Tag Archives: coney island bathhouse

The Beaches of Coney Island- Part 1

The Beaches of Coney Island

“Coney Island has one of the most beautiful natural settings in the entire city of New York and has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It has a perfect southern exposure.  It gets sunlight all day long and that’s what keeps people coming back.”

Charles Denson, Coney Island: America’s Dreamland

If you go to Coney Island today to ride the Cyclone or grab a bite at Gregory & Paul’s, you might forget that less than a block away is what first drew people to the area – the beach.  The ocean constantly roars, and with the current renaissance, a new generation of New Yorkers is discovering what people have known for over 170 years- that the beaches of Coney Island are a great place to enjoy a Brooklyn summer day.  It is one of the most famous beaches in the world.  In fact, ABC’s “Nightline” called it the “Best known beach in America.”[1]  The story of the area has been told many times, but often it seems that after Tilyou, Thompson, and Dundy came on the scene, that the beach and boardwalk only serve as a backdrop to the action occurring nearby.  This work will examine the beach and its partner, the boardwalk, since people started playing in the surf of Coney Island.

There were a few people living at Coney in the 1820’s, but the first step in transforming the  tiny seaside town into a destination was the Shell Road.  It was built under the supervision of John Terhune in 1824.[2]  Only a few wealthy New Yorkers made the trek over the following decades.  The beaches they saw were long stretches of sand dotted by a few small stands.  Twenty-three years later, steamships from Manhattan started tying up and unloading guests for a relaxing day.  In 1850 the Plank Road was completed, which made the trek easier for carriages to move south through Brooklyn to Coney.[3]  Walt Whitman was a fan of the area and often sprinted down the shoreline naked.  He said, “long bare unfrequented shore…Where I loved after bathing to race up and down the hard sand, and declaim Homer or Shakespeare to the surf and seagulls by the hour.”[4]  The beach was littered with driftwood through the Civil War, and at the west end, which had developed a rough reputation, dead bodies were found bobbing in the surf.[5]  By the end of the war a year-round group of “crooks and scoundrels” could be found at Coney, particularly on the western tip, called Norton’s Point.[6]  This center of thievery was named after Mike “Thunderbolt” Norton, whose nickname came from the fact that his punch was one of the most powerful on the island.[7]  In the area that would shortly develop as West Brighton (located east of Norton’s Point) there were around a dozen hotels with ramshackle bathhouses, chowder stands and a few places of drink on the beach.[8]

Bathing was a little different in the Nineteenth Century.

As early as 1860 the New York Times reported, “There is one cool spot to which New-Yorkers can resort, and that is Coney Island.”[9]  The city’s well-to-do citizenry thought it best to follow their doctor’s orders, many of whom prescribed sea bathing as healthy and invigorating, but cautioned guests to make sure they had the appropriate attire.  For women this meant an outfit roughly the size of a large dress made of wool that weighed fifteen pounds once it got wet.[10]  Seeing the revenue potential, Peter Ravenhall opened a “bathing palace” in 1863 to sell swimming suits and champagne.  Two years later Peter Tilyou opened a bathing house and restaurant that served those who could not afford the extravagance of Ravenhall’s.  Tilyou’s was soon known for its oceanside location and the delicious roasted clams, which were plentiful in nearby Sheepshead Bay.  He gave everyone that rented a bathing suit from his Surf House a free bowl of clam chowder.[11]  Because of the immense cost and lack of free time, a high percentage of lower class citizens could not visit Coney.  However, urged on by businessmen (and possibly kickbacks), journalists were soon praising the great  proletarian atmosphere to entice families to visit.[12]  The first large hotel in the area was the Coney Island House, which had opened five years after the Shell Road.[13]  It soon paled in comparison with the massive resorts erected on the island.

Coney started out as a genteel resort, but as time wore on there were more ways to get to the area, and increased transportation competition caused prices to drop.  This slowly ushered in more working-class families.[14]  The most popular day during this period was Sunday, because Saturday was still a whole or half-day in the workplace.  In addition, it often took between one to two hours to get from Manhattan to the beach.  However, the word of Coney’s beaches, food and atmosphere created enough of a stir that by 1873 a reporter talked of flags advertising clams along the beach, and that people dancing in the surf stretched as far as the eye could see.[15]  On the beach everyone frolicked in the surf.  Despite their heavy attire, many women were seen out enjoying the waves with their family or a group of family friends.  An 1866 story in the New York Times said that, “The ladies enjoy this [being tossed by the waves] immensely, as they testify by their laughter and halt-trightened shrieks and their frantic splashings.”[16]

The change into a resort began with the arrival of Austin Corbin in 1873.  He was there because his son had fallen ill, and doctors had advised the family that the sea air would help him recover.  While spending time at the Coney Island House, Corbin explored the undeveloped areas east of the crude bathing houses and found an empty expanse of sand.[17]  He felt that the area would be a perfect resort center, much like Newport, Rhode Island.[18]  Corbin’s Manhattan Beach Hotel opened on May 4, 1877 with an introduction by Ulysses S. Grant.[19]  It had 258 rooms, used water transported from the mainland and featured a bathing pavilion that stood two stories tall, 520 feet long and could hold up to 220 guests.[20]  A Times reporter said that, “Yesterday one of largest and best appointed appearing hotels in the country uprose out of the salt grass and sand, and so densely populated were its acres of piazzas and diningrooms that locomotion through them was a matter of slow and tedious difficulty.”[21]  As Corbin’s fortunes grew, he re-invested and built the Oriental Hotel in 1880, which faced Sheepshead Bay.  Both of his hotels had police that patrolled their private boardwalks to ensure that none of the riff-raff managed to sneak in.  However, because Corbin built his hotels far away from the rest of the island’s amusements, this was rarely a problem.[22]

The Brighton Beach Hotel was the epitome of opulence.

The owners of the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island Railroads were impressed with the immediate success of the Manhattan Beach Hotel and erected the Brighton Beach Hotel in 1874.  They bought the land from William A. Engeman, who had been instrumental in starting the growth of the Brighton area, named after the famous British resort of the same name.  The grand hotel featured all the splendor found at Corbin’s resorts, but also had a few selling points of its own.  The Brighton Beach advertised two hundred rooms with gas and water as well as champagne on draft.  The most amazing spectacle the hotel put on was a move.  In 1888 the beach in front of the resort was quickly being eaten away by erosion.  The owners felt the simplest solution was to move the entire structure back from the water.  The project began on April 3rd and after moving it on 120 railroad cars, the hotel was again hosting guests in June.[23]  Four years after it opened, the resort built a large bathing pavilion for use by its guests.[24]  While not as magnificent as the one found at Manhattan Beach, it must have looked impressive when contrasted with the working class structures at nearby West Brighton.

