Tag Archives: coney island










William Reynolds understood that the Shoot-the-Chutes were one of the biggest draws at Luna Park and he decided to copy the ride for his park. In fact, that was his theory when building much of the park. Many rides, from the Chutes, the Fighting Flames (a copy of Fire and Flames) to Bostock’s Circus (Luna had elephants) were only some of the similarities between the parks.  (Photo Courtesy The Library of Congress)

Dreamland Shoot the Chutes





Nighttime has descended on Dreamland. This view is looking up at the chutes. Beyond that the ocean is rumbling endlessly.

Dreamland Shoot the Chutes 1909






The Leap-Frog Railway as seen from the Chutes.  The Strand (1905, page 782) magazine said, “Not since the dawn of the railway era has a means been devised by which a railway collision might be rendered positively void of danger.  However, with the ingenuity and genius of the modern inventor it is not so surprising, perhaps, that a system should ultimately come forward in which collisions should be looked upon not only as without danger but as part of the actual journey.”  Despite the flowery prose, the railway never worked that well.

Dreamland: Panoramic Views of Dreamland & Coney Island







This is Dreamland and Coney at its best. The sun has started to set and there is an air of excitement in the air. Dreamland’s 1,000,000 lights have begun to burn brightly into the night, inviting onlookers from Surf Avenue.  (Photo Courtesy Library of Congress)






This postcard was taken from the ocean.  The tower to the left is the Centennial observation tower, which was from the Philadelphia Exposition.  The other tower is Dreamland’s and it is shining its beacon out to sea.






A similar view to the photos above and below. This one is kind of bland, but not of bad quality considering when it was taken.






The Dreamland Tower has turned on its beacon, so the spotlight heads out into the warm Atlantic night.tos above and below. This one is kind of bland, but not of bad quality considering when it was taken.

This is a wonderful view of all of Coney. To the far left is Steeplechase and in the distance one can see the spires of Luna Park.  (Photo Courtesy the Library of Congress)

Dreamland: The Fire

A panoramic view from across Surf Avenue. Working left to right we see:
1: “Bauer Sisters- Burned out but still doing Business”
2: “Living Freaks”
3: The remnants of the Dreamland Tower
4: “Dreamland’s Animal Arena”
5: The Giant Racer Roller Coaster, untouched by the fire
(Photo courtesy the Library of Congress)

At two in the morning on May 27, 1911 workers worked in Dreamland’s Hell Gate attraction, preparing it for opening day only a few hours away.  A few light bulbs burst, buckets of tar were tipped over and shortly Hell Gate was engulfed in flames.  The fire spread quickly to the rest of the park.  Dreamland burned through the next day.  Fire companies came to the scene, but the wind’s direction calmed a fire that could have otherwise engulfed the island.  Coney Island icons like Thompson’s Scenic Railway, the Iron Tower and all of Dreamland were destroyed.  The park burned for 18 hours.  The lathe & plaster structures were very flammable and the Dreamland tower was so bright it was seen in Manhattan (and that was in a period when the city’s buildings averaged around only ten stories tall).  Ironically, William H. Reynold’s greed could have been the undoing of the park.  He set down Dreamland so fast that the city did not have time to pull up their fire hydrants.  The firemen reported serious issues of low pressure, which could have come from the dozens of hydrants leaking water amongst the ruins.

According to Richard Snow & Ric Burns’ documentary film, “Fred Thompson found Dreamland’s manager, Sam Gumpertz, staring at acres of smoking rubble and wordlessly shook his hand.”  Very little came after Dreamland.  Samuel Gumpertz opened a freak show in a large tent and William H. Reynolds decided not to rebuild the park that had been such a colossal failure.  Today the New York aquarium sits where the “white ramparts” of Dreamland stood for seven years.

Dreamland: The Dreamland Tower







It must be Sunday in Dreamland at Coney Island. The crowds have come out in their best and are seeing what the park has to offer. The stately Dreamland tower offers the perfect backdrop for this scene, Spanish architecture in the middle of Brooklyn, a great time to be alive. (Photo Courtesy the Library of Congress)









In the postcard on the left the moon is out and there does not appear to be a soul about in Dreamland. Behind the gazebo is the park’s power plant, called the Electricity Building, where 1,000,000 lights were lit nightly. To the left of the tower are the chutes. The postcard to the right is a closer shot and depicts the park just after dusk has fallen.






Dreamland’s Tower had two large spotlights affixed to it. Sailors said these often disoriented captains, who thought the beacons were from a lighthouse.









