1966: Fred Trump, wielding an ax at his demolition party . The Pavilion of Fun was bulldozed two years after closing and just before it could gain landmark status. Fortunately, Trump ran out of money before also destroying Steeplechase's biggest ride, the Parachute Jump.
The city, however, refused to rezone the area and instead had hoped to use the land to build the same type of park that Robert Moses (still in charge of the Parks Department) had wanted to build over Steeplechase some 30 years earlier.
In 1969, after the damage had already been done, Trump sold the land (which he had already leased to Norman Kaufman) to the city for 4 million dollars. Due to high insurance costs and difficulty in maintaing the ride, the city never attempted to reopen the Parachute Jump. Below the Parachute Jump, however, Kaufman had already opened a smaller rag-tag park, which he also called Steeplechase.
1967: Locals stylin' despite the fact that Coney's glory years were gone.
1968: As America was in the midst of it most highly volatile era, torn apart by political murders, the Vietnam war, explosions in both crime and drugs, and an abandonment of urban centers, Coney, now at the heart of an urban center, too suffered.
Where as late as 1955 Coney still seemed liked America's First Playground, it could not escape the strife America was experiencing during the later years. Not at all in the way that the safe, corporate, mindcult Disneyland, which ironically opened in 1955, could. Where as Disney was centered on 150 acres deep in the suburbs of sunny Los Angeles, Coney's vanishing amusement area was stuck in the middle of New York City's most dangerous streets. Streets brought to Coney from New York City itself.
Never did these streets seem as dangerous as during the riots of 1968. After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the city put an 8:30 PM curfew on Coney's amusement district. Two weeks later, angry park patrons (mostly young blacks) rioted against the curfew. The cops (mostly white) were called in and violence spilled over throughout Coney Island. Concession stands on Coney Island's Bowery were destroyed, rides damaged, iconic establishments like Nathan's Famous looted, and parked automobiles vandalized.
As the riot spilled into the Stillwell Avenue Terminal, hundreds of trapped bystanders were assaulted, blood spilled onto the elevated platforms and in the process, 6 separate subway cars were damaged to the point where they were taken out of commission.
Coney Island's image was forever changed. While Nathan's rebuilt and while Norman Kaufman was still trying to recreate Steeplechase, many other independent ride owners never came back. The city allowed Coney's streets and the Stillwell Avenue Terminal to continue in its decay while a new breed of absentee landlords, more interested in the real estate value of waterfront property than putting that property in use, did nothing to help rebuild.
By the late 1960s, annual crowds dipped to below 20,000,000 visitors. Not even half of what Coney had seen twenty years earlier. Chances are that more than a few of those who did come were there to inspect the ruins. Ruins which grew as the amusement area shrunk throughout the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. Still, from dreamers envisioning a comeback, to old time Coney lovers, to the locals, to roller coaster enthusiasts who recognized that even in the early '70s Coney still featured four separate twisters, to tourists still in awe of the Coney name, crowds, although lighter, still came.
1970: The Bobsled ride while still owned by the Bonsignore family. They sold the ride along with other properties to Herman "Hy" Singer a few years later. Singer had the popular ride razed in hopes of making the search for new developers easier. Over the years Singer who later became the Republican Party's Kings County Chairman made a practice out of allowing stretches of Coney to disintegrate before having it bulldozed.
1974: This aerial shows the four roller coasters (Cyclone f/g; Tornado, left center; Bobsled, right center; Thunderbolt b/g) which still called Coney home. Deep in the b/g and to the right, the Parachute Jump. As sacrilegious as it seems now, at the time, the city was looking to knock down the decommissioned ride. Crazier still, the city actually considered knocking down the Cyclone to make room for an expanded aquarium.
The following year, the Albert family, having already taken down their skyrides and having lost the futuristic theme they tried creating for Astroland, bought and saved the Cyclone. Immediately it became the anchor to their fading park.
1974: Stillwell Avenue, once a valley between the Tornado roller coaster (b/g) and the Bobsled Ride, might have seen better moments, but not many louder ones.
