Posts Tagged ‘Steeplechase Park’

Brooklyn-born silent screen star Clara Bow was known as “The Brooklyn Bonfire” and “The ‘IT’ Girl.” What is IT? “Self-confidence and indifference as to whether you are pleasing or not and something in you that gives the impression that you are not at all cold,” explained Elinor Glyn, whose novel was the basis for the 1927 film “IT” that made Clara Bow a sex symbol.

In this scene from the film, Bow is a shop girl who goes on a first date with her boss to Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park. It’s fun to watch old-fashioned “date rides” like the Human Roulette Wheel and the Barrel of Love help them get acquainted. When the couple try the slide, “Mr. Waltham” jauntily wraps his legs around her and she asks him to hold her tight. But when he drives her home and tries to kiss her goodnight, she slaps his face and says “So you’re one of those minute men. The minute you know a girl, you think you can kiss her!”

Our favorite real-life quote from Clara Bow: “I’m a curiosity in Hollywood. I’m a big freak, because I’m myself!” And here’s a delicious bit of trivia from Matt Kennedy, the longtime executive secretary of the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce, who was born in 1905, the same year as Clara Bowtinelli: As a teenager, the future IT Girl sliced hot dog rolls for Nathan’s!


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Today’s Saturday matinee at ATZ features “Shorty at Coney Island,” a 1936 Paramount short filmed at Steeplechase and Luna Parks. “Coney Island, where a fella can have the time of his life, especially if he’s a baby chimpanzee,” says the narrator. The chimp got to roam the amusement zone, where he was encouraged to ride the Human Pool Table, dangle from the seat of a whirling swing, and climb to the top of the Ferris wheel. They even let him cheat at Skeeball. Don’t expect to see a remake of this classic anytime soon!


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Pony Express Horse at Knott's Berry Farm

Pony Express Horse at Knott's Berry Farm. Photo © bayareabrats via flickr

Back in the summer of ’08, we had a chance to ask a visiting Zamperla ride rep if his company could rebuild Coney Island’s legendary Steeplechase Ride, which closed in 1964. His reply was to whip out his cellphone and show us a vid of the Pony Express-themed MotoCoaster. It had just opened at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., on Memorial Day Weekend in 2008.

Zamperla, which won a 10 year contract to build a new Luna Park on the City-owned former Astroland site and Stillwell parcels, is expected to announce their ride line up this week. Now that Zamperla is New York City’s new Coney Island Amusement Operator, we think there’s a pretty good chance the Pony Express will become the Steeplechase Express, perhaps in 2011 or 2012. Here’s a look at the Pony Express courtesy of a vid by Ryan Childers via YouTube…

According to Zamperla’s website:

The Pony Express comes with two trains, each accommodating up to 16 rides in an innovative pedestal seating design that maximizes safety, comfort and ride freedom. Using the time tested flywheel and clutch launch system, the PONY EXPRESS delivers a high energy ride with low energy costs. Seated two abreast on their own horses, 16 riders are treated to an exhilarating launch from 0–60 km/h (0-37 mph) in 2.5 seconds. The horses then race to the finish line along a 450 meter (1476 ft) track reaching heights of 14.7mt (48 ft.) through a breathtaking series of exciting 65 degree banked turns. Like the MotoCoaster, the PONY EXPRESS can be adapted to any theme. Let Zamperla design a custom layout and specialized theme for your venue.

The Zamperla Pony Express pays homage to the Steeplechase Ride, but it does differ quite a bit in design. Most notably, the horses are part of a single train instead of racing against each other on multiple tracks. Another big difference: The ride’s seating design and restraint system are new and improved to comply with current-day safety standards.

Park World correspondent and coaster aficionado Paul Ruben recalls the dangerous thrill of riding Coney Island’s Steeplechase Ride:

It was back in 1959 that I learned what it was that has two heads, four eyes, six legs and a tail. Do you know? A horse and rider. It was then I rode my first sit-astride coaster, the original Steeplechase horseback ride at Coney Island. Remember that this was the same park that featured the human roulette wheel, which you rode at your own risk. Back then the only seat belts were on race cars, and they weren’t always effective, either.

On the Steeplechase, the restraint system was a bar to hold. Since then I’ve ridden the Steeplechase at Blackpool, the old Cycle Chase at Knott’s Berry Farm, and now Darien Lake’s MotoCoaster. Most impressive on these newer rides is the progress made improving the restraint systems.

