Postcard: Rainbow Bandshell, A Beloved Venue

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We got this photo of the Rainbow Bandshell, circa 1930, from Michael Goldstein, the director of Alumni Relations at Kingsborough Community College.

Don’t know what the Rainbow Bandshell was? Neither did I. But many of the area’s older residents remember hearing stories about the fabled shows at the world famous venue.

“The shell was designed by a famous designer (don’t remember name) to provide the best sound possible out to the audience,” Goldstein wrote to us. “The shell would light up in different colors along the different rims at night – hence the ‘Rainbow Bandshell.’ Thousands would dance under the stars to music every week.”

Rainbow Bandshell was part of a private bath club founded by Joseph P. Day, which was called the “World’s Largest Privately Owned Playground.” Day is responsible for much of the residential development in Manhattan Beach after the hotel era ended.

Manhattan Beach soon became known for its entertainment and sports center. In addition to sports and swimming, in both ocean and pool, there was entertainment at the Rainbow Band Shell, which was later destroyed … The beautiful gates from the Gardens On Parade exhibit at the Botanical Gardens of the New York World’s Fair of 1939 were taken to Manhattan Beach after the closing of the fair. Through those gates, many people passed as they entered Manhattan Beach.

Broadcasting by Henry Morgan and music by Benny Meroff and Rio Rita at the Rainbow Shell and Casino brought literally thousands to the shorefront to dance and make merry. The ‘Stop Hitler Campaign’ in 1940 supported by Tallulah Bankhead and Helen Hayes, topped with a visit by Mayor La Guardia, added to the uniqueness of the famous beach resort. — Gravesend: The Home of Coney Island, by Eric J Ierardi (2001)

An amateur historian took an interest in the bandshell and put together a roster of notable performers at the venue.

By 1935, the days of swing were just around the corner; the Baths stayed open all year with the addition of the Manhattan Beach Lodge. Over 25,000 memberships were sold. On Sundays, even in mid-winter, 10,000 gate admissions were recorded. The popular dance bands of Les Brown, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Kay Kyser, Ina Ray Hutton, and Louis Prima came to “play pretty for the people.” New artists entertained along with established stars: Alice Faye, Danny Kaye, Buddy Hackett, Phil Silvers, Bob Hope, Tallulah Bankhead and Helen Hayes. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia dropped by, NBC sent their new television cameras over to film a tennis match in 1939, and occasionally a live show with Henry Morgan or an itinerant disc jockey from WMCA broadcast new records from the Brooklyn location.

Now the Baths boasted a baseball diamond, two outdoor pools, miniature golf, handball, tennis and basketball courts, a skating rink (both roller and ice), and a restaurant.

So whatever happened to the epic bandshell and sports complex? Pearl Harbor shattered the American psyche, and partying gave way to patriotism. The singing stopped, many of the facilities were demolished, and the World’s Fair gate, which Goldstein describes as “really ornate with flowers and birds and was made of metal. It said Manhattan Beach on top,” was melted down to make bullets.

Everything underwent such a conversion.

Again from Ierardi’s book:

By 1942, the merriment ended when the largest Coast Guard training facility in America was set up on Manhattan Beach, training 7,000 men and totaling 65,000 men. In 1946, the training facility was abandoned and a veteran’s housing project was set up using the converted barracks for homes for war veterans and their families. On December 12, 1942, the United States Maritime Training Station formally opened, covering nearly 76 acres of the beach. It later served as a United States Air Force Base.

The plot remained a military installation until 1964, when borough leaders pushed for its selection as the site for a proposed community college.

Kingsborough Community College named its own outdoor venue the Rainbow Banshell, in tribute to the area’s former glory. During the summer, hundreds gather to enjoy shows under the stars.