Dominant. Beautiful. These are the words that immediately come to mind when one sees the Dreamland Tower and Promenade at night. The Dreamland Tower was reportedly based on the Giralda in Seville, Spain. It stood 375-feet high, adorned at the top by a large falcon, and was covered in 100,000 lights. It was excessive, it was Coney.  (Photo Courtesy the Library of Congress)ed to it. Sailors said these often disoriented captains, who thought the beacons were from a lighthouse.

Dreamland: Inside the Park








The park sits quiet in the early morning as the first visitors are beginning to trickle in from Surf Avenue. A rocket ride can be seen in the foreground, while the Atlantic stretches into the distance.







The miniature railroad in Dreamland was built by Cagney Brothers Miniature Railway Company. According to Richard Snow’s book Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, they were powerful enough to pull ten tons at ten m.p.h. Dreamland kept with the traditional 4-4-0 steam engines, while Luna got new electric engines, certainly a park ahead of its time.







Located at the end of Dreamland’s pier, the Ballroom was a beautiful sight for all visitors. It offered one of the most beautiful views of the ocean by day and during nighttime thousands of lights enchanted couples as they sauntered across the floor. (Photo Courtesy Library of Congress)






While the postcard says Steeplechase, this is clearly Dreamland, or just outside of it.  It is difficult to ascertain whether this is taken from the edge of the park and the Ferris wheel was an independent concession or if it was part of the park.







Fighting Flames was one of the rides that most directly copied from Luna Park, where it was called Fire and Flames. The same idea prevailed here: tenements were set and the fire department of New York came to rescue the trapped victims, some of whom had to jump down into nets to escape the blaze. This was one of the attractions with which New Yorkers identified most, since many lived in badly-kept and run down dwellings where fire was always a concern. Note the splash pool for the Chutes to the left. (Photo Courtesy the Library of Congress)









Fighting Flames was one of the rides that most directly copied from Luna Park, where it was called Fire and Flames. The same idea prevailed here: tenements were set and the fire department of New York came to rescue the trapped victims, some of whom had to jump down into nets to escape the blaze. This was one of the attractions with which New Yorkers identified most, since many lived in badly-kept and run down dwellings where fire was always a concern. Note the splash pool for the Chutes to the left. (Photo Courtesy the Library of Congress)





The back of Dreamland. Left to right we have: the pool of the chutes, the Iron Tower (out of the park), Touring the Alps, the Japanese Tea Room and the beach (out of picture).


If Steeplechase represented fun and sexuality and Luna was the juxtaposition of art and youth, Dreamland was the Bible brought to Brooklyn with hints of showmanship. The park was the brainchild of a crooked businessman, William H. Reynolds. He had many connections in the Tammany politics of New York. Reynolds was the poster boy for crooked politics and seemed to have his fingers in most every pie- he even sold Chrysler the plot of land where his art-deco urban masterpiece would grow. Author Richard Snow said that Reynold’s underhanded activities were brought to Coney and that Dreamland was built so fast that many islanders felt the park grew over many of the area’s fire hydrants, ensuring the park free city water for its short life. Dreamland only operated from 1904-1911, but during that time the park helped turn the island into a city unlike anything the modern world had seen.

“Tall towers that had grown dim suddenly broke forth in electric outlines and gay rosettes of color, as the living spark of light travel hither and thither, until the place was transformed into an electric garden, of such a sort as Aladdin never dreamed.” Albert Bigelowe Paine

Visitors coming to the island from New York by boat saw Coney first by disembarking on the Dreamland Pier. What a sight the island must have been as people walked down the gangplank and saw this wonderland unfurl before them. This used to be known as the Old Iron Pier.

Dreamland’s Creation attraction doubled as the entrance off Surf Avenue. It took visitors on a journey through Genesis and the creation of the world.












Luna Park (CAI)

The park has a nice collection of attractions.

Whenever people discuss Coney Island’s history they seem to speak of it in two terms- before and after Steeplechase Park closed.  When the park, by all rights an American institution, shuttered to little fanfare in the fall of 1964 it cast a shadow over the Island from which it never quite recovered.  With time the fortunes of the area at the foot of Brooklyn ebbed and flowed, but there was never a clear, new direction.  Some efforts were made to kick start projects, such as Horace Bullard, the fried chicken king who had beautiful concept art but little foresight or financing, and Thor Equities, run by developer Joe Sitt, who only seemed interested in making Coney little more than the malls that dot the Garden State next door.  Things looked extremely grim when Astroland Amusement Park closed in 2008, leaving Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park as the only facility at Coney Island that offered rides for everyone in the family.


