Celebrating Coney Island’s Riegelmann Boardwalk scenic landmark status
“We have the sand, we have the sun and now we have the Boardwalk!” exulted NY City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
Not even a second consecutive month of extreme sultry summer heat could dampen Johnson’s energy and enthusiasm as he addressed the audience in front of Deno’s Wonder Wheel on Aug. 9.
“The Coney Island Boardwalk is not just a Brooklyn icon or a New York City icon, it is indelibly etched in the imagination of our country and around the world,” he said.
The speaker’s exuberance notwithstanding, this day belonged to his friend and colleague, Councilmember Mark Treyger. After years of political wrangling, historical documentation and on-site rallies, Treyger and his allies had finally persuaded New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to add Coney Island’s Riegelmann Boardwalk to a short list of “scenic landmarks” that includes Central & Prospect Parks, Eastern Parkway, Grand Army Plaza and Bryant Park, making the Boardwalk NYC’s eleventh designated scenic landmark.
“It was a long, difficult process,” Treyger admitted. Along with many of his colleagues, Treyger hadn’t realized the Reigelmann Boardwalk, originally dedicated in May 1923, had no official landmark status until discussion of how it might be repaired in the wake of Superstorm Sandy resulted in plans to replace the wood surface with plastic or concrete, an alteration, opponents argued, that would have utterly destroyed the character and ambience of the boardwalk.
Treyger took action. But in spite of support from the City Council, comptroller’s office and the NYC public advocate, LPC’s answer was “no.”
“Their argument,” said Coney Island historian and author Charles Denson, “was that the surface had changed beyond recognition; that beach development had altered the very location and essentially there was little or no culture associated with the boardwalk.”
“Of course,” Treyger said, “we in Brooklyn don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We set out to educate them.”
“He was a bulldog on the subject,” Johnson said. “Someone who would not shut up about the boardwalk!”
“Not only am I proud of the landmark status,” Treyger said, “I’m proud of how we got this done. Because in other parts of the city, sometimes you have conservancies, sometimes you have lobbyists … we had no lobbyists, we had no conservancy. We did this the old-fashioned way!”
Joining Treyger in his effort was fellow Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, of the 48th District, which includes significant portions of the Riegelmann Boardwalk.
“They mud wrestle all the time over whose district has more of the boardwalk,” Johnson quipped.
“At the end of the day,” said Deutsch, “no matter what ethnic background you’re from, or what culture you represent, when it comes to issues, we’re all the same, and they’re all important to us.”
“The boardwalk is a big part of what brought the fairly new city of New York together,” Treyger said later. “Before it came into being, much of this land was private, and many people weren’t allowed access, or had to pay. Once the boardwalk was opened, however, people from all walks of life, all races and religions, came together here. And their differences really weren’t as important in this place.”
With its status as NYC’s 11th scenic landmark established, the Riegelmann Boardwalk will require additional layers of oversight before significant alterations can take place. Moreover, the city landmark law requires there to be a boardwalk between Ocean Parkway and West 37th Street in perpetuity.
According to Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Marty Maher, the Reigelmann Boardwalk is 2.4 miles long, comprised of 1.3 million boards, which are held in place by 18 million nails and screws. “I had some extra time on my hands,” Maher said with a laugh, “so I counted each one.”
Henceforth, each one of them is now protected by NYC law.
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