Beaches are a sort of institution in Lebanon. For many, they symbolize the country’s relatively liberal social norms when compared to other Middle East states where having a dip in public is often the preserve of foreign tourists rather than locals.
The Lebanese beach, of course is a key component in romantic notions of 1950s Beirut as the “Paris of the Middle East”–even in times of crisis, it would not be unusual for Western peacekeepers to be bedazzled by the sight of Lebanese women in bikinis when landing their military craft ashore during one flare up or another.
Whether or not one agrees that Lebanese beaches are a cause for celebration, it is clear that the institution has only become more hedonistic as the decades have passed. Today, resorts like La Rivera and Oceana are the site of wanton displays of steroid injections and silicone implants–at Edde Sands, Fashion TV Arabia sets up a catwalk for lingerie models. Thousands of dollars in champagne are sprayed over the bare skinned revelers every Sunday as adult pools are turned into daytime nightclubs, VIP sections and all.
But recently I was asked to go back in time when some Lebanese friends in New York, who have not been back to Beirut since the 1960s, begged me to photograph their all time favorite resort: Long Beach Plage. Being more familiar with the current “Miami” type spots of today, I had never heard of Long Beach, and was surprised to find it still existed. It was virtually hidden behind a crumbling amusement park near the seaside promenade.
I pulled up to the front gate, thinking it had been completely restored (and thus boring) due to the kitsch Pepsi sponsorship:
Though the outer walls bore the scares of decade’s old street battles:
But as I drew closer to the entrance booth…
I spotted some vintage material and was intrigued:
Behind the reception desk, the ‘golden days’ had been immortalized in a giant photograph on the wall:
Then more vintage signage:
For some reason, I just love this stuff–fragments of ‘glorious’ Beirut, which was in the midst of being destroyed when I was born.
The overall sitting area had been somewhat restored with new parasols:
But the cabins (a fancy French term for lockers) looked as though they hadn’t changed much since the pre-war days:
At this point, I was pretty happy with my find. But then I discovered the ultimate prize… the kiddie pool:
This thing had retro written all over it:
Growing up with the PVC type slides of Six Flags, I was shocked to find that old slides like this were actually made with concrete:
I wonder how that felt going down!
Beyond the kiddie pool though, much of Long Beach Plage was quite run down. The gym wasn’t looking too hot:
Neither was the basketball court:
In fact, only a handful of people were milling around during a beautiful sunny day. When compared with today’s glitzy resorts, Long Beach remains but a patch of forgotten cement in the shadow of Beirut’s ever changing skyline.
I met Mohammad, who told me he had worked at Long Beach since the 1960s as a waiter. He reminisced about the ‘good old days’ before the war in 1975–back when the Lebanese lira was strong and he made a small fortune in tips, enough to travel to Europe, he said, and buy a new car.
He lamented the loss of Long Beach’s luster as one of the Beirut’s premiere resorts, once boasting a giant pool, possibly the city’s largest, seen here in the center of the old photo:
This was confirmed by Lebanese friends in New York who referred to it as “Al Jahash” because of its size.
But now the giant pool had been concreted over, Mohammad explained, pointing out that the water had run flush up against the curved wall shown here:
and out across the central area:
Still, despite the changes, Long Beach seems to continue to draw some of its old regulars:
And it’s still beautiful to watch the waves crash routinely against its sea walls…
over and over again, in between brief intervals of calm…
…perhaps the only constant element of life in Long Beach’s turbulent past.
For those, like my New York friends, who wonder what has become of Beirut beach life, here is a sample I found online from a typical event at Edde Sands. Caution, this video is not for the squeamish:
And a less produced piece:
i like the resort pools…but i need to be at one that has a area to swim int he sea…i love swimming in the sea!
I love the Long Beach and the Sporting. I still go there a lot in the summer. I love the retro feel of the place and at least I know if I take my daughter I won’t have to shell out $150 for one day at the beach
Thanks for the great photos and the clips!
Thanks for your comments ladies. You are right in bringing up the biggest downsides to Lebanese beach life that I didn’t mention: 1.) the privatization, i.e. selling off, of the coastline (and thus the high entrance fees of many new resorts)and 2.) the lack of actual beaches in the capital, which is probably related to the first reason.
The beaches of the 60’s were fabulous-they became our second home from April until Oct. Acapulco, San Michel, Sands, Long Beach. Surfers, parties, music, and the beautiful Mediterranean. None were fancy like these new ones, but they were cheap! And they were wonderful. Some of my best memories are from those beaches.
Must have been nice! Today it is all loud and obnoxious club music.
Ah, Hilary, you bring back memories! My parents rented one of those Long Beach “cabins” and I practically grew up on that beach. Anybody remember the funny lifeguard with his whistle, was it Samir? In those days you could dive off the rocks straight into the sea.
