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Archive for December, 2013

Boardwalk at Dusk

Coney Island Boardwalk at Dusk, July 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

We’re marking the year’s end with a look back at Coney Island news reported by ATZ in 2013, including wins, losses, entrances, exits and silver linings. In past years, we’ve focused on Top 10 lists, but this year’s top news included multiple posts about successful efforts to rebuild and reopen after Superstorm Sandy, as well as new construction and last goodbyes. We’ve also selected the most overlooked news story and our favorite post of 2013.

WINS
Ever since The Parachute Jump’s dazzling new 8,000 LEDs debuted in June, the landmark tower’s light show has continued nightly except for a few computer glitches. Although there’s been no official announcement from the Parks Department or Luna Park, the unofficial word on the Boardwalk is the Jump is going to be lit year-round. The Christmas lighting scheme spells “Happy Holidays!” [Update: Check the Coney Island webcam before you go.] Another bright spot in 2013 was Luna Park’s Boardwalk gate, where pinwheels and crescent moons similar to the design that graces the Surf Avenue entryway debuted in March.

Lead Horse on B&B Carousell

Lead Horse ‘Built by MC Illions’ on the B&B Carousell, Coney Island. May 24, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy via Coney Island Photo Diary

The lead horse on the beautifully restored B&B Carousell, which reopened in May in the new Steeplechase Plaza, is a rare steed. Sumptuous detailing on its trappings includes a relief of Abe Lincoln and the Coney Island carver‘s signature “Built by MC Illions.” According to carousel historian Marianne Stevens, the horse was one of four carved in 1909 in honor of the Centennial of Lincoln’s birth and the only one remaining on a working carousel. Now if only the B&B were open year-round as it used to be, we would once again go for a spin on New Year’s Day!

SILVER LININGS

Steeplechase Pier

Coney Island’s Reconstructed Steeplechase Pier. October 2, 2013. Photo © Charles Denson, Coney Island History Project via flickr

The silver lining to Sandy was that some of the public amenities and amusement park icons ravaged by the storm were not only rebuilt but have also undergone a dramatic improvement from the way they looked before (“Photo Album: Four Transformations, One Year After Sandy,” ATZ, October 30, 2013). Steeplechase Pier, a popular spot for strolling, sunbathing, fishing and watching the fireworks, finally reopened on October 2nd after several months of reconstruction by T.B. Penick and Triton Structural.

New features include a wave-shaped communal lounger and a shade structure with letters spelling out CONEY ISLAND. LTL Architects redesign for the reconstruction of the pier won Special Recognition at the 31st Annual Awards for Excellence in Design by the New York City Design Commission.

The Coney Island Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library has also made a remarkable comeback from Sandy. Built in 1956, the library not only has new books and DVDs, the interior was beautifully redesigned to reflect the history of the neighborhood and meet the 21st century needs of the community.

Spook-A-Rama

Rebuilding Spook-A-Rama, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. February 22,2013. Photo via Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

Spook-A-Rama, Coney Island’s oldest dark ride, which dates back to the 1950s and is part of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, was severely damaged due to flooding during Superstorm Sandy. When the park opened in March, new ghouls mingled with old inside the carefully rehabbed ride, winning high marks from ride aficionados. The eye-popping exterior artwork and restored Pretzel cars and tracks survived. Grandma’s Predictions, a rare 1920s fortunetelling machine under the Wonder Wheel, was rejuvenated by “eye surgery,” new wax hands cast from the original mold and a handcrafted cabinet based on the original design.

Grandma's Predictions

Grandma’s Predictions, newly restored 90-year-old fortunetelling machine under the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

LOSSES

During the Coney Island rezoning hearings, the Municipal Art Society said the 1964 Astrotower was eligible for the State and National Registers. This year, over the July 4th holiday, the last vestige of Astroland on the Coney Island skyline met a spectacularly sad end. Reports that the tower was swaying more than usual caused the City’s Office of Emergency Management to shut down Coney Island’s amusement parks. The top of the tower was removed, a more than 12-hour operation that enabled the surrounding rides to reopen at 3 PM on the 4th of July. Over the next two days, the rest of the tower was chopped down and hauled off to the Cropsey Avenue junkyard.

