Summer Traditions: A History of the Ocean Park Neighborhood Beach Park
Summer was in session in the 60’s! Boys, like Larry Conner Jr of Baylake Pines, would spend endless days at the YMCA Camp. The YMCA grounds covered 43 acres of a live oak forest and included the stretch of beach from Baylake Beach to the westernmost Jefferson Blvd beach access. Opened in 1939, over the decades, neighborhood boys would spend from $6-12 for a season passand enjoy all the recreation their hearts could dream up! There was a baseball diamond, volleyball court, and canoes and kayaks for rent. The Beach Club/cantina that was built in 1949 served ice cream and offered up a pinball machine and a foosball table. Larry said “we did a lot of hanging out." Like all seasons however, this one came to a end. The rapid growth of Virginia Beach created a demand for housing in our community. The summer camp closed in the early 70’s, making way for the Water Oaks Condominiums, a private beachfront estate.
Norbeck Development Associates filed the first building plans for Water Oaks with the city in 1972. The community included not only the existing 52 units, clubhouse, and pools, but also tennis courts and two nine-story towers with 149 units in each plus several additional townhouse buildings! The Olympic-size pool would have accommodated the entire community. But, just after the first phase was built, the city required a seawall be installed. This construction delay and expense, coupled with worsening economic conditions, led to an investor backing out and the remaining project being foreclosed upon in June of 1979. The towers would never be built, and the area was re-imagined as Aeries on the Bay.
Outside of Ocean Park, the mid 70’s had delivered several hi-rise condos to the Virginia Beach bayfront including Chesapeake House, Seagate Colony, Harbour Gate, and the first Cape Henry Tower (the second tower was never built). The resort condo market had slowed, and it was apparent that something different was needed for the community. The two towers of Water Oaks were scrapped from the Aeries vision, therefore the new developer, R.G. Moore, would need to get the City of Virginia Beach to grant him the additional density he wanted on less green space. As part of the negotiations, he relinquished the privately-owned beach parcel to the city. The deed, which specifies that it shall remain open space permanently, was transferred to the City of Va Beach in 1984, and it became known legally as Aeries on the Bay Recreational Park. The 9.3 acres of beach runs north to the mean low water mark of the Chesapeake Bay, west to the still privately-owned parcel of Baylake Beach, and east to the city-owned beach at Jefferson. The “1486 foot white beach and windswept dunes” advertised in the Water Oaks brochures back in 1975 was preserved, but this time for the public to enjoy, just like neighborhood parks in other communities. The YMCA Camp is gone, but private endeavors such as VB Seacamp have provided the younger generations with the opportunities to master the kayaks and canoes and go on beach nature hikes. Sand volleyball courts can be found along these Chesapeake Bay beaches. Ice cream can be delivered to your own personal beach camp by our friendly ice cream vendor, and of course there are food delivery services to choose from today! As the young’uns in our community can tell you, there is still a lot of hanging out to be done on the endless summer days on the beach at Ocean Park.