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Revere Beach is crowded with sun worshippers and amusement park enthusiasts in 1962.
Revere Beach is crowded with sun worshippers and amusement park enthusiasts in 1962. (BOB DEAN PHOTO)

Revere Beach goes uptown

Condominiums and coffee and juice bars coming to the land of Kelly's Roast Beef

REVERE BEACH -- This strip of sand and sea wall does not put on airs, especially during summer: radios blare, bare-chested guys cruising the strip ogle girls in bathing suits, older folks park in beach chairs on the sidewalk, and the air is scented with the smells of cooking oil and steaming asphalt.

Though the oldest public beach in the United States, Revere Beach has resisted gentrifying, its working-class ethos stamped in the architecture of modest homes and blocky apartment buildings, fast-food joints and pillbox-style bars.

``I like the beach exactly as it is -- the ice cream stands, the pizza places, the people who walk here every morning," said Ken Boardman, 68, who has lived ``one street up from the beach" for more than 25 years with his wife, Patricia. ``Leave it as it is, I say."

Too late. Revere Beach is already the target of developers who are bringing coffee and juice bars to the land of Kelly's Roast Beef. The condos they're building evoke more Soho and South Beach than Wonderland. Units feature trendy appliances and bamboo floors or exotic hardwoods, walls of glass, and boast million-dollar views -- some with prices to match.

``In five years, you won't recognize this place," said developer Steve Fustolo, who is building the 242-unit Ocean Club, a 12-story resort-style condominium complex.

Slated to open in 2008, the Ocean Club units will be priced from $300,000 to $1.2 million and will have floor-to-ceiling windows, backsplash tiles of sea glass, stainless-steel appliances, and granite countertops. The ocean front complex will also have pools, a fitness club, and a sauna.

Heading south down Revere Beach Boulevard, the new Atlantica has a more traditional design intended to reflect the wood-framed beach houses that lined Revere Beach back in its hey day. A low-level U-shaped building, its 81 units are arranged around a landscaped courtyard, and will feature red oak floors and granite and stainless-steel finishes.

The stylish finishes are repeated at the Surfside Lofts on Ocean Avenue, which are slated to open next month. The four-story building was built on the site of an old supper club where Frank Sinatra is rumored to have played, according to developer Vincent DiCesare. With its wall of windows and seafoam green stucco, the Surfside contrasts sharply with the Lion's Den next door, a boarded-up club peppered with graffiti.

DiCesare and his partner Charlie Lightbody noted that closed vestiges of the old Revere Beach such as the Lion's Den and boarded-up joints like it are becoming a more familiar sight on the strip. They anticipate developers will fill many of these vacant or underused lots and continue to change the face of Revere Beach.

Already, there is Antonia's further down the boulevard, a restaurant that opened last year and serves up saltimbocca and pinot grigio on white-clothed tables.

Revere Beach's image -- and civic pride -- received a further boost in 2004 when it was designated a national historic landmark by the National Park Service. That brought on a wave of house cleaning and the beach strip now sports planters and flower boxes in which annuals bloom, freshly painted pavilions, and clean streets and sidewalks.

Designed by Charles Eliot and opened in 1896, Revere Beach Reservation was the nation's first public beach, an urban seashore where working-class families were welcome to escape the heat of city life. They could swim and munch on taffy and other beach food; the kids could thrill to the Cyclone and other amusement rides, while at night adults could cut a rug at any number of dance halls.

Over time, Revere Beach's glory faded. It was particularly hard hit by the Blizzard of 1978, which washed away businesses, amusements, and sidewalks and destroyed much of the sea wall. Despite attempts at revitalization, Revere Beach never really recovered.

Sal DeLuca, 74, lived in a large house on Revere Beach Boulevard for 40 years and is now downsizing to a loft at Surfside. He said in order for the current revitalization to succeed, everyone -- locals, newcomers, and visitors -- must share in the upkeep of Revere Beach.

``A lot of the people who come to the beach are not from Revere. For this thing to work, everyone who comes here has to treat it like their home too and not use it as a wastebasket," he said. ``I'm trying hard to be optimistic. Like anything in life, you want the next generation to do a little better than you did."

One key to the revival is Revere Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino, whom developers credit with having a clear plan to fix the inherent problems, such as parking and drainage, that have kept development at bay for decades. About $6 million of infrastructure improvements, for example, are slated for the beach. In September, the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation will begin work on a new boardwalk and sidewalks and change the parking configuration from angled to parallel.

``We've always had the greatest location. We're on the water and we're close to the city," said Ambrosino. ``Recently, however, we've become more accessible to downtown Boston as a result of the Big Dig" construction project. And, ``the water is cleaner than it was in the 1980s and 1990s because of the harbor clean up."

Developers and city officials hope the revival will attract young professionals priced out of downtown Boston, empty nesters, and owners of second home s who don't want to fight the traffic to the Cape or the north.

Gary Sullivan, 46, of Winchester hadn't been to Revere Beach since high school when he and his friends would hop on the T to the beach to hang out on the sea wall. However, after hearing about development plans for the area, he purchased two units at the Ocean Club. He plans to use one as a vacation home for now and then live there full time once he retires. He has no plans for the second unit yet.

``I've always liked the idea of being close to the city and the beach at the same time, but nothing like that was really on offer until now," said Sullivan.

And certainly nothing like the Ocean Club, according to Sullivan, who said the luxury resort-style amenities are what made the idea of living on Revere Beach even more attractive.

Ellen Weiner, 53, originally from Malden, purchased a loft at the Surfside because she wanted to be close to the water but also close to the MBTA because she works in downtown Boston.

``I'm a city person at heart, but I've lived on the North Shore my whole life and need to be close to the ocean," said Weiner. ``Here, I can experience both."

Atlantica developer Joseph R. DiGangi lived through the storms that have pounded down many beachfront properties over the years and drew on that experience when building the Atlantic. The complex has Anderson StormWatch double-hung windows and Hardiplank clapboarding designed specifically for oceanfront property.

Yet as Revere Beach plans for it s future, it remains an integral part of many peoples' pasts. Mark Champitto, who grew up in neighboring Winthrop but now lives in Albany, N.Y., returned home to spend his 21st birthday on Revere Beach -- just like old times.

``When I was in high school, my friends and I came to the beach and went to Kelly's at least once a week," he said. ``I couldn't come back home and not go."

Crowds flocked to Revere Beach this month for the New England Sand Sculpturing Invitational (above) and in 1963 for a day in the sun, but over 40 years the backdrop has changed dramatically.
Crowds flocked to Revere Beach this month for the New England Sand Sculpturing Invitational (above) and in 1963 for a day in the sun, but over 40 years the backdrop has changed dramatically.
 
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