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“Rudolph Valentino danced on the boardwalk in 1928,” Fiore told more than a thousand people that attended ceremony to commemorate the Hurricane Sandy-battered boardwalk Saturday morning at Grand Boulevard, before the structure is demolished in coming weeks.
Among Fiore’s stories was one about two elephants, Roger and Alice, that were taken to the barrier island from Coney Island as part of a publicity stunt to promote the boardwalk when it was under construction in 1907.
“When you look at this boardwalk, let these memories and this history talk to you,” she said. “We have a proud future but we had a very colorful and interesting past.”
Like Fiore, other city residents and local officials who addressed the crowd remembered the iconic wooden walkway fondly but also struck an optimistic tone for the new boardwalk to come.
Resident Colleen Quinn read a poem by her brother Patrick, a Long Beach High School alum who moved to California, which he wrote from the perspective of the boardwalk and touched on everything from summer concerts to Polar Bear splashes to drinking beers underneath the walkway.
“I tried to hold back the raging storm/Tried to protect you from all the harm/I did it for Gloria, Felix, Irene/The dunes and I kept things mostly serene/I hope this would just be another storm winter age/But I failed you and now it is I who is splintered.”
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, who has lived in the city since 1934, likened the boardwalk to an extended family and called it a symbol of love and happiness, while Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford, who resides in the West End, recalled taking her young daughter to a Ferris wheel that still stood along the boardwalk when she moved to the city in 1980.
City Council member John McLaughlin found it ironic that his first kiss was under Grand Boulevard boardwalk and that he first turned on a wave while surfing on its beach.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to build a newer, a better boardwalk,” McLaughlin said. “It won’t have the same memories. It won’t be the same thing. But change is something that comes with any tragedy.”
Both City Manager Jack Schnirman and Council Vice President Scott Mandel vowed to rebuild “strong, smarter and safer,” the three-word phrase that has become the city’s mantra after Sandy struck in October.
“Today is the beginning of the real big comeback and today is the day that was say goodbye to an old friend and we get ready to rebuild stronger, smarter and safer,” Schnirman said to open the ceremony.
Following the event, residents took home with them cut-up pieces of the boardwalk that the city was giving out as souvenirs.
“The boardwalk is the life of surrounding communities, not just long beach,” said Mike Jerchower, an Oceanside resident and boardwalk-goer. “People come here from all over the South Shore and all over the country.”
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