The Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk October 15, 2010
So Pickles of the North and I found ourselves at Coney Island in the middle of October. We'd had some storms and the rain had only ended mere hours before we got down there. The sky was about 99% overcast, but the low clouds weren't just a solid, uniform gray. We took some photographs.
Here's where Coney Island starts for those of us who don't live right there. The BMT and IND trains disgorge us all onto this intersection.
I don't think that the trolley cars used to end their runs here, but I'm a little fuzzy on that score. These days, at least, the B-68 bus also ends its run here, after running a couple of blocks north of the Boardwalk for a while. I have some old photographs of me at this intersection that I should post some day soon.
After “the season” is over at Coney Island a lot of the rides are put in mothballs one way or another to keep them from excess wear over the cold months when they're inactive.
For the Wonder Wheel, which completed its 90th season this year, part of the Winterization process involves removing all of the cars from the Ferris wheel. This leaves us with a rather severe looking construction and a complicated lattice of steelwork that supports the cars during the season. The fact that every other car on the Wonder Wheel is designed to be mobile makes for an even more complex lattice work of curved rails for those cars to glide back and forth on as the giant wheel turns.
I'm glad to say that the Wonder Wheel is landmarked, so the various perpetrators of real estate avarice that are working to ruin what's left of Coney Island these days can't just take it over and knock it down to make room for their planned condos or absurd hotel misadventures.
The Parachute Jump has been decommissioned as a ride for decades. I guess it's permanently Winterized. It would have been bulldozed long ago were it not also landmarked.
At one point in the past it looked like various political machinations might have gotten around the Parachute Jump's landmarked status and we were concerned that it was going to just be dismantled, but they put it back together again and it's still one of the tallest structures in Coney Island, albeit only as a monument.
In the middle of an October day when a big storm has been through the area only hours earlier the Boardwalk is very sparsely populated. You can see that there were some breaks in the overcast when we took this photograph.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Parachute Jump is being allowed to decay again.
It hasn't been painted in years, which is necessary to keep the steel from rusting, and maintenance of the lower part of the structure has been neglected.
Pigeons once again roost inside the bottom part of the Parachute Jump and between their droppings and the rain and snow that can also get into the enclosed portion of the base through open vents there may well be some hidden corrosion going on at the bottom of the structure.
We hope that the city will do something to keep the Parachute Jump from getting into serious disrepair due to neglect.
Here's another photograph of the Parachute Jump, this time from the Coney Island beach.
You can see that in some places the sand is still wet from the rain that had fallen hours earlier.
Yeah, that's not exactly a festive sky.
Rough Surf at the Water's Edge
The city always posts these signs officially closing the beaches after the season is over. I guess that it makes fighting lawsuits over people who've drowned at the beach over the cold months easier to fight. Of course there are no lifeguards on duty in the middle of October.
Along about the end of December or the beginning of January the various cold water bathing clubs show up to get on TV frolicking in the frigid water. But they already know there won't be official lifeguards on duty, and they show up as a crowd to help each other out if there are difficulties. I think their main medical problem isn't so much the danger of drowning as the danger of heart attacks among the older members of their clubs.
We didn't see anyone going for a swim while we were there that day.
Here we have a couple of photographs taken from Stillwell Ave., the main point of entry to the Coney Island amusement area for those of us who take the subway to get there.
This view to the north shows the subway terminals, which were gussied up quite a bit a few years ago. The old subway tower structure is still there, but it's empty now. They used to actually control the switches for the trains coming in and out of the Stillwell Ave. station from there before the tower was gutted and turned into a mere icon.
A lot of BMT and IND lines terminate at Stillwell Ave., so it's a pretty busy train yard.
This view to the south shows brighter clouds because it was late in the morning and the sun was up there somewhere in the south. Both of these photographs were taken within about a minute of each other.
Oh, it was a bleak and gloomy day, gloomier still depending on which direction you happened to be looking in and when.
We're still on Stillwell Ave. taking photographs here. This is another shot of the stripped down Wonder Wheel and what used to be the Astroland Tower.
The Astroland Tower is not landmarked. It used to be one of the big attractions at the late, lamented Astroland Park. When it was operated as a ride people paid to go into that striped cylinder part way up the shaft of the tower and look out the row of windows as the cylinder rode from ground level up to the top and then down the length of the tower.
When this Joe Sitt character and his real estate company Thor Equities got the family that had owned Astroland Park for decades to sell their land to him he tore out almost everything that the family had left on the property. The family sold some of the rides to other amusement park enterprises, some of which are in distant places, and put other rides, and the Astroland Rocket, in storage. But this enormous tower was not portable. So it sits there on the property, abandoned, with the Astroland name removed from it.
The Italian company that now rents the land from the city, after the city paid Thor Equities an outrageous markup for the land, has done nothing with the tower. So it just sits there, unbranded, unused and stark.
When the wind comes from the right direction at a certain speed the tower still sings in a narrow range of tones. We do not know what will become of the former Astroland Tower.
Much as I try to stick to my diet I usually end up getting a couple of Nathan's hot dogs whenever Pickles of the North and I go to Coney Island.