Astrotower

Local resident Rochelle Goldman, who live-tweeted the last hours of the demolition, posing with section of the Astrotower, July 5, 2013. Photo © Rochelle Goldman

In August, Jimmy McCullough, 84, whose family has operated amusements in Coney Island for four generations, passed away at his home. ATZ wrote about the McCullough family’s history in Coney when their 50-year-old kiddie park at the Bowery and 12th Street closed at the end of the 2012 season after a lease renewal with Thor Equities fell through. The lot has stood vacant ever since. Jimmy McCullough also owned and operated three historic carousels in Coney Island, including the B&B Carousell, which are now in City parks and are the family’s lasting legacy to the people of New York City.

Playland Arcade Mural

The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard at the Coney Island History Project. Photo © Charles Denson

On Valentine’s Day, the Playland Arcade building, which had been vacant for the past thirty years, was finally demolished. 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, which were featured in the exhibit “The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard.”

EXITS and ENTRANCES

Mangels Shooting Gallery

1940s Mangels Shooting Gallery, Coney Island USA. August 3, 2013.Photo © Tricia Vita

Among the stores that closed forever due to damage after Sandy were Cha Cha’s of Coney Island, which had relocated to Surf Avenue in 2012 after losing their lease on the Boardwalk. Denny’s Ice Cream, the beloved ice cream shop established in 1978 was replaced by a rare 1940s Mangels Shooting Gallery on loan from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and restored and operated by Coney Island USA.

Shooting galleries enjoyed a revival this past season in post-Sandy Coney Island. At Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, a haunted parlor-themed shooting gallery with animated targets made by ScareFactory replaced the flood-damaged Scarface gallery. Shoot the Freak was reborn on the Bowery as Shoot the Clown. Luna Park brought loo-nacy to Jones Walk with Stinky Feet, a multi-target water-race game with guns that are replicas of bathtub faucets and seats that look like toilets!

Stinky Feet Water Race Game

Luna Park’s Stinky Feet Water Race Game, Jones Walk. Coney Island. May 27, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The opening of Place to Beach Bar and other CAI Food LLC eateries marked Luna Park operator Central Amusement International’s first foray into the food business in Coney Island. French food service giant Sodexo had been their partner for “On Site Service Solutions” since 2010 and their departure was something to cheer about.

In December 2012, ATZ asked “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” A few more chain stores have opened on Surf and Stillwell since we wrote about three national franchises– Applebee’s, Johnny Rockets and Red Mango–signing leases for the north side of Surf Avenue.

Surf and Stillwell

Thor Equities Retail Building at Surf and Stillwell, Coney Island. May 29, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

After eight years of real estate speculation and the rezoning of Coney Island, Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt’s “Retail Ride of a Lifetime” (ugh) finally began in 2013. In February, ATZ learned from sources that candy retailer It’Sugar would be the first tenant at Thor’s new retail building at Surf and Stillwell. The glitzy candy emporium is open year-round unlike the Rainbow Shop and Brooklyn Nets Store, which were seasonal. The transformation of Surf Avenue into a mecca for chains and franchises is well underway, with Johnny Rockets and Subway Cafe currently under construction on the north side of Surf (on properties which are not owned by Thor) and slated to open in 2014.

Under Construction: Jimmy Balloons New Balloon Dart. March 13, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

While franchises and chains are expected to attract more of the same to Surf Avenue, a dwindling number of independent operators struggle to keep a foothold in the amusement area. In 2013, Jimmy Balloons built a new booth on Jones Walk under the Wonder Wheel’s neon sign. The lease on his longtime location on the Bowery was held by Manny Cohen of Coney Island Arcade, who was evicted after 22 years and moved his business to Vegas taking Target the Coney Island Cat with him.

Manny Cohen and Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat

Manny Cohen and Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat. April 18, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

We’re thankful to all the blogs and dailies who have linked to ATZ over the past year. But there’s one story that we wish had gotten picked up by other media outlets. ATZ’s vote for our most under-appreciated or overlooked Coney Island news story of 2013 goes to our posts about Thor Equities dummy arcades. All season long, flashy signs for an ARCADE fronting empty space with “Retail Space Available” signs have made a mockery of the City’s 2009 rezoning requiring a percentage of amusements on the property. (“The New Coney Island: Thor Equities Vacant Lots, Dummy Arcades,” ATZ, October 17, 2013); “Thor’s Coney Island: Retail Ride of a Lifetime’s Phantom Arcade,” ATZ, June 12, 2013).