The heavy investments in Coney that brought Manhattan’s upper crust to visit was one more key that accelerated the island’s momentum and economic growth.  The area now had something for everyone.  Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, authors of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, broke Coney Island down into four distinct areas- growing wealthier the further west one ventured on the island.  They were: Norton’s Point on the West End, still the rough & tumble area; West Brighton, where many of the working class crowded to do their bathing; Brighton Beach, where those with some means were found; and the exclusive area was Manhattan Beach.[25]  Growing demand for access to Coney helped railroad expansion, so that by 1878 five railroad lines ran to the Island from Brooklyn, and two ran east/west across it.[26]  That year an average of fifty to sixty thousand people visited the area on any given weekend, and most headed straight for West Brighton.[27]  Now workers had a twinkle in their eyes when they talked about Coney Island.  While there was still plenty of vice on one end of the island and snobbery on the other, West Brighton Beach had evolved into a place for city-dwellers to escape to for a day.  For people who worked 5.5 or 6 days per-week, the ability to forget the backbreaking work at places like the Fulton Fish Market and the Garment District was new.  This was the first time in the industrialized America that people started to receive notable amounts of leisure time.

Some of the largest changes in the Island’s beaches came from the construction of the Old Iron Pier and New Iron Pier, which were built in 1878 and 1880 respectively.[28]  Because the piers were creating a new series of water currents when the waves moved toward shore, sandbars formed west of each pier.[29]  The larger beach was just one more benefit for Coney, where the rules of society were beginning to change.  Swimming in the ocean had an effect on many that worried reformers and seemed to defy explanation.  While the swimming suit of the day wasn’t revealing by today’s standards, it was the smallest thing a man or woman was allowed to wear in public.[30]  It gave bathers a new feeling of liberation to wear the “skimpy” suits on a warm summer day.  Although as a whole, the nation had developed a fascination with sea bathing, only a small percentage of working class people around the country had access and were able to swim in the ocean.  West Brighton not only allowed folks from the city to go swimming, but it also allowed groups of people to do it en-masse.  The jubilation was easily seen on one of the first films the Edison Company produced after it completed work on a motion picture camera in 1896.  “Cakewalk on the Beach” had people forming what was essentially a dance line to show off for the camera.  Burrows and Wallace concluded that this was not just goofing off; it was the development of a “New York sensibility.”[31]  When they got outside at Coney, people were very relaxed, while most settings during this time called for a stricter public decorum.[32]  Many reporters going to the beach said that they noticed that people of all classes were outwardly happy when spending time at the island.[33]

Early bathers along the beaches of Coney.

While the citizens of New York were enjoying liberation on the beaches of Coney Island, they were also paying for them.  To create revenue, businessmen established bathhouses, which often had beachfront, rental facilities, showers and a pool.[34]  Almost every property owner built up to the beach, which meant that the square feet of sunbathing territory was a commodity.  Area businesspeople had some claim to each grain of sand that stretched along most of the amusement district.  They divided the beach and water with barbed wire, fending and jetties made of stone and wood.  In addition, they employed guards to ensure everyone on the beach was a paying customer.[35]  It is difficult to comprehend today, but there was often little beach space available to “the public.”  By the 1890’s, bathhouses lined the beach and the only way to the water was through one of them.  There were bathhouses of all sizes to cater to the many different socio-economic classes that visited Coney.  Tilyou’s, Ravenhall’s and Ward’s were some of the most powerful and longest-running bathhouse establishments in the area.

The beach in 1913.

Like many places in America during this time, there was a second class to Coney based upon ethnic makeup.  While many from Europe could melt into a crowd, some beach-goers from the five boroughs were turned away.  Two of the peoples that faced this prejudice were those from the Jewish and African-American communities.  Before the island exploded with the addition of the subway, there was less overall business to go around and many bathhouses appealed to white clientele of all classes by using exclusionary business practices.  Jon Sterngrass, author of First Seasons: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, noted that Austin Corbin, owner of the Manhattan Beach and Oriental Hotels, said that, “If this is a free country, why can’t we be free of the Jews?”  Corbin was a member of the American Society for the Suppression of Jews and barred them from his resorts.  However, the Brighton Beach Hotel allowed them to reside at their business.[36]  After the turn of the century the Jewish population living year-round at Coney Island grew.  They encountered some problems getting onto the beaches only a few blocks from home or had fights with people from other ethnic groups once on the beach.[37]  African-Americans had a hard time assimilating into the Coney Island culture for some time.  As Sterngrass noted, mistakes could be made with people being Jewish, but race took only a second to deduce in most cases concerning African Americans. While the beaches of Coney Island were open to the white working classes, they were not always open to African-Americans that toiled in similarly miserable conditions.  Sterngrass has little on the style of segregation used at Coney, outside of the fact that there were some “Jim Crow” beaches & bathhouses.[38]  While segregation slowly ebbed away- which was surely helped by the creation of a public beach after the construction of the boardwalk in 1922- it remained at some places at Coney.  Even the famed Steeplechase Park welcomed African-Americans to the park but barred them from using the swimming pool.[39]  In addition, titles of articles in the Times such as “Coney Island Negro Hunt,” (which described the response to a white couple who were attacked by two African-Americans) – described the round up of every black person on the island, and demonstrated that problems did flare up.[40]  However, it is hard to get a full idea of how consistent policies were and how often they were bent since Coney Island entrepreneurs answered chiefly to the dollar.  Hopefully further research will paint a better picture as to how certain minorities were treated at Coney.

[1] ABC Nightline, 22 minutes, ABC Home Video, 1994, Videocassette.

[2] Michael Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002, 12-13.  Ierardi, Eric J, Gravesend: The Home of Coney Island, Mt. Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001, 48.

[3] Jon Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001, 78.

[4] Edo McCullough, Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey Into the Past, NewYork, NY: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1957, 23.

[5] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 77.  Coney Island: a documentary film, Produced by Ric Burns & Buddy Squires, 66 minutes, Direct Cinema Limited,  Videocassette.

[6] Oliver Pilat & Jo Ranson,  Sodom By the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, New York, NY:  Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1941, 57.

[7] Ierardi, Gravesend: The Home of Coney Island, 59.

[8] Richard Snow, Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, New York, NY: Brightwaters Press, 1989, 11.

