With an Eye in the Rearview, Long Beach Faces Bittersweet Moment

by Connor Ryan
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People walking on boardwalk.

ekonon, Flickr

Residents are invited to visit the boardwalk before demolition on Saturday at 11 a.m.

State senator William Reynolds has been known as the founder of Long Beach, Long Island ever since he created its boardwalk in 1907.

After building an amusement park on Coney Island and being elected State Senator — all by the tender age of 24 — Reynolds searched for a way to draw people away from the buzz of Atlantic City, the local competition, and into the streets of Long Beach.

A  boardwalk was his solution.

"He was a visionary and he knew that in order to give this sandbar some panache, he would have to create a great white-way -- very similar to Atlantic City," Roberta Fiore, a historian and resident of Long Beach, said in a phone interview. "He was constantly in competition with Atlantic City."

Reynolds used new, exotic technologies — concrete to build the boardwalk's foundation and light bulbs to light the top of the walkway — in hopes of attracting a crowd. He even walked Roger and Alice (elephants from Coney Island) around the boardwalk in hopes of getting some attention.

Fiore said that Reynolds had a clear understanding of the time's loose culture, and his mission to get Long Beach on the map was quickly successful.

"It was the era of wanting to play, and these boardwalks were playgrounds," Fiore said. "They were places to come and play."

The long pathway has remained at the heart of Long Beach ever since Reynolds first built it.

"Long Beach is its boardwalk. Long Beach is its great white-way along the ocean," Fiore said. "It's of tremendous significance — it's the heartbeat."

At just over two miles in length and a solid eight feet in height, the boardwalk was the largest of its kind on Long Island. Cozy shops and familiar eateries sat nearby. It straddled the line between three and a half mile stretch of open beach and a slew of condominiums, pools and apartment complexes.

The boardwalk, which was always lit and featured a wide bike lane, was frequently traveled — in the summer and in the winter, under the sun and in the moonlight.

And then Superstorm Sandy struck.

The boardwalk was severely damaged. It was quickly deemed unsafe and residents were directed not to walk on it.

The process of demolishing and removing the boardwalk's remnants will begin Saturday afternoon and officials expect the removal process to take about one month.

After the area has been organized, officials will assess the damage and determine whether any parts of the boardwalk may be salvaged.

City Councilman Scott Mandel said that the plan as of Friday night was to renovate the entire structure. When asked about the boardwalk's place in Long Beach, Mandel spoke personally.

"I have memories — I proposed to my wife on the boardwalk, and I share the same memories that every other person who has visited Long Beach and who has come here for our boardwalk has," he said. "We're in this together. We're a community and as a community, we're mourning the passing of an old friend, but we're also going to celebrate the rebirth of the heart of Long Beach."

But Fiore said she would be disappointed if the city removed the boardwalk's concrete base. She believes that removing the entire structure would be like taking away a great piece of history.

"Why fix what isn't broken," Fiore said. "There's nothing wrong with the concrete [foundation]. [It is] are well over one hundred years old and [it has] survived, and to me it would be like [destroying] St. Peter's in Rome because there's a flood. Just fix it."

Officials hope to replace the boardwalk in time for the start of beach season. The project is expected to cost Long Island close to $25 million.

Residents are invited to visit the boardwalk one final time on Saturday at 11 a.m.

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