We know that both Coney Island and Atlantic City used valuable Ipe (and in AC's case, later, Ipe-like Cumaru) to make their boardwalks, starting in the 1960s. With a 25-year lifespan, the lumber in those boardwalks was completely replaced once or possibly even twice. So what happened to all of the old wood? Just because it was no longer suitable as decking didn't mean the wood was completely rotted through, as the planks could always be machined down and cut into smaller pieces to be reworked.
Well, it seems the traditional thing to do with that still-valuable wood...was to throw it out. According to an article in an Atlantic City local paper from 2013,
In the past, all of the wood removed from the Boardwalk through repairs and maintenance by the city's internal carpentry division was thrown out, [said Atlantic City Public Works Director Paul Jerkins.]
Thankfully, that same article points out that the latest batch of wood to be removed was auctioned off. "Designers...turned [the old planks] into custom-built tabletops, theater floorboards and outdoor benches." As people have gotten hip to the fact that huge lots of Ipe and Cumaru are becoming available, the city now expects construction companies bidding on Boardwalk renovation projects to adjust their bids accordingly; the thinking goes that construction crews can make extra money by saving the wood that they remove from the structure and re-selling it.And what about the wood from Coney Island's boardwalk? According to the Times,
The parks department says it tries to reuse what it can but then allows contractors to sell, discard or give away the rest. (The city makes no money from it.) That is how an architectural salvage company in Philadelphia came to haul away 20 trailer loads of Coney Island wood in 2010.
That salvage company was Provenance Old Soul Architectural Salvage, who subsequently flipped some 6,000 feet of boards into the interiors of the Barnes Foundation, a Philly-based fine arts museum. It now lines the floors in the entry hall, as well as a portion of the galleries/elevators/stairwell:
And restauranteur Michael Sarrel acquired a huge lot of Coney Island wood under far luckier circumstances—or at least that's what he thought at first. Sarrel owns Ruby's Bar and Grill on the Boardwalk itself, and found garbage bins filled with discarded Ipe planks right down the block from his restaurant. Sarrell tracked down the demolition crew ripping the wood out and talked them into giving him some 10,000 feet, all for free.
Sounds like a score, right? Well, yes and no—Sarrell found that getting the wood ready to re-work, which required disconnecting the joists from the beams and removing every last fastener, set him back ten large. Still, he managed to use the wood to renovate Ruby's, and sold the leftovers on Craigslist.
As we pointed out in the last entry, Coney Island's Boardwalk is scheduled to have the rest of its wood ripped out. So for NYC designers looking to get their hands on some, it'll soon be time to start sniffing around.