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The Original Astroland Shrine, December 26, 2008. Photo © Bruce Handy (Pablo57) via flickr

The Original Astroland Shrine, December 26, 2008. Photo © Bruce Handy (Pablo57) via flickr


Photographer and Coney Island resident Bruce Handy aka pablo57 has created a set of images on flickr to memorialize the first anniversary of the closing of Astroland. Titled “Astroland Shrine,” the photos and videos have an elegiac beauty and are certain to break your heart all over again. Seeing the removal of the demon from Dante’s Inferno and listening to the wail of the Astro Tower amid the teardown enveloped me in sadness. From Bruce’s intro:

Once upon a time, in the southern part of Brooklyn, in the land of rabbits, named Coney Island, there stood a timeless amusement park named Astroland. Astroland went dark on September 7, 2008 and this is the tale of the boardwalk shrine sprung from our sorrow and grief.

The original shrine was created on December 26, 2008. Four items, a bouquet of flowers, the shrine iconic collage, a hand written note saying to add more items, and a large ink drawing of a ballerina holding an umbrella.

The photo is taken from the point of view of mermaids looking at the shrine from the slats in the boardwalk.

The images in Bruce’s flickr set date from the day after Christmas in 2008, when the Astroland Shrine was created, to March 2009. “I just feel like it’s the right time to post the photos, all in one spot. It’s the gates, again locked,” Bruce says, referring to the locked gates of Dreamland Park. Following a dispute with Dreamland’s manager, property owner Thor Equities abruptly shut down the temporary amusement area on the former Astroland site. “I guess that has brought this on and the anniversary of Astroland going dark coming up. It is very emotional, I don’t know why I’m torturing myself doing it. I will be finished on Sept 7th.”

The Associated Press released a list of highlights in history for Sept 7 that includes “Astroland, New York City’s world famous amusement park at Coney Island, closed after 46 years.” Do you have any special plans to commemorate the anniversary? “Bring MORE flowers. People are afraid to destroy flowers,” says Bruce. ATZ plans to bring a bouquet to the Coney Island History Project’s Astroland Archives Photography Exhibit

The New York Times article from September 8, 2008, “Astroland Closes, This Time, It Appears, for Good,” is worth rereading for the graf about Thor Equities:

Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Thor Equities, said in a statement that the developer had been in touch with “numerous amusement operators” to discuss setting up “permanent year-round development.” The city and Joseph J. Sitt, the chairman of Thor Equities, which is now the largest landowner in the area, have yet to reach an agreement on how to redevelop Coney Island, though locals worry that the neighborhood will become awash in generic chain stores, condominiums and hotels.

One year later, Sitt has shut down the handful of mom-and-pop amusement operators brought to “Dreamland Park” this season to replace the evicted Astroland. Although the real estate speculator promised “more than 25 fun-filled rides” back in April to match Astroland’s ride count, only about a dozen rides came to Thor Equities’ Dreamland. The Coney rezoning passed in City Council at the end of the July, yet a deal to acquire Sitt’s property, including the former Astroland site, has yet to be announced. “Fundamentally, the deal with him is done,” Mayor Bloomberg recently told the Brooklyn Paper.

ATZ will be in Coney Island on Labor Day, September 7, to enjoy everything Coney Island has to offer in 2009: the 43 rides, the beach, the bars and the world-class people watching on the Boardwalk.

Full disclosure: I’m the Astro fan who created the Astroland collage which was stolen from the park’s gate. As I scrawled in the note begging for the icon’s return, which appears in one of Bruce’s photos: “Please put it back! It took me several hours to make it. I am not an artist, just made it to memorialize Astroland!” Put back Astroland, too! The park’s rides remain in storage.

This

This anonymous note disappeared within a day: Astroland R.I.P -- I Will Miss You 4-Ever. Photo © Bruce Handy (Pablo57) via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

December 30, 2009: Looking Back & Forward: Astroland Shrine on New Year’s Day 2009

November 23, 2009: The Contenders from A to Z: Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP

May 29, 2009: Astroland Star from Coney Island’s Space-Age Theme Park Donated to the Smithsonian

May 21, 2009: Astroland Closed But Your Kid Can Still Ride the USS Astroland This Summer!

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Cyclone Roller Coaster, View #3. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Cyclone Roller Coaster, View #3. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

We’re going to a birthday party today in Coney Island. The Cyclone Roller Coaster, which gave its first ride on June 26, 1927, is 82 years young. As Gerry Menditto, the operations manager for the coaster told the Daily News, “I’ve been here 34 years, and we’ve probably rebuilt this entire ride while I’ve been here. While most of the steel has been around since the beginning, the wood gets replaced regularly.” This season we started taking photos (like the one above) that highlight the architectural beauty of the National Register-listed New York City landmark.

According to the official history of the Cyclone:

Brothers Jack and Irving Rosenthal commissioned the legendary Vernan Keenan to design, and Harry C. Baker to construct, the preeminent wooden-tracked roller coaster. The design had to be exceptionally tight and steep because of the relatively small ground space that was available for the attraction. The construction of this masterpiece began on a historical site which was significant in the world of roller coasters — the Cyclone graces the place which contained the world’s very first roller coaster, LaMarcus A. Thompson’s Switchback Railway.

Thompson’s “Roller Coasting Structure,” the first coaster to be designed as a U.S. amusement ride, opened in June 1884. National Geographic is celebrating the 125th anniversary with pictures of the Switchback Railway, the Cyclone and other notable coasters.

Today’s birthday celebration begins at 11 am. On its 82nd birthday the first 100 people in line get to ride the Cyclone for free. The coaster opens at 12 noon but the line is expected to start forming early. Miss Cyclone Angie Pontani will be there to meet, greet, and dance with visitors. From 11 am to 1 pm, the Cranky DJ will spin 78rpm records on his 1923 Brunswick phonograph and 1921 Victor Victrola.

“These songs are from a very special time in the history of recorded music<” says the Michael Haar aka The Cranky DJ. Some of the selections that will be played at the Cyclone Roller Coaster’s birthday party are Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Everybody’s Doing It” from 1911 and 1912, “The Sidewalks of New York,” singing sensations Al Jolson and Nora Bayes, and the vocal comedian Billy Murray. The party takes place at the Coney Island History Project’sexhibition center on Surf Ave under the Cyclone.

AUG. 28 UPDATE: Due to the ongoing Coney Island redevelopment hoopla, ATZ is getting more than the usual number of queries that ask: Will the Cyclone be open in 2010? The answer is YES, THE CYCLONE WILL BE OPEN IN 2010 and for many years to come. The roller coaster’s designation as an official New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1988 is one of the strongest possible safeguards. The Cyclone is owned by the City, which leases it out to the Albert family (former owners of Astroland Park) to operate. The Cyclone is open daily, noon to closing, until September 7. Then it will be open weekends only through September 27.

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Related posts on ATZ...

December 20, 2009: Coney Island Photo of the Day: First Snow on the Cyclone

September 25, 2009: Coney Island’s ‘Mr Cyclone’ Gerry Menditto Elected to People’s Hall of Fame

August 5, 2009: Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!

June 7, 2009: How Sweet It Is: Wedding Party at Cyclone Roller Coaster

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