[9] “A Cool Resort in Hot Weather,” The New York Times, July 10, 1866, 5.

[10] McCullough, Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey Into the Past, 8-9, 238.  Richard Snow, Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, New York, NY: Brightwaters Press, 1989, 30.

[11] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 80. McCullough, Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey Into the Past, 238.

[12] Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 17.

[13] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 78.

[14] “A Cool Resort in Hot Weather,” 5.

[15] “Coney Island. A Visit to the Beach- How to Get There and Back- Scenes and Incidents,” New York Times, July 14, 1873, 2.

[16] “New York in the Surf: Sunday Bathing at Coney Island and Elsewhere,” The New York Times, July 16, 1866, 5.

[17] “Austin Corbin Dead: Thrown Out of His Carriage at Newport, N.H,” The New York Times, June 5, 1896, 1.

[18] Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 4.

[19] Ierardi, Gravesend: The Home of Coney Island, 55.

[20] Snow, Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, 28.  Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 25.

[21] “A Day At Coney Island,” The New York Times, August 20, 1877, 5.

[22] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 86-88.

[23] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 92.  Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 4.  Snow, A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, 29.  Edwin G. Burrows & Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, 1135.

[24] Gotham, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, 1135.

[25] Gotham, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, 1132-1135.

[26] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 82.

[27] Pilat & Ransom, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 28.

[28] Stanton, Jeffery.  “Coney Island History Articles,” n.d.,

<http://naid.sppsr.ucla.edu/coneyisland/articles/earlyhistory.htm > (February 23, 2004).

[29] Charles Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2002, 17.

[30] John F. Kasson, Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century, New York, NY: Hill & Wang, 1978, 44.

[31] Coney Island: a documentary film.  Burrows & Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, 1136.

[32] Kasson, Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century, 102-103.

[33] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 100.

[34] Snow, Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, 31.

[35] Snow, Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, 31.  Pilat & Ranson, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island 312.  Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 125.

[36] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 108.

[37] Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 108.

[38] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 107.

[39] Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 168.

[40] “Coney Island Negro Hunt,” The New York Times, September 3, 1900, 2.

The Beaches of Coney Island- Part 2

“Bathing shoulder to shoulder at Coney Island was both satisfying and enabling in ways that sharply contrasted with other forms of recreation.  It was bigger than any parade, more inclusive than any political rally, and more democratic than any spectator sport.  It was like that 4th of July and every other patriotic outpouring rolled into one.”

Michael Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 153

The beach and the Half Moon Hotel.

The crowds kept coming and in response, new parks were built in 1895 (Sea Lion Park), 1897 (Steeplechase Park), 1903 (Luna Park) and 1904 (Dreamland).[1]  In addition, many independent rides and concessions peppered the amusement district.  A spirit of frivolity spread over much of the island as more things popped up for visitors to do upon subsequent visits.  Frederick Thompson, a co-owner of Luna Park, said, “Innocent play is a moral antiseptic, and innocent play has certainly won the victory at Coney Island.”[2]  Although they were among the thousands on the sand, many people felt the beach offered a “unique form of privacy” and got lost in the masses.  Teenage boys could easily lose mom and dad for a few hours while talking to girls from all over New York City.  Beachgoers began to take this feeling of liberation to a new level with their revealing bathing suits.

The regulations for bathing outfits had varied greatly under former island boss John McKane, but after he was arrested in 1895 the reformers hounded the police to ensure all wore decent bathing apparel.  In 1900 the New York Times described an event where the police tried to arrest several people wearing bathing suits while not on the beach.  The daring bathers were about to be arrested when they hopped a passing streetcar and escaped a night in prison.[3]  One watershed of sorts in this battle for skin occurred in July of 1910.  The police walked, spread out, down the beach trying to arrest those in “tight fitting” bathing suits or outfits that “resembled overalls.”  The police chose not to abandon their traditional uniforms and balked at going in the water after the bathers that scampered away in the surf.  Only eight were arrested that day, but they had to spend the night in jail.  Eight years later around 100 women were forced to return to bathhouses because they were not wearing stockings on the beach.[4]  For the 1920 season male and female “censors” were on the beach looking for men in one-piece suits and women showing too much skin.[5]   In 1923 when local lawmen actually looked at the books, they found no law forbidding women to show their ankles at the beach and stopped arresting citizens on that charge.[6]  The same year a man named Leo Wagner from Neptune Avenue was fined $5 because he was “wearing the shirt of his bathing suit inside his trunks.”  After paying the fine, Wagner produced a picture from a local paper that pictured Mayor Hylan of New York City in the same style of bathing suit.  The judge, who was with the mayor in Florida when the photo was taken, had no comment for the paper.[7]  In their book Sodom By the Sea, Oliver Pilat and Jo Ranson describe the losing battle that moral reformers, religious leaders and the police faced with people embracing smaller bathing suits.  There were still some arrests; in the early 1930’s men with their chests exposed could get a $50 fine and spend ten days in jail.  However, the LaGuardia administration made it clear that they saw no point in spending the city’s time or money persecuting beach-goers.[8]  Bathing suit styles were shrinking in part because of greater acceptance of the body being displayed in public and the fact that many beachgoers were from European countries where showing additional flesh had been the norm.  The changes came quickly and by the 1950’s the bikini could be found on the beaches of Coney Island.

The beach was a place where everyone came to relax.

During the winter of 1910-1911 one of the largest public works on the island took shape.  The municipal bathhouse slowly rose at West 5th Street and Surf Avenue.[9]  Island entrepreneurs were not happy that the city was invading what had been a land of private enterprise.  After it opened people lined up for 3-4 blocks to rent one of 6,000 lockers in the structure.  The city charged 10 cents for beach access, well below most of the other bathing facilities.  While many sources said the structure was open for the 1911 season, Times articles from July and August of that year talk of the official opening’s delay.  The bathhouse opened to speeches and dignitaries on August 1 as planned, but no one from the public, not even reporters, were allowed in.  The author surmised that the facilities should be open to all in a few weeks’ time.[10]

The area’s reputation as a resort began to fade with the closing of the Corbin properties in 1911 (Manhattan Beach Hotel) and 1916 (Oriental Hotel).  In addition, horse racing was outlawed in 1910.[11]  Many of the guests that had summered at Coney chose to visit on a weekend or two, if at all.  The island now belonged to the masses.  World War I created a new demand for all of Coney’s facilities, most notably the beach, and most entrepreneurs gouged bathers with exorbitant fees whenever they could.  Pilat and Ransom said that a few facilities, such as Ward’s, kept their prices the same.  But many, such as the Majestic Baths, Parkway Baths, Whitney’s, Ravenhall’s and Scoville’s all increased their prices to get all they could from customers.[12]

As Coney Island became a home to more of the masses and less of the elite, it became known by nicknames such as the Poor Man’s Riviera, the Paradise of the Proletariat and the Nickel Empire.[13]  The last name came from the fact that many of the island’s attractions came in five-cent increments.[14]  Like most amusement areas of the day, Coney Island was a patchwork of different proprietors.  Business owners ran the gambit of sizes, from a local with a small stand in the Bowery to the Tilyou family who owned Steeplechase Park and a large bathhouse.  This meant that almost every attraction on the island was on a pay-as-you-go basis.  In a time before credit cards and ATM’s kids of all ages were seen counting the change left in their pockets after a purchase.

