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 July 25, 2004
Tar Beach
"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 (NY) 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."

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
7 July 1942, Long Island Daily Press (Jamaica, NY), "Freedom of the Knees" by Tracy Adrian, pg. 6, col. 6:
The national backyard becomes an important summer resort this year, what with this and that wartime restriction affecting any travelling plans. City dwellers, fresh out of backyards, are touting Tar Beach as a resort...the current blithe euphemism for the home rooftop.

1 May 1952, Daily News (New York, NY), "Inquiring Photographer" by Jimmy Jemail, pg. 45, col. 2:
Where do you intend to spend your vacation this year?
(...)
Mrs. Jennie Lopez, Bronx, home: At Tar Beach. What, you've never heard of Tar Beach? Well, it's not expensive, but it is exclusive. The only ones who go there are my neighbors and immediate friends. Tar Beach is on the roof of our apartment house. There we sun ourselves in our bathing suits and get as good a tan as beach-goers without getting into weekend jams.

6 July 1952, New York (NY) 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.

OCLC WorldCat record
Tar Beach
Author: Arthur Getz
Publisher: New York : Dial Press, ©1979.
Edition/Format: eBook : Document : Fiction : Juvenile audience : EnglishView all editions and formats
Summary:
Joey and his sister Teresa find that rooftops make wonderful beaches on hot summer days.

OCLC WorldCat record
Tar beach.
Author: Faith Ringgold
Publisher: Nashville, TN : JTG of Nashville, ©1992.
Series: Award puzzles.
Edition/Format: Game : Game Visual material : English
Summary:
Cassie Louise Lightfoot spends quite a lot of time on the rooftop of her Harlem apartment house, which she calls her "tar beach." From there she sees life in her neighborhood and dreams of being able to go where she wants and of a better job opportunity for her dad.

OCLC WorldCat record
Tar Beach
Author: Audre Lorde
Publisher: New York : Anchor Books, 1995.
Series: Black short fiction.
Edition/Format: eBook : Document : English : [1st electronic ed.]

OCLC WorldCat record
Tar beach
Author: Mark Mannucci; Jill Gluckson; LeVar Burton; Ruby Dee; Faith Ringgold; All authors
Publisher: Baltimore, Maryland : GPN Educational Media, [2008]
Series: Reading rainbow, 81.
Edition/Format: DVD video : Juvenile audience : EnglishView all editions and formats
Summary:
Host LeVar Burton introduces the book "Tar beach" by Faith Ringgold about a young girl's dream of flying above her Harlem home, claiming all she sees for herself and her family. Also includes discussions about other activities on the rooftops of New York City, a suspension bridge in the city, and booktalks about "I'm flying" by Alan Wade, "To sleep" by James Sage, and "On Grandma's roof" by Erica Silverman.

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Explore #FaithRinggold's quiltwork "Tar Beach" (1988) from our collection (link: http://gu.gg/Y0siq) gu.gg/Y0siq #BlackHistoryMonth
Image
5:48 PM · Feb 5, 2016·Hootsuite

(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 CityNames/Phrases • Sunday, July 25, 2004 • Permalink