The Arts

A photographer is reborn in retirement

Bellmorite documents Sandy, 9/11 recovery, the offbeat


Shortly after Hurricane Sandy ripped apart the Long Beach boardwalk, scattering its two-by-fours like matchsticks across the sand, the City of Long Beach set up a staging area in a weed-covered lot between Riverside and Edwards boulevards to collect the planks and grind them into wood chips.

Bellmorite Karl Tepfer, 63, who grew up in Long Beach, watched what he called the “devolution” of the boardwalk. “It was heartbreaking,” he said.

Tepfer, a retired school psychologist-turned-photographer, did what he could — he started taking pictures, documenting the shattered boardwalk’s removal.

Capturing the devastation

Tepfer, the father of two grown sons and two grandsons, shot more than 5,000 images of Long Beach in the aftermath of the worst storm to roll across the South Shore since the Long Island Express of 1936. The boardwalk became a focal point of his work, as did Long Beach’s West End, which is full of small bungalows that were once summer vacation retreats but are now year-round homes.

The West End, with its narrow blocks that lie at or just feet above sea level, took a beating during Sandy. Sand was piled high in residents’ living rooms and garages and on sidewalks and streets, Tepfer recalled. “It was like a snowstorm, only the snow never melted,” he said.

Photographing the destruction was painful for Tepfer, for whom Long Beach holds special meaning. He met his wife of 42 years, Wendy, executive director of the Bellmore-Merrick Community Parent Center, in 1962 when the two were seventh-graders at Long Beach Junior High School.

The Tepfers’ Bellmore home, on a side street south of Merrick Road, was undamaged by Sandy. But several friends around their neighborhood and in Long Beach, as well as one son who lives in south Merrick, were hit hard. One south Bellmore couple they know recently razed their house, which the storm moved off its foundation. They have yet to start rebuilding and are living in a rented home in Levittown.

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