Thanks for sharing Hilary and Nebojsa! It’s hard to imagine surfers and beach parties in Ouzai today! what kind of music was playing? Beach boys?? would be wonderful if either of you had pictures/videos from those days..
i didnt go to Long Beach, but my uncle , who worked in Lebanon,in Tripoli,took me and my parents to st Helene beach Chekka. I remember the music from St Helene beach Chekka-they had their favourites-Venus-Shocking blues and Serge Gainsbourg -J e taime…mois non plus, and it was mine 10 minutes when those songs went on, I simply indulged, a kid of 6-8 years. Spent a couple of summers holidays there, and that was the BEST TIME OF MY LIFE.
what a nice memory Vera, what year was this? I know Chekka well, it’s still a great place to swim, but must have been more beautiful in your time, without the cement factories nearby!
the first time we went to Liban was when I was a toddler 1 year old, 1962, and then , later, I was each summer from 1968 till 1970 at my uncle and aunt in Tripoli, they took me to St Helenes beach, and thats the time of Serge gainsbourg and Shockin blues, and Beatles.Oh wowwww. Well. the cement factory was in its early days , it showed some works in the hills, but , apart from that, the Chekka bay was- PARADISE!!MY PIECE OF HEAVEN. Ive looked at some new fotos from st helens beach it changed a bit, but what I cant figure out from the Google pictures is-is the place of the beach EXACTLY WHERE IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO OR HAD IT MOVED SOME 20 METERS AWAY FROM THE ORIGINAL PLACE WHICH i SAW IN THE FOTOS, IS PRETTY MUCH WRAPPED UP IN GREEN TREES THAT HAVE GROWN SOOO MUCH!!AND IT SEEMS THE OLD SPOT IS unkept and rundown. Habib, then you are the right person to answer my question.I remember the place was allegedly owned by a Macedonian guy , who just happened to pass away in the 1970 I think. So, are the beach beds on the same spot or are they moved a bit to the right looking from the sea, on a new made concrete platform. Cmmon people, lets hear your say, Id really love to hear the details, and come on put on some fotos of the place, a bit more detailed with teh reference to the old spot. Ill try and put my old fotos!! Im really homesick about Lubnan, no matter I wasnt born there, but I feel Im home over there, and want to visit soon, although the political situation odds seem to be against me. Once more, great lebanese people, lets hear what you have to say and foto fro Chekka!!
I have a few pictures. But I have no idea how to post them on here! The music? Beach Boys, Beatles, Rolling Stones,typical 60’s music! My parents first had a cabin at St. Simon, but Acapulco was the very cool beach to be at, so my sister and I convinced them to switch to Acapulco. For me now, it’s hard to imagine that Acapulco is a thing of the past. I love Beirut. and it was so nice the first time I went back,(2001) to find the essense of the Beirut I love so much still thriving. We pretty much all hung out in Ras Beirut-and so many stores, and restaurants, and smells, and sounds are still where they were in the 60’s. So, tell me how to post the pictures I have and I will do so!
wonderful! shoot me an email at habib dot beirut at gmail dot com and I will get you set up!
By the way, I remember meeting the owner of Acapulco in the early 1990s, he had a restaurant by the same name I believe in the Zouk area, near Jounieh… he’s also related I think the the late and famed pepe of pepe fish restaurant in Byblos. At the time I think the Acapulco resort was still standing, though it had be overrun, he lamented, by squatters. He seemed confident he would get it back some day though…
Habib, here’s a link, i will see what else i can find in my archives.
also pages 33,34,35
Thanks! Kheireddine’s pics are priceless–he should make a book! I’ve seen many of them before but I missed some of those pages with the Phoenicia pool. I only wish someone had a picture of the rotating restaurant at the Holiday Inn or of the infamous St. George Bar. I’ve never seen anyone post pictures inside either of those hotels.
I enjoyed reading this post and seeing your pictures. I lived in Beirut during the fifties. We rented a tiny beach house at St. Simon (which may not exist today). It seems we spent every summer day at the beach as kids, swimming between the St. Simon and the St. Michelle waters. I was building sand forts on July 14, 1958 when the US Marines came ashore at St. Simon.
What a great memory! Thanks for sharing PKmoller
There is a reunion being planned- in September, in Las Vegas, of the old 60’s Beirut crowd.
some fun pics on the site!
just a small thing regarding your post on Oct 28,2009. Privatisation is not necessarily a bad thing, you see both clubs need some major work to become decently acceptable and this can only be done through investors even if that means a higher price tag. Beirut has a beautiful sealine it should not be spoiled with run down developments.
Unable to sleep at 5a.m.I stumble on these photos of Long Beach in Beirut, where I was part of the “long hot summer sweet sixteen crowd” in 1964 (from my early 1960 teens):riding the “huskies” all the way to Pigeon Rock (unknown to parents), swimming over to the facing side competition beach (frowned upon),the eternally tanned life guard (could be Samir), the cabins that still exist!!Sunning on the flat circular roof of the bar,where loudspeakers were blaring Aznavour, “Un an d’amour”,”Sealed with a kiss”, “Runaway”… The shy romances, friends from the “Italian school for girls” :Jasna, Lily, Nada, Amira.After endless days at the beach, a stroll home near the Plaza hotel end of Hamra,a shawourma on the way, leafing “Superman” and “Katy Keene” comics at the corner grocery, sometimes an hour or two lost in Nancy Drew books,dazzled by the smell of paper, at a bookshop on Rue Bliss; weekend lunches in Jounieh or at “Luculus” on the corniche… For years recurring dreams of returning, in them I am walking the streets, searching for my dear, bombed out french teacher Malou, my old address. Beirut of the sixties is still living in the hearts of many, strewn throughout the world.
