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Playland Arcade

Remaining Playland Letters Saved by the Coney Island History Project. February 14, 2013. Photo © Coney Island History Project

The demolition of Coney Island’s Playland Arcade got underway in October, but was interrupted by Sandy. The job was finished today. It’s gone!

Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project managed to save the remaining letters on the facade– L, N and D– and several of the whimsical yet deteriorating murals. “Our previous efforts at preservation were hampered by trespassers, vandals, black mold, the untimely death of Playland’s caretaker, Andy Badalamenti, as well as Superstorm Sandy,” according to a photo album on the History Project’s Facebook page. The artifacts will be exhibited this season.

An arcade existed in the Playland building from the 1930s until 1981, operated by four sets of brothers over a fifty year period. In 1981 the arcade machines were auctioned and the business closed, leaving Playland vacant for the past thirty years.

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PLayland Arcade

Playland Arcade Building, August 12, 2012. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Demolition began today of the long vacant Playland Arcade, which has been closed since 1981. The interior walls were gutted by a demo crew using a small bulldozer. Asbestos removal is slated for Thursday with the exterior walls expected to come down soon afterwards.

ATZ asked former arcade operator and Coney Island regular Stan Fox, who operated Playland with his brother from 1957 until 1971, how he felt seeing the last of the arcade. “As I would walk by the empty arcade thousands of times over the years, in my mind’s eye I would see the ghosts of people who worked in Playland,” said Fox. “I would hear the sound of Skee-Ball going up and down the alleys, the ka-chunk of the plates rolling over, the ding-ding of the pinball machines and the jingling of coins being emptied into change bags.”

Owned by Horace Bullard, the Playland building was posted with a City-issued demolition order in September. Bullard is also the owner of the adjacent Thunderbolt lot, which has been vacant since the City tore down the roller coaster in 2000. In recent days, City workers cleared weeds from the lot. Bullard also owns the landmarked Shore Theater, which is for sale for $13.5 million.

An arcade operated in the Playland building from the 1930s until 1981, according to Stan Fox, who grew up working in his brother’s penny arcades in Coney Island. He says the arcades were operated by four sets of brothers over a 50-year period: the Silver brothers (Silver’s Penny Arcade), the Katz brothers (Star Penny Arcade), Alex Elowitz and Stan Fox (Playland Arcade), and the Getlan brothers, who kept the Playland name.

Alex Elowitz got his start in the arcade business working as a 12-year old change boy for the Silver brothers, says Fox. After a stint in the Army, Alex returned to Coney Island and in 1949 opened his first Playland Arcade on 20th Street and the Boardwalk in the Washington Baths building. Playlands at 15th Street and the Boardwalk and 12th Street and the Boardwalk (where Nathan’s is now) followed.

In 1957, Alex and Stan opened their fourth Playland Arcade in the building currently under demolition. They bought the business from the surviving Katz brother for $50,000 and leased the building from Klein and Moran, who also owned the Thunderbolt. “Rent for the whole season was $15,000 in 1957,” says Fox. “In those days 10th Avenue between 42nd and 49th Streets was Coin Machine Row. We ordered a ton of new equipment and renovated the place.” The brothers operated the arcade until 1977, when they sold the business to the Getlan brothers. In 1981 the arcade machines were auctioned and the business closed, leaving Playland vacant for the past thirty years.

UPDATE February 14, 2013:

The demolition of Coney Island’s Playland Arcade, which got underway in October, was interrupted by SuperStorm Sandy. The job was finished today. It’s gone! Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project managed to save the remaining letters on the facade– L, N and D– and several of the murals. An exhibit is scheduled for this summer.

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