When we got to Nathan's on October 15, 2010, we found that the interior of the place was completely cleared. The outdoor eating area had had all of the plastic umbrellas removed from the concrete picnic tables there. We had arrived on the exact day when Nathan's was switching into its Winter mode.
In the Summer time Nathan's only provides some shelves along what passes for their walls for people to eat at, and some very small, tall tables that you have to stand up at to use inside their store. Most of the interior is devoted to holding the lines of people who crowd the place at the height of the Summer season to buy hot dogs and whatever else is popular beach fare just then. At that busy time a lot of people use the outdoor eating area, which on some days is also completely filled up. On those hustling Summer days they open up the sides of the building and sell food hot off the griddles to lines of people on the sidewalk.
In the Winter the outdoor area is pretty much abandoned and Nathan's sets up tables you can sit at inside. The chairs they use in there are made of an extremely heavy steel. Nathan's can't accommodate all that many people inside in the Winter, but the off season doesn't produce that many customers, most of the time. Some days, around lunch time, however, you can find yourself at a Nathan's that has no place for you to sit down and eat.
We had planned to have our first Nathan's meals of the Autumn of 2010, inside the store. Well, that plan fell through. We were too early by a couple of hours, it seemed. So we had no choice but to find a concrete table as close to the wall in the eating area as we could, to protect ourselves and our food from the still stiff winds that were blowing. We also had to dry off the seats and table as much as possible because they were still wet from that big storm hours earlier. Being near the wall largely cut down on the wind velocity, but the concrete still hadn't completely dried out yet. We cut the plastic “to go” bags we'd gotten with our meals in half and sat on those. That sort of worked.
So above is a photograph of the scene of our alfresco lunch that day. Oh, it was very fresco indeed.
The Bank of Coney Island Building For Lease During Demolition
Here we have another Thor Equities/Joe Sitt joke on the people of New York. There's a sign on the old Bank of Coney Island that says it's for lease, meanwhile they're demolishing it.
I remember as a kid being amazed that there was something as mundane as a bank down there among the rides and all at Coney Island. And in those days it was among the rides. These days it's north of Deno's Wonderland, where the famous Wonder Wheel is operated.
The demolition of this old building is another manifestation of the destruction of Coney Island as an amusement area for all by the real estate interests.
Here was have another real estate joke from the same people. The Shore Hotel operated as a real hotel for years, then, I think it was in the '70s, it became what was then called a “welfare hotel.” The building has been allowed to seriously decay over the past several years. The store on the ground floor was kicked out long ago, yet there's a sign on the facade advertising that the space is for lease.
And after they demolish this building there will be yet another vacant lot on Surf Ave. It's amazing that the real estate interests always claim that they're going to bring great, new things to Coney Island and then all they really bring is blight.
Here we see the ruins of the northern half of the Henderson Building. More signs about leasing space in a building that's in the process of demolition.
These rooms have been the subject of asbestos abatement, and now they're open to the wind and rain.
Here's the southern half of the Henderson building. This is the place where Harpo Marx made his stage debut in 1908, with his brothers Groucho and Gummo. The building used to be larger, but when Stillwell Ave. was widened long ago the building had to have some of its western part shaved off.
Beyond the rather inept looking scaffolding you can still see the facades of the various arcades and the Stillwell Ave. entrance of Faber's Fascination, loads of shooting galleries and games used to occupy the ground floor of this building over the decades. Now it's either going to be fully demolished or allowed to collapse from the damage caused by the wind and rain that flow through all the broken out windows and holes in the building.
This is the remains of a facade that I was so familiar with as a kid. When you got off the train and came out of the dark subway station this was what you saw. And when you saw it you knew you were in Coney Island.
Faber's Fascination, and the other Faber's operations there, was mostly arcade games of all sorts, lots of them. Some people upon exiting the subway just went right into the Faber's complex and spent hours there.
That tall pole to the immediate right of the scaffolding is an old trolly pole. Those were the poles that used to hold the overhead wires for the trolly cars which used to ply Surf Ave. from the late 19th Century through my early youth. For the first several years of my life my family's preferred method of transportation to Coney Island was the trolly cars that we caught at the northwestern corner of Prospect Park. Most people don't even know what those things are, many are rusting away and I expect them to be removed any time now.
Faber's Fascination used to have the entire Surf Ave. frontage of the Henderson building. Now even the stripped down sign isn't all there.
Over the years Faber's operation got incrementally chipped away at until there was only part of the old Faber's Fascination left. And then that part lost its lease to the real estate interests that were preaching about a big makeover of Coney Island while removing almost all of the remaining amusement enterprises.
Faber's Sportland was another of part of the Faber's complex, its sign sharing the Surf Ave. facade of the Henderson Building with the Faber's Fascination part of it.
There was no actual gambling going on in this place, but you could roll balls into scored holes, push buttons frantically to get your plastic horse ahead of the others in the race and toss rings over whatever all day and night long here.
This place also featured the usual “test your strength” attractions and photographers who could take your photograph with your head poking through some painted scene. All of the schlock of the 20th Century amusement industry could be found here.
All that's left of Faber's now are the memories, some old photographs and these rusting signs.
Back to the page for the November 1, 2010, program.
Back to the page for the November 15, 2010, program.
Back to the page for the November 27, 2010, program.