Vestiges of old Coney Island are all around the new Luna Park

The city had been watching Coney Island for some time and had made significant investments in the area.  KeySpan Park, home of the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones, was added in 2001.  That same year a 3-year construction project began in the run-down Stillwell Avenue station, which was under the prevue of the MTA and decades overdue.  Then resulting structure was a beautiful piece of architecture that combined the old and the new.  The city’s investment was matched by sweat equity and perseverance by groups like Coney Island U.S.A., which began operating Sideshows by the Seashore and other art gatherings in the 1980’s, and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, which had been an island mainstay for decades.  However, all of these things together could not provide a tipping point and show Coney the light at the end of the tunnel.

Coney Island’s biggest supporter, and some might say savior, was not a developer or dreamer, but the City of New York, specifically the Bloomberg administration.  While the city certainly had a history of bad decisions, they pursued new goals for Coney.  Mayor Bloomberg and the team at the New York Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) saw the area as a key economic corridor needing growth.  In 2003 they formed the Coney Island Development Corporation and on November 13, 2009 issued an RFP for redevelopment of the area, and received several responses.  On February 16, 2010 they awarded the operation of a new amusement park, Luna Park, to Central Amusements International.  The company, a sister of ride manufacturer Zamperla, pledged to invest $30 million over the life of their ten-year contract.  The city committed to invest $6.6 million into the area for infrastructure upgrades.

The Disc-O, Vertical Swing and Family Swinger on a warm summer day.

With the contract to Central Amusements being awarded so late in winter there was obviously a lot of work to be done.  The former Astroland site, located at Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, was torn apart and an entirely new set of water, sewer, and conduit lines were laid.  After that, the ride work began; it was a mad dash to open.  On a time-lapse construction video provided by the NYCEDC[1] asphalt does not appear at the site until less than a week before opening.  Even though the majority of the rides were trailer-mounted or on base frames, the sheer amount of work that went on in such a small amount of space was astounding.  Every day between February and Memorial Day workers were seen scurrying around the unfinished park.[2]  In April Valerio Ferrari, Central Amusements’ CEO, told the New York Daily News, “We’re working in three shifts, around the clock, 24/7.”[3]

Nineteen rides were brought to Luna Park, all of them except the Reverchon flume (also the only non-Zamperla ride), were new.  For coaster lovers there was the “Tickler”, a Zamperla Twister Coaster, and the “Circus Coaster”, a Family Coaster.  The company debuted a combination of family and thrill rides, the most notable being the Air Race, which held 24 guests and offered an upside down flat ride experience that is unmatched.

After a busy spring Luna Park opened to much fanfare.  At the opening day events on May 28, 2010 Mayor Michael Bloomberg said “Around the world, Coney Island is one of the most famous and beloved neighborhoods, largely because of its storied amusement traditions, but decades of disinvestment and neglect allowed the amusement district to shrink to a shell of its former glory.  Today we’re reversing a trend, Luna Park will provide Coney Islanders, Broolynites, all New Yorkers and visitors from around the globe a world-class amusement destination, and it marks a major step in the long-term revitalization of the area.”[4]

The Air Race garners a lot of attention.

The new property took not only the name from the famed amusement park that once stood on the north side of Surf Avenue; it also took Elmer “Skip” Dundy and Frederick Thompson’s pension for lights and showmanship.  The new Luna Park was ride-oriented, but it still had every attraction decked out in light packages that could be seen from anywhere on Surf Avenue.  One of the best tributes to the past the park made was its new entrance, which utilized the famed half moons and pinwheels that made up the old Luna Park gateway.

The great experiment at Coney Island has been dubbed a success by almost everyone.  There are the few who carp that the amusement area is not large enough or it was not done correctly.  However, the vast majority of those who make their living or have their fun at Coney Island believe that everything came off perfectly.  Getting Luna Park open in a matter of months was a miracle in itself, and the fact that Coney Island had one of its busiest summers in decades fosters hope that the area has finally turned a page and its best days are once again ahead of it.  When asked about why the “new” Coney was such a success Dick Zigun, head of Coney Island U.S.A., said, “I think it’s the rezoning and the hubbub and people realizing Coney Island isn’t going to be totally torn down for condos and doctors offices.  I think it’s people realizing Coney Island is here to stay and it’s just going to get better and better.”[5]   George C. Tilyou once said that, “Coney Island, between June and September, is the world.”  Hopefully it will one day again approach that pinnacle of greatness.

This article originally appeared in”RollerCoaster!” magazine.

[1] The video is available on the NYCEDC’s youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYd30tlUfCc .

[2] Jim McDonnell, a fan of Coney Island, provided a lot of great photos of the park’s construction on his photo site, http://jimvid.smugmug.com .

[3]Durkin, Erin.  “Coney Island’s new Luna Park, modeled after original, will debut 19 thrilling rides on May 29.”  The New York Daily News.  May 29, 2010.

