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Coney Island is a peninsula and beach on the Atlantic Ocean in southern Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States. The site was formerly an outer barrier island, but became partially connected to the mainland by land fill.
Coney Island is well known as the site of amusement parks and a seaside resort. The attractions reached their peak during the first half of the 20th century, declining in popularity after World War II and years of neglect. In recent years, the area has seen the opening of MCU Park and has become home to the minor league baseball team the Brooklyn Cyclones.
The residential neighborhood of the same name is a community of 60,000 people in the western part of the peninsula, with Sea Gate to its west, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach to its east, and Gravesend to the north.
Coney Island is the westernmost part of the barrier islands of Long Island, about 4 miles (6.4 km) long and 0.5 miles (0.80 km) wide. Formerly it was an island, separated from the main part of Brooklyn by Coney Island Creek, which was partially tidal mudflats, but it has since been developed into a peninsula. There were plans early in the 20th century to dredge and straighten the creek as a ship canal, but they were abandoned, and the center of the creek was filled in for construction of the Belt Parkway before World War II. The western and eastern ends are now peninsulas.
The Native American inhabitants of the region, the Lenape, called the island Narrioch—meaning "land without shadows"—because, as with other south shore Long Island beaches, its orientation means the beach remains in sunlight all day.
Following European settlement, New York State and New York City were originally a Dutch colony and settlement, named Nieuw Nederland and Nieuw Amsterdam. The Dutch name for the island — originally Conyne Eylandt, or Konijneneiland in modern Dutch spelling — precedes the similar English name, Coney Island, and translates as "Rabbit Island". As on other Long Island barrier islands, Coney Island had many and diverse rabbits, and rabbit hunting prospered until resort development eliminated their habitat. The Dutch name is found on the New Netherland map of 1639 by Johannes Vingboon, which is before any known English records.
Coney Island therefore appears to be the English adaptation of the Dutch name. The word "coney" was popular in English at the time as an alternative for rabbit; while coney survives in archaic and dialectal contexts, a later adaptation, "bunny", is now in common use. Coney came into the English language through the Old French word conil, which itself derived from the Latin word for rabbit, cuniculus. The English name "Conney Isle" appeared on maps as early as 1690, and by 1733 the modern name, Coney Island, was used. Joseph DesBarre's chart of New York harbor in the 1779 work Atlantic Neptune, and John Eddy's map of 1811, both use the modern spelling.
Although the history of Coney Island's name and its anglicization can be traced through historical maps spanning the 17th century to the present, and all the names translate to Rabbit Island in modern English, there are still those who contend that the name derives from other sources. Possible alternatives include the Irish Gaelic name for Rabbit which is Coinín, which is also anglicized to Coney. Ireland has many islands named Coney Island, all of which predate this one. Some claim that an Irish captain named Peter O'Connor named Coney Island in the 18th century, after an island in Sligo Bay known as both Coney Island and Inishmulclohy. Another purported origin is from the name of the Indian tribe, the Konoh, who supposedly once inhabited it. A further claim is that the island is named after Henry Hudson's right-hand-man, John Coleman, supposed to have been slain by Indians.
Due to Coney Island's location—easily reached from Manhattan and other boroughs of New York City, yet distant enough to suggest a proper vacation—it began attracting holidaymakers in the 1830s and 1840s, when carriage roads and steamship services reduced travel time from a half-day journey to just two hours.
The original Coney Island Hotel was constructed in 1829, with The Brighton Hotel, Manhattan Beach Hotel, and Oriental Hotel opening soon after, with each trying to provide an increasing level of elegance. Coney Island became a major resort destination after the American Civil War, as excursion railroads and the Coney Island & Brooklyn Railroad streetcar line reached the area in the 1860s, and the Iron steamboat company arrived in 1881. The two Iron Piers served as docks for the steamboats until they were destroyed in the 1911 Dreamland fire.
When the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company electrified the steam railroads and connected Brooklyn to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge at the beginning of the 20th century, Coney Island soon turned from a resort to a location accessible to day-trippers from New York City, especially those escaping the summer heat.
Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish woodcarver, built the first carousel at Coney Island in 1876. It was installed at Vandeveer's bath-house complex at West 6th Street and Surf Avenue, which later became known as Balmer's Pavilion. The carousel consisted of hand-carved horses and other animals standing two abreast, with a drummer and a flute player providing the music. A tent-top provided protection from the weather. The fare was five cents.
In 1915 the Sea Beach Line was upgraded to a subway line. This was followed by upgrades to the other former excursion roads, and the opening of the New West End Terminal in 1919, thus ushering in Coney Island's busiest era.