Rolling carts along the boardwalk.

The number of visitors to Coney’s beaches skyrocketed with the opening of the Stillwell Avenue Subway station in 1918.  As historian Richard Snow said, “…Coney did not get smaller, Coney got bigger and more populated…the subway lines got there.  You’d get 300,000 people on a great day in 1913, you’d get a million on a great day in 1923.”[15]  Although trains from Sea Beach had been stopping there for a few months, the Stillwell Avenue Terminal (called the New West End Terminal for a short time) officially opened on May 29, 1918.  In 1919 the Culver line was extended under the authority of the B.R.T. (Brooklyn Rapid Transit).  It reached Avenue X in May 1919 and a little over a year later the line started stopping at Stillwell Avenue.[16]  Now the West End, Sea Beach, Brighton Beach and Culver Lines all had a common dead-end point at the corner of Stillwell and Surf Avenues; some even offered express trains from Grand Central Station.[17]  The August 1938 issue of Fortune magazine declared that the subway created the Nickel Empire.[18]  In April 1920 a short in the Times read, “Beginning at 12:01 o’clock Saturday morning the fare between Coney Island and all other points on the Brooklyn Rapid Transit System will be 5 cents.”[19]  The subway was an obvious success bringing the masses to Coney.  During the 1928 season alone, the Stillwell Avenue station collected more than 24 million fares.[20]

The opening of a subway station at Coney Island in 1920 only reinforced another improvement project that had been in the works for years- a boardwalk.  The public walkway finally became reality when its first section opened in 1922.[21]  This watershed had in many ways started with the funding and opening of the Municipal Bathhouse.  Whether it was a conscious decision or not, the city baths served as a test to see how both business owners and visitors to Coney responded to a beach improvement funded with public money.  The first proposals for a boardwalk came in 1910.  The New York City Board of Aldermen felt that the public shouldn’t have to deal with the dozens of different bathhouses that “owned” the beach. After weathering many city planning issues (many of which are described in Charles Denson’s Coney Island: Lost and Found) the city sued several landowners and ordered them to remove any items from the beach.  The New York Supreme Court ruled in 1913 that any land in the area from high tide to low tide belonged to the people of New York State.  Four years later the Green Bill was passed.[22]  Part of it read that the Commissioners of the State Land Office, “…grant and release to the City of New York certain lands under water in the Atlantic Ocean in the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, to provide for the protection of adjacent uplands and the improvement of such lands under water and uplands.”[23]  On October 21, 1920 Brooklyn borough president Edward Riegelmann ordered that the beach be cleared of all obstructions.[24]

The boardwalk made the island truly the “people’s playground.”

Riegelmann drove the first stake of the boardwalk in 1921- although my sources point to different dates.  The October 2, 1921 New York Times reported that the first stake was “yesterday,” while Charles Denson stated it was done on September 29.  Either way it was done at Ocean Parkway, which was the easternmost point of the walk.[25]  A little over 12 months later the first section of the boardwalk opened on October 28, 1922.  This section ran from Ocean Parkway to West 5th Street.[26]  The second section got much more interest as 50,000 people showed up for its opening on Christmas Eve, 1922.  The boardwalk now stretched all the way to West Seventeenth Street, where Steeplechase Park stood.[27]  On May 17th, the full boardwalk officially opened and ran almost two miles in length.[28]  It cost nearly $4 million dollars, half of which was the property acquisition cost the city had to pay landowners.[29]  Brooklynites proudly let everyone know that at eighty feet their boardwalk stood twenty feet wider than the famed walk in Atlantic City, and that it used 3.6 million feet of timber and 120 cubic yards of stone.[30]  Because the boardwalk took up so much room, it was over the water on some parts of Coney’s beaches. 1.7 million cubic feet of sand was added to give the masses more room.  This was done by pumping sand in and using a system of jetties and bulkheads that “harness the wild waves themselves and make them help dig sand from the ocean bed and build a new shore.”[31]  After thirteen years of battle, the citizens of New York finally had a beach that belonged to them.

The upper class stopped coming to the area when gambling was outlawed and the resorts closed.  Their children never came to the island; they had found a new place to swim.  On August 4, 1929 a new concept in public bathing and parks opened- Jones Beach on Long Island.  The concept was the brainchild of a man who shaped New York City more than any other during the Twentieth Century- Robert Moses.[32]  Moses thought beyond big and created a State Park that was more like a resort.  The main bathhouse cost one million dollars, the water tower was shaped like an “Italian campanile,” and a tree-lined parkway brought visitors to the beach.[33]  The beach was filled with order through a completely state-controlled operation that took care of everything, from cleaning the trash on the beach, to serving food, to running the bathhouses.  The bathhouse alone accommodated 10,000 bathers and was always packed full of people willing to pay for its use.  The park received 25,000 guests on opening day and despite the short operating season in 1929, 350,000 people visited from August through early September.[34]  It wasn’t just the public who loved the beach.  Architects and urban planners worldwide were impressed with the grandeur of Moses’ plan.  Historian Robert Caro said that, “When Jones Beach opened the whole world came to praise him [Moses].”[35]

Moses not only created a unique beach and bathing facility, he made sure that it was visited primarily by white, upper-class New Yorkers.[36]  While he vehemently denied the charge that Jones Beach was set up for a certain segment of the population, statements such as, “Breathing spaces in the slums of New York ‘constitute a city problem’ which the State cannot take ‘care of,'” take on a different meaning when read today.[37]  Moses had limited access to Jones Beach by restricting mass transit, including a proposed spur on the Long Island Rail Road, and he had his head of construction build much of the parkway so that city buses could not fit under overpasses.  Only eight years after the park opened Fortune magazine declared that a day at Jones Beach cost a family many times more than a day at Coney.  In addition to the immigrant working classes, African-American social groups had a hard time getting permits for Jones Beach and when they did, they were sent to the far ends of the beach.[38]  Over the next decade Moses tightened his grip on the five boroughs and would take control of Coney Island nine years after Jones Beach opened.

