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Sandy Beach brought seashore to Wyoming Valley

By Elizabeth Skrapits, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 01--To see the masses of bathing-suit-clad people lounging in the sand by the blue water, one would think the postcards were from the shore -- until the landscape gives the location away as Harveys Lake.

From its creation in the mid-1920s through the 1960s, Sandy Beach was a hugely popular summer destination, both for day trippers and people who camped out at Rood's Campground across the street.

Sandy Beach, touted as "Wyoming Valley's Seashore at Home," was created by two Edwardsville businessmen and later improved by Wilkes-Barre grocer Samuel Slomowitz.

Samuel's son, Marvin Slomowitz of Kingston, grew up in Wilkes-Barre, but his family spent summers in a big stone house at Harveys Lake.

However, it wasn't exactly a vacation for young Marvin. (He's now 84, a Korean War veteran and a successful real estate developer.)

"I was free labor," he said, chuckling.

There was plenty at Sandy Beach to keep him busy. Marvin Slomowitz said he worked from 8 a.m. until 10 or 10:30 p.m., at the beach during the day, then at the Sandy Beach Drive-In at night.

"When it was in full swing, it was a pretty hot place to be," he said.

Bigger and better beach

In 1924, Thomas Pugh and William V. Davis bought a stretch of land in the western corner of Harveys Lake, in a section known as "Laketon."

They opened Sandy Beach on July 4, 1925. It featured enough parking to accommodate the increasing number of automobiles on the roads in the 1920s, picnic grounds, a few amusement park rides, a bathhouse with lockers and bathing suits for rent, and a dance hall.

After World War II, Sandy Beach blossomed anew. In 1948, Samuel Slomowitz bought the property and added a new attraction: the Sandy Beach Drive-In. It boasted a double-feature each night, plus a cartoon and newsreel. Tuesdays were dollar days, during which a whole carload of moviegoers could get in for $1 admission, and Sunday matinee parties were also offered.

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"We even had benches in front of the screen so the people from the campgrounds could watch the movies, and we charged them a quarter apiece," Marvin Slomowitz recalled.

Barbara Rood Kraut, whose family owned the campground, bus service and gas station across the street from Sandy Beach, remembers how all the kids from the camp enjoyed going to the movies at the drive-in. Kraut was no exception -- but she got a special perk, thanks to "Uncle" Sam Slomowitz.

"Uncle Sam used to let me in the movies all the time without charging me," she said.

Her father, Ben Rood, would give her some candy from the gas station to take along. But Kraut was only allowed to stay for the first movie; her father wouldn't let her stay up late.

"He was strict," she said.

In 1954, Samuel Slomowitz purchased adjoining land to enlarge the beach, and brought in a fresh load of white sand from New Jersey. Marvin Slomowitz said that every three or four years, more sand would have to be put in because it kept washing into the lake.

"They imported real sand from the ocean to put on the beach," he said. "That's what made it a real sandy beach."

In the 1950s, Sandy Beach featured roller skating, a penny arcade and a picnic area with a fireplace. There was a boat rental with motorboats at first, then later, paddle boats. For the children, there was a playground, kiddie rides including a merry-go-round, and real pony rides.

There were ladies' and men's locker rooms -- which the Slomowitzes upgraded -- and the second story of the building had a dance floor, where orchestras and bands would play a couple of nights a week, Marvin Slomowitz said.

Sandy Beach also had food concessions, including Stuccio's pizza, and, in time for the 1956 season, the Slomowitzes remodeled the snack bar into what was advertised as "Wyoming Valley's newest, most modern cafeteria."

"It was a nice time, nice people and nice area. Especially, we had wonderful neighbors," Marvin Slomowitz said.

An asset was that the business owners in that section of Harveys Lake got along well. Marvin Slomowitz said the Roods were very friendly, and the two families often helped each other out. Kraut said Samuel Slomowitz and her father had the same birthday, and they would have a huge party to celebrate.

The Slomowitzes and Roods were also good friends with the McCaffreys, who owned the venue near Sandy Beach.

Carlene McCaffrey said her in-laws Joseph and Margaret McCaffrey bought the land in 1954 and created Old Sandy Bottom Beach, which they opened in 1955.

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Sandy Bottom included a parking lot, beach and restaurant. There was a charge for patrons to park their cars, but it included access to the beach and picnic area, McCaffrey said.

She remembers the Sandy Beach Drive-In well: "You'd be surprised how many people would drive down from Harveys Lake, and instead of paying, would park on the side of the road and hope the speakers were turned up," she said.

Sandy Beach's popularity continued through the 1960s. Popular local and sometimes even nationally known bands played in the dance hall, and on hot summer weekends the beach was teeming.

The tide turns

The Slomowitz family ran Sandy Beach until Samuel died; they sold it, but its new owner went into bankruptcy within a year, Marvin Slomowitz said.

The McCaffreys held onto Sandy Bottom until liability insurance went "through the roof," according to McCaffrey. The Roods had already pulled up the stakes on the campsite in 1963 when they couldn't afford to make state-mandated improvements. And the crowds at Harveys Lake were thinning.

"Times change. People do different things on their weekends," McCaffrey said.

The McCaffreys sold part of their property to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in 1979, and Sandy Bottom closed down in 1984, at the same time as Hanson's Amusement Park, McCaffrey said. For the last 20 years the land has been the Harveys Lake Beach Club, she said.

Today, the only trace of Sandy Beach that remains is the sand you can still find in the water at the Fish and Boat Commission boat launch.

"I wish I could revive it, but it's something of the past," Marvin Slomowitz said of Sandy Beach. "We were there for years. Everybody helped each other. It was a nice place to be."

eskrapits@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2072

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(c)2013 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Visit The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at citizensvoice.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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