Two months after superstorm Sandy lifted the Long Beach boardwalk like a roller coaster, nearly 3,000 people came out early Saturday to bid a sentimental goodbye to the iconic city landmark.
The ceremony marking the walkway's demolition drew so many people -- spilling from the streets near Grand Boulevard, onto parts of the boardwalk and the beach -- that crews were unable during the ceremony to take down more of the structure, destroyed when the storm landed Oct. 29.
The 2.2-mile boardwalk, which collapsed in several spots, is unsafe and no longer viable, officials said.
"Let's not consider today as a eulogy for our old friend; rather, let's see today as a milestone," city councilman Scott Mandel said during the hourlong ceremony commemorating the walkway built nearly a century ago. "The boardwalk is so much more than just lumber, nail, benches and rails. It's the heart of Long Beach that most of us have built our fondest memories upon."
Onlookers reminisced, laughed and clapped during the ceremony as some residents were given pieces of the damaged boardwalk to keep as a memento of a place that has allowed generation to run, walk, skate or bike its wooden planks along the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.
"This is a very emotional day for everyone," City Manager Jack Schnirman said. "Today is the day to say goodbye to an old friend."
Long Beach resident Lorena Tembrevilla, 26, was among the 1,000 people who left the event with an official 2-by-4-inch piece of the old boardwalk. Others were seen carting away chunks of their own.
"It means so much to us to have a piece of the boardwalk," said Tembrevilla, a nurse at Long Beach Medical Center, who lives on Shore Road. "Long Beach is a place you can just fall in love with, and the boardwalk is a part of it."
The actual demolition of the boardwalk -- stretching from New York Avenue to Neptune Boulevard -- began Wednesday. City officials said they would look to build a stronger structure that would be better protected from natural disasters.
It could cost $25 million to replace the boardwalk, Schnirman said, adding he could not give a time frame for when the new boardwalk would be in place. Other officials have expressed hope to have it completed by summer.
Last month, Long Beach leaders chose a Farmingdale firm to handle the removal for $1.435 million. The demolition work will likely take a month, during which residents will have limited access to the beach and no access to the boardwalk, Schnirman said.
"We can't wait to have it rebuilt," Maria Montellano said after the ceremony, adding that her home on East Pine Street was flooded by 5 feet of water. "In the meantime, I'm going to run on the shoreline."
City officials have received and plan to review this week proposals from engineering firms looking to create a design of a new boardwalk. Once they choose a design, officials plan to solicit construction bids, Schnirman said.
"I miss the boardwalk," said resident Jimmy Tolfree, 60, who adorns the boardwalk with American flags for special events. "I enjoy it when it is empty and when it is packed. It is serenity by the sea."
With Candice Ferrette
Length: 2.2 miles, stretching from New York Avenue to Neptune Boulevard
Year built: 1914
The new boardwalk:
Demolition: Started Wednesday; will continue for another month
Cost: About $25 million
Completion Date: Not determined
Still to be decided
How the boardwalk will be built, and who will do it. Jan. 4 was the deadline for proposals from engineering firms looking to create a design of a new boardwalk. The bids will be reviewed this week. Once a design is chosen, officials plan to solicit construction bids.
Source: Long Beach city officials