The Himalaya in the above photo may look like an ordinary Himi, but it marks the return of the native. For the first time since July 2008, there are rides on Thor Equities’ Stillwell Avenue lots, where amusements existed for more than 100 years until Joe Sitt bought the property and booted longtime ride and game operators in 2006. The Thor-owned Stillwell sites were used for a carnival in 2008, a flea market in 2009 and 2011, and remained vacant in 2010.
On Easter Sunday, we snapped these photos of the Himalaya, Scrambler, Fun House and three other carnival rides set up on Stillwell West behind Nathan’s. The rides were not yet open for business, though merchandise vendors, food concessions and a pony ride and petting zoo managed to open for Easter. All of the rides except the Giant Slide opened for business last weekend, but were torn down on Monday and are being set up again on the east side of Stillwell Avenue, reportedly due to permitting regulations.
Thor’s lots on both sides of Stillwell are leased to the BK Festival for a second season. As ATZ reported previously, Will McCarthy, event director of the BK Festival, said last year’s flea market didn’t mesh with the Coney Island location and this season the festival will bring in rides, games and amusements in addition to a smaller number of vendors. When the full complement of rides and attractions debut on Memorial Day Weekend, the BK Festival will be renamed Steeplechase Amusement Park. With the newly arrived rides, Coney’s ride count is over 65 and is likely to be over 70 by Memorial Day Weekend.
Yes, it’s been four long years since Joe Sitt has had amusements on the hallowed ground at Stillwell Avenue and the Bowery, where the Tornado Roller coaster (1927-1977) and the Bobsled (1941-1974) amused the zillion. On Memorial Day Weekend 2008, Joe Sitt proclaimed “The Summer of Hope” and filled the reviled empty lots on Stillwell with carnival rides from Reithoffer Shows and Geren Rides for a limited run. Hope died when the rides left in mid-July.
In October 2006, eight tenants, including Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City, Eddie Miranda’s Zipper and Spider rides on 12th Street, and game operators in the Henderson Building received notice from new property owner Thor Equities to be out by the end of the year. Thor’s spokesman told the Daily News: “The effort to transform Coney Island and recapture its past glory involves the demolition of a number of existing structures. Therefore, to allow the new development to proceed in a timely manner, occupancy agreements with some of the tenants are not being renewed.” Timely? Ha! Coney Island redevelopment has turned out to be a long, dragged-out drama punctuated by NY Post headlines like “The Grinch Who Stole Coney Island” and “Coney Zoney Furor: Chicken King Clucks.”
As a critic of flea markets on land that historically has been used for amusements, we’re happy to see this new direction for the BK Festival and Thor Equities and wish them a successful season. The rides are expected to open this weekend.
UPDATE April 22, 2012:
Although the rides remain set up on the Stillwell Avenue East lot, they did not open for business on Saturday. Permits are in process for a “temporary fair.” According to Will McCarthy of the BK Festival all of the rides will open on Memorial Day Weekend when the Festival brings in additional rides and attractions and debuts as “Steeplechase Park.” In the meantime, the merchandise vendors, food stands and Coney Island Dancers will continue to operate on the Stillwell West lot.
Related posts on ATZ…
April 2, 2012: BK Festival’s 1st Amusement Rides Arrive in Coney Island
November 15, 2011: Coney Island 2012: What’s New on the Boardwalk
April 22, 2011: Coney Island Has 64 Rides and 30 Weekends of Summer!