The Depression left the beaches at Coney Island as the primary draw.  Crowds averaging around 35 million came each summer, but they had less to spend. [39]  During the 1920’s the bathhouses had remained profitable despite the introduction of the boardwalk.  The next decade the bathhouses saw their business drop off sharply as families found ways to not pay much more than a subway token to bathe.  Some people changed in the rooms of houses and apartments near the beach.  For a small fee guests exchanged their street clothes for a bathing suit and headed for the water.  Often, the bathing suit provided by the owner was made of lesser-quality materials and could become loose in the water.[40]  It wasn’t unusual for the local police, under political pressure from the influential bathhouses, to raid homes where this changing of swimming suits occurred.  Police were still arresting people renting out space in their homes as late as 1947.  That year a judge fined each found in violation of the law $25.[41]  By the end of the 1930’s, about twenty percent of beach-goers were renting suits from anyone.[42]  Most families chose to change in cars or under the boardwalk, which was known as “bum bathing.”[43]  Some were called “drippers” because they wore a bathing suit under their street clothes and dripped beach water as they rode the subway back home.[44]  During the Depression, families who had been evicted were found in the early morning on the beach living in a tent.[45]  They often roamed up and down the miles of sand, setting up their own personal Hooverville at the back of the beach to avoid the crowds.

The boardwalk was the place to be.

3000 children got lost on Coney’s beaches each year.[46]  Considering the throngs of people that littered every inch of sand, it is no surprise that so many kids were lost.  At Coney most kids were brought by police officers or lifeguards to a first aid station.  After they were taken in, the children were taken to a special recreation area for lost little ones while their description was radioed to every first aid station at the beach.  Most children were returned to their parents within an hour, when the parent was looking.[47]  However, not every parent was diligently searching for their child.  Sometimes adults, and more often older brothers & sisters, purposely lost a younger one for a few hours so they could swim as the kid sat with a babysitter paid for by the city.[48]

While the salt water felt good on the skins of immigrant families normally accustomed to being crammed into apartments, the sea felt the effects of a city seemingly bursting at its seams.  Even New York City was dumping garbage into the harbor in the early 1930’s.  When wind blew the right way, debris floated to the beaches and samples taken at Coney were more polluted than the East and Hudson Rivers.  Sadly, people contracted typhoid, ear infections and infantile paralysis from bathing at Coney.  In their book Sodom By The Sea, Oliver Pilat & Jo Ranson concluded that the city felt it could not close the beach.  Even though many people were getting sick, officials must have believed that disease was easier to deal with than a large backlash against the closure of the city’s most popular strand.[49]  The alarms publicly sounded in 1955 when Jack M. Marshall performed tests and found “alarming” levels of Ecoli in the waters at Coney and that treatment plants were to blame.  The commissioner of Public Works had little to say except that the Owl’s Head Plant in Brooklyn conformed to all current health codes.  After admitting that the plant was dumping water in Brooklyn he said that because other plants outside of his jurisdiction were dumping sewage into the waters, the Owl’s Head Plant was not entirely to blame for the dangerous bacteria.[50]  Pollution continued to be a problem- sometimes civic reformers got their way and other times companies got away with horrible contamination.  By 1980 people were happy because raw sewage had not been in evidence in several seasons and in 2001 the beach got a good bill of health from the EPA.[51]  While today the beaches are arguably the cleanest they have been in decades, there will always be an ongoing beach battle between the city’s industries and its people.

[1] McCullough, Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey Into the Past, 299.  Snow, Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, 13-15.

[2] “The Summer Show,” The Independent, June 20, 1907, 1463.

[3] “Coney Island’s Great Crowd: A Youthful Fagin Arrested- Bathers Escape Police and Board a Trolley Car,” The New York Times, August 20, 1900, 10.

[4] Pilat and Ranson, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 307.

[5] “Bathing Suite Rule Enforced at Beach: Censors at Coney Island Forbid Women Bathers to Appear in Socks or One-Piece Outfits,” The New York Times, May 31, 1920, 14.

[6] Pilat and Ransom, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 307.

[7] “Fined at Coney for Wearing Hylan Style Suit,” The New York Times, August 28, 1923, 19.

[8] Pilat & Ransom, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 309-310.

[9] Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 43.

[10] “City Baths Ready Aug. 1: Opening of New Houses at Coney Island to be Marked by Ceremonies.” The New York Times, July 23, 1911, 4.  Pilat & Ransom, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 313.  “Bathhouse Oratory, But No Opening,” The New York Times, August 2, 1911, 7.

[11] Ierardi, Gravesend: The Home of Coney Island, 95.

[12] Pilat & Ransom, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 313.

[13] Coney Island: a documentary film.

[14] Coney Island: America’s Dreamland, Produced by Erik Nelson, 60 minutes, Videocassette.

[15] Coney Island: a documentary film.

[16] Paul Matus, “Brooklyn’s New Coney Island Terminal,” May, 2003,

<http://www.thethirdrail.net/0305/stillwell4.html> (February 23, 2004).

[17] http://www.nycsubway.org/maps/historical/bmt1924.gif, accessed through: “New York City Subway Historical Maps,” February 21, 2004, <http://www.nycsubway.org/maps/historical> (February 23, 2004).  Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 125.

[18] “To Heaven By Subway,” Fortune, August, 1938, 61.

[19] “Coney Island Fare Cut Saturday,” The New York Times, April 28, 1920, 6.

[20] Sterngrass, First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport & Coney Island, 255.

[21] “Coney Boardwalk Opened To The Public: Fifty Thousand Persons Promenade Near Extension to Steeplechase Park,” The New York Times, December 25, 1922, 28.

[22] Denson, Coney Island: Then and Now, 41, 49.

[23] “War On Our Bath Barons: Coney’s Profiteering Beach Hogs Vanquished- Progress at Other Resorts,” The New York Times, August 13, 1922, 89.

[24] Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 49.

[25] “Celebrate Start of Coney Boardwalk: Board of Trade Gives Dinner to Board of Estimate- First Stake Driven By Riegelmann,” The New York Times, October 2, 1921, 18.  Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 49.

[26] “First Section of Boardwalk At Coney Is Opened to Public,” The New York Times, October 29, 1922, 1.

[27] “Coney Boardwalk Opened To The Public: Fifty Thousand Persons Promenade Near Extension to Steeplechase Park,” The New York Times, 28.

[28] “Crowds at Coney To Open Boardwalk,” The New York Times, 21.  Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 125.

[29] Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 51.

[30] Pilat and Ranson, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 315.  Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 125.  Ierardi, Gravesend: The Home of Coney Island, 118.

[31] Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 48.  Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 125.  “War On Our Bath Barons: Coney’s Profiteering Beach Hogs Vanquished- Progress at Other Resorts,” The New York Times, 89.

[32] “Jones Beach Park To Open Tomorrow,” The New York Times, August 3, 1929, 5.

[33] Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1974, 314, 223, 308.

[34]“Robert Moses and the Modern Park System (1929 – 1965),” n.d., <http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/parks_history/historic_tour/history_robert_moses_modern.html> (February 23, 2004).  Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, 308.  “State Officials Laud Long Island’s Parks: Rain Mars 150-Mile Tour, but 40 Commission Delegates Marvel at Six-Year Growth,” The New York Times, August 24, 1930, N4.

[35] New York: A Documentary Film- City of Tomorrow: Episode 6: 1929 – 1941, Produced by Steve Rivo, & Ric Burns, 120 Minutes, Steeplechase Films, 1999, DVD.

[36] “History,”  <http://www.jonesbeach.com/history>,  n.d., (February 23, 2004).

[37] “Moses on the Parks,” The New York Times, August 15, 1931, 12.

[38] Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, 318-319.  “To Heaven By Subway,” Fortune, 66.

[39] Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 148, 153.

[40] Pilat and Ranson, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 313.

[41] “302 More Fined At Coney,” The New York Times, July 2, 1947, 25.

[42] “To Heaven By Subway,” Fortune, 66.

[43] Amy Porter, “Coney Island is a Howl,” Collier’s, July 26, 1947, 44.

[44] Pilat & Ransom, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 313.

[45] Ierardi, Gravesend: The Home of Coney Island, 133.

[46] Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 157.

[47] Edwin A. Osborne, The New York Times, June 29, 1941, XXI.

[48] Pilat & Ranson, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 317.

[49] Pilat & Ranson, Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, 322.

[50] “Waters At Coney Termed Polluted: Chemist Reports a ‘Terrific’ Level – City Makes Study, Might Answer Today,” The New York Times, July 27, 1955, 47.

[51] Will Lissner, “Coney Island Lobby Works for Beaches,” The New York Times, August 15, 1971, BQ86. Anna Quindlen, “Outlook for City Beaches Bright as Coney Waters,” The New York Times, June 28, 1980, 23.  Environmental Protection Agency.  “National Health Protection Survey of Beaches – 2001 Swimming Season,” August 19, 2002, <http://yosemite.epa.gov/water/beach2002.nsf/0/2f6fd838877937c385256b1100755e90?OpenDocument>, (February 23, 2004).

The Beaches of Coney Island- Part 3

A beautiful day for the beach.

“The fat dames is different.  Hell you don’t have to worry about them- can’t swim a lick- but they go in, dog paddle around two hours an’ never touch bottom.  By God you can’t sink ’em.”

John McMonigle, lifeguard of 37 years at Coney Island, Fortune, August 1938

America was coming out of the Depression when a new hold was put on Coney Island.  In 1934 LaGuardia consolidated parks departments from five boroughs into one for New York City.  At its head he placed Robert Moses.[1]  By the summer of 1937 Moses had arranged that the Parks Department take control of the city’s beaches, most importantly Coney Island, Rockaway and Staten Island.  In charge in December of 1937, Moses gave LaGuardia a plan to revamp the three beaches.  The Times said that he offered the mayor a plan for a “New Coney Island to Rival Jones Beach.” Moses first asked the city for $16,150,000.00 for the reworking of Coney, Rockaway and Staten Island.[2]  Moses’ vision of Coney Island included a new boardwalk, new recreational facilities, gardens, playgrounds, straightening of the boardwalk and removal of concession stands under the boardwalk.  In addition, he directly contrasted the “congestion” of Coney Island with the capacity for “three times as many bathers” at Jones Beach.[3]  Two years later this plan was revised to include only Coney Island.  Moses offered LaGuardia two plans, one that cost $3,720,000.00 and another, more comprehensive one that cost $9,659,600.00.[4]  Knowing Moses’ pension for project overspending it is unlikely that either of these costs accurately reflected the amount public money that he anticipated using.

The boardwalk and Parachute Jump, circa 1948.

Robert Moses and the people of Coney Island were not a good mix.  For a man who created places where people lived and spent their free time, Moses had a hard time understanding individuals or accepting anything but calm, orderly behavior as they trod upon his recreational facilities.  As famed progressive reformer Francis Perkins said, “He loves the public, but he hates people.”[5]  Moses lusted after park space, but his concept of serene parkland was in many ways dull.  His thought a good park felt the same, whether it was located at Jones Beach, downtown Manhattan or Coney Island.  Coney was a different battleground for Moses because it was in the city, the area was always crowded and some never forgot the fact that the beach was taken over by the city in 1922.[6]

After taking over the Parks Department, Moses laid down a detailed code of conduct that outlawed ballyhoo all over the area, banned advertising on the beach, prohibited speakers near the beach and fined anyone that was involved in any of the following activities: “human pyramid building, speeches, record-playing, newspapers and beach blankets.”[7]  Moses did some good.  He added trashcans that lined the boardwalk, seven new lifeguard stands, sixteen first-aid stations, several water fountains and men in white sailor suits that speared the trash each morning.[8]  The Parks Department also brought in fit young men as lifeguards, as many as eighty on the miles of beach at one time.  Many of the guards they replaced had been on the job for decades through patronage and were old and out of shape.[9]  But, Moses’ lack of understanding for what Richard Le Gallienne called a “human need of Coney Island” showed through in this well-known quote from a letter to Mayor LaGuardia: “It would seem, however, that a community that calls itself civilized might do a little more by way of recreation for its citizens between the tight spaces of the cradle and the grave.  Certainly there is no reason to perpetuate out of doors the overcrowding of our tenements.  The park and beaches should provide a release from this kind of thing.”[10]

The Parks Department worked over the winter of 1940 to create a new beach.  They felt that the 57 acres available at high tide were not enough for the families that continued to crowd the area.[11]  But instead of adding sand to the beach, Moses ordered that property be bought and the boardwalk be brought or “moved” 400 feet northward.  While the Times reported the project cost around $3 million, Charles Denson estimates that it was closer to $5.5 million.[12]  Moses angled the boardwalk inland beginning at Schweikerts Walk.  It cut across Stauch’s Baths, Ward’s Baths, Feltman’s Restaurant, and several other properties.[13]  The largest change was the cut across the Municipal Bathhouse, which significantly reduced its capacity.  Since he first built Jones Beach, Moses had championed his opinion as the correct one in urban planning.  While Moses’ vision of more bathing room for beachgoers was a good idea, Denson points out that sand could have simply been added to the beach instead of investing millions to move the boardwalk.[14]  The sad realization is that Moses was bringing “new” white sand to Coney’s beaches for the 1941 season.  He wanted to make the beaches look pristine and cover the brownish Brooklyn sand, so he pumped in sand from Suffolk County.[15]  He could have simply brought additional tonnage but Moses wanted things done his way- so the boardwalk had to be moved.

