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Boardwalk under construction

Walking on Boardwalk Under Construction, November 29, 1922. Photo by E.E. Rutter via NYC Dept of Records, Municipal Archives

This Sunday, May 15, is the 93rd anniversary of the official opening of Coney Island’s Riegelmann Boardwalk. Last week, Coney poet Michael Schwartz crooned a few lines from “Under the Boardwalk” and recited poetry as part of his testimony before the City Council’s Land Use Committee. He was among about 15 people who took time out from their work day to speak at City Hall in favor of Councilman Mark Treyger’s resolution that the Landmarks Preservation Commission designate the Boardwalk a scenic landmark.

The LPC had previously said no, but is now said to be reconsidering. You may want to phone, email or write letters of encouragement to Meenakshi Srinivasan, Commissioner of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Contact information is here. Use the hashtag #LandmarkTheBoardwalk when you post on social media.

Schwartz’s eloquent testimony, printed in full below, begins with an excerpt of his poem, “The Under-Talker,” from a book-in-progress of poems, short stories and monologues set in Coney Island and called The Invisible Exhibitionist and other Attractions.

What will happen to us now that they took away under the boardwalk?
We won’t be falling in love
under the boardwalk…
boardwalk.
I heard that pushing the sand right up under the boards like that is what causes them to erode and crack.
I wish we could have our down by the sea on a blanket with my baby under the boardwalk back.
Did you hear that when they filled it in Homeless John the Under-Talker was buried alive?
Under the boardwalk.
Yesterday I tripped on a broken board and fell on my ear
and I swear while I was there
I could still hear him talk.
If you listen closely…
you can still hear him talk.

First they came for under the boardwalk… Then they came for the boardwalk. It started already. Part of the boardwalk’s already been paved over, even though that’s not what the people wanted. And in the middle of the night before it would have been landmarked, they bulldozed our beloved original Thunderbolt. And they came under darkness in the middle of the night and destroyed our beloved West 8th Street bridge to the boardwalk that protected us from traffic, because we didn’t have the power to protect it. If we don’t have the power to protect our world famous beloved boardwalk that connects neighborhoods, businesses, and people, one day we will wake up and it won’t be there, at least not as we know it. Where’s the boardwalk? Oh my God, it’s a sidewalk. Don’t we have enough sidewalks?

Boardwalk Not Sidewalk

Boardwalk Not Sidewalk/No Concrete. Sign on Building Facing Boardwalk East of Ocean Parkway in Brighton Beach. Photo © Bruce Handy

The historic beloved boardwalk is one of the last walkways in our world that is an oasis from the concrete that hardens our souls and hammers our joints. Also, concrete will not absorb water or heat the way wood does. In this apocalyptic time of hurricanes and floods, the walkway by the water is wood for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. Coney Island is called the people’s park because it’s different than those other sanitized corporatized parks. When Coney becomes corporatized, such as when the Republican nominee’s father Fred destroyed Steeplechase, they demolish more than just the people’s parks, they break the people’s hearts.

We’ve seen too many New York treasures wiped out by corporate greed, little by little turning the greatest city in the world into just another impersonal unaffordable clone of Anymall, USA. We lost the original Penn Station, the 8th wonder of the world, because it wasn’t landmarked. We saved Grand Central Station because it was landmarked. If we don’t landmark the boardwalk, we’ll lose it. We’ll lose ourselves.

© Michael Schwartz

Truck on Coney Island Boardwalk

The City’s routine use of trucks and cars on the Boardwalk causes wear and tear on the boards. The Parks Dept has started to build a 10-foot wide concrete ‘carriage lane’ in Brighton Beach. Photo © Anonymouse

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Coney Art Walls Marie Roberts

Coney Art Walls Mural painted by Marie Roberts in 2015 will be replaced by a new Roberts mural this season.

Coney Art Walls, an art project curated by Jeffrey Deitch that turned Thor Equities’ vacant lot behind Nathan’s into a pop culture destination last summer will be back in 2016. Seven murals painted on concrete, will stay for another season. Most of the other walls have been sandblasted and are blank canvases awaiting a new group of artists set to begin painting this spring.

“We are working on the artist line up for Coney Art Walls upcoming season,” Ethel Seno, who manages and coordinates the project for Jeffrey Deitch, told ATZ.

