Thursday, November 12, 2009

Saving Coney Island

by Dick Mac

Last Saturday, Charlotte wanted to go on a car ride. "I just want to ride around, Daddy," she said. "Let's go look at things."

We only had an hour before we picked-up mommy, so we couldn't really go far. This meant a ride through Brooklyn.

Brooklyn, NY is a big place. It is one of the five boroughs of New York City, and when I first visited Brooklyn in the early 1970s, it was called the Fourth Largest City in America. I don't know if that was true, or how that was measured; but, it gave me the sense that Brooklyn was a big place.

Statistically, it is about 71 square miles of land and 25 square miles of water, with a population of over two-and-a-half million.

There's plenty to see, and there are places I haven't visited.

So, we drove through Borough Park and Sunset Park, towards Bay Ridge, then all the way through Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst to Gravesend and due South into Coney Island.

Coney Island is a place we've visited a lot: there's a beach and a baseball stadium (where we were season ticket holders before baseball became too dull for me), a boardwalk, and an amusement park.

It's hardly news that Thor Equities has purchased most of the land in Coney Island, evicted the amusement park companies, and plan to sanitize it as a tourist/resort/shopping/condo mecca (none of which is needed in Coney Island specificially, Brooklyn generally, and in the United States anymore).

As I turned onto Stillwell Avenue and drove under the elevated train tracks toward Surf Avenue, Charlotte squealed "Coney Island!"

Yes, there's Nathan's at the corner.

She went on to explain to me that this was a nice place because there was a beach and a boardwalk and an amusement park and that there was a lot to do. As we approached the traffic light at Surf, I warned her that the amusement park was closing and that it might not look the same. I turned left onto Surf and the desolation was obvious right away. More storefronts than ever are shuttered, there are fewer people milling around, and as I made it to the second block, the once colorful Astroland park was a barren landscape of vacant lots.

The Wonder Wheel still stands, and the Cyclone is a historic landmark, so that will always remain.

All of this dullness stands in stark contrast to the glitzy multi-gazillion dollar MTA bus and subway terminal that stands across the street.

Charlotte was dismayed and I explained that a company had bought up all the land and planned to turn it into a big hotel and condo development. I told her that there were people trying to save Coney Island, and perhaps we would be able to visit again next Summer.

Some good news was released last night, when it was reported that the City of New York spent a hundred million dollars to purchase seven acres of land where the amusement parks stood, in an effort to restore come of the area to an amusement district reminiscent of the old Coney Island.

We don't need an area filled with chain stores, chain restaurants, chain hotels, and private security forces behind gates and restricted to people who have reservations. We need to retain something that is remotely like a public area accessible from the street, with access to the beaches, and amusing to everyone who wants to wander the streets of Coney Island.

There is hope that Deano's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park will remain, and perhaps someone will bring back Astroland.

Never give-up hope!

Seeking Revival, City to Buy Land in Coney Island

Coney Island Museum (

Save Coney Island

1 comment:

Chris Huff said...

Last time we were there, there was an actual sideshow with dwarves and a human THAT was pretty won't see that in Disney's Times Square