Nathan's Famous original hot dog stand opened on Coney Island in 1916 and quickly became a landmark. An annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest has been held there annually on July 4 since its opening, but has only attracted broad attention and television coverage since the late 1990s.
After World War II, contraction began seriously from a number of pressures. Air conditioning in movie theaters and then in homes, along with the advent of automobiles which provided access to the less crowded and more appealing Long Island state parks, especially Jones Beach State Park, lessened the attractions of Coney's beaches. Luna Park closed in 1946 after a series of fires, and the New York street gang problems of the 1950s spilled into Coney Island. The presence of threatening youths did not impact the beach-goers, but discouraged visitors to the rides and concessions which were staples of the Coney Island economy. The local economy was dealt a severe blow by the 1964 closing of Steeplechase Park, the last of the major amusement parks.
Development on Coney Island has long been controversial. When the first structures were built around the 1840s, there was an outcry to prevent any development on the island and preserve it as a natural park. Starting in the early 20th century, the City of New York made efforts to condemn all buildings and piers built south of Surf Avenue, with the local amusement community opposing the city. Eventually a settlement was reached where the beach was declared as not beginning until 1,000 ft (300 m) south of Surf Avenue, the territory marked by a city-owned boardwalk, while the city would demolish any structures that had been built over public streets in order to reclaim beach access.
In 1944, Robert Moses actively opposed the "tawdry" entertainment at Coney Island and discouraged the building of new amusements. By 1949, Moses moved the boardwalk back from the beach several yards, demolishing many structures, including the city's municipal bath house. He would later demolish several blocks of amusements to clear land for both the New York Aquarium, where Dreamland once stood, and the Abe Stark Ice Skating Rink. 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. After public complaints, the Estimate Board reinstated some areas as protected for amusement use only, leading to many public land battles.
In 1964, Coney Island's last remaining large theme park, Steeplechase Park, closed and the property was sold to developer Fred Trump. Trump wanted to build luxury apartments on the old Steeplechase property and spent ten years battling in court to get the property rezoned. After a decade of court battles, Trump exhausted his legal options and the property remained zoned for amusements. He eventually leased the property to Norman Kaufman, who ran a small collection of fairground amusements on a corner of the site, calling his amusement park Steeplechase Park. However, between the loss of both Luna Park and the original Steeplechase Park, as well as an urban-renewal plan that took place in the surrounding neighborhood, involving middle class houses being replaced with low income housing projects, fewer visitors came to Coney Island. In the late 1970s the city proposed a plan to revitalize Coney Island by bringing in gambling casinos, as had been done in Atlantic City, but gambling was never legalized for Coney Island, and the area ended up with vacant lots.
In 1994 Rudy Giuliani took office as mayor of New York, and supported a plan to build a sporting complex named Sportsplex, provided it include a stadium for a minor league baseball team owned by the New York Mets. Once the stadium was completed Giuliani reneged on the Sportsplex deal, and The Mets decided to call the minor league team the Brooklyn Cyclones and sold the naming rights to the stadium to Keyspan Energy. Executives from Keyspan complained that the stadium's line of view from the rest of the Coney Island amusement area was blocked by the derelict Thunderbolt roller-coaster, and the following month Giuliani ordered an early-morning bulldozing of the Thunderbolt.
In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took an interest in revitalizing Coney Island as a possible site for the 2012 Olympics. When the city lost the bid for the Olympics, revitalization plans were rolled over to the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC), which came up with a plan to restore the resort. Shortly before the CIDC's plans were released, a development company, Thor Equities, purchased all of Bullard's western property, sold it to Taconic Investment Partners, and used much of the proceeds to purchase or offer to purchase every piece of property inside the traditional amusement area. In September 2005, Thor went public with a plans to build a large Bellagio-style hotel resort surrounded by rides and amusements. Plans of the hotel showed it covering the entire amusement area from the Aquarium to beyond MCU Park, and requiring the demolition of The Wonder Wheel, Cyclone, and Nathan's original hot dog stand, as well as the new MCU Park.
Late in 2006 Thor purchased Coney Island's last remaining amusement park, Astroland, and announced plans to close it after the 2007 season and build a Nickelodeon-themed hotel on the site. In January 2007 Thor released plans for a new amusement park to be built on the Astroland site called Coney Island Park. In late 2007 Thor began to evict businesses from the buildings it owned along the boardwalk, but when one of the business owners complained, Thor reinstated their leases.
