The Rockaway Peninsular, facing the Atlantic on the southern part of Long Island, holds lots in store for the intrepid explorer.
Located at the farthest stop on the A train, its isolated feel has made it a popular, out of the way destination since the 19th century. From Breezy Point at one end, past the forgotten missile base monoliths of Fort Tilden, through to the abandoned Art Deco bath house at Jacob Riis park, the Rockaways has a desolate feel. Nowhere more so than at the Neponsit neighbourhood of Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Here, beach goers enjoy the summer sunshine with a foreboding presence looming behind them. Built right onto the shoreline lies an abandoned hospital. Once a children’s tuberculosis hospital, then turned into a rest home for nearly 300 elderly patients, many of them stricken with dementia, it overshadows the beach as it slowly falls into ruin.
The idea behind the institution was progressive. Jacob Riis, the journalist and photographer who highlighted the terrible slum conditions of the Five Points, led the way for social reform. He campaigned for land to be bought on the beach at the Rockaways for a children’s tubercular hospital. Built in 1918, the hospital was home to about 200 stricken children recuperating in the clean, bracing air of the Atlantic. As the dangers of TB waned in the 20th century, the hospital was turned into a care home for the elderly and Alzheimer’s patients.
Disaster struck though on September 7th, 1998, when a strong storm battered the Rockaway coastline. The Neponsit hospital was badly hit to the point where it was thought that it was in imminent danger of collapsing. On orders of Mayor Giuliani’s administration, the inhabitants of Neponsit were evacuated in the middle of the night. Piled onto buses with no word of warning to either patients or their families, they were bused out to other nursing homes and hospitals under cover of darkness. The nighttime evacuation was so alarming to the ill patients that two residents died from the ordeal, whilst another disappeared for weeks. As reported in the Daily News, attorney April Neubauer who represented the patients said, “It was just chaos. Before any notice was given to the residents - which was required by law - they were told to pack their bags and get out.”
The hospital though didn’t collapse. In fact it’s still there, and has slowly decayed over the past 17 years. Conspiracy theorists allege that the sudden evacuation was a ruse to develop the prime beachfront location into a hotel. Whether there was an underhanded motive at work to develop the hospital for private gain remains unknown. It certainly survived the extreme battering the Rockaways suffered in Hurricane Sandy. But a covenant in the original hospital deed stipulated that the site could only be used as either a hospital or public park. And with no plans in place for either a restoration of the hospital or a conversion to a recreational space, the Neponsit hospital has slowly been allowed to fall apart through neglect. The tragedy of what happened to the patients who died is rarely reported or known about.
But for kindred souls in the world of Atlas Obscura who enjoy their relaxation time laced with a touch of the macabre, there is only one beach in New York that comes attached with an abandoned tubercular and dementia hospital on its shoreline.