The war did not seem to have much of an effect on those going to Coney, except that beachgoers still did not have much to spend.  Rationing of items such as rubber and gasoline, which limited automobile use, made the subway that much more important to those visiting the Brooklyn beach.  Despite the growth of other beachfronts like Jacob Riis Park, Rockaway and Jones Beach, Coney Island was the easiest and cheapest way for a family from New York to go for a swim on a hot summer Sunday.  Two years after the war ended not more than half of Coney’s visitors were known as “good customers” (customers with more than one dollar to spend).  Business owners complained because visitors would come to the beach early, bring their own lunch and enjoy the day without paying much more than subway fare.[16]  This demonstrated that no matter their income, the beach still appealed to families.  On July 3, 1947 Coney Island saw more people than ever on its beaches.  On that day 1,300,000, one-fifth of the city’s population, enjoyed the surf, the sand and an air & fireworks show put on by the New York Daily Mirror and the U.S. Air Force.  Roughly one in one hundred Americans spent the day at Coney Island that weekend.[17]  Many call this the “last hurrah” for the Nickel Empire.

As veterans returned from war they did notice a certain dullness to Coney’s veneer.  Many saw it as a place where they spent their childhood and associated it as a place to visit with parents.  Now that they had seen the beaches of Normandy and the South Pacific, the imperfections of Coney Island (such as trash and overcrowding) made it seem a little less special.  Author Joseph Heller said, “After the war it was less exciting.  I and almost everybody that went to World War Two…we came back and it was a different experience.  By then we had sexual experience, we had some money and we looked for evening entertainment elsewhere.”[18]  As the decade rolled over, the parents who had spent many weekends at Coney grew old.[19]  Some of their children moved out to the suburbs or across the country to growing population centers like Los Angeles or Dallas.  Those who had grown up at Coney Island didn’t forget about it, but it now took them 1.5-2 hours to take the train in from New Jersey on a sticky summer Saturday.

The Ravenhall Baths were a popular watering hole along the beach.

Like so many of Coney Island histories, the story in many ways seems to end here.  Not many sources document what happened on the island itself after the 1950’s and almost none paint a clear picture of what the beach was like during this time.  In 1955 Robert Moses moved the New York City Aquarium to Coney Island.  Because of its location and price, few people attended the new aquarium for decades.[20]  In 1964 Steeplechase Park shuttered and the last of the great parks at Coney Island was gone forever.[21]  According to historian Craig Steven Wilder the regional demographics of New York City, particularly the borough of Brooklyn, differed too.  Changes that began in Depression-era New York under the Home Owners Loan Corporation (H.O.L.C.), a federal entity, came to fruition by the 1960’s.  During the 1930’s the H.O.L.C. mapped out the borough in sixty-six different neighborhoods based on the racial and ethnic makeup of its citizens.  If Latinos or African-Americans were found in the area, its rating went down.  White citizens were encouraged to move out and black families from the five boroughs and Staten Island were often only given good financial incentives to move if they chose selected areas of the city like Bedford-Stuyevesant or Harlem.  The state had a similar form of racial mapping.  Its inspectors were told by the city that a single African-American or Latino resident on a street redlined the area and this created a new Brooklyn where minorities were herded together.  In 1930 black people living in Brooklyn were the least segregated in the borough, twenty years later they were the most segregated.[22]  The Brooklyn of the 1960’s had changed a lot after only few decades.  It was against this background that a rudderless Coney Island struggled.

Two articles in the Times during 1964 demonstrated the problems nearly every business owner in the area faced.  First, the subway system was perceived as a dangerous way to get around Brooklyn.  Police offers on trains offered little protection from thieves.  Second, the island itself was dead that year.  Only a few thousand people were seen at the island during the weekends.  The paper noted that despite the racial strife, the area that had become famous for crime was actually a safe place for those wanting to swim because the only people there were a few families and people running the rides.  Business dropped between 30 and 90 percent for Coney’s independent rides and games that year.  Even the free beach wasn’t enough of a draw to pull families south.[23]  The perception of Coney Island as an unsafe place slowly became reality.  Racial strife rose on the island and the area became known as a haven for prostitutes[24] Under the Title I plans, the area had become a ghost town by the 1970’s.  Empty lots stood around the island where businesses used to stand.  Some owners burned the structures down and others were demolished for urban renewal projects that never seemed to materialize.[25]    A New York Times poll called “Where New Yorkers Go-and Do Not Go” was published in 1974.  In it, only 28% of respondents said that they went to Coney Island at least once a season.  Almost half said that no one should go to the area.[26]  During this time many of the beachfront properties were torn down or burned.  The famous Ravenhall Baths closed in 1963 and the Washington Baths closed in 1968, because the city wanted them to filter the salt water going into the pool.  The Silvers Baths closed during the 1970’s, and the only remaining grand boardwalk pavilion was torched in 1970.  Three years later, the Bushman and Claret’s Baths burned.[27]

The beach and boardwalk at Coney are fantastic any time of year.

