What a difference a quarter century can make. When she moved into the Lido Beach Towers condominium 1995, Joanne Belli had no way of knowing that the sprawling seaside landmark known as the Pink Lady would turn her from a schoolteacher into an avid amateur historian and published author. Yet here Belli is at the age of 71, the proud first-time author of “The Lido Club Hotel,” a lavishly illustrated 128-page history of her home that was recently released by Arcadia Publishing as part of its Images of America series.
“I was always enchanted by the building architecturally, and I’ve always been interested in history,” says Belli, whose passions came together at Lido Beach Towers, which opened in 1928 as a hotel and was converted to a condominium in 1981. Its distinctive twin cupolas and Moorish architecture – along with its recently restored pink skin – made it a Long Beach landmark, a magnet for celebrities and the well-to-do. Walter P. Chrysler golfed on the nearby links. Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr. and Connie Francis performed under the retractable roof in the Starlight Room.
Belli began digging into this history while serving on the condo board. After retiring from a long teaching career in New York City public schools and stepping down from the condo board in 2009, she got serious about her research. “I belong to the Long Beach Historical Society,” Belli says, “and the founder, Roberta Fiore, would tell me fascinating stories about the development and history of Long Beach.”
These stories led Belli to track down and interview people with ties to the hotel’s heyday, including waiters, cabana attendants, building inspectors, lifeguards and longtime residents, most notably Dodo Berk, who visited and lived at the Lido for more than half a century until her death in May at the age of 105. The book is dedicated to her.
“Dodo told me great stories about staying at the hotel in the ’60s and ’70s,” Belli says. “The women wore tiaras, and some of them wore so much jewelry they had to be wheeled into the banquet rooms on a luggage cart. They couldn’t even clap. There were wooden knockers on the tables so they could applaud the performers.”
Sand in Her Shoes
Belli grew up on the nearby Rockaway Peninsula, where her father, an Italian immigrant, was a postal worker and her mother commuted to work in the city as a bookkeeper. Belli got sand in her shoes at an early age, and her lifelong love of the seashore would eventually lead her to Lido Towers.
But first she married a neighborhood boy, Robert Belli, and they both embarked on careers teaching in the city schools while raising their two daughters. When she was an undergraduate at Hunter College, Belli had done research for anthropology courses at the Museum of Natural History, an experience that ignited a passion for learning about the past. But that passion didn’t flower until much later. Condo board business got in the way.
Shortly after the Bellis moved into Lido Towers in 1995, Joanne grew interested in the running of the six-story X-shaped building. “I initially got involved with committees and eventually got on the board,” she recalls. “I became board president when the building was undergoing major exterior renovations. Every time it rained we had dozens of leaks, and we had to practically recreate the exterior. It was extremely expensive, and there was a lot of pushback. It started off as a $2 million project and wound up costing about $15 million. In hindsight, it was wonderful that we did it. Without it, the building might not have survived Hurricane Sandy.”
For the teacher, it was a learning experience. “One thing I learned is that being a board member and being board president are two very different things,” she says. “The responsibility ultimately falls on the president. I was conflicted about the assessment for the exterior repairs because I knew how difficult it was for some people to pay it. But I knew it was essential. It’s a completely different atmosphere now. In the 25 years I’ve been here, Lido Towers has never looked better physically and financially.”
The Turning Point
After leaving the condo board, Belli continued her research into the history of Lido Towers and Long Beach, but it tended to lack focus. Then came the turning point.
“Turning 70 was a big motivation,” she says. “That’s when I said to myself, ‘You’ve been talking and researching for years. Now is the time to get this done.’ The Long Beach Historical Society allowed me to spend endless hours in their archives, and I took that research and put together a sample chapter and a proposal. I sent it to Arcadia Publishing in December of 2018. A month later, they approved the project.”
Arcadia’s Images of America series features thousands of local histories, and as Belli was to learn, the books are built on a specific blueprint. “It had to be a certain number of pages,” she says, “captions had to be X number of words, there were a maximum and minimum number of chapters, the photographs had to be a certain quality.”
The book was scheduled for a spring 2020 publication, but the coronavirus pandemic pushed it back to summertime. One bright note was that Dodo Berk got to hold a copy of the book a week before she died.
“This experience has given me a new appreciation for writers,” Belli says. “The need to be clear and concise. How to get a message across. I tend to be organized and use my time well, and that certainly helped. I think I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish – I told the Lido’s story well. And based on the reactions so far, I’ve whetted people’s appetite for history.”
Will there be a follow-up? Since the Bellis’ love for travel is on temporary hold because of the pandemic – they’ve visited Russia, India, Africa, Australia, China and South America – Joanne and one of her grown daughters have hatched an idea for a new book. They’re talking about writing an historical novel built on the career of William Reynolds, the flamboyant visionary who developed Long Beach and built the Lido Club Hotel at the peak of the Roaring ’20s. Think of it. The story has it all – from mobsters and speakeasies to flappers, the stock market crash, celebrities, hurricanes, and elegant couples dancing under the stars in the Starlight Room.