The Mast-Head: Casino’s Gone Missing

The sprawling set of buildings and covered pavilions was part of Carl Fisher’s grand plan to build a sparkling summer resort

   It is difficult to imagine that a building as substantial as the Montauk Bathing Casino, which once stood on the ocean beach, was gone within 30 years of its opening. The sprawling set of buildings and covered pavilions was part of Carl Fisher’s Montauk Beach Development Company’s grand plan to build a sparkling summer resort at the far eastern tip of Long Island.
    I recently stumbled across an advertising brochure the company put out in 1929 among some of The Star’s many old files. It described an elaborate facility with a 150-foot-long saltwater swimming pool, which overlooked a 1,600-foot-long boardwalk — wide enough for two cars to pass. What happened to the boardwalk and if it ever really was built to all of its promised length, I have not been able to discover, but photographs of the casino, or pavilion as it is sometimes described, show it was quite an attraction.
    Shaded cabanas lined the beach on the roughly seven-acre site, which was toward the east end of downtown Montauk. Behind the cabanas, in later photographs in our archives, you can see at least a second swimming pool and a sheltered sandy play area. An awning displays the place’s later name, the Surf Club. In a photograph, probably taken by the late Dave Edwardes, a couple sits pool-side in the afternoon sun, the woman gesturing, making a point perhaps, the man tilting his head as if he is but half-listening.
     In 1967 the site was the subject of an East Hampton Town Hall controversy over whether to allow multiple residences there. In an echo of today’s Montauk disputes, homeowners nearby feared that the development would harm their interests, even though town planners said that allowing the retail zoning to persist could result in more intense use of the parcel, with buildings up to four stories high.
    The final chapter for the Montauk Beach Casino came in August 1969, when it was razed by the Fire Department in a training exercise. It had been partially destroyed by fire the prior spring, and the then Montauk Improvement Corporation’s directors had decided to “make a complete job of it,” The Star reported.