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Coney Island is a peninsular residential neighborhood, beach and attraction destination on the Atlantic Ocean in southwestern Brooklyn, New York City. The site was formerly an outer barrier island, but became partially connected to the mainland by landfill. The residential portion of the peninsula is a community of 60,000 people in its western part, with Sea Gate to its west, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach to its east, and Gravesend to the north.
Coney Island is well known as the site of amusement parks and a seaside resort. The attractions reached a historical 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 stadium and has become home to the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team, as well as the opening of a new amusement park among several adjacent ones.
Coney Island is the westernmost part of the barrier islands of Long Island, and is 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 were 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 completely to allow construction of the Belt Parkway before World War II, and it was filled in again in 1962 with the construction of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge. The western and eastern ends of the island are now peninsulas.
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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 Dutch: Conyne Eylandt (or Dutch: 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 possibility is being named after a family of the same name, Conyn, that owned property in New Amsterdam. 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.
Development on Coney Island has always 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 1900s, the City of New York made efforts to condemn all buildings and piers built south of Surf Avenue. It was an effort to reclaim the beach which by then had almost completely been built over with bath houses, clam bars, amusements, and other structures. The local amusement community opposed the city. Eventually a settlement was reached where the beach did not begin until 1,000 feet (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, to reclaim beach access.
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, the appeal of Coney Island started to lessen for several reasons. Air conditioning in movie theaters and subsequently in homes, provided a cool escape in summer without going to the beach. The advent of automobiles provided relatively easy access to the less crowded and more appealing Long Island state parks, especially Jones Beach State Park. Luna Park closed in 1946, after a series of fires. There was an increase in prostitution in the area, and the New York street gang problems of the 1950s also spilled over into Coney Island. The presence of threatening youths did not impact the beach-goers, but it discouraged visitors to the rides and concessions, which were staples of the Coney Island economy. The local economy was dealt a further severe blow by the 1964 closing of Steeplechase Park, the last of the major amusement parks.
Since the 1920s, all property north of the boardwalk and south of Surf Avenue was zoned for amusement and recreational use only, with some large lots of property north of Surf also zoned for amusements only.
In 1944, Luna Park was damaged by fire, and sold to a company who announced they were going to tear down what was left of Luna Park and build apartments. Robert Moses had the land rezoned for residential use with the proviso that the apartment complex include low-income housing.
In 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 and the Abe Stark ice skating rink. Critics complained that Moses took three times more land than each structure needed, surrounding each with vacant lots that were of no use to the city.
In 1953, Moses had the entire peninsula rezoned for residential use only and announced plans to demolish the amusements to make room for public housing. After many public complaints, the Estimate Board reinstated the area between West 22nd Street and The Cyclone as amusement only and threw in 100 feet (30 m) of property north of Surf Av. between these streets. It has since then been protected for amusement use only, which has led to many public land battles.
In 1964, Coney Island's last remaining large theme park, Steeplechase Park, closed. The rides were auctioned off, and the property was sold to developer Fred Trump, the father of Donald Trump. Trump, convinced that the amusement area would die off once the large theme parks were gone, wanted to build luxury apartments on the old Steeplechase property. He spent ten years battling in court to get the property rezoned. At one point Trump organized a funeral for amusement parks in Coney Island. Trump invited the press to the funeral where bikini-clad girls first handed out hot dogs, then handed out stones which Fred invited all to cast through the stained-glass windows of the pavilion. Then, pronouncing the amusement park dead, he had the pavilion bulldozed. After a decade of court battles, Trump exhausted all his legal options and the property was still zoned only 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".
But 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 where middle class houses were replaced with housing projects, fewer people visited Coney Island. With attendance dropping, many amusement owners abandoned their properties. In the late 1970s, the city came up with a plan to revitalize Coney Island by bringing in gambling casinos, as had been done in Atlantic City. The city's plans backfired when the prospect of selling property to rich casino owners created a land boom where property was bought up and the rides cleared in preparation of reselling to developers. Gambling was never legalized for Coney, and the area ended up with vacant lots.
In 1979, the city purchased Steeplechase Park from Fred Trump and proceeded to evict Norman Kaufman's amusements. By this time, Kaufman had expanded his park and had plans to eventually rebuild the historic Steeplechase Park. He had even bought back the original Steeplechase horse ride with plans to install it the following season. But the city decided it did not want to wait decades for Steeplechase park to be rebuilt and believed it could attract a developer to build a large combination theme park and casino on the site. The property remained vacant for another five years.