Jeffrey Deitch at Coney Art Walls

Curator Jeffrey Deitch at Coney Art Walls. May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The art walls are interspersed with colorful shipping containers that housed Red Hook Lobster Pound, Home Frites, Bon Chovie and several other Smorgasburg vendors last summer. The cafe tables and chairs amid the art walls were a welcome amenity in Coney Island where there is a dearth of public seating. Thor Equities is close to finalizing an agreement to bring a new food operator because Smorgasburg will not be sending its vendors to Coney Island in 2016. “Not this year for us,” Eric Demby, co-founder of Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg told ATZ.

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Smorgasburg vendors Blue Marble Ice Cream and New Yorkina in shipping container pop-ups at Coney Art Walls. May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Last year, Thor’s vacant lot across the street, bounded by Stillwell Avenue and West 12th Street, hosted a popular trapeze school, wrestling matches and other entertainments, and an outdoor cafe. A banner advertising the lot for lease went up in the middle of March. On Thursday, some heavy machinery was brought it to break up the asphalt, lending credence to the idea that we heard from the Coney Island Rumor Mill. A go kart track is said to be the next new thing there, and possibly a miniature golf course.

If it turns out to be true, it’s great news and proof that everything old is new again in Coney Island. Go karts and mini golf were among the amusements evicted by Thor CEO Joe Sitt when he first bought the property in 2007.

As for Thor Equities newly acquired properties on the Bowery, sources tell ATZ the mom and pop concessionaires and food operators got a new lease with only a slight rent increase – due in three payments– but the cost of their insurance policy has tripled. Please patronize Coney Island’s independent operators this summer!

Thor Equities lot

Thor Equities lot on West 12th Street may get a go kart track. March 10, 2016. Photo © Tricia Vita

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No one can hope to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s

“No one can hope to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s” — Nelson Rockefeller

The presidential candidates ate cheese curds in Wisconsin, now it’s time to chow down on hot dogs in Coney Island! As New York’s three-term Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller, famously said in 1966, “No one can hope to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous.”

Last April, when Hillary Clinton announced her campaign headquarters would be in Brooklyn, we anticipated she’d soon show up at Nathan’s for her photo op. What is she waiting for?

Now that the New York Primary is competitive for the first time in decades and Nathan’s is celebrating its 100th anniversary, a trip to the People’s Playground is required to establish her Brooklyn bona fides.

For Bernie Sanders, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, and moved to Vermont in his 20’s, being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s and shaking hands with locals would be seen as a homecoming. UPDATE: April 8th… It looks like Bernie will be the first! We have confirmation that Bernie will be on the Coney Island Boardwalk for a 2pm rally on Sunday with security check-in beginning at 11am! 

Though Donald Trump is a native New Yorker, don’t expect to see him belly up to the counter at Nathan’s. There is absolutely such a thing as bad publicity. The Donald’s presence in Coney Island would occasion mention of the horrible damage his father Fred Trump wreaked here 50 years ago. See the exhibit at the Coney Island History Project this summer: “The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump’s Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion.”

Today, Ted Cruz went to a matzoh bakery in Brighton Beach and also to Coney Island, according to a tweet from the 60th Precinct. It’s sheer cluelessness of “New York Values” that he got this close and skipped Nathan’s. Meanwhile at Mike’s Deli in the Bronx, John Kasich showed an appetite worthy of a competitor in Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The tradition of New York politicians making a campaign stop at Nathan’s has encompassed governors, mayors, attorneys general, comptrollers and city council presidents. In an iconic photo taken at Nathan’s Famous, Nelson Rckefeller and the state’s attorney general, Lewis Lefkowitz, are seen enthusiastically eating the famous franks. “They campaigned aggressively in overwhelmingly Democratic Coney Island in 1966,” according to Gastropolis: Food and New York City. “They ate countless hot dogs and shook hands for hours in what was their most successful day on the campaign trail.”

In the previously unpublished photo below from the archive of Famous Nathan director Lloyd Handwerker, Nathan welcomes the Democratic candidates in the 1961 municipal election to his hot dog emporium. Robert F. Wagner for Mayor, Abe Beame for Comptroller, and Paul R. Screvane for President of the City Council went on to defeat the Republicans.

Campaigning at Nathan's

1961 Democratic candidates Robert F. Wagner for Mayor, Abe Beame for Comptroller, and Paul R. Screvane for President of the City Council campaigning at Nathan’s. Photo © Lloyd Handwerker Archive. FamousNathan.com

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