Shelter Island Heights Beach Club: Then and Now

(Credit: Shelter Island Historical Society)

(Credit: Shelter Island Historical Society)

Visitors taking the North Ferry from Greenport to Shelter Island during the summer find beauty everywhere they look. The blue of the bay, the green of the Island, tall masts in Dering Harbor and a classic red-and-white awning ahead combine to let visitors know they’re arriving at a special place.

What many people don’t know is the awning marks the Shelter Island Heights Beach Club (SIBC), a long-standing and beloved establishment here. It also serves as a warm welcome, being one of the first things a visitor sees upon arrival. More than just a pretty picture, however, the SIBC has deep roots in the history of the Island. 

Research materials provided by the Shelter Island Historical Society reveal the origin of the club dates to the origin of the Heights itself, a neighborhood first created as a religious retreat camp in 1872. Formerly called the Prospect House Bathing Pavilion, the club’s original grandeur reflected the picturesque architecture of the Heights neighborhood. The club of the early 20th century was a double-decker pavilion with entertainment up top and recreation for kids below on the beach.

The Heights community has always been a self-contained area on the Island, maintaining its own designated facilities. Amenities such as the Pavilion reinforced a close-knit sense of kinship for its population. People would come to the beach to swim, eat, hear music and watch the sunset, much like today.

Since its establishment the club has undergone several refurbishments. The destruction wrought by Hurricane Carol in 1954 necessitated a rebuilding project, when the two-level pavilion of the 19th century became the single-level club of today. Another restoration occurred in 2004, with club now featuring private lockers and cabanas for families, an open deck area with lounge chairs and a pier with swimming. Viewing the area today, kids can be seen enjoying ping-pong on the deck, playing on the beach playground as well as jumping off the pier and the floating dock into the water.

The club is part of the Heights Property Owners Corporation. However, any family can purchase a seasonal membership for $400.

When asked about the significance of the Club for Heights’ residents, Stella Lagudis, general manager of HPOC, said, “The Beach Club, also known as the ‘Heights Front Porch,’ has provided multiple generations of Heights residents with a destination where members have gathered and enjoyed activities, which consequently strengthened the spirit of community.”

A member of the club interviewed this week, described their visits as “stepping back in time,” as they watch their children have the same fun they did growing up. When asked, some young adults at the club recalled “Sunday swim races” from their youth. The end of summer was a time of trophies for kids and a big annual barbecue complete with egg tosses, relay races and Fourth of July fireworks.

This year’s focus by HPOC has been to reinvigorate the club. The corporation has built a new fire pit, installed benches on the pier for sunset watching and applied fresh coats of paint.

“We wanted to modernize the infrastructure and programming while retaining the Beach Club’s quaint community feeling,” Ms. Lagudis said.

The overall goal, as always, she said, is to bring families and friends of the Heights together.

There are many upcoming club events and activities this summer for members of all ages. A new event called “Fire Pit Friday” dots the calendar, Beach Club’s day camp has started and there’s a sandcastle-building contest coming up.

Despite outward changes, two aspects of the club remain unchanged, long-time members say: the trademark red and white awning and the club’s intrinsic value to its members.