Coney Island

The Coney Island Boardwalk could still become a concrete sidewalk, preservationists warn

Even landmarking the historic structure won't guarantee wood planks forever

April 17, 2018 By Lore Croghan The Brooklyn Eagle
Ticket buyers stand on the Coney Island Boardwalk outside the Wonder Wheel.
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Even being named a city landmark won’t save the Coney Island Boardwalk from becoming a sidewalk, preservationists warned Tuesday.

That’s because the Landmarks Preservation Commission won’t have the power to stop the Parks Department from replacing the fabled city-owned walkway’s wood planks with cement slabs or plastic “timber” even if the structure is designated as a scenic landmark. The city Public Design Commission would retain authority over alterations — and fans of the wood boardwalk said the Landmarks agency should get tough and insist it has the right to protect the two miles of wood planks that remain on the 2.7-mile ocean-front attraction.   

“This is not a time for inter-agency courtesy,” Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City testified at a hearing at the agency’s Lower Manhattan headquarters on Tuesday morning.  “Everyone … wants it protected from regrettable, wrongful decisions by the Department of Parks. We want the boardwalk to be a boardwalk, not a cement road, not a plastic promenade, a real boardwalk made of real boards of wood, just as it always was, and should be.”

The preservationists remain concerned that more wood will be removed from the Boardwalk in favor of cement, which has already been installed at both ends of the Coney mainstay. And in 2012, the  Design Commission gave the Parks Department permission to replace Hurricane Sandy-damaged planks on Steeplechase Pier with plastic timber. Both plastic and concrete cheaper to maintain over time, the Parks Department has said.

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Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff said that designating the Boardwalk as a “scenic landmark” without a meaningful means of protecting its wood planks “is not even a case of closing the barn door after the horse has fled.

“Rather, this is an instance of putting up a sign identifying the empty building as a barn in the first place and calling it a job well done,” he added.     

Scenic landmark status is afforded to city-owned parks or landscape features, and only gives the Landmark agency an advisory role. True landmark status — which covers buildings or interiors in historic districts — protects structures from being altered without agency approval.

Coney Island community groups also passionately believe the Riegelmann Boardwalk, which is its formal name, should remain a wooden boardwalk.

Its landmark designation “can only hold meaning if it comes with the inherent protections of the boardwalk as what it has always been, and should be conserved as — a unique pedestrian entity comprised of wooden boards,” said Rob Burstein of the Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance.

LPC rebuffed the boardwalk’s supporters in 2014

The Riegelmann Boardwalk was named for Edward Riegelmann, the Brooklyn Borough President who was the driving force behind its construction. It opened in 1923.

The construction of the boardwalk turned Coney Island into a “mecca of leisure for the masses,” City Councilmember Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) testified at Tuesday’s hearing.

Agency Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan said the commission will vote on May 15 on the scenic landmark designation. The agency had originally rejected taking up the issue on the grounds that the boardwalk had been “substantially altered” by Robert Moses between 1939 and 1941.

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