Faces and Voices: Under the Boardwalk

Posted on 23. Mar, 2010 by in Uncategorized

Down by the Sea... Photograph by Nathan Kensinger
Down by the Sea… Photograph by Nathan Kensinger

In 1964, The Drifters released their hit song “Under the Boardwalk,” which takes place along the fabled shores of Coney Island and Brighton Beach. Thirty years later, the Army Corps of Engineers filled the space beneath the boardwalk, closing it off to hopeless romantics, sun bathers and perverts alike. The memories that many people of their experiences under the boardwalk are both powerful and evocative. Listen below.

[audio: http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/87/files/2010/03/UBW_1-2.mp3]

Under the Boardwalk

Below, five people share their stories.

Chuck Reichenthal. District Manager, Brooklyn Community Board 13. CB 13 includes Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

My great grandparents were down here in Coney Island. I always joked, I still do, that I must have been conceived under the boardwalk.

The boardwalk was the place and under it was a cool escape. And at night, you took your girlfriend and then you were walking alone and you wanted to escape from your friends for a few minutes, hugged got back up on the boardwalk, and continued on your way. Suddenly, the fact that school was only two weeks away didn’t matter. Somehow, the fights you had with your mother or father no longer mattered. There you were, you were escaping.

Over ten years ago when the beach was replenished by the Feds, they raised the sand to the bottom of the boardwalk and that ended that whole era of “Under the Boardwalk.” I mean, there was a reason that song was popular

“Under the boardwalk” is still an anthem, always will remain an anthem. Even those who don’t know what that cool wonderful area hear was, that song. And they wonder.

Mindy Gress. Attorney. Has lived her whole life in Coney Island.

The people that I knew who lived around here wouldn’t go under the boardwalk, because that’s where there was drugs. You had the crack epidemic in the early 80s. You had a lot of homeless people who would live under the boardwalk, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they closed it and made it inaccessible. And I guess it’s a good thing.

I’m a sun person, so I never saw any reason to be under the boardwalk. Parents would take their children to go to bathroom. People would throw their garbage under the boardwalk. Men exposing themselves to children. Those are my memories of under the boardwalk. Really, there’s nothing much good I can say about it.

In the 70s, when the Russians had emigrated from Russia to the U.S., they all came to Brighton Beach. There was an awful story of a woman who was under the boardwalk. She was jogging along the boardwalk about sunset time. It wasn’t a nice time. She was dragged and brutally raped under the boardwalk.

I don’t really have any good memories of under the boardwalk. But ask me anything about over the boardwalk and I can tell you great stories.

Barbara Kontarovich. Multimedia Producer. Grew up in Brighton Beach.

So, I lived across the street from the boardwalk. So I would go there often in the summers to the beach.

I was 5 years old and I went with a friend, my little friend, and her parents. And we went to the beach as usual, and I was sitting on the steps of the boardwalk – and this is before the boardwalk was filled in with sand, so there was a lot more of under the boardwalk to go around.

And I was sitting on the stairs leading down, tying my little sandal and I hear someone kind of snapping their fingers and trying to get my attention. So I look over and there’s this man under the boardwalk kind of beckoning me to come to him, and I’m really, really curious. So I look at him and I really want to find out why he wants me to come there. And I’m 5 years old – I don’t know what it was, but I had the presence of mind to not actually go down, and I just continued tying my sandal. But I was really nervous, so I kept taking forever and he kept beckoning me more and more.

And all of a sudden, he pulls his pants down. And I freaked out and ran away. And that was my story. And I never told anyone. And then I told my mother when I was about 16 years old. But that’s pretty much the only creepy thing in all of my 18 years of living in Brighton Beach that had happened under the boardwalk.

Gary Cobin. Musician. Has spent his whole life coming down to the boardwalk.

I grew up in Brooklyn, in Flatbush. But Coney Island has always had bittersweet memories for me. Memories of going under the boardwalk with my mother when I was a really little kid. Going out there, and the smell of peanut butter sandwiches and milk in the thermoses, and the mystery of it all. A little kid’s dream, kind of.

I have a lot of stories about the boardwalk, a lot of memories about the boardwalk. I remember walking once down the boardwalk and I heard some sort of screams from underneath the boardwalk. And obviously it was a woman in distress. Maybe even getting raped.

But at this time I had a really bad pulled muscle and there was nothing I could really do about it. And to this day I wish that I had just done something. But I couldn’t at the time. I don’t even know if I yelled down there. I think I did. I made some noise. But then I left, and always wondered what happened. That’s that story.

That must have been 15 or 20 years ago. Fifteen years ago, anyway. So yeah. That’s a regret. Yeah.

Nathan Kensinger. Photographer. Snuck under the Coney Island boardwalk with friends in 2009 to take pictures.

People think they know New York and know what’s going on in New York. But there’s these sections that are forgotten, that are unknown to a lot of people, that are abandoned, that have this amazing history and are kind of fading away.

I don’t remember exactly what year it was when I first went underneath the boardwalk, but it was in the winter. It was cold weather. It was after they had announced that Coney Island was on the way out that and they were going to be closing down everything.

We found some strange things under the boardwalk. We found these abandoned buildings in one section, these structures I don’t really know what their original use was. But painted on the side somebody had written that it was a “Gym” of some kind. And I think it was probably a station for the lifeguards, actually, but I’m not certain about that.

We found a lot of different signs that people were living under the boardwalk. We found tents. We found homes that people had built. If you go along certain sections where the sand is really close the to boardwalk, you’d find little pits that people had dug out where people had created a hollow in the sand to live in. Someone had a dove living in their camp that looked as though it was – I called it a guard dove. I took some photographs of this dove and people found it to be pretty fascinating.

When we were underneath the space for some reason the song “Under the Boardwalk” got stuck in my head, and I was singing it quite a bit just because I felt that it captured the mood of this place. It used to be a space where people congregated in or used on their way to the beach, and now it’s got this strange half-life with all these odd artifacts left behind.

One Response to “Faces and Voices: Under the Boardwalk”

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