To promote an upcoming race on Long Island, Federico DiNome, aka "Broadway Freddy DeName" who lead a double life as a murderous member of the Gambino crime family took his funny car for a few illegal spins at the heart of the amusement district. DeName, of nearby Canarsie, raced from 1968-1977 while also stealing cars, dealing drugs, and breaking knuckles for the mob. His post-racing activity included a long string of deadly hits until flipping for the feds. He committed suicide in 1986.
1975: Falling into bankruptcy and with President Gerald Ford telling the city to drop dead, little money was left for the transit system. As graffiti spread, crime soared, and trains fell apart, crowds to Coney (dependent on subway service) continued their free fall.
1977: One of the Tornado's last rides. Damage caused by a series of suspicious fires that summer lead to the ride's razing. The cash strapped city never looked for investors to rebuild it. Neither did absentee owner, Hy Singer.
1977: The Astroland rocket decommissioned in the early 70s spent the next three decades above the Paul's Daughter Grill. Here it's seen before being painted over in white and baby blue.
1978: Coney Island's desperate conditions made it an almost ironically cool place for the urban hip like Deborah Harry.
Hollywood too paid visits to Coney during the late 1970s. Over a two year span The Wiz, Annie Hall, and The Warriors (screenshot of the Wonder Wheel below) all came to Coney for shoots.
1978: Another screenshot from "The Warriors," depicting a lawless Coney Island as it entered its most dangerous era. The over the top, comic book like, cult classic was released the following year. Currently it's screened once a year as part of the Coney Island Film Festival.
1980: Independent filmmakers like the Buddy Holly glasses wearing Edo Bertoglio (New York Beat Movie) and his pre-hipster set also came to Coney to capture its demise on film.
1982: Behind an elevated station (West 8th Street Station) in great need of repair, two major roller coasters Cyclone f/g, Thunderbolt b/g, stand where we once saw four. A mini spiral roller coaster, the Jumbo Jet can be seen to the right of the screen. To the left, the Wonder Wheel.
Built and operated by Herman Garms since 1920, his son Freddie Garms sold the Wonder Wheel to Constantinos Dionysios "Deno" Vourderis in 1984. Like Astroland which was centered around the Cyclone, Deno Vourderis used the Wonder Wheel to anchor a small kiddie park.
1983: The Thunderbolt during one of its last rides. Freddie Moran owner of the independent ride died the year before, leaving it to his girlfriend, Mae Timpano. Unable to pay for the upkeep, she sold the ride to Harlem born, Horace Bullard, the founder and owner of Kansas Fried Chicken. Bullard neglected the ride (although he did allow Timpano to live in the house built underneath the twister) in hopes of getting it knocked down.
1985: Stauch's, three years after its closure. Several fires inside the old bathhouse which in later years housed small walk up bars, grills, and video arcades closed Stauch's for good in 1982. Hy Singer allowed it to rot and become a haven for the homeless until the city demolished it in 1992.
1987: The subway system during the absolute worst of times.
Although the city began a reconstruction of the entire system in the late '80s (graffiti had completely disappeared by 1990) they didn't bother overhauling the Coney Island Terminal until late 2001.
1991: Dick Zigun, sans the many tats he now sports, during his ninth annual Mermaid Parade. The original Mardi Gras on the sea was disbanded in 1954 after the closing of Feltman's which sponsored it. Zigun brought the parade back in 1983 but even as late as 1991, it was still a secret to many.
1991: Not only were the crowds light, but the costumes quite tame. Notice the Atlantis bar and dance club, closed in 1999, in the b/g.
1996: An empty field and a parking lot stand on Steeplechase's fabled grounds. Just in front of that emptiness, the ailing Thunderbolt. After years of neglect, land and ride owner Bullard later decided that he would get it completely refurbished. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had it razed in 2000 just as Bullard was in the process of gaining landmark status for it. The lot remains vacant to this day.
