Planks a lot! Reclaimed Boardwalk is now Italian esplanade

Planks a lot! Reclaimed Boardwalk is now Italian esplanade
Saverio Lombardi Vallauri

Wood from the Riegelmann Boardwalk that was supposedly damaged during Superstorm Sandy is being reused in Italy — as a boardwalk.

In a classic case of one city’s trash being another’s tesaro, architects who designed the U.S.A. Pavilion at Milan’s Expo 2015 used lumber from Brooklyn’s Boardwalk to build an indoor boardwalk at the Italian World’s Fair. The city has for years been trying to convince residents that concrete and synthetic boards are better suited for beachfront walkways — and has routinely replaced portions of the wooden Boardwalk, which stretches from Coney Island to the edge of Manhattan Beach, with non-wood options — upsetting old-school Boardwalk advocates who say it is the wood that makes it good.

And to them, the ironic move to repurpose Boardwalk wood to make a boardwalk could be the last straw.

Under the Boardwalk: Visitors to the Milan Expo will get a view of the Coney Island Boardwalk from beneath — a vista once only afforded to daring Brooklynites.
Saverio Lombardi Vallauri

“What a travesty — shipping our Boardwalk’s wood off to another country to be re-purposed and enjoyed there, while we have plastic and concrete shoved down our throats,” wrote Coney–Brighton Boardwalk Alliance president Rob Burstein in a letter to us when he heard of the Italian job.

Biber Architects designed the Milan boardwalk and purchased the timber from salvagers Sawkill Lumber, who harvested the historic planks for the city after Sandy “wrecked” the wooden walkway in 2012, a Biber spokeswoman said.

But reports dating back to the Storm of the Century indicate that wooden portions of the Boardwalk actually fared better than its concrete counterpart, prompting local politicians to demand the city end it plans to go synthetic.

What the what!: Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance President Rob Burstein can't believe the city sold Boardwalk wood to Italy so that nation could build a boardwalk.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

But, the Parks Department, which is responsible for the Boardwalk’s maintenance, is insistent on replacing all but four blocks of the walkway with concrete, claiming the move will better support emergency vehicles, increase Boardwalk resiliency, and prevent deforestation — claims wood proponents say is hogwash.

“There are a variety of alternative woods, including sustainably grown and sourced Forestry Stewardship Council-certified rainforest wood, the use of which is both ecologically sound and beneficial to the local communities producing it,” Burstein wrote, also pointing out that “no emergency vehicles ever come on to the Boardwalk.”

These days, the only thing not made out of Boardwalk wood is the Boardwalk itself.

Straddling the line: A former reporter stands over the dividing line between wood and concrete Boardwalk after Superstorm Sandy, where there was a noticeable difference in beach erosion.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Lumber reclaimed from the storied walkway wound up in Manhattan pizzeria Rossopomodoro and in benches on the newly opened section of the Manhattan’s High Line, according to Sawkill’s website. A Williamsburg workshop fabricates knife handles from Boardwalk wood. And you can literally eat off the Boardwalk — or a table made thereof.

Of course, the ceiling at Coney Island’s Sistine Chapel — Ruby’s Bar — is famously fashioned from reclaimed Boardwalk planks.

News of the Milan boardwalk made of Coney Island Boardwalk wood was first reported by the website Amusing the Zillion.

Old meets new: The old-school wood Boardwalk meets the new-school concrete.
Photo by Paul Martinka

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.