In the mid-1980s, businessman Horace Bullard approached the city to allow him to rebuild Steeplechase Park. He had already bought several acres of property just East of the Steeplechase Park site, including the property with a large coaster called Thunderbolt and property west of Abe Stark rink. His plans called for the combination of his property as well as the Steeplechase property and the unused property on the Abe Stark site as a multimillion-dollar theme park based on the original. The city agreed and in 1986 the state legislature approved the project. However, several bureaucrats held up the project for another two years while the NYC Planning Commission compiled an environmental impact report. In 1987, state senator Thomas Bartosiewics attempted to block Bullard from building on the Steeplechase site. Bartosiewics was part of a group called The Brooklyn Sports Foundation which had promised another theme park developer, Sportsplex, the right to build on the site. Construction was held up for another four years as Bullard and Sportsplex fought over the site.
In 1994, Rudy Giuliani took office as mayor of New York and killed the Bullard deal. Giuliani claimed he wanted to build Sportsplex, provided it include a stadium for a minor-league team owned by the Mets. But when Giuliani ordered the stadium to be built first, Sportsplex accused the city of planning to build a parking lot on the property earmarked for the Sportsplex construction. Giuliani publicly denied this and promised Sportsplex could begin construction the moment the stadium was finished. As soon as the stadium was completed, Giuliani killed the Sportsplex deal and had the parking lot built. The Mets decided the minor league team would be called 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 Coney Island amusement area was blocked by the now derelict Thunderbolt coaster and considered not going through with the deal. Bullard, now no longer rebuilding Steeplechase Park, had wanted to restore the coaster as part of a scaled-down amusement park. The following month, Giuliani ordered an early-morning raid on the Thunderbolt, claiming that the coaster was in immediate danger of collapse and ordering it bulldozed. The structure that was supposed to be near collapse took many days to be torn down. No connection between the Mets organization and the demolition has ever been proven, but many accuse Giuliani of tearing it down at the Mets' request.
In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took an interest in revitalizing Coney Island as a possible site for the 2012 Olympics. A plan was developed by the Astella Development Corporation. 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. Many amusement owners worried that because one of the report's goals to develop the area as a year-round destination, they could be forced out as their businesses are only seasonal and did not meet the CIDC's year-round goal. The CIDC also suggested that property north of Surf Avenue and west of Abe Stark should be rezoned for other uses including residential to lure developers into the area. Shortly before the CIDC's plans were publicly released, a development company, Thor Equities, purchased all of Bullard's western property, worth $2.2 million, for $16 million. Now owning property that was earmarked for rezoning to residential, they sold the property to Taconic for a $72 million profit.
Thor then went about using much of the $72 million to purchase property well over market value lining Stillwell Avenue and offered to buy out every piece of property inside the traditional amusement area. Quickly, rumors started that Thor was interested in building a retail mall in the heart of the amusement area. In September 2005, Thor's founder, Joe Sitt, went public with his new plans, which he claimed was going to be a large Bellagio-style hotel resort surrounded by rides and amusements. He also claimed that the interior of the resort would have an indoor mall that would allow local amusement owners to relocate their rides and operate them indoors year round and made promises that he had no intention of driving out any local amusement owners and wanted them all to be part of his new resort. Sitt released renderings of a hotel that would take up the entire amusement area from the Aquarium to beyond Keyspan Park and would most likely need to involve the demolition of The Wonder Wheel, Cyclone, and Nathan's original hot dog stand, as well as the new Keyspan Park. At the same time, the borough of Brooklyn was involved with two other major development projects: the Atlantic Yards project, which involved eminent domain; and the Brooklyn Bridge Park project, which involved the demolition of a building with landmark status. Many feared that the city had already backed Thor's plans and that the entire amusement district would be demolished to make way for the new multimillion dollar resort.
