Throwback Thursday – Surf’s Up!

Longboard surfing on the ocean beach, 1965. June is Surf Month at the Montauk Library. | Cahill, Stayton, and Eurell Families Collection, Montauk Library Archives
Montauk Oceanside Park promotional mailers, possibly mid-1960s. | Fred Klepper Collection, Montauk Library Archives

The New York Post reported this week that an 800-square-foot trailer at Ditch Plains Beach is in contract to sell for $3.75 million. That is a very far cry from the rates offered above: a mere $220 to rent a spot on the ocean for more than a full summer season.

The site of the $3.75 million trailer, what is today called Montauk Shores Condominium, started in the late 1940s “as a rustic seaside campsite for many adventurous pioneers who would pitch a tent or just sleep out under the stars,” according to the condominium’s website. “There were also cabanas, bungalows and cabooses … at least two bathhouses and a small ‘general store.’”

Elsie T. Elkow, whose name appears in the advertisement above, was the trailer park’s camp director beginning in 1952. She opened a grocery store in a former chicken coop, and a sign posting her hours – 9 a.m. to noon, 2 to 4 p.m., and 5:45 to 6:15 p.m., to be precise – was later rescued from a bonfire and displayed at the Dock restaurant, according to her obituary in the East Hampton Star.

In the early 1970s there was some fuss about the trailer park that reflected the culture wars of the time. One disgruntled neighbor complained that the property’s young visitors “made love, ‘committed adultery,’ and relieved themselves in plain view, and had vandalized his home,” the Star reported in 1971. Another called the campground “the blight of Montauk.”

Eventually the owners filed for bankruptcy, and in 1976 a group of 152 households bought the property, forming the first mobile home park condominium in the state. In the early 2000s there was still some community flavor at the park, a resident who paid $175,000 for a trailer told the Post, but now some new, billionaire neighbors use their million-dollar trailers only as changing rooms.

Nearby attractions remain the same, however: “Fishing, surfing and skin diving for those who can,” as Elsie Elkow promised in her advertisement.

The site has been a magnet for surfers in particular. “Deep-pocketed buyers are being lured in by its location in Ditch Plains,” as the Post put it, “– a surfer’s paradise spanning two miles of sandy cliffs and the most coveted waves on Long Island’s East End.”

Who could resist?

June is Surf Month at the Montauk Library. There will be a display of community and archival surfing photos as well as surf-related ephemera in the Local History Exhibit Center, video art in the Teen Room, surf-themed documentaries and feature films for all ages, and a June 14 conversation with William Finnegan, author of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Check the library calendar for further details.

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