By SERGEY KADINSKY
Forgotten NY correspondent
On my previous visit to Coney Island, I documented a former bathhouse that became a Parks Department garage. I was informed that it will soon be demolished, joining a set of other former bathhouses that I’ve described in the past. This time, I walked the last ten blocks of the Riegelmann Boardwalk to search for more forgotten items.
At West 32nd Street, maps show a half-block dead-end Sea Place, a rare street on the blocks between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk. It is short, but as it appears on the official city map, it could have addresses on it, if there were any homes on it. On his visit to Sea Place in 2019, Kevin noted its past as the address of Lincoln Baths and a set of abandoned bungalow dwellings.
A look at the neighborhood in 1920 shows numerous bathhouses near Sea Place. At the time, the Norton’s Point Trolley connected Sea Gate to the subway at Stillwell Avenue. It ran until 1948, replaced with the B36 bus route.
A block to the east, Nautilus Playground was built in tandem with the NYCHA Coney Island Houses, wiping Edward Place on West 30th Street from the map. The playground’s basketball courts were featured in the Spike Lee film He’s Got Game.
The most recent development at the west end of Coney Island is Ocean Drive, a pair of market-rate glass-box condos built by supermarket executive and WABC radio owner John Catsimatidis. Their name and architectural style evokes Miami Beach but on a closer look the private pool and green rooftop are not visible from the Boardwalk, likely a security consideration by the developer.
At W. 33rd Street the Boardwalk loses its historical boards in favor of concrete. It was a controversial decision in which preservationists argued that the removal of wooden boards would turn the iconic walkway into a concrete road. So far, only two sections have been paved with concrete: two blocks between Brighton 1st Street and Ocean Parkway; and the blocks to the west of W. 33rd Street. Other stretches of the boardwalk were given recycled plastic lumber (RPL), which appears like wooden boards but is more durable. Changes to the appearance of the boardwalk must receive the approval of the city’s Public Design Commission as it is a designated Scenic Landmark.
At the western tip of the Boardwalk there are no monuments to congratulate joggers for completing its 2.7-mile run. But there are good views of Staten Island, the highlands of New Jersey, and the private neighborhood of Sea Gate. It would be nice to have an elevated platform here to enhance the views, or a memorial to Brooklyn Borough President Edward J. Riegelmann, who promoted the construction of the boardwalk, or its designer Philip P. Farley.
The jetty constructed to keep the beach in place prevents sand from drifting westward. As is the case with the West End of Jones Beach and Breezy Point, the current pushed the sand towards the jetty, resulting in the widest section of the beach at W. 37th Street.
In contrast, without new sand to replenish it, the shoreline on the Sea Gate side of the jetty has not changed in decades. A border fence attempts to keep the public out of Sea Gate, and I’m sure it hasn’t worked. It reminds me of the border wall at Tijuana Beach.
A search in the Municipal Archives finds plans for the Boardwalk that were never realized. In the 1960s, the city proposed a fishing pier at the western tip of the boardwalk, along with a linear midblock park between Surf Avenue and the boardwalk. At the time, all of Coney Island between Stillwell Avenue and Sea Gate was designated as an urban renewal area. Old bungalows and wooden walk-ups would be replaced with public housing projects.
The Brutalist tower at 2727 Surf Avenue straddles W. 28th Street, and there were plans for a set of such towers but only one was completed here in 1970.
An earlier plan from 1952 envisioned extending the boardwalk east to Manhattan Beach, a stretch that was the Esplanade. It was privatized in the 1980s. The plan also sought to fill the section of Coney Island Creek between Stillwell Avenue and Shell Road with housing.
Where public housing does not straddle streets, it simply blocks them. O’Dwyer Gardens, named after the city’s 100th mayor, William O’Dwyer. He promoted the redevelopment of Coney Island. He was well-liked, running as a former cop and district attorney. But a year into his second term in 1950, he abruptly resigned in a corruption scandal.
This project was completed in 1968, during the administration of John V. Lindsay. Among his pet projects were vest-pocket parks and housing that filled in empty lots in distressed neighborhoods.
Highland View Avenue is another one-block road near the Boardwalk that’s no longer with us. It ran between West 22nd and 23rd streets. It was demapped in 2014 to make way for Seaside Park and the Ford Amphitheater. The concert stage occupies the landmarked former Child’s Restaurant that was beautifully restored and functions again as an eatery.
Prior to its decommissioning, Highland View Avenue had some addresses on it and simply provided good parking close to the beach, for those who knew about its location. In my childhood visits to the beach, I dreamed about seeing the other side of the Lower Bay. Taking a ferry from Wall Street to Sandy Hook, I was fascinated by the nature, military history, and views of Brooklyn from the opposite shore.
The route of Highland View Avenue is now a park with landscaping that rises above the boardwalk to withstand storm surges.
Sergey Kadinsky is the author of Hidden Waters of New York City: A History and Guide to 101 Forgotten Lakes, Ponds, Creeks, and Streams in the Five Boroughs (2016, Countryman Press), adjunct history professor at Touro University and the webmaster of Hidden Waters Blog.
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