Coney Island is currently on the upswing, albeit in a contained corporate sort of way, but there was a time when the beachfront fun land was a lot bleaker, and that time began in the 1970s. The Wall Breakers, an online creative community website, posted a beautiful photo retrospective of Coney Island in the 1970s and a fascinating historical account of the decline of the area during that time.
The history of Coney Island is a subject that is so rich and colorful that we can’t stop writing about it. This summer alone, we have written about the history of the beautiful Half Moon Hotel, the tragic electrocution of Topsy the Elephant, the history of Nathan’s Famous, the evolution of Coney Island’s real estate development and on our sister site, the ancient history of Manhattan and Brighton Beach’s 19th century resort era. The Wall Breakers report narrows in on the real estate history of Coney Island, zooming in on the 1970s when Fred Trump, father of Donald, failed to transform the area from an amusement destination into a luxury condo hotspot:
By the 1970s, with the popularity of Coney Island dwindling, the neighborhood rapidly deteriorated. Old standouts like Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, The NewYork Aquarium, and Astroland remained, but the surrounding properties collapsed. At one point Trump organized a funeral for amusement parks in Coney Island. In all honesty, he probably wasn’t that wrong in his assumption that Coney Island would have to die in order to be reborn. Coney Island of the 1970s was rundown and needed a major facelift. Crowds of locals still came to the beaches in the Summer, but paled in comparison to those of decades earlier. Trump invited the press to the funeral where bikini-clad girls first handed out hot dogs, then handed out stones which Fred invited all to cast through the stained-glass windows of the pavilion. Then, pronouncing the amusement park dead, he had the pavilion bulldozed. Nice guy right? He really cared about history.
After a decade of court battles, Trump exhausted all his legal options and the property was still zoned only for amusements. He eventually leased the property to Norman Kaufman, who ran a small collection of fairground amusements on a corner of the site, calling his amusement park “Steeplechase Park.”
Sadly, there are no pictures of the bikini-clad girls handing out hot dogs but if you follow this link, you can catch the beautiful photographic collection of 1970s Coney Island and enjoy the temporary time warp.