And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you”
― Paul Simon, Bookends
There is a saying that you can never go back – or maybe it should be you SHOULDN’T – as the lyrics above state, perhaps it is better to preserve your memories than try to recreate those images and events that you remember so fondly. However, I am by nature a positive person so in truth there was much to be happy about my recent revisit to one of my childhood’s most favorite places, Coney Island.
As you may recall, I touched upon my fun times in the post, “MISS, STEP AWAY FROM THE KETCHUP.” My cousin and I thought it was time to see our youthful playground once more so off we went last weekend on a simply perfect sunny early summer day. I now present you with THE GOOD, THE BAD and THE UGLY findings – in reverse order so this post will end on an up note.
I never expected that Coney Island’s attractions would be unchanged – after all we are talking about the passing of many many decades. However there was a part of me that hoped that some of the area’s most famous features had gone through a similar resurgence/restoration seen in other New York City neighborhoods. Unfortunately there are a number of glaring alterations that are simply atrocious eyesores – let me show you the ones that are an egregious affront.
1 – WASHINGTON BATHS – This pool club opened in 1912 and closed in 1969 (I was not around for that opening, people). The lot was purchased by an equities firm called Thor for about $13 million thinking a variance could be had for residential building – ie luxury condos. This was one of many Coney Island lot purchases made by this firm. In 2007 Thor Equities flipped the lot to another firm, Taconic for $90 million – another company that believed the city would rezone. To this date, no rezoning has been offered. Here is the before and the UGLY after:
Thor Equities remains confident that the zoning will change – so much so that the firm has constructed a FAKE arcade facade on another lot with this billboard on top implying a not too subtle message of ownership (I will not promote its fake storefronts by showing them):
STEEPLECHASE HORSES – This ride was the pièce de résistance of the entire STEEPLECHASE PARK complex. As explained in my previous post,
“In 1897, land owner George C. Tilyou opened Steeplechase Park, a family oriented amusement park embracing the thrills of a horse race as its theme. The Steeplechase Horses, as Tilyou called the ride, consisted of 6 double-saddled mechanical horses that took passengers down 1,100 feet of undulating track, over a stream bed and a series of hurdles, all around the outside of the park. The tracks ran abreast, simulating a horse race in which gravity gave the heavier riders the advantage. Although you were strapped onto the horse – it was nonetheless terrifying, as the tracks went outside and around the buildings.”
I don’t think there was or is any other ride that comes close to the sheer breadth of the Steeplechase Horses – no enclosures, only a leather strap barely holding you on your mechanical horse – undoubtedly the insurance premiums alone would deter a similar type ride today. Still, it was almost laughable to see what some developer thought is the next generation of this thrilling ride. This:
Is not this:
Sadly, there was a poignant reminder of what once was in a small museum a few blocks away:
THE THUNDERBOLT – The new Thunderbolt (does not deserve caps in my opinion) is still not open. It was going through test runs during our visit:
The reaction? This.
Enough – let’s get to the good stuff.
1 – TRADITIONAL SIGHTS AND AMUSEMENTS – All from my childhood is happily not lost. As we meandered through the streets and fairways we did come upon sights that made me smile – from reconstructed signs from the seedier time of the freak shows:
To rides that gave you physical reminders (in terms of bruises):
To games of skeeball that never seemed to get you enough tickets for a “real” prize:
The carousel I used to ride has been relocated but beautifully restored. Some of the original signs are still hanging – and I still have the sense memory of being terrified of the calliope and other musical instruments in the center of the carousel that played on their own. Alas, I never did grab a brass ring to get a free ride:
I also enjoyed seeing the train terminus – whether we took the train, our car or the bus, once you got to this juncture – you knew you had ARRIVED and the fun was about to start:
2 – THE BOARDWALK – This classic icon of Coney Island deserves its own section. Much of the Boardwalk was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy but I have to say the reconstruction is beautiful – and I don’t mind at all that much of it is no longer made of wood. The simple pleasure of walking down this path, people watching and taking in the ocean breeze is still unparalleled. And, I like the new benches:
3 – NATHAN’S – Finally, this is the true center of Coney Island pleasures past, present and future – and the renovations providing better access to the servers as well as a lovely and CLEAN dining area gave me hope for the years to come: