Lawrence Dagstine: The Coney Island Project…

As a freelancer, a few weeks ago I politely asked my supervising editor if I could have a crack at what is currently nicknamed: THE CONEY ISLAND PROJECT (the name is just a working title among staff at the moment, and it will be given a new name once the project is completed).  Thankfully, I have until February.  The end result will be a rich, historical look at one of Brooklyn’s most renowned seasonal attractions.  TCIP will be a 5,000 word article, which may even top 7,500 words, accompanied by full color photography and interviews with amusement park workers and area residents.  This is my first reporting gig, too, and so far I’ve taken a total of 192 pictures — 20 of which can be found below; these particular ones will probably not make the final cut.  And now that beautiful Coney Island’s final season is upon us, many of the rides are going to be knocked down to make way for a multi-billion dollar redevelopmet project — condominiums, a new redesigned theme park, a super mall, et la.  Supposedly, a rich tycoon from Iraq purchased a few rides, while tons of others were auctioned off on the Web.  Rides such as DANTE’S INFERNO, SPOOKARAMA, and BREAK DANCE, I got fantastic last day shots of (I was there for the closing).

Here’s what’s going on: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/coney_island

The estimated buyout was supposedly $30 Million. Astroland’s owner didn’t renew on a two-year lease.  However, Deno’s Wonder Wheel is independently owned and will be back next year.

The Wonder Wheel - founded 1920

The Wonder Wheel - founded 1920

I’m also now looking beyond the landmarks presented before you (the ones they can’t knock down), to make room for a non-fiction book filled with equally rich photography and history about the location.  The last forty or so years in particular…

Here are some more snapshots, accompanied by what they are:

The Wonder Wheel - founded 1920

The Wonder Wheel - founded 1920

The Wonder Wheel - founded 1920

The Wonder Wheel - founded 1920

The World Famous Cyclone (side view) - founded 1927

The World Famous Cyclone (side view) - founded 1927

This was one of my crappier shots taken while trying to get all side angles of The Cyclone, which was founded on June 26th 1927.  Since its stunning debut more than 80 years ago, the popular roller coaster has undergone some major facelifts and renovations.  The original even burned down to the ground.  Below, you’ll find a distant shot of the infamous Parachute Jump (also sometimes referred to by Brooklynites as the Parachute Drop).  People have gotten trapped at the top of this ride over the years — sometimes for HOURS at a time — including my old man during the 1960’s.  It’s also said that, back during that same era, somebody actually got decapitated whilst coming down on it.  It was first introduced during the 1939 World’s Fair, and received much popularity from the 1950’s on.  The Parachute Jump has also undergone many renovations.  Like the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone it, too, is a New York landmark. 

The Parachute Jump - introduced 1939

The Parachute Jump - introduced 1939

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk

Food and Beverages Galore - only at Coney Island

Food and Beverages Galore - only at Coney Island

Up above, along with the beach and Parachute Drop in the distant horizon, the famous Boardwalk! The food here is out of this world.  During the summers, on Friday nights between 9PM and 10PM, there’s free fireworks from the beachfront.  The food vendors and shops consist of all flavors of ice cream.  Then there’s clams, shrimp, and all other manners of seafood…salt water taffy and cotton candy, fresh draft beer, pina coladas, sausage and pepper heros, gyros, pizza, hamburgers and fish sandwiches, and how can anybody forget Famous Nathan’s Hot Dogs and delicious Cheese Fries?

In the far distance, what used to be the game areas between Steeplechase Park and Luna Park have long since been closed.  Back in the 60’s, much of it was shut down due to gang violence. 

Astroland Park - leased out June 18th 1975

Astroland Park - leased out June 18th 1975

Astroland Park - leased out June 15th 1975

Astroland Park - leased out June 15th 1975

The whole area surrounding the famous rides, however, would be leased out as one big amusement park-like attraction in the summer of 1975 (a key year to my next book project), and it would come to be known as Astroland!

In the pictures above, one of many eateries along that particular stretch of Boardwalk.  The Wonder Wheel and Cyclone are just behind the Astroland Rocket, and I think I got a pretty good shot of the Hamburger Boy (with hungry seagull sitting atop).

During the summer, you have free concerts every Thursday night over at Asser Levy Park, which is located just along Surf Avenue and West 5th Street.  Many superstars have performed there over the years.  Billy Joel, Billy Ocean, Liza Minnelli, Huey Lewis and the News, and even Scissor Sisters!

Here are some snapshots of the kiddie rides over at Deno’s Wonder Wheel:

Carousel

Carousel

Willie the Whale

Willie the Whale

Dizzy Dragons

Dizzy Dragons

Donald Duck

Donald Duck

These next few sample shots below are interesting to say the least.  They’re located just before Coney Island, along the Boardwalk, but after the Brooklyn Aquarium.  The murals on the super long wall are a montage to the sights and sounds of not just the Aquarium but Coney Island’s history and culture.   It will give you a general idea as to what various portions of my article will consist of. 

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

History of Coney Island and Brooklyn Aquarium - mural wall

A Flat Fee job, nevertheless, but one that I can be proud of.  I hope fellow New Yorkers will feel the same.

Most of all, I’d especially like to thank two other people for their contributions.  Fellow muse, Arlene Rose, for helping me secure photos to this past year’s Mermaid Parade (something I would never have been able to get for this freelance project), and Arturo Ramirez, for getting me better photography equipment at the last minute.

For general information about Coney Island, visit: http://www.coneyisland.com/

Coney Island Photographs © 2008 Lawrence R. Dagstine