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March 16, 2024

Some of Amazing Postcards of the Coney Island Boardwalk From the 1920s

The wood planks of the Coney Island Boardwalk were designed to accommodate two kinds of traffic: pedestrian and rolling chair. The sections with diagonal planks forming a chevron pattern were meant for foot traffic, whereas the two strips of straight planks were meant for rolling chairs. When the boardwalk opened in 1923, rolling chairs were already a popular attraction in Atlantic City, and they remained in Coney Island into the 1960s.

In April 1923, shortly before the boardwalk was completed, it was named after Edward J. Riegelmann, the Brooklyn borough president. Riegelmann, one of the project’s main leaders, had boasted that the boardwalk would raise real estate values on Coney Island. Despite his role in the boardwalk’s development, Riegelmann and his assistant commissioner of public works opposed the name, preferring that the project be known as the “Coney Island Boardwalk.” Riegelmann stated that, when the boardwalk was completed, “poor people will no longer have to stand with their faces pressed against wire fences looking at the ocean.”

The boardwalk was opened in three phases between Ocean Parkway and West 37th Street. The first section of the boardwalk, comprising the eastern section between Ocean Parkway and West 5th Street, opened in October 1922. The boardwalk was extended westward to West 17th Street in December 1922. The final section of the boardwalk, from West 17th to West 37th Street, was officially opened with a ceremony on May 15, 1923. At the time of its opening, the boardwalk was said to be wider and more expensive than the comparable boardwalks at Atlantic City, the Rockaways, and Long Beach on Long Island.

After the boardwalk was completed, Charles L. Craig, the New York City Comptroller, said that it could not be considered a “real boardwalk” without pergolas and restrooms. Accordingly, in June 1924, the New York City Board of Estimate approved the erection of five comfort stations and five beachfront pavilions. The pavilions were completed by early 1925. The Board of Estimate, in December 1922, approved another project to widen, create, or open private streets that led to the boardwalk. The work, which began in 1923, entailed condemning 288 lots, including 175 houses and portions of Steeplechase Park. Eighteen streets, each 60 feet (18 m) wide, were created between West 8th and West 35th Streets. Surf and Stillwell Avenues were widened, and the city took over several private passageways, including West 12th Street. Sewers and sidewalks were installed. Brooklyn public officials believed these changes would revitalize Coney Island's shore and lessen congestion on Surf Avenue. In total, the boardwalk and related improvement projects cost $20 million (about $342 million in today). Of this cost, 35 percent was paid through taxes, and the remainder was paid by the city.

The Brighton Beach extension of the boardwalk, which would build out the boardwalk from Ocean Parkway eastward to Coney Island Avenue, was formally approved by the city’s Board of Estimate in June 1925. The extension was 3,000 to 4,000 feet (910 to 1,220 m) long, and entailed expanding the beach and creating new paths to the boardwalk. Real estate developments were proposed as a result of the extension, which was completed by mid-1926. The $1 million extension was to be funded via taxes levied on Coney Island property owners. Although some property owners objected to the assessments, they were ultimately forced to pay for the project.

A similar scheme to extend the boardwalk 3,000 feet (910 m) westward, from West 37th Street to Coney Island Light, was opposed by the residents of Sea Gate, the private community through which the boardwalk would have been expanded. In June 1927, borough president James J. Byrne approved the Sea Gate extension and bought land on the Sea Gate waterfront. The following year, the bulkhead lines in Sea Gate were approved for demolition, in anticipation of the boardwalk being extended. The boardwalk extension was slated to connect to a steamship pier operated by the Coney Island Steamship Corporation. However, the company was permanently enjoined from selling stocks and bonds in July 1930. The corporation claimed that the Brooklyn government had allocated $3 million to extend the boardwalk in December 1929, but borough president Henry Hesterberg denied having done so. The boardwalk was ultimately not extended past the fence on West 37th Street. After a four-block section of the boardwalk was damaged in a July 1932 fire, it was rebuilt and reopened within a month.


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