In early 2007, the Municipal Art Society launched the initiative ImagineConey, as discussion of a rezoning plan that highly favored housing and hotels began circulating from the Department of City Planning. City Planning certified the rezoning plan in January 2009. As of 2010 the plan was going through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process, with Thor Equities saying it hoped to complete the project by 2011. The Aquarium was also planning a renovation from the mid-2000s. In June 2009, the city's planning commission unanimously approved the construction of 4,500 units of housing and 900 affordable units, and vowed to "preserve, in perpetuity, the open amusement area rides that everyone knows and loves", while protesters argued that the "20 percent affordable-housing component is unreasonably low."
As of the 2000 census, there were 51,205 people living in Coney Island. Of those people, 51.2% were White, 29.3% were Black, 18% were Hispanic or Latino, 3.8% were Asian, 0.5% were Native American, 0.1% were Pacific Islander, 7.6% were some other race, and 3.7% described themselves as two or more races. 70.5% had a high school degree or higher, and 20.7% had a bachelor's degree or higher. The median household income as of 1999 was $21,281.
The neighborhoods on Coney Island, from west to east, are Sea Gate, Coney Island proper, Brighton Beach, and Manhattan Beach. Sea Gate is a private community, one of only a handful of neighborhoods in New York City where the streets are owned by the residents and not the city; Sea Gate and the Breezy Point Cooperative are the only city neighborhoods cordoned off by a fence and gate houses.
The majority of Coney Island's population resides in approximately thirty 18- to 24-story towers, mostly various forms of public housing. In between the towers are many blocks that were filled with vacant and burned out buildings. Since the 1990s there has been steady revitalization of the area. Many townhouses were built on empty lots, popular franchises opened, and Keyspan Park was built to serve as the home for the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team. Once home to many Jewish residents, Coney Island's main population groups today are African American, Italian American, Hispanic, and recent Russian and Ukrainian immigrants.
Coney Island is served by the New York City Department of Education. The Coney Island neighborhood is zoned to PS 90 Edna Cohen School for K-5 education PS 329 (K-5), PS 188 The Michael E. Berdy School (K-5), PS 100 Coney Island School (K-5), Mark Twain (6-8), IS 303 Herbert S. Eisenberg, and PS/IS 288 The Shirley Tanyhill School (Pre-K-8) serve Coney Island. There are no zoned high schools.
Nearby high schools include:
Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) operates the Coney Island Library. It opened in 1911 as an unmanned deposit station. In 1921 it moved to the former Coney Island Times offices and became fully staffed. In 1954 another branch was built. BLP stated that the library was referred to as "the first-ever library built on stilts over the Atlantic Ocean."
Coney Island's main subway station is called Coney Island – Stillwell Avenue and is served by the D F N Q trains of the New York City Subway. The terminal is the largest elevated metro station in North America, with eight tracks serving the four services that use the station. The entire station was rebuilt in 2002–04, modernizing it with a large solar-panel canopy covering all eight tracks.
There is a bus terminal beneath the station. The buses that terminate there are the B68 to Prospect Park, the B74 to the Coney Island-Sea Gate border at West 37th Street via Mermaid Avenue, the B64 to Bay Ridge, and the B82 to Starrett City. The B36 runs from the Coney Island-Sea Gate border at West 37th Street to Nostrand Avenue at Avenue U in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. The X28 provides an express service to Manhattan.
The three main avenues in the Coney Island community, are, from north to south, Neptune Avenue (which crosses to the mainland to become Emmons Avenue), Mermaid Avenue, and Surf Avenue (which becomes Ocean Parkway and then runs north towards Brooklyn's Prospect Park). The cross streets in the Coney Island neighborhood proper are numbered with "West" prepended to their numbers, running from West 1st Street to West 37th Street at the border of Sea Gate.
The Ocean Parkway bicycle path, the oldest designated bicycle path in the United States, terminates in Coney Island. The Shore Parkway bikeway runs east along Jamaica Bay, and west and north along New York Harbor. Street bike lanes are marked in Neptune Avenue and other streets in Coney Island.
Between about 1880 and World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States, attracting several million visitors per year. At its height it contained three competing major amusement parks, Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park, as well as many independent amusements.
Astroland served as a major amusement park from 1962 to 2008, and was replaced by a new incarnation of Dreamland in 2009 and of Luna Park in 2010. The other parks and attractions include Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, 12th Street Amusements, and Kiddie Park, while the Eldorado Arcade has an indoor bumper car ride. The Zipper and Spider on 12th Street were closed permanently on September 4, 2007, and dismantling began after its owner lost his lease. They are to be reassembled at an amusement park in Honduras.
On April 20, 2011, the first new roller coasters to be built at Coney Island in eighty years were opened as part of efforts to reverse the decline of the amusement area.
