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My Turn: Growing up in Freeport, Jones Beach was my playground

Norma Larsen Calderone was about 18 years old

Norma Larsen Calderone was about 18 years old in this photo with her husband, Richard, at Jones Beach. Credit: Calderone Family

I was born in 1933 and raised in Freeport, and Jones Beach was our “playground.”

The Works Progress Administration, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, helped to build Jones Beach. My father worked on the West Bath House and had the honor of laying the tile for the sea horse in the west mosaic at the front of the bath house.

The tower in the ’30s through the ’50s was called The Pencil” — never The Needle. In the ’40s they had Children’s Day in the small pool, awarding ribbons for prizes. As teenagers we spent our time at Indian Village, playing shuffleboard and roller skating amid the teepees. 

At night we would go to the West Bath House pool to watch the show. The clowns would jump in the water, then the lifeguards would put on a real diving exhibition! The highlight of the night was the water ballet, swimming girls appearing from an underwater tunnel beneath the diving boards to perform a synchronized ballet!

Robert Moses had his office on the top of the bath house with the best view of the ocean and pools.

The lifeguards had a clear aisle in the sand for emergency rescues and no one would put a blanket down in that aisle. But twice a day, as I recall, they would lead the public in exercises!

Back on the boardwalk, does anyone remember the “bandshell," where various groups performed and we could all dance the night away — with square dancing being the most popular!

On the boardwalk and walkways, there was adult playground equipment: giant seesaws, which held two people on each end, half-moon rockers, which held six people, and mechanical horses!

We would march with the Freeport High School band on Memorial Day, then head to the beach, usually by hitchhiking on the ramp leading to the parkway.

The baseball field was always well-attended and notable teams played there. The beach was impeccably patrolled by state troopers. There was never a wrapper or cigarette on the ground. The troopers, I recall, were tall men, well-built, with dark sunglasses and not to be taken lightly.

And who can remember Guy Lombardo leaving in his Tempo Speed Boat from Freeport to Zack’s Bay to get to Jones Beach theater to put on a show?!

It was a magical time to live next to Jones Beach, and I have many fond memories, shared I’m sure, by all who lived in that era.

Norma Larsen Calderone,

Centerport

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