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Work Under Way To Restore Historic Jacob Riis Park Bathhouse

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- With colder weather and the holidays upon us, you may not be thinking about your summer beach plans.

But as CBS2's Brian Conybeare reported, the National Park Service is.

In fact, the agency is trying to restore the historic bathhouse on Rockaway Beach with the help of private investors.

The iconic bathhouse at Jacob Riis Park in Queens has been virtually abandoned for decades. Built in 1932, the art deco pavilion was a popular summer destination for New York's working poor and immigrants – with restaurants, a surf shop, and a mile-long white sand beach.

But time, neglect, and storms took their toll.

"Some of the bricks are new. This floor is new," said Daphne Yun of the National Park Service.

Yun showed CBS2 the $4 million restoration done since Superstorm Sandy – including new roll-up doors designed to combat future flooding.

If there is a storm surge, the water would otherwise come right through the building.

The Park Service is now looking for bidders to reopen parts of the bathhouse with dining, concessions, arts, and an event space for next summer. But the second floor, which housed a Howard Johnson's hotel in the 1960s, will obviously take much longer.

The second floor now looks like modern-day ruins, with crumbling ceilings and rotting bathrooms.

"Back in the 1930's, the flat rooftop of the bathhouse was used for outdoor dining with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean. But now, there are questions as to whether the roof is structurally strong enough to do resume that tradition.

"We don't know, you know, what weight load that is capable of handling," said Gateway National Recreation Area Supt. Jennifer Nersesian.

Nersesian said any money spent improving the bathhouse infrastructure by private companies will be deducted from their lease payments.

"If you're willing to invest in historic preservation, you can be there rent free for a really long time, so it's a win-win for everybody," she said.

Neighbors such as Bill Keating cannot wait until what was once called "the People's Beach" finally comes back to live.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," said Keating, of Neponset.

Bids for the bathhouse are due by March 9. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

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