Vintage postcard of Coney Island’s original Steeplechase Ride

Vintage postcard of Coney Island’s original Steeplechase Ride (1898-1907), George C. Tilyou’s first Steeplechase Park. Photo via Tricia Vita/me-myself-i’s flickr


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It’s a shame that part of the City’s Steeplechase property is set to become a residential enclave with million dollar views instead of additional acreage for Coney Island’s new amusement park. Over on the Coney Island Message Board, vintage photos and postcards of the salt water swimming pool at Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park (1897-1964) have inspired a lively discussion about the pool’s exact location. After several maps were posted, the consensus is the Steeplechase Park Pool is buried beneath Keyspan parking lot, which is City owned parkland.

Steeplechase swimming pool Coney Island NY. Vintage Postcard via amhpics flickr

Steeplechase swimming pool and Zip Coaster in Coney Island NY circa 1940s. Vintage Postcard via amhpics flickr

The fact that the Giuliani administration paved over Paradise–part of the Steeplechase Park site–to allow parkland to be turned into the Keyspan parking lot is bad enough (nod to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”). Now the Bloomberg administration is asking the state legislature to “alienate” and de-map the parkland/parking lot so it can be sold to a private developer (most likely Taconic Investment Partners) to build 1,900 units of housing.

The Coney Island Message Board‘s JimEmack writes: “I believe the old Steeplechase swimming pool was just filled in with parts of the old bathhouses that were on two sides of the pool. It was just plowed over with debris from tearing down the park. Maybe a future generation will unearth it once again.”

Somehow we don’t think a Steeplechase Pool in the basement will be one of the amenities of the luxury housing slated to be built on the site. Perhaps the apartments will be named Steeplechase something-or-other in memory of George C Tilyou’s Funny Place, where 10,000 People Laughed at One Time?

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

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

Steeplechase died in 1966, when Fred Trump bought the property and threw a party to celebrate the destruction of the Pavilion of Fun. “The Trump Organization office views the acreage as a potential site for a modern Miami Beach type high rise apartment,” according to the New York Times clipping “6 Bikinied Beauties Attend Demolishing of Coney Landmark” in Charles Denson’s Coney Island Lost and Found. Trump’s effort to get the zoning changed to residential failed to get approval. Now the City itself is planning to do what the City wouldn’t let Fred Trump do more than 40 years ago.

The Brooklyn Cyclones ballpark was built on the site of Steeplechase’s Pavilion of Fun, but the ballpark is a recreational use and helped revitalize Coney Island when it opened in 2001. A mass of apartment towers on the edge of a dwarfed amusement area is another story, though the City insists 5,000 units of housing is a necessary component of their plan to revitalize Coney Island.

Detail of CIDC Map of of Coney Island Redevelopment Plan.  Salmon and cream color denote residential and residential towers

Detail of CIDC Map of of Coney Island Redevelopment Plan. Salmon and cream color denote residential and residential towers

Color Key for CIDC Map of Redeveloped Coney Island

Color Key for CIDC Map of Redeveloped Coney Island

In Coney Island, Mayor Bloomberg gives with one hand (6.9 acres purchased from Thor Equities for the City’s new amusement park, which we applaud) and takes away with the other (City parkland aka Keyspan parking lot to be demapped by the state legislature and sold to a private developer to build housing including high rises).  Before the rezoning in July 2009, the City estimated that over 1,900 of the proposed 5,000 housing units would go unbuilt if the parkland were not alienated.

We wish those 1,900 units would go unbuilt and the parking lot remain parkland. As long as the land remains undeveloped and has the word “park” in it, there’s hope that it could be used for amusement or recreation in the future. Now that the City has gone ahead and acquired the Boardwalk property from Thor Equities to replace the de-mapped parkland/parking lot, we anticipate the legislators will give the plan the go ahead.

Conceptual Rendering of Coney Island at Night.  CIDC Press Kit

Conceptual Rendering of Coney Island at Night. CIDC Press Kit

Last week, when BK Southie reproduced the CIDC’s full size rendering on his blog, a commenter wanted to know: “Why does the surrounding area look more like midtown Manhattan than Coney Island?” People are surprised to find out the rezoning puts 26 high rise residential towers and 5,000 new units of housing in Coney Island. The parkland alienation vote is looming, yet this issue hasn’t gotten any attention lately in the press. We think it’s because the focus has been on the City’s efforts to acquire Thor Equities property in the amusement area and the four high rise hotels proposed for the south side of Surf Avenue. As Joni Mitchell sings, “Don’t it always seem to go… That you don’t know what you’ve got… Till it’s gone.”

Swimming Pool at Steeplechase Park. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.

Greetings from the Swimming Pool at Steeplechase Park! Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.


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December 18, 2009: Ciao Coney Island! Will Ruby’s, Shoot the Freak, Astrotower & Other Oldies Survive?

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June 11, 2009: Coney Island Amusement Advocates Rally for More Acreage for Outdoor Rides

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