The Jumbo Jet, front-center, actually arrived to Coney on the old Steeplechase lots. Fred Trump, while awaiting rezoning to build high rise apartments, leased the leveled land to Norman Kaufman with the promise of turning it into a parking lot. Instead, against Trump's wishes, Kaufman brought in the Jumbo Jet, small rides and go-karts while also bringing back the Steeplechase name.
After Trump sold the land back to the city, Kaufman spent the next 10 years (fighting 3 separate administrations in court) to keep his new Steeplechase alive. Eventually Kaufman was forced out. He then moved his go-karts and small collection of rides to Stillwell Avenue, the heart of the amusement area, on empty lots owned by Hy Singer. Ironically, Kaufman's rides were located near the same spot where his father ran sideshows during the 1930s.
1996: The city, with the help of absentee landlords, found it cheaper to demolish and wait for big money investors to come along than come up with realistic options to rebuild. Sadly, as seen with Norman Kaufman and later Horace Bullard, rivalries between locals kept them from selling to each other. In turn, none of the local land or ride owners could acquire enough assets to challenge the city to build the type of amusement park that Coney fans deserved.
1996: Dubbed Coney's most dangerous ride, the old Stillwell Terminal. A place which smelled even worse than it looked, we thankfully only see it here, showing the wear and tear of its 77 years.
Like the amusement area and the crime infested public housing built around it, transportation around Coney Island was receiving little support from the city. This was true even during good economic times.
1997: Norman Kaufman, with the help of his son, and 3rd generation ride owner, Kenny, continued the family business into the new millennium. The Jumbo Jet was sold to a Chinese amusement park in 2002. Kaufman's go-karts would last several more years before being razed by new landlord, Joe Sitt. Sitt purchased the land from Hy Singer and spent the next years collecting other lots with the goal of building luxury condos and hotels.
1998: Another aerial view, again facing south, of the empty lots (being used for parking) on the west end of Coney's amusement district.
2000: The 35 year saga finally finds a conclusion.
Mayor John Lindsay allowed Fred Trump to knock down the original fabled park. He and his successor Abe Beam then tried evicting Steeplechase's smaller, second coming with the hopes of building a federally funded tree lined park. Beam's successor, Ed Koch did regain control of the land and kept the lots empty while looking to bring in Atlantic City-styled hotels and casinos. A suggestion made to him by, Fred Trump.
Horace Bullard bought property around Steeplechase at first to cash in on the casino dreams. When Koch failed to get the area rezoned, Bullard changed his mission to instead, build a brand new Steeplechase. After years of seeing several investment partnerships fall through and not being able to buy out other land owners, Bullard's plans seemed dead. Koch's successor, David Dinkins, then looked to instead bring in an amateur basketball arena called Sportsplex. Dinkins' successor Rudolph Giuliani modified the Sportsplex proposal . He brought in political ally Bruce Ratner (later of NJ/Brooklyn Nets infamy) to build Sportsplex but this came with the promise that Ratner would also be allowed to build a strip mall, just east of it, over Bullard's decommissioned coaster. With pressure coming from Giuliani and Ratner, Bullard abandoned his Steeplechase dreams. Instead Bullard simply looked to refurbish the relic before the city could take his land.
In the end, Ratner's strip mall would not get built, and Bullard was allowed to keep his land.
As local, city, and state funding was finally secured for Sportsplex, Giuliani threw everyone a curve. He took the public financing to instead build a minor league ballpark for a newly created NY Mets affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones. The new 7,500 seat stadium, KeySpan Park, became the first sign of a Coney rebirth while the Cyclones immediately became one of America's most popular minor league teams.
The story's only dark side, Giuliani no longer tied to Ratner, still went through Bullard's land and bulldozed the Thunderbolt anyway. The old coaster was knocked down, almost to spite Bullard, in November of 2000. Giuliani cited safety concerns in demolishing Bullard's biggest Coney Island asset. Rumors, however, were that he did it to please NY Mets owner, Fred Wilpon, who deemed the crackity ride an eyesore and did not want it feet away from his new ballpark.