A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 25, 2005
Tar Beach (rooftop)
"Tar Beach" is the rooftop (often composed of tar) where one can sit and get a tan, as if on the beach. The term "tar beach" has been cited in print since at least 1941.


New York (NY) Times
11 July 2004, New York Times, City (section 14), pg. 2:
F.Y.I.
Sun but No Sand

By MICHAEL POLLAK
Q. When did "tar beach" become part of the New York language? And is there a particular rooftop that owns the distinction of being the first so named?

A. "Tar beach," as all roof rats know, is the urban alternative to the Hamptons on a hot summer day; it's as near as the flight of stairs outside the apartment door. The 1930's seem likely as a birth date, because it was around then that the suntan became fashionable for the masses. According to "The City in Slang" by Irving Lewis Allen, getting a tan on tar beach was often the preparation for a trip to Coney Island. "By the 1940's,'' he wrote, "city rooftops, those ersatz beaches, were given the fictitious place name tar beach, alluding to the black tarred and graveled rooftops."

The earliest recorded appearance of the phrase in this newspaper was on Aug. 30, 1941, in an article about a man who was growing 12 ears of corn, tomato plants, green peas and radishes along with colorful blooms on his tenement rooftop at 137 East 33rd Street. The grower, William H. Geis, a rayon salesman, had decorated the place with bamboo screens, deck chairs and cocoa matting. "An Eden Is Found on East Side Roof," the headline read.

But probably the quintessential Tar Beach is in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum. This one is a story quilt created by the artist Faith Ringgold, who later wrote a book based on the images called "Tar Beach." The story is about a little girl in the Harlem of the 1930's who floats over the roof of her tenement, where her parents eat, laugh and tell stories why she and her little brother lie on a mattress, dreaming that the whole city is theirs.

30 August 1941, New York Times, pg. 11:
AN EDEN IS FOUND ON EAST SIDE ROOF
Bachelor Grows Tomatoes, Peas, Petunias All Together in a Tenement Setting
IT'S CALLED "TAR BEACH"
There's One Big Problem Now Facing This Amateur - Is the Corn Ready to Eat?
PHOTO CAPTION: William H. Geis at work on his flower and vegetable garden atop his home at 137 East Thirty-third Street.
Bamboo screens shut out the view of neighboring tenements, but the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings can be seen by any one resting on the comfortable deck chairs of the roof garden. Cocoa matting lines the floor, whose composition gave inspiration for the name of the retreat, "Tar Beach."

6 July 1952, New York Times, pg. 39:
Two patrolmen went hunting on the "tar beaches" of the Bronx yesterday and in the line of duty captured a twenty-five-pound opossum.

(Google Groups)
Re: OT: Do you remember?
... Stoop ball and stick ball.(I think a home run was 2 sewers). The "Tar beach".(you went up to the roof on a hot day inflated a rubber pool and went for a dip). ...
alt.sport.bowling - Sep 28, 2000 by Joe Zachar - View Thread (87 articles)

(Google Groups)
Re: Greetings from Tar Beach: Almost an Obs. Report [Long]
... tale for another time). The rooftop was quite a treat, and the name tar beach is what city kids are known to call them. For you see ...
sci.astro.amateur - Jun 19, 2001 by William R. Meyers - View Thread (2 articles)

(Google Groups)
Re: John Sebastion?
... I also have an album called 'Tar Beach' for the early '90's which is classic melodic Sebastian type folky pop. I think it's quite good. ...
rec.music.makers.guitar.acoustic - Apr 10, 2002 by Leonardo - View Thread (13 articles)

(Google Groups)
Re: Raised Ponds
... Country. Also The Botanical Gardens. Tar Beach was the Roof and Johnny pumps with a trash can on it was how we cooled of then. Now ...
rec.ponds - Jul 13, 2002 by - View Thread (26 articles)

(OCLC WorldCat)
Tar Beach
Author: Getz, Arthur.
Publication: New York : Dial Press, 1979
Document: English : Book : Fiction : Juvenile audience

(OCLC WorldCat)
Title: Don't suppose
Author(s): Limahl. ; (Performer - prf)
Publication: Hayes, Middlesex, England :; EMI Records Ltd.,
Year: 1984
Description: 1 sound disc :; analog, 33 1/3 rpm, stereo. ;; 12 in.
Language: English
Standard No: Publisher: EJ-2401561; EMI Records Ltd.; PLML-1; EMI Records Ltd.; LCCN: 93-851770
Contents: Don't suppose -- That special something -- Your love -- Too much trouble -- Never ending story -- Only for love -- I was a fool -- The waiting game -- Tar Beach -- Oh girl.

(OCLC WorldCat)
On tar beach
Corp Author: Dead Beats (Musical group) Publication: France :; New Rose, 1985
Document: English : Sound Recording : Music : Rock music :

(OCLC WorldCat)
Tar Beach & beyond /
Author: Reuben, Charles, 1957-
Publication: Albuquerque, N.M. (1308 Orchard Pl. NW, Albuquerque 87104) : Autumn Press, 1989
Document: English : Book

(OCLC WorldCat)
Tar beach, the woman on the bridge series
Author: Ringgold, Faith. Publication: [S.l.] : CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Education Materials, 1990-1995?
Document: English : Visual Material : Artwork reproduction
Libraries Worldwide: 2

(OCLC WorldCat)
Tar Beach
Author: Elman, Richard M.
Publication: Los Angeles : Sun & Moon Press, 1991
Document: English : Book : Fiction

(OCLC WorldCat)
Tar Beach /
Author: Ringgold, Faith.
Publication: New York : Crown Publishers, 1991
Document: English : Book : Fiction : Juvenile audience

(OCLC WorldCat)
Tar Beach
Author: Sebastian, John, 1944- Publication: [Newton, NJ.] :; Shanachie, 1992
Document: English : Sound Recording : Music : Multiple forms :

(Trademark)
Word Mark TAR BEACH
Goods and Services (CANCELLED) IC 025. US 039. G & S: Shirts, Sweatpants and Shorts. FIRST USE: 19810616. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19810720
Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
Serial Number 73341421
Filing Date December 14, 1981
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Published for Opposition May 17, 1983
Supplemental Register Date March 7, 1983
Registration Number 1238973
Registration Date May 17, 1983
Owner (REGISTRANT) Goldberg; Howard d.b.a. Aumont Productions INDIVIDUAL UNITED STATES Crescent Beach Rd. Glen Cove NEW YORK 11542
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Register SUPPLEMENTAL
Live/Dead Indicator DEAD
Cancellation Date October 3, 1989
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBuildings/Housing/Parks • (0) Comments • Monday, April 25, 2005 • Permalink