Thor Equities

Thor Equities Retail Building with Tenants It’Sugar and Rainbow Shops and Dummy Arcade Sign Where No Arcade Exists. September 29, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The fact that Thor CEO Joe Sitt can’t be bothered to install the minimum amusements required by the new zoning — a couple of tiny arcades – in his first new construction in Coney Island does not bode well for the future of any type of amusement on his long-vacant property, from which he has previously evicted all amusement operators. Will Sitt try to win a zoning variance to get rid of the amusement requirement from the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals in the next administration?

Finally, our fave post of 2013 – ta da da da!– is “Sea Rabbits Swim Ashore in Coney Island, Up For Adoption,” posted on April 1st. It is quite possibly yours too, since this post is among ATZ’s Top 5 posts of 2013. Greetings and Happy New Year from Coney Island!

sea Rabbits

Sea Rabbits. Photo © Dr. Takeshi Yamada at the Coney Island Sea Rabbit Repopulation Center

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Bulldozing of Boardwalk Community Garden

The Bulldozing of Boardwalk Community Garden. Coney Island December 28, 2013. Photo via Facebook.com/NYCCGC

If you find a bunny under the Coney Island boardwalk, he ran off during the bulldozing of the Boardwalk community garden on Saturday morning. This isn’t a “coney” joke, but something we learned from the site manager. And when a gardener collected her chickens she also walked off with three kittens. The mama cat kept coming back all day looking for them. Such was the chaos that ensued in the animal kingdom when the 16-year-old boardwalk garden was abruptly razed and the plants were plowed under on Saturday to make way for the seating area for an amphitheater slated to open in June 2015.

Boardwalk Community Garden

Community Garden on the Boardwalk adjacent to the Childs Building. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

We support the rehab of the landmark Childs Building, which tourists frequently refer to as “those ruins on the Boardwalk.” But it’s barbaric to bulldoze a garden, especially at 5am on a holiday weekend, no matter the circumstances. Waking up to photos and videos of the destruction posted on Facebook brought back memories of the infamous pre-dawn demolition of the Thunderbolt roller coaster by Mayor Giuliani in 2000. It also calls to mind Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt’s demo of the Henderson Music Hall and Bank of Coney Island in 2010, which cruelly put a halt to Save Coney Island’s efforts to create a historic district.

The community gardeners along with the New York City Community Garden Coalition are expected to call a press conference to address the demolition in the next couple of days. “The Community and the NYCCGC will not let this action stand without a fight,” said the Coalition in a post on their Facebook page. [UPDATE: The press conference will be on Monday, December 30, 11 am, at 3099 W 22nd Street, between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk, said NYCCGC in a release issued this afternoon.]

Boardwalk garden

Bulldozed Boardwalk Community Garden. Coney Island. Photo by Anonymouse. December 28, 2013.

As previously noted (“Clock Ticking on Plan for the Landmark Childs Building,” ATZ, September 25, 2013), the City has the funds to bring the landmark back to life since Borough President Marty Markowitz will be able to use $50 million set aside in 2010 for a $64 million amphitheater in Asser Levy Park that was halted by a lawsuit. If the $50 million isn’t spent by the time the Borough President’s third term ends on December 31, 2013, it would go back into the public coffers and be lost to Coney Island. The landmark building’s deteriorating condition is also cause for concern. After Sandy, parts of the terracotta facade cracked and began falling off.

Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk

Photographer and Model in front of Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Just before Christmas, developer iStar Financial won approval from the City Council for the amphitheater project. The officially “decommissioned” garden was set to be relocated to a site five blocks away. Why was it necessary to raze it, without giving the gardeners an opportunity to collect their belongings and animals and make the move? Among the items that were reportedly destroyed was a “Coney totem,” a sculpture by artist Philomena Marano.