Thank you. I always heard about Luculus. What type of food did they serve?
Thank you Renatta! What delightful memories and beautiful words. Thank you for painting a picture in our minds of the way things were. I never knew about the Italian school or Luculus.
You inspire me to add many more similar posts and I hope you will return to comment again.
Very gladly Habib,I’ll be back soon, and thank you for your swift answer – all the best from Zagreb
The pics brought tears to my eyes..I used to spend many days with my mother at Long Beach and Riviera Beach. I miss these days and “my” Beirut (the one from the 70s)a lot.
Thank you Cedarjet, its comments like yours that make the blog worthwhile. Would love to post some pictures if you have any.
Wonderful report… The (ex)Yugoslav group on Long Beach was huge and we had a ‘hugely’ wonderful time, day in and day out… Renata, Nebojsa and so many others… In fact, we are in the process of planning a trip to Beirut, half a century later (October 2012), so please spread the word and get back to me if interested (lrr3@PSU.EDU).
thank you,I hope you made it back!
I’ve spent most of my childhood summers at the long beach… always in my sweetest memories….thanks for sharing such grate pictures…as I’m away from so many too many from home….
We lived in Beirut during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s…this was one of our favorite places in Beirute and Beirut was one of our favorite places in the world.
The beautiful country, the wonderful people, the fantastic food…OMG, was a paradise!
It was a pleasure reading your comments; I grew up at plage St.Michel and carry tons of fond memories.
You may want to check the following Facebook page:
email@example.com to look at what has become of the stretch of beach from Sands, Acapulco, St.Michel etc…If you wish to share related photos please email them to the same address.
All the best.
Grew up at Saint Michel.
Carry tons of fond memories.
You may want to check some photos on the following Facebook page: firstname.lastname@example.org to see what has become of the lovely stretch of beach from Sands to Acapulco, Riviera, St.Michel & St.Simon.
Your photos are welcome at the same email address.
Just found this site, amazing. My family lived in Baabda just up in the hills from the airport. My dad was a pilot with Kuwait Airways from 1960 to 1970 so we enjoyed the whole decade in Beirut. I knew Long Beach, the Sporting Club, the Cite Sportive pools and mega diving boards, the Riviera, Acapulco and the St George Club with Hannah the lifeguard ( not the St George Hotel) all very well. School was Manor House and BCS on the long airport road. The Long Beach lifeguard was Samir, he helped my dad back to health after a severe car crash in London in 1966. He could swim the length of the big pool underwater and back. He could do one length underwater walking on his hands.
I remember the outside music at Long Beach, especially My Boy Lollipop and the Beach Boys. The music played through a cheap mono tannoy speaker at the top of a flagpole. Sounded great. What I always loved about Long Beach was the steps you walked down into the sea. That might have been next door in Sporting Club.
We also rode the very heavy huskies and I can still see myself gazing down at the wreck of the Macedonia through a face mask from the husky…this was a big ship that sank a hundred or so metres off Pigeon Rocks in 64. We used to play on the arch outside Spinneys while my mum did the shopping in Raouche which is where I first saw the ship before it sank.
Reading the comments above, pretty sure that’s Hilary A.
My brother and I used to run the streets of Baabda as children where we learned to speak the language pretty well as time went on. We used to run along with a Lebanese flag nailed to a broom handle riding imaginary horses and jump up on the steam train going up through the hills, drink coffee and eat sparrows with local hunters in the forest. They would have lots of dead birds hanging from their belt. They always treated us well.
I well remember sitting outside at night watching the aerial attack on the airport in Dec 1968. Even have polaroids taken the next day of the burnt out planes.
Beirut was the best place for me growing up, it had everything and if I could go back in time for a week, it would be there and then. Favourite food then was manaeesh straight from the local baker’s oven and schawarma and an ice cold bottle of Orange Crush or K Cola, even Jaloul.
Other great memories are Christmas eve in Hamra and kicking a football inside the empty pools at Long Beach in the winter.
I even moved to Perth, Western Australia in 86 because it had the same topography, weather and climate as Beirut. First thing I ate there was a schawarma in a local Lebanese cafe.
Sorry for the length of this, I got carried away, such great memories.
What a great story, and thank you for sharing! Our generation can only imagine the beauty you witnessed. If you come across any of those old photos or Polaroids, it could make for a great guest post. Feel free to get in touch with me through the contact button. Also there was a Spinneys in Raouche? Any memories of the Burj/old downtown town, souks, etc?
Wow, what great stories. Would love to see those polaroids! I never knew there was a ship wreck near raouche. Water must have been cleaner and clearer back then!