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Coney Island's Boardwalks and Beaches Prep for Memorial Day

Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. This week, Kensinger checks in on the Memorial Day weekend preparations on Coney Island.


[The city is planning to have its boardwalks and beaches ready for Memorial Day weekend on the Coney Island peninsula, which was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

In Coney Island, weather is everything. That's what the businesses on the boardwalk say. That's what the locals waiting for their beaches to reopen say. And as the city races against the clock to prepare for Memorial Day weekend, weather is at the forefront of everyone's thoughts. The reminders of Hurricane Sandy still mar the landscape in neighborhoods along the Coney Island peninsula, from collapsed homes in Sea Gate and boarded up bungalows in Brighton Beach to storm damaged mansions in Manhattan Beach. All of this was under water just seven months ago, and Coney Island is still recovering even as its beaches and boardwalk are being readied for summer festivities.  

"Memorial Day is the big kickoff weekend. If the weather is nice, people come out. If the weather is like today, no one is going to come out," said Michael Sarrel, owner of Ruby's Bar & Grill, on a recent rainy afternoon. "It has been that way for 100 years." With less than a week to go before the big weekend launch, the boardwalk was almost empty, other than the workers. They have been out in full force this week, laboring 24 hours a day with bulldozers, saws, shovels and hammers to ready the peninsula for the coming weekend, and to erase some of the scars left behind by Hurricane Sandy. "Let's hope we have weather!" said Melody Sarrel, while closing down Ruby's bar early, before sunset. "We are hoping for 85 degrees and sunny."

Although Memorial Day is fast approaching, damaged sections of the Coney Island boardwalk are still being replaced with new wood. 

Carpenter workstations on the boardwalk are situated alongside construction equipment used to shift the sands. "The boardwalk has been overrun with unprecedented piles of sand this season," according to the Post, in part because of Hurricane Sandy.

Some damaged sections of the boardwalk are still not repaired, despite workers being employed 24 hours a day. "We still got a lot of shit to do, dude," said one worker. "It ain't 1, 2, 3 after that storm, no way."

During Sandy, the "storm surge below the wooden planks flooded storage areas," according to the Huffington Post, "with water reaching as high as 5 feet in some places."

New modular comfort stations are being installed at several locations along the boardwalk. The structures will house bathrooms and lifeguard stations.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, the boardwalk was empty and the only business open was Ruby's Bar & Grill. "Today is pretty awful," said owner Melody Sarrel, before closing up shop.  

Ruby's and many other neighborhood businesses suffered serious economic impacts after the storm. Totonno's Pizzeria was closed for several months and Nathan's Hot Dogs flagship location only reopened this week.

Further east on the Coney Island peninsula, Manhattan Beach has remained closed since the storm for cleanup and repairs. The nearby neighborhood was hit hard by Sandy, but its beach is scheduled to reopen on Memorial Day.

Less than a block away from the beach, a row of boarded up homes face the Atlantic Ocean. The remains of Manhattan Beach's esplanade were destroyed by the storm and have since been removed.

At the eastern end of the Coney Island peninsula, the small public beach at Kingsborough Community College was damaged by Sandy, but is now allowing visitors onto its sands.

"There were literally automobiles, refrigerators, debris of all types, right on the beach," a vice president of the college told NY1. The school planned to send divers under the waves to check for hidden debris.  

In Sea Gate, the gated community at the western end of the Coney Island peninsula, skimboarders enjoyed the weekday waves near the ruins of a home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

On the western end of the peninsula, a public playground crushed by Sandy is perched at the water's edge   "Coney Island has been destroyed many times," a Sea Gate resident told the Huffington Post. "It's burned to the ground, it's been destroyed by urban renewal, it's had fire storms, and it will survive this."
?Nathan Kensinger
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