Coney Island’s boardwalk has survived a depression, grit and grime and Mother Nature, and it will soon be fully protected for generations to come.
The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted Tuesday morning to make Riegelmann Boardwalk an official city “scenic landmark.”
The vote came after years of lobbying from Brooklynites, businesses, advocacy groups and elected officials, such as City Councilman Mark Treyger, who had fought for the 2.7-mile walkway to have the designation and the protections that come with it.
They hope their collective effort inspires other New Yorkers to similarly take up action for other neglected landmarks.
“The public now has a greater say,” said Treyger, who first made the request for the boardwalk in 2014. “Other landmark applications had the support of a conservancy or lobbyists. There was no lobbyist here, no public relations firm. This was a grass roots effort here.”
The application will have to get an OK from the City Planning Commission and the full City Council, but Treyger said he is confident that those approvals will be quick, given the boardwalk’s strong and enduring connection to New York.
Riegelmann Boardwalk first opened on May 15, 1923, between Ocean Parkway and West 37th Street. An additional 4,000 feet were added going east to Coney Island Avenue two years later, followed by the addition of 1,500 feet reaching to Corbin Place in 1941.
Deborah Schwartz, the president of the Brooklyn Historical Society, said the boardwalk immediately attracted throngs of New Yorkers. Photographs, literature and other art helped propel it to iconic global status, even when it went through tough, crime-infested times during decades such as the 1970s.
“It becomes the quintessential place where you are strolling with your families or loved ones, where you’re hopping in out of the restaurants and stores,” she said.
Local and tourists on the boardwalk Tuesday hailed the LPC’s decision. Marie Chapman, 62, of East New York, raised her family in the neighborhood and said the boardwalk was an integral part of their summers.
“When I would get off work, I would grab a couple beers and some fries and come to the boardwalk. That’s your chill-out time between work and coming home,” she said.
Rebekah Cejchanova, 27, a resident of the Czech Republic who visited the beach Tuesday with her husband and two-year-old son, said the area’s whirlwind of activity stood apart from other beaches she’d visited but struck her as quintessentially New York.
“This is what America is like,” she said.
Alexandra Silversmith, the executive director of the Alliance for Coney Island, said the boardwalk is also a symbol of the neighborhood’s diversity. When other beaches and boardwalks around the country were excluding people because of their skin color or religious background, Coney Island welcomed everyone.
“This is the people’s playground and it is where they should come to get a nice flavor of color,” she said.
Under the landmark designation, the boardwalk cannot have any changes to its appearance without approval from the LPC. When the city replaced some of the structure’s wood with concrete following superstorm Sandy, Treyger said the community grew concerned that more changes could happen in the future.
The outpouring of community voices in support of the landmark application in a multitude of places, including a town hall with the mayor last August, helped to push the commission to approve the designation, according to the councilman.
“We’ve certainly made an example that if you work hard and build grass roots support, anything is possible,” he said.