The rides and other amusements at Coney Island are owned and managed by several different companies, and operate independently of each other. It is not possible to purchase season tickets to the attractions in the area. Three rides at Coney Island are protected as designated New York City landmarks and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. These three rides are:
Other notable attractions include the following:
The New York Aquarium, which opened in 1957 on the former site of the Dreamland amusement park, is an attraction on Coney Island. In 2001, KeySpan Park opened on the former site of Steeplechase Park to host the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team.
Coney Island maintains a broad sandy beach from West 37th Street at Sea Gate, through the central Coney Island area and Brighton Beach, to the beginning of the community of Manhattan Beach, a distance of approximately 2.5 mi (4.0 km). The beach is continuous, and is served for its entire length by the broad Riegelmann Boardwalk. A number of amusements are directly accessible from the land-side of the boardwalk, as is the aquarium, and a variety of food shops and arcades.
The beach is groomed and replenished on a regular basis by the city. The position of the beach and lack of significant obstructions means virtually the entire beach is in sunlight all day. The beach is open to all without restriction, and there is no charge for use. The beach area is divided into "bays", areas of beach delineated by rock jetties, which moderate erosion and the force of ocean waves.
The Coney Island Polar Bear Club consists of a group of people who swim at Coney Island throughout the winter months, most notably on New Year's Day, when additional participants join them to swim in the frigid waters.
Coney Island beach serves as the training grounds for the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers (CIBBOWS), a group dedicated to promoting open water swimming for individuals of all levels. CIBBOWS hosts several open water swim races each year, such as Grimaldo's Mile and the New York Aquarium 5k, as well as regular weekend training swims.
The Coney Island Mermaid Parade takes place on Surf Avenue and the boardwalk, and features floats and various acts. It has been produced annually by Coney Island USA, a non-profit arts organization established in 1979, dedicated to preserving the dignity of American popular culture.
Coney Island USA has also sponsored the Coney Island Film Festival every October since 2000, as well as Burlesque At The Beach, and Creepshow at the Freakshow (an interactive Halloween-themed event). It also houses the Coney Island Museum.
The annual Cosme 5K Charity Run/Walk, supported by the Coney Island Sports Foundation (CISF), takes place on the last Sunday of June on the Riegelmann Boardwalk.
In August 2006 Coney Island hosted a major national volleyball tournament sponsored by the Association of Volleyball Professionals. The tournament, usually held on the west coast of the United States, was televised live on NBC. The league built a 4,000-seat stadium and twelve outer courts next to the boardwalk for the event. The tournament returned to Coney Island in 2007 and 2008.
In April 2009, Feld Entertainment, parent company to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced that "The Greatest Show on Earth" would perform on Coney Island for the entire summer of 2009, the first time since July 16, 1956 that Ringling Bros. had performed in this location. The tents were located between the boardwalk and Surf Avenue, and the show was called The Coney Island Boom-A-Ring. In 2010, they returned to the same location with The Coney Island Illuscination.
Many characters of O. Henry's short stories visit amusement parks on Coney Island.
Coney Island is the setting of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. It is also the center of Frederick Forsyth's novel, The Phantom of Manhattan, which was part of the basis for Webber's production. In the Penguins of Madagascar series, Coney Island played location of Dr. Blowhole's secret lair in Dr. Blowhole's Revenge as Kowalski had said, smelling a fake King Julien, "Salty Atlantic sea air, Roller coaster grease and all beef wieners, with mustard," and Skipper translated it to Coney Island. Coney Island is the setting of He Got Game, a 1998 American sports-drama film written and directed by Spike Lee. It stars Denzel Washington as Jake Shuttlesworth, a prison inmate convicted for killing his wife. The father of the top-ranked basketball prospect in the country, Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by NBA star Ray Allen). The 1979 film The Warriors, directed by Walter Hill, sees a street gang known as the Warriors try to reach safety in Coney Island, after being pursued through New York by several other gangs after being falsely accused of murdering another prominent gang leader. The 'Wonder Wheel' and 'Cyclone Roller coaster' feature in severl shots in the film. One of the main characters of Two Weeks Notice was born and lives in Coney Island, and works to save the Coney Island community center during the movie.
In the 2003 comedy-drama film "Uptown Girls," Coney Island's Astroland figures prominently within the movie's second act and at its dramatic conclusion, when a nanny, played by Brittany Murphy, goes searching for her missing charge, played by Dakota Fanning, and finds her riding alone in the tea-cup ride. The scene is followed by an emotional meeting between the two while still within the park.
In 2010, The Wanted's video for their single Lose My Mind was filmed at one of the amusement parks. Several attractions were featured in the video, including the Haunted House, bumper cars and the Wonder Wheel.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy dealt major damage to the Coney Island amusement park and other businesses. Nathan's, however, reported that the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest will be held in the summer as usual.
Luna Park at Coney Island will reopen on March 24, 2013.
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