[4] The City of New York.  “Mayor Bloomberg and Central Amusement International Celebrate the Opening Weekend of Luna Park at Coney Island.” May 28, 2010.

[5] Chaban, Matt.  “Luna Park 2.0 Brings Zillions Back to Coney Island.  New York Observer.  September 16, 2010.

Luna Park

Luna Park was a wonderland unlike anything the world has seen before or since.  It was the brainchild of Elmer “Skip” Dundy and Frederic Thompson.  According to the documentary “Coney Island” Dundy had sold the bankrupt Union Pacific railroad and Frederick Thompson was an architect with a drinking problem.  Together this unusual duo created a ride called “A Trip to the Moon” and exhibited it at the 1901 Pan-American International Exposition.  George C. Tilyou saw the ride there and told the pair to bring their “Trip to the Moon” with them to Steeplechase Park.  After the 1902 season Tilyou asked for a larger cut of the ride’s profits, which prompted Thompson and Dundy to consider buying their own park.  They purchased Captain Paul Boyton’s Sea Lion Park, a “ramshackle cluster of attractions.”  The pair tore everything but the Shoot-the-Chutes down as a new style of amusement park was built over the winter of 1902-1903.  On May 16, 1903 Luna Park opened at night.  The legend has it that the duo had so little money they combed the beach for change for the ticket takers.  As Albert Bigelow Paine said in 1904’s “Century Magazine”, “A long festoon of electric light leaped from one side of the park to the other, and was followed by a second and a third.  Then there was a perfect maze of them.  Tall towers that had grown dim suddenly broke forth in electric outlines and gay rosettes of color, as the living spark of light traveled hither and thither, until the place was transformed into an enchanted garden, of such Aladdin never dreamed.”

The good times did not last long.  In February, 1907 Elmer Dundy died and Thompson was set a adrift.  Five years later he went bankrupt and the bank took Luna from Thompson.  Although the park was fun after he left all of the creativity was gone.  Luna, under the direction of investors and money men, operated until 1944.  Fires that year caused the park to limp through the end of the season and it remained closed throughout 1945.  The next year the park was closed and sold to a group that demolished it.  An undignified end to a beautiful play land.

Luna Park: The Front Gate

Luna Park- Front GateLuna Park- Surf Avenue







This was the original gate to Luna Park.  The heart says “The Heart of Coney Island.”  The entrance, like most parks on Coney, was directly on Surf Avenue.  It is sad that a furniture store now occupies the site of this magnificent park.  (Photo on the left Courtesy of the Library of Congress).

Luna Park- Surf Avenue






The park’s entrance was altered for the 1905 season.  The main square entrance was still there, but it was surrounded by red & white wheels and crescents.

Luna Park






A shot of Surf Avenue and Luna Park during the 1920’s.  The park was not named after the moon (although Thompson and Dundy used that iconography a lot), but after Dundy’s sister in New Jersey.

Luna Park






“About 45,000 men, women and children strolling along Surf Avenue stopped and rubbed their eyes and stood in wonder and pinched themselves to see if there was not something wrong somewhere.  The Coney Island visitor does not expect much variety in the attractions gathered at the great breathing space by the sea, here was a strange sight at Coney Island.  Yawning on the dingy old pleasure thoroughfare was a monster arch, covering half a city block.  The interior of this arch was a solid mass of electric lights and rising many feet into the air were four monster monoliths, traced in electric lights surmounted by great balls of fire, which shed light over the island.” The New York Times May 17, 1903

Luna Park: The Promenades


Luna Park- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1909Luna Park- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1908


These two photos look different ways down the main throughway of Luna.  The left photo looks towards the park’s entrance and the right photo looks into the park.  At the end of this walkway the park opened up into a large area surrounded by restaurants and in the middle stood the Electric Tower.  My favorite part of both of these photos are the fish that stand along the promenades.  The ride shown in each postcard, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was a cyclorama that depicted a submarine trip to the North Pole.  Much like the Trip to the Moon, 20,000 leagues featured riders getting in a craft, enjoying the trip to the destination and then disembarking to see the “frigid” town.  The ride was replaced by the Dragon’s Gorge for the 1905 season.

Luna Park- Promenade, 1914






What a beautiful scene at Luna!  In an article entitled “The Summer Show” Thompson said, “When a stranger arrives at Coney Island, the great headquarters of summer shows, the first thing that impresses him is change- difference.  His eyes tell him that he is in a different world- a dream world, perhaps a nightmare world- where all is bizarre and fantastic- crazier than the craziest part of Paris- gayer and more different from everyday world.” [The Independent: June 20, 1907]

Luna Park