Carl Fisher opened the Surf Club – which was at first called the Casino – in 1927, primarily to cater to guests at the new Montauk Manor. A Mediterranean-style paradise, it featured a 150-foot saltwater pool with a diving board, 60 cabanas, 400 dressing rooms, a restaurant, a bar, a 1,000-foot boardwalk on the ocean, and lots of opportunities to socialize. For decades of summers it was the place to be.
Like wet footprints on a concrete deck, words like “jolly” and “gay” followed events at the Club. The East Hampton Star noted the fun of July Fourth fireworks, water carnivals, a fireman’s ball, swimming and diving competitions, beauty contests, fashion shows, cocktail parties, dances, lobster bakes, teas, card games, clowns, musicians, and celebrities.
“The miniature golf course … opened last week with a large crowd,” it was reported in 1930. “The course … is laid out between the board walk and the Surf Club buildings. Many take advantage of the cool breezes from the ocean to play a round of golf under the brilliant lights.”
The Surf Club seems not to have been tremendously exclusive. “The swimming pool and grounds have been groomed and made ready for a water carnival which they expect will attract more local interest than any held heretofore,” said the Star, also in 1930. “Swimming races, diving, and specialty numbers will make up a varied program of events. Unique this year is the dependence upon local talent entirely for the affair, it having been felt that there is more interest on the part of summer residents here in people they know.”
At various times the Club hosted Red Cross lifesaving classes and swimming lessons for pupils “including tots of three years old” who swam races and did “fancy diving.” Dogs can be seen poolside in some photographs. The restaurant – at one point its name was the Marine Bar – offered specials on certain nights. Some locals recall being admitted to the pool with a wink.
Montauk’s own Frances McDonald came in second in a 1946 contest to be crowned Miss Montauk (there were bathing beauty contests for Miss Sag Harbor, Miss East Hampton, and Queen of the Island as well, with winners taking home such prizes as nylon stockings and Surf Club passes). Perry B. Duryea and Frank Tuma were among the judges that year, as was Dennis King, “stage and screen star who is currently appearing in ‘Blithe Spirit’ at Guild Hall.” Photos of the bathing beauties as well as the lifeguards – “Montauk Mounties” they were called – not infrequently appeared in the newspaper.
“Nowhere on the Island, outside of private clubs which are closed off to the general public, can one find the complete relaxation and enjoyment of vacation pleasures amidst the surroundings, the equal of that of Montauk Surf Club,” was an assessment in 1947.
Eventually falling into disrepair, the pool was closed in 1967. The Club was partially gutted by fire in the spring of 1969, and on this day in that year it was razed by the Montauk Fire Department in a controlled burn.
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