overview

Orchard Beach, located in Pelham Bay Park and sometimes referred to as “the Bronx Riviera,” has long been a meeting and cruising location for LGBT people of color, in particular.

The park has also hosted a number of LGBT-related events, from gatherings for organizations such as Bronx Lesbians United in Sisterhood (BLUeS) and Gay Men of the Bronx (GMoB) throughout the 1990s to sporting events for Gay Games IV in 1994.

Header Photo
Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

History

Orchard Beach, located in Pelham Bay Park, is the only public beach in the Bronx and is sometimes called “the Bronx Riviera.” The beach and the park have long served as a popular recreational, meeting, and cruising place for the LGBT community, particularly for people of color.

There are several accounts of gay Puerto Rican men talking about the importance of Orchard Beach as a safe haven when they otherwise did not feel comfortable being openly gay in public or when with their families. Bronx resident Ed García Conde on his website Welcome 2 The Bronx mentions that Hunter Island, a rocky section on the northern end of Orchard Beach, was typically a gathering place for sex. (The island itself had been separate from the beach until the 1930s, when then-NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses had them connected via infill.)

During the summer months of the 1990s, organizations such as Bronx Lesbians United in Sisterhood (BLUeS) and Gay Men of the Bronx (GMoB) hosted outdoor gatherings at Orchard Beach and Pelham Bay Park. Affirming the significance of the area to the borough’s LGBT community, Pelham Bay Park (sometimes referred to as Pelham “Gay” Park) was the site of the third and fourth annual BLUeS picnics, as well as a locale for more informal gatherings—barbecues and volleyball games hosted by GMoB and beach trips to Orchard Beach posted in community calendars.

A remembrance of Ron Jacobowitz, GMoB’s late founder, written by Charles Rice-González and published in the organization’s January/December 1996 newsletter, recalls Orchard Beach as one of the first locations Jacobowitz publicized Gay Men of the Bronx: “Then he made a flyer announcing the group and put it around in different areas including Twin Islands in Orchard Beach, and waited for men to show up. And they did.”

From June 18-25, 1994, sporting events for Gay Games IV took place at 30 venues in the New York metropolitan area. The triathlon was held at Orchard Beach on Sunday, June 19, and golf was held at Split Rock Golf Course from Monday to Wednesday, June 20-22.

Entry by Amanda Davis, project manager, Cecelia Halle, project consultant, and Jay Shockley, project director (March 2017; last revised July 2024).

NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Aymar Embury II, consulting architect; Gilmore D. Clarke and Michael Rapuano, consulting landscape architects
  • Year Built: 1934-37

Sources

  1. Bronx Lesbians United in Sisterhood (BLUES), 1990-October, 1994, MS ORGFIL0214, Organization Files from the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Lesbian Herstory Archives, Archives of Sexuality and Gender, bit.ly/4egMaDM.

  2. Ed García Conde, “Coming Out Of The Closet as a Gay Man in The Bronx,” Welcome2TheBronx, October 11, 2016, bit.ly/3LKbOSf.

  3. Erin Clarke, “Couple’s Story a Real-Life Bronx Tale That Started at Orchard Beach,” NY1, June 26, 2015, bit.ly/3xauYgg.

  4. “Gay Games IV: What, Where and When,” The New York Times, June 17, 1994, C24.

  5. Gay Men of the Bronx, “GMoB Update,” Gay Men of the Bronx Newsletter, January/February 1996, Organizational Files, LGBT Center Archive.

  6. George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994).

  7. New York, New York City-Bronx, January-February, 1993, MS GEOUSA0032-016, Geographic Files (aka “Lesbians in…”) from the Lesbian Herstory Archives: USA, Lesbian Herstory Archives, Archives of Sexuality and Gender, bit.ly/3RnawC7.

  8. Series IV: Research Subject Files, Series IV.E New York City Waterfront: Stonewall 25 Programs and Guides, 1994, 1994, MS Box 136, Folder 7, The Allan Berube Papers: Series IV: Research Subject Files, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Historical Society, Archives of Sexuality and Gender, bit.ly/4ehhRgi.

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