Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting about Coney Island, featuring places and things that are there now, but probably won't be there for long, thanks to the city's repugnant plans to destroy what remains of New York's "Sodom by the Sea."
It's been a long fight.
For decades, developers and politicians have lusted to level Coney Island, one way or another. As historian Charles Denson said in the Daily News, "Coney Island has a history of land grabs." Since the end of its heyday, as developers and the city have hacked away at it, Coney's once-sprawling amusement area has gotten smaller and smaller.
Moses over Brooklyn
Robert Moses started chopping up Coney in the 1940s. As Wikipedia writes, "In 1953, Moses had the entire island rezoned for residential use only and announced plans to demolish the amusements to make room for low income housing." The city edited his plan, zoning parts of Coney for "amusement only." Moses still managed to clear away homes, businesses, and amusements, leaving mostly empty lots behind.
In 1966, Donald Trump's father, Fred Trump, bought Steeplechase Park from its longtime owner. He wanted to replace it with "a modern Miami Beach high-rise apartment dwelling." But the Lindsay administration wanted the site zoned for recreational use. The city envisioned "a combination Disney and Tivoli Gardens." Writes Jerome Tuccille in Trump, the city planned "a monumental park with indoor swimming pools, restaurants, and concert facilities...a multilevel seafront park development."
Steeplechase was demolished. Nothing was built. The site remained an empty lot for more than three decades.
Fred Trump axing Steeplechase
In 1976, when casinos were legalized in New York State, mayor Koch aimed to turn Coney Island into another Atlantic City. In Coney Island Lost & Found, Denson writes about the swarm of speculators that descended--slick guys in limos and silk shirts--to snap up properties. But the Trumps put the kibosh on that plan, protecting their interests in Atlantic City--or maybe it was revenge against the city for squashing their Miami beach high-rise dreams a decade earlier. Property owners bulldozed more of Coney in anticipation of casinos, leaving more empty lots.
In the 1980s, Kansas Fried Chicken king Horace Bullard bought up several properties with plans to build another Disney, only to lose them to the city. In 2000, without warning or permission, Giuliani demolished the Thunderbolt rollercoaster, owned by Bullard. It was a beautiful wreck that bloomed with moonflower vines and bird nests in summertime. A woman named May Timpano lived in the house beneath the coaster, the one featured in Annie Hall.
It is now an empty lot.
Thunderbolt, C.B.'s flickr
Today, after decades of butchering, through bloody wars waged between the city and developers, what remains of Coney's iconic amusement park is small. Now the Bloomberg administration intends to make it even smaller, to continue the carnage of Coney. What will be demolished next? What empty lots, filled with the rubble of our memories, will we have to endure before the next Disney-Condo monstrosity rises?