Last week, Thor Equities got rid of a pair of century-old relics of Coney Island history when a new sidewalk was laid on Surf Avenue. Two trolley utility poles which date back to the 1890s are gone. Missing from the above photo of Joe Sitt’s brand-new, plywood-wrapped building viewed from Coney Island’s Stillwell Terminal, the poles can be seen in these photos from January 2012 and April 2011. The new building is the first sight you’ll see when you exit Stillwell Terminal. It occupies the site of the century-old Henderson Music Hall, which Thor Equities demolished in 2010.
When trolley service on the Surf Avenue-Seagate line ended on December 1, 1946, the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce requested that the poles on both sides of Surf Avenue be left in place in the amusement area to be used for holiday decorations. Stan Fox, the former owner of Playland Arcade, told ATZ that about ten years ago, Charlie Tesoro of the Chamber asked him to count them. “There were sixty-four,” says Fox. “Since then some have fallen down. Others were removed.” The ones in front of MCU Park were removed when the stadium was constructed, he says. (Fox updated his trolley pole census the day after this article was posted. He says there are currently 43 poles on Surf Avenue.)
The poles in front of Luna Park have enjoyed a kinder fate. They were painted red, white and blue, as you can see in the photo below. Although most visitors to Coney Island probably pass by these humble artifacts without noticing them, the poles extend from West 5th to West 21st Streets. Trolley service began in 1893, which makes the poles older than Steeplechase Park (1897), Luna Park (1903) and Dreamland (1904), as well as any of Coney Island’s landmarks, including the Wonder Wheel (1920) and the Cyclone (1927).
On Flickr, the Coney Island Trolley Utility Poles Archive has documented 45 poles in the amusement area and collected historic images. “Nonetheless, with the wholesale demolition of the Coney Island amusement area in the offing within the next few years,” wrote the archivist in 2007, “the days of the trolley utility poles are numbered, and they will be inevitably consigned to the scrap heap, never to be seen again, except on this Flickr page.”
Interestingly, a commenter from the Boston area wrote: “Actually, poles almost exactly like this, and probably of the same vintage, are still in use in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Now they run the wires for the ‘trackless trolleys’ (electric buses).”
Related posts on ATZ…
April 4, 2012: Photo of the Day: Granville T. Woods Memorial Trolley Pole
February 18, 2012: Thor Equities Boards Up New Building in Coney Island
February 2, 2012: Thor’s Coney Island: Generic New Building at Surf & Stillwell