The news that philanthropist Joshua Rechnitz’s plan to donate $50M to build an indoor velodrome in Brooklyn Bridge Park was scrapped got us thinking: Why not build the velodrome in Coney Island, which had an outdoor one from 1930 until the 1950s? It was New York’s last commercial bicycle racing venue, according to NY Bike Jumble founder Harry Schwartzman, who curated an exhibit of bikes, photos and ephemera relating to the Coney Island Velodrome at Brooklyn’s Old Stone House in 2010.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Rechnitz and his nonprofit NYC Fieldhouse had withdrawn the proposal for Brooklyn Bridge Park due to high site costs and would seek another location in the New York Metro area for the sports complex. According to NYC Fieldhouse’s website: “As currently envisioned, a facility of no more than 115,000 sq. ft. will hold a maximum of 2499 seats. It will feature a 200-meter inclined cycling track, a boathouse, a 22,000 sq. ft. infield and other spaces that will serve various public uses including sporting events and community activities.” The gift was the largest single donation to New York City parks and would have covered the design and construction of the building as well as any revenue shortfall over the first ten years.
The Coney Island Velodrome was a 10,000-seat arena with a 1/8-mile wooden oval track. The venue also hosted prize fights and midget car racing. The velodrome was razed in 1955 to make way for Luna Park Houses. ATZ asked Schwartzman for his thoughts on the Coney Island Velodrome and the possibility of bringing it back. He said in an email:
The Coney Island Velodrome at 12th and Neptune was a ‘competition’ track where a typical race day would include up to twenty three events, from 100 meter sprints to 40 mile motor paced events where riders would shadow a motorcycle around the track at speeds upwards of fifty miles an hour. The track was built in the thirties, waning days of the popularity of bicycle track racing in the USA, and the sport was not as popular as it had been in the eighteen nineties or in the twenties, when stars, gangsters and celebrities would frequent the races.
Coney Island’s audience would have been more proletarian and most likely recent immigrants from lands where bicycle racing was still popular. Cycling is still a very accessible sport, and track racing is even more so than any other discipline. With the explosion of the popularity of cycling, it’s the perfect time to bring back the Coney Island Velodrome!
Related posts on ATZ…
December 30, 2012: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island News Stories of 2012
October 7, 2012: ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island
May 29, 2012: Photo Album: Coney Island Lights & Signs of the Times
December 19, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Original Coney Island Motordrome Bike