This past weekend may have been my last chance to enjoy a summer day at Coney Island before it falls to Thor’s mighty hammer. I visited my old favorite spots and one new spot, a little storefront wedged beneath the Cyclone. It used to house the two-headed baby in a jar, but now it’s the exhibition center of The Coney Island History Project.
Charles Denson, native Coney Islander, historian, and author of Coney Island: Lost and Found was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time.
Denson with authentic Steeplechase horse
We sat in a back room where the window looks directly onto the underbelly of the Cyclone’s tracks. Periodically, as we talked, the room would tremble Annie Hall-style as the cars roared down from overhead. I asked Denson what he thinks about what's happening to Coney -- and what he wishes would happen. Here’s what he told me:
“Joe Sitt is holding Coney Island hostage. Historic preservation is not in his vocabulary. He’s a shopping mall developer. He's not an evil guy, but he is a liar. He says he’s going to have blimps landing out here. That's illegal. I called the FAA and they told me that 747’s have a better chance of landing on Surf Avenue than blimps.
Sitt wants to put up 40-story high-rises. Coney Island should be all low-rise: restaurants, theaters, amusements. I’d like to see historic rides come back. Whip rides, Thompson rollercoasters, the old arcade games—simple mechanical games would be a real novelty. I’d like to see the Henderson Building and Grasshorn Building restored. The city is negotiating right now to bring back the B&B Carousell. They bought it at the eleventh hour and it’s in storage out at the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
I’m not opposed to change. We want new and wonderful things for Coney Island. We want evolution. Low-rise amusements permit evolution, but nothing will change if you put up high-rises. High-rises are there forever. Once you put them up, it’s over.”