Ask any Brooklynite where the best place to be on a warm, sunny, summer Saturday might be, and they’ll no doubt direct you to Coney Island.
This historic seaside resort has seen many changes throughout the decades, but it’s still a favorite place for locals and is often frequented by New York visitors who want to get a glimpse at this famous landmark.
The Coney Island area of the borough of Brooklyn (actually a peninsula, not an island) was once the playground of the rich and famous. Wealthy New Yorkers flocked there as early as the mid-1800s to enjoy a stay at the beautiful hotels and bathhouses that had sprung up along the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
For a while, after the Civil War, the area was rather divided, with houses of ill-repute on one end of the strip and family resorts at the other. Eventually, however, Coney Island became the amusement capital of the world. It all started with one roller coaster and a small park. By 1904, there were three very elaborate amusement areas in Coney Island: Dreamland, Luna Park and Steeplechase Park.
Coney Island’s Heyday
Coney Island saw big changes in 1920 when the NY subway was built. Five cents brought people of all races and persuasions to the beach, a fact that angered the rich who once frequented the area. In 1926, a Boardwalk was built to accommodate visitors and increase business. At times, it was so crowded that there was no place to sit on the sand.
But just a short time later, the Great Depression hit hard and the Coney Island parks slid into decline, despite the presence of such incredible rides as the historic Cyclone roller coaster – now a National Historic Landmark, the Steeplechase, and the amazing Wonder Wheel, a Ferris wheel-type ride with both swinging and stationery cars.
Further decline followed over the next several decades, and strained race relations in New York in the 1960s made Coney Island an undesirable place to spend the weekend. Fires occurred in the park, visitors were robbed, and gangs destroyed property. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when race relations had calmed, that attempts were made to restore and preserve this historic landmark.
Today’s Coney Island
Today Coney Island is a somewhat antiquated, albeit entertaining curiosity with its amusement park, wooden boardwalk and kitschy hot dog and pizza stands.
The famous Astroland amusement park has been replaced with the more modern Luna Park, which opened at the end of May 2010. The new park is modeled after its illustrious predecessor and offers nineteen new rides, which join the landmarked Wonder Wheel and Cyclone roller coaster. The park is named after Coney Island’s historic Luna Park that was destroyed by fire in 1944.
Visitors can also stroll the three-mile Boardwalk, enjoy a Nathan’s hot dog at Surf Avenue, and take a dip in the nearby Atlantic. The New York Aquarium is also nearby.
Public, private, and community initiatives continue to make efforts to revive the area and make it safe and enjoyable for all who wish to visit.