Gaudy, intoxicating, bright, loud, lucrative, and altogether American: they are our nation's boardwalks. The boardwalk was first invented for utilitarian reasons-so that beach-goers could stroll along the shore in their evening wear without tracking sand into train cars or hotel lobbies. But it wasn't long before the imagination of a country just becoming acquainted with the concept of leisure time transformed the boardwalk into something much more.
In America's Boardwalks, James Lilliefors takes us on a journey along the edges of the country to twelve of its most famous beach towns. Starting in the Northeast with Coney Island, Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Wildwood, and Cape May, we continue south to Rehoboth Beach; Ocean City, Maryland; Virginia Beach; Myrtle Beach; and Daytona Beach. In California, we explore the exotic scenes at Venice Beach and Santa Cruz. Lilliefors traces each town's history from the building of a boardwalk to what are frequently ambitious plans to revitalize and redevelop today. In every case, he shows how the boardwalk has been integral to the area's economic growth, status, and appeal.
This richly documented and illustrated tale, however, tells more than the story of the birth and development of boardwalks. Weaving together observations and conversations with business owners, planners, and strollers themselves, Lilliefors reveals the vitality of the boardwalk as an idea, rather than just as a place. Boardwalks, he argues, are living monuments to American enterprise, a young country's founding dreams, and its unwavering optimism.
Born at a time when the country was busy rebuilding and reinventing itself as an industrial and economic power, these lively seaside destinations seemed to herald a new life of relaxation, recreation, and middle-class prosperity. On the nation's first boardwalk in Atlantic City, you could find everything from a "home of the future," to diving horses, kangaroo boxing, and the world's largest typewriter. With no admission gate, boardwalks were also a thoroughly democratic idea, inviting visitors from all social and economic groups to join the same parade.
Even today, these glittering coastal hubs, with their always unique blends of people, sea spray, shops, inventions, and oddities remain a last frontier-a testament to the power of individuality in an increasingly homogenized world. From Thrasher's French fries in Ocean City to Mack's Pizza in Wildwood and Nathan's hot dogs in Coney Island, people still visit these resorts for products and pleasures that break the otherwise mundane stream of chain restaurants and retailers. Evoking the spirit, tastes, smells, and sounds that have become a beloved part of our nostalgia and that continue to lure new generations, this book is a deserved tribute to America's iconic seaside wonders.