Boardwalk Garden Furniture

Garden furniture on corner of lot after bulldozing of Boardwalk Community Garden. December 28, 2013. Photo by Anonymouse

Marty Cottingham, a consultant to iStar, cited safety concerns and the need to do environmental testing and, if necessary, remediation as required by the DEP for property that was flooded during Sandy. “We have taken great lengths to do the right thing,” he told ATZ, noting that some items were put in the Childs Building and are available for pick-up. Improvements have been made at the alternate garden site, known as Surfside Garden, on Surf Avenue at 29th Street, including new topsoil and raised beds. Some gardeners say the new site is not suitable due its smaller footprint and being hemmed in by buildings. Others who were promised help relocating felt betrayed by the lack of warning.

Seaside Park Rendering

Seaside Park and Community Arts Center, Stage Doors and Tower in Season, 3D Rendering

The amphitheater project will be developed and operated by a partnership between an affiliate of iStar’s Coney Island Holdings LLC and non-profit Coney Island USA with $53 million in City capital funds, and involves the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Childs building as well as the development of a 5,100 seat amphitheater with a neighborhood park and playground on city-owned land overlooking the beachfront. In addition to approximately 40 to 50 free and paid concerts during the outdoor concert season, the developer promises to host community-based events throughout the year.

The Childs Building along with adjacent lots rezoned for high rise condos became part of iStar’s portfolio when Taconic Investment Partners defaulted on loans. The rezoning plan approved by the City Council in 2009 put 26 high rise residential towers and 5,000 new units of housing in Coney Island, including beachfront condos on 5.5 blocks of vacant land just west of MCU Park.

Coney Island Aerial: Detail of Conceptual Rendering. CIDC Press Kit

Coney Island Aerial: Detail of Conceptual Rendering Shows Residential Towers West and North of MCU Park. CIDC Press Kit, 2007

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Related posts on ATZ…

December 2, 2013: New Construction: Coney Island Area’s 1st Hotel in Decades

November 28, 2013: Photo Album: Parachute Jump Lights Way to Year-Round Coney Island

October 30, 2013: Photo Album: Four Transformations, One Year After Sandy

October 7, 2012: ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island

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Coney Island Cat

Snow Coney’s mom, Okaasan, is up for adoption. Photo via Empty Cages Collective

Snow Coney’s mom ‘Okaasan’ (mother in Japanese) needs a home! This sweet Coney Island cat and her kittens are now up for adoption via Empty Cages Collective. You can visit them at Bushwick Bark, a pet supply store at 175 Knickerbocker Avenue (located off the Jefferson L train) in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Last month, former house cat Okaasan and her new babies were rescued in Coney Island along with ‘Snow Coney,’ her son from a previous litter. As reported previously, Snow Coney was adopted before Christmas. Here’s hoping Mom and kitties find a forever home before New Year’s.

Coney Island Mama Cat and Kittens

This Coney Island Mama Cat is Snow Coney’s mother. Here she is with her new kittens in Coney Island on November 15th. All are now up for adoption via Empty Cages Collective. Photo by Amusing the Zillion

According to her page on Petfinder

Okaasan was originally rescued as a stray with babies in Coney Island, Brooklyn… and is now ready for a new home. She enjoys being in the safety of inside now and just wants a warm home to call her own. She is mostly white with adorable little gray patches on her head.

Okaasan is vaccinated, spayed, tested negative for FIV and FELV. The only thing missing in her life is you!

Get in touch if you’re willing to adopt beautiful Okaasan or stop by and say hello: adopt@emptycagescollective.org or 1.800.880.2684.

Empty Cages Collective is an all-volunteer organization. You can support the work they do for New York City’s animals by donating or volunteering to become a foster home and following their Facebook page.

Empty Cages Collective

Coney Island Kittens for Adoption by Empty Cages Collective at Bushwick Bark. December 29, 2013

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Related Posts on ATZ…

December 10, 2013: Update on Coney Island Cat ‘Snow Coney’ & His Family

November 16, 2013: Help Save Coney Island Cat ‘Snow Coney’ and His Friends

January 24, 2013: Landlord Evicting Famous Coney Island Cat and His Humans

January 26, 2011: Photo of the Day: Henderson Music Hall Cats Now Homeless

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