the memories come back,” said June 18 attendee Michael Shanley of City Island. “Some of my earliest memories are at Orchard Beach.”

It would be heartbreaking to see the bathhouse torn down, Shanley said.

Shortly after it opened in the 1930s and 1940s, the building was home to a full service restaurant, changing facilities, locker rooms, and other amenities, presenters said.

Until the structural condition of the building is fully studied, it may not be possible to speculate on future uses, said Friends of Pelham Bay Park president Lizbeth Gonzalez.

“It is crucial to have community input to know how the Pavilion can be used as a destination point,” Gonzalez said. “More crucial is to know the condition of the building.”

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