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Century-Old Family Beach Turns To Development As Decay Sets In

July 20, 1985 GMT

REVERE, Mass. (AP) _ Lovers strolled along its white sand before the Civil War and over the next century Revere Beach remained a refuge where visitors could flirt in a dance hall called the Spanish Gables and ride on hand-carved hippodrome horses.

But today motorcycle gangs prowl the nation’s oldest public beach and old- timers hanging out under its storm-battered pavilions dream of a time when, as one said, ″This was the greatest place in the world.″

Revere Beach, a three-mile stretch between Winthrop and Lynn northeast of Boston that became property of the Metropolitan District Commission 151 years ago, stands in stark contrast to the picturesque family playground it once was.

″Twenty years ago, that guy walking across the street would have got pinched for dressing like that,″ said native Eddie Rose, 65, pointing to a young man in a brief bathing suit.

The modest tank suit has gone the way of the beach’s hippodrome, auctioned off many years ago, and bright lights now flood sections of the beach promenade at night to deter crime.

But now high rises and condominiums are sprouting among the fast food stands and lounges and city officials say they believe the beauty of Revere Beach can be restored.

It is ″the dawn of a new era,″ Mayor George Collela said in a news release announcing a ground-breaking ceremony last week for yet another condominium project.

″We hope to bring back the families. We’re finally on the move,″ said state Sen. Francis D. Doris.

The eroding beach is scheduled to be resanded next year in the first phase of a $70 million plan financed by the state and Army Corps of Engineers, Doris said.

But some old-timers are skeptical about the rebirth of Revere Beach.

″This has been going on for years,″ Rose said. ‴Any day now.′ They’ve been saying for years.″

Like many in the city of 40,000, Rose is nostalgic about the old Revere Beach, where families rode the Cyclone, a roller coaster built in 1925 and demolished in 1974 after it was declared unsafe.

Two weeks ago, developers tore down the Gen. Edwards Inn, a landmark restaurant where Rose had his wedding reception some 40 years ago. ″You do feel something when you see something like that go,″ he said.

Doris was a barker at the beach’s amusement park in the ’40s, when stores sold salt water taffy and dulce, a red seaweed.

In the ’50s, he said, storefronts and the amusement park began deteriorating from neglect, and motorcyclists starting cruising the honky-tonk drive studded with bars. From 1969 to 1974, the number of arrests increased from 500 to 2,700, Doris said.

″There was an awful bad element down here,″ Rose said.

The MDC has recently stepped up police patrols at night, Doris said, but most complaints have been about young people carrying loud radios.

But many institutions still stand, including Kelley’s, a takeout restaurant that began as a hot dog stand 30 years ago.

Even the pavilions themselves, nearly destroyed in the Blizzard of ’78, remain and are among the landmarks slated for renovation under the master plan.