In June 2006 Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn (EEK), an architectural design firm working for Thor, released detailed renderings of Thor's planned resort area showing luxury high rise condo towers in place of the hotel with retail on the ground floor. Since the area has both zoning restrictions only allowing amusements and no buildings taller than 260 feet (79 m). Thor initially denied any inclusion of condo towers in its plans and Eek quickly removed the renderings from its site, but not before blogs everywhere published copies of the renderings. Thor quickly released renderings of rides, including a steel coaster that would run above the boardwalk, a two tiered carousel, and a fountain at the foot of Stillwell Av. that would project images of whales and mermaids. Thor admitted that condos would be part of its resort and said that the resort was not economically feasible without the addition of condos. At a public meeting Thor representatives continued to downplay the condos by claiming that the company only wanted to build hundreds of condo units, not thousands. While Thor initially said it only wanted to build 575 condos the number crept up to 975. Late in 2006 Thor announced that it had just purchased Coney Island's last remaining amusement park, Astroland, and would be closing it after the 2007 season. Immediately Thor announced plans to build a Nickelodeon-themed hotel on the site.
In January 2007, Thor released renderings for a new amusement park to be built on the Astroland site called Coney Island Park.
Critics pointed out that even though Thor claimed its project would expand the amusement area, the company had already evicted several acres of amusements from the property it bought and planned to evict the rest of the amusements on the property after the 2007 season, as well as close Astroland.
Meanwhile, the city brought up its own concerns about Thor's plans based on history with the developer. In 2001 Thor purchased the Albee Square Mall for $25 million claiming it wanted to revitalize it. Thor said it wanted to give the mall a Vegas-style makeover and bring in more name brand retail while maintaining the original vendors occupying the mall. The city complied and rezoned the property to permit the building of an office tower above the mall. Soon after, Thor sold the property to Arcadia Reality Trust for $125 million. Arcadia plans to demolish the mall and build the tower only with a possible box store on the ground level. City officials questioned Thor's motives for wanting the zoning changes inside the amusement zone and feared that once Thor gets those changes, it will flip the property to the highest bidder who will have no obligation to build any amusements.
In the winter of 2007, Thor meant business and began to evict businesses from the buildings it owned along the boardwalk. But when one of the business owners went to the press with a statement that Thor was requiring its tenants to sign a confidentiality clause that lasted three years and prevented them from publicly commenting on Thor redeveloping the area, Thor quickly reinstated their leases.
Astroland owner Carol Hill Albert, whose husband's family had owned the park since 1962, sold the site to developer Thor Equities in November 2006 for an undisclosed amount. Thor proposed a $1.5 billion renovation and expansion of the Coney Island amusement area to include hotels, shopping, movies, an indoor water park and the city's first new roller coaster since the Cyclone. The Municipal Art Society launched the initiative ImagineConey, in early 2007, as discussion of a rezoning plan that highly favored housing and hotels began circulating from the Department of City Planning. MAS held several public workshops, a call for ideas, and a charrette to garner attention to the issue.
City Planning certified the rezoning plan in January 2009 to negative responses from all amusement advocates and Coney Island enthusiasts. In 2012 the plan was working through the ULURP process. Thor Equities said it hoped to complete the project by 2011. Thor Equities plan to demolish most of the iconic, early 20th-century buildings along Surf Avenue. In their place, Sitt plans to build cheap, one-story retail, and his recently released rendering clearly shows Burger King and Taco Bell-like buildings. The Aquarium is also planning a renovation. 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 "20 percent affordable-housing component is unreasonably low." 
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused major damage to the Coney Island amusement parks, the Aquarium, and businesses. Nathan's, however, reported that the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest would be held the following summer, as usual.
Luna Park at Coney Island reopened on March 24, 2013.
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.
At 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 diploma or higher, and 20.7% had a bachelor's degree or higher. The median household income in 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 co-owned by the residents and the city. Sea Gate residents pay both, city and Sea Gate taxes. 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, Hispanic, and recent Russian 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 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 and one of the largest elevated metro stations in the world, with eight tracks serving four platforms in the station. The entire station was rebuilt in 2002–04, and was modernized 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 express bus service to Manhattan on weekdays.
The three main avenues in the Coney Island community, are, from north to south, Neptune Avenue (which crosses travels through Brighton Beach before becoming Emmons Avenue at Sheepshead Bay), Mermaid Avenue, and Surf Avenue (which becomes Ocean Parkway and then runs north toward 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 (except for Cropsey Avenue, which becomes West 17th Street south of Neptune Avenue).
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.
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