Vintage postcard of the 1926 Tornado Roller Coaster, also known as The Bobs, on Stillwell Avenue East, Coney Island
News that the landmark Childs Building on the Boardwalk will be developed into a music venue brings the delightful prospect of Coney’s amusement area extending all the way from 21st Street to the soon-to-be-renovated to the tune of $150 million New York Aquarium on West 8th. An RFP to develop and operate amusements on a narrow City-owned lot at 15th Street makes it likely that Coney Island will get a major roller coaster as well.
The Coney Island Rumor Mill has been saying for months that Luna Park operator and ride manufacturer Zamperla was designing a brand-new coaster for Coney with some claiming to have seen the design. When Italian Wired asked Alberto Zamperla over the summer what his company was secretly working on, he mentioned only a super coaster inspired by the sci-fi Western “Cowboys & Aliens” as well as an interactive water attraction to be built in Coney Island before being sold around the world.
Will the new amusements on 15th Street pay tribute to any of Coney Island’s famed coasters of the past? We’d love to see an homage to the Tornado, aka “The Bobs,” which is pictured above. The 1926 thriller was a complex ride built on a narrow lot on Stillwell Avenue East and had an array of other rides, games, sideshows and restaurants beneath it. What more could we ask for in Coney Island? It’s time to bring out ATZ’s big wish list. This is actually the first of a series of posts since the list is a bit longer than we anticipated!
When a $168 million, 26-acre surf park was planned for Randall’s Island several years ago, our first thought was they should be building it in Coney Island. A year-round surf venue in Coney would attract surfers and spectators, residents and tourists alike. Then the project fell through due to funding problems and technology flaws. Over the past two years, new surf parks and surf pools are once again in the news, thanks to innovations in artificial wave surfing.
Next year, the first indoor surf park in the US will open in Nashua, New Hampshire featuring what American Wave Machine Inc. describes as the world’s largest standing wave surfing machine. The all-season surfing venue will have a retractable glass roof, glass walls for spectator viewing, surfside lounging area and a cafe. Last year in Lima, Peru, the company debuted the world’s first surf arena at La Ola Movistar SurfStream, which visitors from the US in the above vid describe as “The closest thing to surfing outside of the ocean yet. If I was a kid I would not leave this thing.” Promo vids of special events at the arena show world-class surfers competing in contests while rock bands play poolside. Build it and they will come to Coney!
Silverball Pinball Museum Arcade, Asbury Park Boardwalk, NJ. May 1, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita
Coney Island once had dozens of year-round arcades, now there are just a few open seasonally. Meanwhile in California, Las Vegas, Baltimore, and on the Jersey Shore, pinball museums have become local gathering places and year-round tourist destinations. The Asbury Park Boardwalk is making a comeback and part of the allure is the bells, buzzers and flashing lights of pinball. The Silver Ball Museum Arcade and Pinball Hall of Fame boasts the top 200 machines from the electromechanical wonders of the 1930s and ’40s up to the solid state electronic games of today.
When we visited Silver Ball last year, owner and pinball machine collector Rob Ilvento explained: “Every game you’re playing at the museum was the top game of that year. Six thousand titles were made, like everything else some games are fun some aren’t. If the operators couldn’t make money, the manufacturer would stop making it, so it may make it rare but it doesn’t necessarily make it collectible. The ones that I put in the museum are not only collectible but have a fun factor when you play.”
Signage above the machines narrates the history of pinball and the stories of the individual games. Patrons pay $10 for a one hour pass, $20 to play all day and $25 for a family of six on a Sunday night. The museum also hosts parties, weddings, fundraisers and pinball tournaments.
Coney Island is famous as the place where the hot dog was invented and the roller coaster was perfected. Coney is less well known as the place where William F. Mangels invented the Whip since the ride doesn’t operate here anymore though it thrives elsewhere. The same thing can be said for the game of Fascination and Frozen Custard, among other Coney Island originals. Why not bring them back for people to enjoy once again, perhaps in a special section of the revitalized Coney devoted to historic rides and attractions?
In Margate, England, the Dreamland Trust is creating the world’s first heritage amusement park with a 1914 Whip, a 1920s Caterpillar and other rides collected from around the UK, as well as their park’s original 1920 Scenic Railway, the oldest of its kind in Britain. “Work is now underway to reinstate Dreamland as one of the UK’s best-loved amusement parks with a heritage story to tell,” according to the website of the £10m park, which is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, the UK government and their local council.
Last year we wrote “Bring Back the Whip! A Birthday Gift for William F Mangels” (ATZ, Feb. 1, 2011), which includes a Whip Census. If you know of any Whips not on the list, please let us know. It’s a shame that Coney Island, where this classic ride was invented in 1914, doesn’t have an operating Whip. If you want to ride it, you’ll have to take a trip to Rye Playland, Knoebels, Kennywood, Cedar Point, Trimper’s or any of the other parks or carnivals listed on ATZ’s Whip Census. The Whip was one of the first and most popular thrill rides. Old timers tell us there used to be quite a few Whips as well as quite a few carousels and roller coasters in good ol’ Coney Island. Wouldn’t it be fitting to have a Mangels Whip installed in Steeplechase Plaza next to Mangels’ B & B Carousell? It’s not in the plans, so we’ll add it to our wish list for 15th Street.
Mackie ‘Rides’ the Vintage Fairy Whip Car at the Coney Island History Project. May 22, 2010. Photo © Coney Island History Project via flickr
Related posts on ATZ…
January 28, 2012: Lost Delights of Coney Island: Frozen Custard
November 29, 2011: Fascination: From Coney Island to Nantasket Beach
November 15, 2011: Coney Island 2012: What’s New on the Boardwalk
October 6, 2010: Traveler: Where You Can Play Fascination Year Round
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