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Rebuilt Rockaway Boardwalk Finally Complete, Nearly 5 Years After Hurricane

By Katie Honan | May 26, 2017 9:30am
 Beach 50th Street in 2017.
Beach 50th Street in 2017.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

ROCKAWAY BEACH — For the first time since Hurricane Sandy, the completely rebuilt boardwalk will be open — reuniting residents along the miles-long stretch of beach with their favorite thoroughfare.

The Parks Department completed the final phase of the boardwalk, between Beach 39th and Beach 19th streets, last week. 

It marks the end of a long journey to completely replace and rebuild the decades-old esplanade, which runs from Beach 9th to Beach 126th streets, four and a half years after the 2012 storm.

“There are few places in the city where you have a boardwalk and a beautiful beach and it’s the reason why most people move here,” Jonathan Gaska, the chair of Community Board 14, said.

Hurricane Sandy destroyed miles of the boardwalk, with the wooden planks ripping apart and crashing into homes.

A piece of the boardwalk at Beach 92nd Street and Shore Front Parkway in the days after Hurricane Sandy. (Parks Department)

In the dark months after the hurricane, as the city began to figure out its rebuilding plan, residents made it clear how important the boardwalk was to them.

At a January 2013 meeting to discuss the upcoming summer, the first after Hurricane Sandy, residents cheered when Parks officials announced the beaches would be opened.

"I kept hearing from people it was important to have the boardwalk back," said Dorothy Lewandowski, the borough commissioner from Queens. "'We want our boardwalk, we want our boardwalk.'"

PODCAST: Rockaway Gets Ready for Beach Season With New Boardwalk (2015)

Boardwalk History

Boardwalks began appearing on the peninsula in the 1860s, as private hotel operators built them separately to help guests get to the beach.

By the 1920s, the city began construction on a unified boardwalk. Back then the beach operations were controlled by the borough president’s office, who took care of the shore and boardwalk until the Parks Department took it over in 1938.

Beach 112th Street and the boardwalk in 1939. (Parks Department archives.)

Beach 50th Street and the boardwalk, 1939. (Parks Department archives.)

The earlier boardwalk was made up of wood from Brazilian and Guyanese rainforests and served as a connector on the often disparate peninsula. 

Historic Photos of Rockaway Boardwalk Show Glory of Promenade's Past

Its original cost was more than $3 million — which would be approximately $68 million in the current day, based on a federal inflation calculator, according to a report in The Wave. It opened in 1931. 

Boardwalk Rebuild

While some residents hoped it could be rebuilt with wood, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced weeks after the storm the boardwalk was going to come back as concrete.

“I guess this settles the issue of wooden boardwalks versus concrete boardwalks," he told The Wave in November 2012.

"There will be no more wooden boardwalks in Rockaway or anywhere else."

The Parks Department held dozens of community meetings focused on the boardwalk rebuilding, soliciting feedback and suggestions from residents.

One of the first boardwalk visioning sessions held in Rockaway Park in 2013. (Parks Department)

INTERACTIVE MAP: See Where Rockaway's Boardwalk Wood Went After Sandy

Residents successfully pitched the idea of spelling out "ROCKAWAY" in a slightly different color of concrete within the boardwalk, saying it would be visible to airplanes descending into John F. Kennedy Airport.

One rebuilding aspect the city didn't seek feedback or input on were the controversial lifeguard shacks and bathrooms along Rockaway's boardwalk. 

Those structures — installed around other beaches across the city — cost hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Boardwalk Setbacks

The process hit bumps along the road, forcing the delay of construction throughout the rebuilding process:

First, a federal government shutdown stopped planning. Then, concrete and steel pilings that held the original boardwalk since the 1930s had to be replaced. Lastly, the process had to be halted to avoid disturbing the nesting of endangered piping plovers.

Residents also chimed in about beach access, "tanning tables," and bike lanes on the final boardwalk — which added more time to the overall construction.

Yet it still hit the Memorial Day 2017 timeline announced by the city.

"When I'm on the boardwalk and people are using it, I see the excitement of this new facility," Lewandowski said.

The opening will be celebrated Saturday with Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver at Beach 95th St. at 10 a.m. 

The boardwalk at Beach 50th St. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)