I entered the Seaside Park boardwalk where the fire started (between Kohr’s and Biscayne Candy) seven days later at exactly the same time that the first fire units were dispatched.
Closing my eyes, I imagined the sights, smells, and sounds so typical of this area: customers chatting on stools at Park Seafood, the smell of french fries cooking at Kupper’s, and the sound of custard swirling out of the machines at Kohr’s.
As I walked further north, every detail, in living color, rushed back to me.
That game of chance stand had the loudest employees shouting at passing families. That bar drew a colorful crowd from late morning until early morning. That pizza joint had the best pie. That steel building contained the freshest seafood around. That piece of mangled metal was a portion of the historic carousel. That store sold the quirkiest shirts that you’d find only in Seaside.
They’re all gone.
Walking through the charred remains, the best way to describe the experience is “surreal.”
This resilient stretch of boardwalk running through Seaside Park survived Superstorm Sandy only to be destroyed by a wind-whipped accidental fire. Many of the business owners suffered flood damage, but they bounced back.
It’s a tough scene for anyone. But if you grew up here — like me — the feeling is amplified tremendously.
Standing on the sand where there were previously wooded planks and scanning every direction, there are many instances where you cannot even identify certain mangled buildings.
The smell of burnt and burning wood would be pleasurable under different circumstances, such as sitting on the beach on a cool, star-lit night with the soft, warm glow of a bonfire just feet away.
But the smell is anything but pleasant. Pieces of wood buried under broken cement continue to smolder. Anything that was capable of burning is black.
Metal and wires protrude in every direction. The flames gutted many of the businesses. Nails holding the boards down lay in neat rows on the sand. The iconic Funtown Pier sign, which once proudly illuminated the southern end of the pier, rests on the ground still mainly intact.
One Jersey Shore Hurricane News commenter said an image from last week looked like “doomsday.”
The boardwalk is mostly barren, but oddly enough, some buildings remain.
The Sawmill, whose owner says an exterior sprinkler system saved the structure, remains in good shape from the outside. Workers were inside the Funtown Arcade, which also fared well during the fire. The boardwalk adjacent to both buildings also survived, with only a portion covered in soot.
But the firestorm destroyed the vast majority of structures along the Seaside Park boardwalk, and for the local community, they meant much more than just buildings: that’s where we went to meet.
Our boardwalk will once again be where we meet in better times.
Governor Christie, likely the most vociferous “boardwalk recovery” cheerleader since Superstorm Sandy, has pledged a quick clean-up and an aggressive rebuilding. Federal money will help.
Some business owners say they’ll be back, and perhaps many more will follow.
But the old school boardwalk, occupied by many quirky buildings that many say added to its honky-tonk character, is gone.
Who knows how the new one will look.
For now, it’s all about the memories.
And they were good memories.