Named "New York's Wackiest Tour Guides" by the Travel Channel!

Abandoned CT Beach Colony Swarmed by Artists!

What do tour guides do on their Sundays with no tours booked and no desire to hang out in the five boroughs? They take a tour! Not a tour per se, but an artist-led exploration to an unknown locale, complete with mysterious but fun activities. A trip that goes places and does stuff, via yellow school bus. Its called Going Places (Doing Stuff) and it rocks.

Get on the Flux Bus!

Held weekly in the summer, but monthly starting this month, GPDS is an adventure, curated by Jean Barberis and Georgia Muenster of Flux Factory, a community of artists who live and work in a former greeting card factory in Long Island City. Jean and Georgia select a New York artist / writer / tour guide / impresario to curate a mystery bus trip. Those who buy their tickets for the ride have no idea where they’re headed; only 1) the time and location of the departure & return, 2) what to bring (a flashlight, booze, money for lunch, a lemon were all on this trip’s “need” list) and 3) the title of the trip. Sunday’s trip was called “Pleasure Forever” and I knew I had to go after I bumped into Jean at a dance party last weekend, while he was shucking a dozen oysters he picked himself.

Re-contextualized art house in Pleasure Beach CT

Sunday’s tour was curated by a trio of artists called Over Take whose previous art experiments took place in shifting urban spaces. Their broad objectives are to make their way inside (often illegally) and re-energize the place, via painting, graffiti, murals, wheatpasting, installation, garbage collection, altering structures, or other methods of crazy art-manipulation. They had been living for 5 weeks this summer in a abandoned beach community called Pleasure Beach, just across the sound from Stamford, CT. This was where they took us, to share the magic of a derelict artist shantytown, before CT tore it down. Plus, oysters!

Orange pants, seashell beach

After a pit-stop at Grove Beach, another eminent-domain’ed beach community on Staten Island, we set off for Pleasure Beach. Upon arrival at a dead-ended parking lot on the sound, we were told to walk quickly and as non-conspicuously as possible through the beach and over hills, all while carrying our gear and coolers filled with snacks. This was a little difficult when one is wearing bright orange polyester pants. As we crunched through a beach we realized we were marching over millions of empty seashells. Extraordinary.

Another extraordinary art / graffiti'd / wrecked beach house

After 20 minutes of walking down Long Island Sound’s seashell piles, we reached the former village of Pleasure Beach, now about 20 (and dwindling) houses, slathered in graffiti, paint, sculptures, broken everything, and more, mid-tear down. Our Over Take artists gave us a tour of the place, pointing out houses that they’d art-manipulated, noticing dirt pits where houses they’d installed in were now gone, and bringing us to the wrecked theater, next to the collapsed carousel and cavernously empty beach gazebo and changing rooms. It was like touring a bombed-out beach ghost town. When the families left, they left behind everything – toothbrushes, bedsheets, silverware, children’s drawings, beds, everything.

This is what a wrecked, torched carousel looks like

After participating in a spiritual cleansing of the bad juju inherent in a community in the midst of a wrecking ball, we re-entered the theater, sat down amongst the mold and dust, and enjoyed a digital slideshow (courtesy of power generator and projector – Pleasure Beach lost its juice in the late 1990s when the residents were booted out) of the photography of Joe Yunckes lovingly archiving the decay and destruction of the beachfront community.

Matt and Jean (in red sweater) shucking oysters to feast

Following Joe’s photo show, a handful of us went down to the beach to dig oysters for dinner. Those piles of shells weren’t just decorative! Armed only with flashlights and plastic bags, a half-dozen of us tromped down to the sand and started searching for oysters. Within 30 minutes we had scored a massive pile  of them – over 200 for us to clean, shuck and devour. Back at base camp we did just that, adorning the mollusks with mignonette and the juice of aforementioned lemons. A bunch of beers went around, the GPDSers raised an oyster to toast forgotten communities and the artists and historians who remember them. Then it was back on the bus to return to NYC.

By Matt Levy

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Comments

  1. Interesting!
    One note: it is near Bridgeport, not Stamford.

  2. Hardy Phippen says:

    I grew up nearby in Fairfield CT and remember visiting the carousel as a child and watching people reach for the brass ring. There was a full amusement park at Pleasure Beach with all the old fashioned rides you see in old movies. I remember watching guys try to prove their strength by hitting a paddle with a large hammer that would send a disk up a kind of meter with a bell at the top. Some guys were able to ring the bell and, of course, got stuffed animals chosen by their dates. It was the first place I saw and ate cotton candy. We were taken there by a couple who helped keep house for my mother and father, as a treat when they stayed with us when my parents went away on vacations or long weekends. They would drive us to pleasure beach in their pre-WWII car that had holders with little vases beside each window in the back seat. The interior was covered with a soft beige cloth that was ripped in a few places. We were told not to worry those spots, leave them alone. The car inside smelled like a drawer sachet. If they were taking care of us on Sundays, we went with them to their Baptist Church. Unlike the sedate, sit-still, stand-up, kneel, be quiet Episcopal services I was used to, their service had loud singing, what I now know was call and response and what seemed to me a general feeling of rowdiness. It scared me, my sister and brother to death at the time, but is fun to recall. Florence and Howard were their names. All three of us remember them well, loved them, and still sometimes talk about them when we get together even today.

  3. Fancy Pants says:

    Nice post Hardy, you were able to add to the ambiance. I felt like I was riding in that car with you and your siblings.

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