Long before Walt Disney created mega entertainment locations, there was a place known throughout the world as the premier amusement destination – Coney Island.
Coney Island is neither an island nor an individual city. Coney Island is a peninsula, formerly an island, in southernmost Brooklyn, New York City, with a beach on the Atlantic Ocean. At dusk thousands of bright lights make the parks shimmer like a magic section of the borough of Brooklyn, N.Y.
(Left) The Hippodrome Stage, Luna Amusement Park at Coney Island.
(Right) An overview of Coney Island from the ocean – early 1900s.
In the mid-1800s Coney Island had classy hotels near the Atlantic Ocean and became a resort for the rich. Buildings for more dissolute pursuits were located a suitable distance away. By the early 1900s the area reduced prices, cleaned up its image and became a family attraction with several separate and impressive parks.
The first roller coaster in the world was erected on Coney Island in 1884 and although the ride was rough and wobbly it was immediately popular. Documentation exists claiming this first coaster was actually a recycled mining train. The ride inspired the creation of hundreds of unique carousels, pavilions and funhouses.
In the 1920s a five-cent fare on the recently built New York subway system was a powerful incentive to spend a day at beachfront activities. Families and single patrons, the rich and the poor and people of all nationalities could afford a stroll on the three mile boardwalk. Food, games, rides and music, animals, spectacular shows and shopping were all available.
The three most well known parks were Steeplechase, Luna Park and Dreamland. People wanted to be dizzy and dazzled, frightened and shocked … the parks ably filled these desires.
(Left) A postcard of the race track ride at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, N.Y.
(Right) Helter Skelter Slide at Luna Park.
Steeplechase Park was built in 1897, and named to capitalize on a Steeplechase Ride built in the form of race track rides winding around the inside and outside of the park. Other thrill machines had exotic names such as the Insanitarium, the Blowhole, the Human Pool Table and the Revolving Air Ship. Many types of carousels were sprinkled throughout the park, some with unusual creatures to ride and one powered by the riders pumping bicycle-like pedals. In 1907 a great fire burned the park. It was rebuilt but closed forever in 1964.
Luna Park was created in 1903 on a space that had previously held the defunct Sea Lion Park. One of its most spectacular features was the use of the scientific marvel … electricity! Thousands of electric lights adorned the buildings and walkways. Luna was famous for the Hippodrome Stage and the Helter Skelter Slide. The Park survived until the 1940s when a series of fires devastated most of the attractions.
(Left) The Dreamland Entrance at Coney Island.
(Right) Entrance to Luna Amusement Park at Coney Island. Park existed from 1903 to 1944.
Dreamland Amusement Park was established in 1904 and entertained the public with “The Canals of Venice,” some biblical themed rides and an owner who had obvious ties to corrupt politics. Although this park burned in 1911, pictures of the magnificent edifices are preserved on postcards. Eventually the New York Aquarium purchased the site and today attracts visitors to an underwater dreamland.
The Bowery. At one time the meaning of bowery was a farm or plantation. New York City gave it a new definition…an area of the old Gov. Styvesant farm that was noted for a street full of saloons, cheap hotels and very tacky shops. It was also an integral part of Coney Island and generally known as its more colorful section. Psychics, dance halls, freak shows and piano bars competed with the noise from near by amusement rides, calliopes and the pungent smells of beer and food with questionable ingredients. Built in 1882, more than 200 Bowery buildings succumbed to the great Dreamland fire.
(Left) Stauch’s was a popular stop at the Bowery on Coney Island. It contained a dance hall, cigar store, restaurant and ballroom.
(Right) The Coney Island Bowery.
The Steel Globe Tower was the most spectacular structure that ALMOST got constructed at Coney Island. It was to be a 700-foot-tall tower, with plans for a full scale theme park to be built inside a gigantic sphere. The inventor of the Globe, Samuel Friede scheduled a cornerstone laying in 1906 and encouraged the public to invest heavily. Scheduled to be the largest building in the world the sphere was to contain 24-hour entertainment on eleven floors.
By 1908 everyone realized the Globe would never exist….it, and Friede, disappeared into history along with all the venture funds. A postcard of the gigantic globe published in the early 1900s but does not mention that the towering globe was not a reality.
Coney Island still exists in a smaller and altered state, antiquated but in a period of revival … and limitless possibilities.
(Left) This was Luna Park’s oldest ride – boats were launched down a water slide.
(Right) One of the attractions at Dreamland Park, Coney Island, NY.
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