For one last day, Long Beach’s battered and splintered boardwalk generated a much-needed shot of energy to a storm-weary community as residents said goodbye to the historic landmark, many opting for a final stroll along the 2.2-mile stretch of hallowed wood before its demolition, set to begin this weekend.
Full of mixed emotions — saddened by the loss of the iconic structure but eager to rebuild the city after Superstorm Sandy — residents and elected officials joined together during a ceremony Saturday to bid farewell to the boardwalk and relive its historic past.
Hundreds huddled together on Grand Boulevard under a sunny sky as officials attempted to lift the somber crowd by crediting the boardwalk for giving Long Beach its charm but also pledging to rebuild stronger and smarter. Some spectators took in the events from the boardwalk, others peered out from windows and balconies of waterfront apartments.
Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said Saturday was a “very emotional time,” but added, “we know that there’s so many good times to come.”
The 2.2-mile long iconic boardwalk stood tall through dozens of storms since it was created in 1907 and passed the strength test during a handful of powerful hurricanes and tropical storms, but it finally relented in October when Superstorm Sandy spawned a record storm surge that crippled the structure. Long Beach was one of the hardest hit communities when the massive hurricane slammed into Long Island Oct. 29.
Long Beach officials said demolition is to be completed within 30 days and a request for proposal process must be completed before construction starts on a new boardwalk. Officials have yet to say when they expect the project to be finished. The estimated cost is $25 million.
“We desperately want to have the boardwalk and beach up and running as soon as possible,” said Long Beach spokesman Gordon Tepper. Many residents are crossing their fingers that a new boardwalk will be ready to go by the summer.
“Our boardwalk,” said Scott Mandel, city council vice president, “is the spirit of Long beach…it’s the heart of Long Beach.” He added that the city would emerge “through the rubble stronger and smarter.”
“It’s a symbol of love and happiness,” said Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach), who claimed to know every crack on the boardwalk.
“People would just sit up here and look at the ocean,” he said nostalgically.
After the ceremony, which featured prayers and a poem from a former Long Beach resident, the crowd was invited to pick up a piece of lumber from the boardwalk and to continue the ceremony at the Long Beach Historical Society.
Others decided to grab a piece of history themselves.
“It’s part of everyday life here,” said 42-year-old Nancy Koenig of Long Beach, who moments earlier broke off a large chunk of the boardwalk to help keep the memory alive. “It’s where you meet friends for a chat, just sit and relax, read, watch the ocean, go for bike rides…we love the boardwalk.”
Lynbrook resident Marianne Stone set her feet on the boardwalk for one final time and opened up about the good — and bad — experiences walking the boardwalk.
“We’ve put many, many miles on this boardwalk,” she said. “It’s a beautiful place.”
Any fond memories?
“A few bike crashes,” she said with a laugh.
Kathy Boyle has lived in Long Beach for a decade and had to leave the city for her sister’s house following the hurricane and recalls seeing pictures of the destroyed boardwalk on the Internet and getting emotional.
“I sat there 2 o’clock in the morning crying for an hour,” she said.
The storm destroyed the first floor of her house but Boyle admitted the demolition is harder to take in.
“I care more about this…this is so big,” she said, “it’s so hard to explain how important it is to life here.”
Stone and Koenig were nearly done collecting wood from the boardwalk when a city police officer started shouting people off the doomed structure.
Before leaving, they picked up some wood and smiled for a photo.