Photos From 1960s Gay Beach Reveal Cruising In The Era Of “Mad Men”: PHOTOS


The National History Archive at New York’s LGBT Community Center has unearthed a trove of rare black-and-white photos depicting the gay scene at Riis Beach in the 1960s, a notorious cruising spot for Manhattan ’mos on the prowl in the era of Mad Men.

Perry Brass described venturing to Riis, a.k.a. “Screech Beach” in 1967, on the blog Queer New York:

Beach-018-470x670Much of Riis at that time was still very old-school Queens-Jewish, until you got to Bay One and Bay Two, two sections divided by jetties that had somehow been colonized by queer factions. Even these had designations: one part was very black and tough working-class lesbian, the other was for white guys, with a section for the lesbian allies of white guys.

…What made Riis interesting was that it was extremely friendly. You could easily talk to 20 or 30 guys on the beach. Just being there was an act of defiance, and the cops regularly patrolled the boardwalk and sand to make sure no hanky-panky was going on. Zeroed in were guys who wore bathing suits that showed the cracks of their butts; you could be arrested for this, and hauled off in a paddy wagon. I actually saw this happen several times, and made sure that my suits covered this backside cleavage. Usually the guilty parties were either black or Latino, and their arrest by the cops would also be accompanied by the drama of their friends hissing and screaming at the police.

… Another interesting ritual was that in this era when all information was difficult to come by, at precisely 4 o’ clock on weekends, hundreds of men would get up from their towels and blankets, and start parading at the water line, looking each other over and planning how the evening was going to be spent. Parties would be announced in whispers and passed on to suitable gents, or the name of a new bar, or a restaurant where people might gather with each other. Sometimes the hundreds easily became a thousand or more. It was like a large flock of water birds, chattering and preening each other. This would go on for an hour or so, then everyone would settle down again until it was time to leave, hit the showers, and prepare for what was going to go on later.
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