As the 1980’s started, Coney Island became more identified with the beach than anything else.  Norman Kaufman’s revitalization of Steeplechase Park closed in 1981, and as the next season ended the Thunderbolt ran for the last time.[28]  The Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel and the B&B Carousell seemed like after-thoughts for many visitors to Coney.  Fewer things to do along Surf Avenue and the Bowery prompted many to head straight down Stillwell Avenue for the beach after they left the subway station.  In 1980 the Parks Department reported that concession revenues at the beach had been steadily rising for several seasons in a row.[29]

While the 1980’s seemed to have few watersheds, the 1990’s saw Coney Island rise in both the local and national consciousness.  Unique attractions like Sideshows by the Seashore and the Mermaid Parade had laid their roots during the previous decade and were now in full bloom.  Dennis Vouderis, co-owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, said that he felt one of the best changes occurred in 1994 when the Army Corps of Engineers’ added tons of sand to the beach and the Parks Department refurbished the boardwalk.[30]  The Corps worked on 3.5 miles of beach at Coney Island, Sea Gate and Brighton Beach.  The project called for sand to be added when needed over the next fifty years to ensure erosion prevention and a continued spot for people to enjoy the beach.[31]  Not only did the Coney Island beach look the best it had in years, but the Army Corps of Engineers utilized a new system of small-to-medium-scale backpassing.  Instead of simply trucking sand in from other areas, much of the sand was pumped in from the immediate beach area, which saved taxpayer dollars and time of revitalization.[32]  In 2001, another surprising development happened at Coney.  The new Keyspan Park opened and hosted the New York Mets farm team, the Brooklyn Cyclones.  Most locals saw the stadium as a positive step as it provided additional money and interest in Coney Island.[33]  The next major change at Coney Island will be the opening of the new Stillwell Station at Coney Island for the 2004 season.  This $240 million dollar investment rebuilt the old station from the ground up.[34]  The new station was another catalyst for families from all over the city to spend the day at Coney.  With the aquarium, the amusement parks, the baseball stadium and the beach all only a few hundred meters from the corners of Stillwell and Surf Avenues it seems that the world is once again within reach and that you can still get “to heaven by subway.”[35]

The sand at Coney Island has seen a lot of change since people started coming almost two hundred years ago.  But, there is a still a primal urge to relax and forget the world for a few hours.  The bathing suits are smaller, the languages spoken are different and the area is now something that few people envisioned decades ago.  However, bathing in Coney does seem to make people free, and every year more people are looking for a release from the “concrete jungle” that is New York City.[36]  Edo McCullough best described the longevity of the beach at Coney Island, “For always there will be the salt sea and the sand, and always there will be fun.”[37] [1] “Robert Moses and the Modern Park System (1929 – 1965),”  <http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/parks_history/historic_tour/history_robert_moses_modern.html>.

[2] “Moses Seeks $16,150,000 To Remake 3 City Beaches: Offers Plan to Mayor for New Coney Island to Rival Jones Beach – Rockaway and Staten Island Resorts are Included,” The New York Times, December 2, 1937, 1.

[3] Department of Parks, City of New York, The Improvement of Coney Island, Rockaway and South Beaches, New York, NY: November 30, 1937, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 20.  It is also interesting to note that in the report that Moses states that over 16,000,000 people attended Coney each season.  He said that 9 million of these people arrived by subway & trolley and 7 million arrived by automobile.  Considering the lack of parking at the time I don’t see how this was possible.

[4] “Coney Island Plan Revised by Moses,” The New York Times, August 21, 1939, 11.

[5] New York: A Documentary Film- City of Tomorrow: Episode 6: 1929 – 1941.

[6] Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, 335.

[7] McCullough, Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey into the Past, 282.  Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 65-66.  Immerso, Coney Island: The People’s Playground, 159.

[8] McCullough, Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey into the Past, 283.  “To Heaven By Subway,” Fortune, 161.  Ierardi, Gravesend: The Home of Coney Island, 137.

[9] Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, 335.  “To Heaven By Subway,” Fortune, 66.

[10] Richard Le Gallienne, “Human Need of Coney Island,” The Cosmopolitan, 239, New York Times August 21, 1939.

[11] “To Heaven By Subway,” Fortune, 61.

[12] “Coney Island Work Begun: Removal of Lamps First Step in Moving Back Boardwalk,” The New York Times, January 17, 1940, 19.

[13] Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 72.  “Coney Island Grants Cost City $1,151,229: Amount Is Ordered Paid For Land to Improve Beach,” The New York Times, December 23, 1940, 37.

[14] Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 67.

[15] “City Beaches Groomed and Ready: Improved Beaches Await Rush,” The New York Times, May 19, 1940, 1.

[16] Amy Porter, “Coney Island is a Howl,” Collier’s, July 26, 1947, 44.

[17] Coney Island: a documentary film.

[18] Coney Island: America’s Dreamland.

[19] Coney Island: a documentary film.

[20] Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, 686-687.

[21] Snow, Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, 113.

[22] New York: A Documentary Film- City of Tomorrow: Episode 6: 1929 – 1941.

[23] Martin Arnold, “Subway Ride From Coney Island Can Be Long, Lonely, Fearful,” The New York Times, June 8, 1964, 32.  Martin Tolchin, “Coney Island Slump Grows Worse: Decline in Business Since the War Years Has Been Steady,” The New York Times, July 2, 1964, 33.

[24] Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 149, 156.

[25] Maitland, Leslie, “Air of Uncertainty Dogs Coney Island,” The New York Times, November 3, 1975, 39.

[26] Deidre Carmody, “Where New Yorkers Go – and Don’t Go,” The New York Times, January 18, 1974, 19.

[27] Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 168, 169, 190.

[28] Denson, Coney Island: Lost and Found, 210.  Adam Sandy, “The Coney Island Thunderbolt: 1925-2000,” n.d., <http://history.amusement-parks.com/cithunderbolt.htm>, (February 23, 2004).

[29] “Outlook for City Beaches Bright as Coney Waters,” The New York Times, June 28, 1980, 23.

[30] Martin Wilbur, “The fun and nostalgia of Coney Island,” n.d., <http://www.northcountynews.com/archives_2003/7-23-03/news5.htm >, (February 23, 2004).

[31] “Tons of Sand: Replenishing The Shoreline,” The New York Times, February 6, 1994, CY11.

[32] Diane Rahoy and Stuart Chase, “Coastal Forum: Small- to Medium- Scale Sand Backpassing Extends Fill Life and Upgrades Protection,” n.d., <http://www.asbpa.org/archive/oct00_coastalforum.htm>, (February 23, 2004).

[33] Henry Naccari, “Can a stadium save Coney Island?” n.d.,<http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/studentwork/cns/2002-03-04/94.asp>, (February 23, 2004).

[34] “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg Announces Formation of Coney Island Development Corporation: Thirteen-Member Board to Oversee Future Economic,” September 25, 2003, <http://www.nycedc.com/About_Us/getPressReleasePreview2003_detail.cfm?id=209>, (February 23, 2004).

[35] “To Heaven by Subway,” Fortune, 60.

[36] Al Lewis, as quoted in Coney Island: a documentary film.

[37] McCullough, Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey Into the Past, 338.