Then & Now: 50 Years Of Coney Island Amusements In Photos

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That big ol' night light. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
That big ol’ night light. Photo by Elise Feinstein.

Memorial Day is just around the corner, and with it the throngs of people clamoring for its rides, foods, shows and boardwalk. It’s been a turbulent half century for the amusement district, marked by decay as a near forgotten corner of the city, and then its rebirth.

Through it all, photographer Abe Feinstein, now 87, has been snapping photos of the neighborhood he adores, amassing a collection documenting the neighborhood’s transition. Some of his photos were recently part of a Coney Island History Project exhibit. Now his grandaughter, Elise, has taken up his charge, and through her lens is capturing modern day Coney Island. Elise has recently revisited many of the spots where her grandfather visited years ago for fresh photos, and together they tell the story of the community’s evolution. To go with the photos, we asked the younger to interview her grandfather.

Coney Island's boardwalk has evolved quite a bit over the years. This is during some of is toughest times. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
Coney Island’s boardwalk has evolved quite a bit over the years. This is during some of is toughest times. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
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Now, new restaurants have rejuvenated the venerable walk. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
Now, new restaurants have rejuvenated the venerable walk. Photo by Elise Feinstein.

ELISE FEINSTEIN: What was the Coney Island boardwalk like back in the 1960s and the 1970s? Have the attractions changed much since that time?

ABE FEINSTEIN: Back in the late 60s mid 70s, Coney Island was on a decline. There were a lot of burned out buildings, and the overall deterioration of Coney Island. There were a lot of famous eateries such as Shatzkins Famous Knishes, Nathan’s, Gregory and Paul, Gerry’s Knishes, the penny arcade, Carolina’s Italian Restaurant, Atlantis Bar, Dairycrest French Custard, El Dorado bumper cars.

The Parachute Jump once dropped thrill-seekers from its top, affording the best views of the shoreline. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
The Parachute Jump once dropped thrill-seekers from its top, affording the best views of the shoreline. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
Today, the Parachute Jump is the world's largest night light - and little else. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
Today, the Parachute Jump is perhaps the world’s largest night light – and little else. Photo by Elise Feinstein.

The Parachute Jump, being classified as a landmark, what was that ride like back in its day?

The Parachute jump took you all the way up looking down at the beach and the amusement park, and then it dropped you all the way down until the parachutes opened. It was some ride; I took pictures almost every day. And now since it isn’t in commission for so long, it lights up at night with many different colors and patterns and I could see it from my view on my terrace.

B&B Carousel. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
B&B Carousel. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
After a careful and costly restoration, the historic carousel is back in Coney Island.
After a careful and costly restoration, the historic carousel is back in Coney Island. Photo by Elise Feinstein.

Can you tell us more about the B&B Carousel?

The B&B carousel was originally located on Surf Avenue near West 12th Street up until its closing in 2005.  The ride was dismantled. The horses and the entire contents were put in storage for many years.  Upon Coney Island’s rebirth the ride was relocated off the boardwalk adjacent to the Parachute Jump. The horses were all hand repainted, and restored to its former glory, for the next generation of children to enjoy. The interior was restored from how it use to be from Coney Island’s past.

New rides are being built with a nod to the past, like the Thunderbolt, which opened last year  on the site of its predecessor of the same name. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
New rides are being built with a nod to the past, like the Thunderbolt, which opened last year on the site of its predecessor of the same name. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
The original Thunderbolt, as it was being destroyed. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
The original Thunderbolt, as it was being destroyed. Photo by Abe Feinstein.

Why does Coney Island inspire you?

I grew up in Bedford-Stuveysant and used to go to Coney Island as a teenager with my friends, and took my dates to the amusement park and I remember the Parachute Jump very fondly. As I settled down and got married and started a family, we lived on Ocean Avenue and Newkirk Avenue. Having the need for a bigger apartment, my wife and I decided to move to Luna Park co-op in 1962. My wife’s friend heard of apartments available and we jumped at the chance to live in Coney Island. Having taken pictures of Coney Island since moving to Luna Park I’ve been documenting Coney Island  from 1962 to present. I remember Coney Island from back in the day from my youth, I’ve seen Coney Island go through many changes from the good days, through the bad times, and now the re birth representing its bright new future.

The Cyclone remains perhaps the most important icon of the Coney Island. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
The Cyclone remains perhaps the most important icon of the Coney Island. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
The Cyclone has drawn crowds every summer for as long as anybody can remember. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
The Cyclone has drawn crowds every summer for as long as anybody can remember. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
Nathan's, with the Tornado in the background. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
Nathan’s, with the Tornado in the background. Photo by Abe Feinstein.

What three roller coasters were in Coney Island?

It was the Cyclone built in 1927, the Thunderbolt built in 1925 and The Tornado built in 1926. The Cyclone is the only original roller coaster still standing. The Thunderbolt roller coaster was built on top of the Kensington Hotel, built in the same location in 1825. This made the rollercoaster also known as the Little House under the roller coaster. The Thunderbolt was demolished in the fall of 2000, and then redesigned and rebuilt in 2014. The Tornado Ride was damaged by arson in 1977 and leading to it’s demolition in spring 1978.

Nathan's Famous, the original. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
Nathan’s Famous, the original. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
Nathan's Famous. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
Nathan’s Famous. Photo by Elise Feinstein.

What, to you, are some of Coney Island’s staple attractions?

The Cyclone, which is going on its 88 years, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, Nathan’s, the Parachute Jump, and the B&B Carousel newly reintroduced to Coney Island.

The old Astroland shuttle, perched overlooking the boardwalk. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
The old Astroland shuttle, perched overlooking the boardwalk. Photo by Abe Feinstein.
Renovations, like this one for Paul's Daughter where Gregory and Paul's used to be, have rejuvenated the venerable walk. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
Renovations, like this one for Paul’s Daughter where Gregory and Paul’s used to be, have rejuvenated the venerable walk. Photo by Elise Feinstein.

How well do you remember Coney Island’s animal nursery?

I recall the animal nursery located on the north side of Surf Avenue next to the Shore Theater building. It was overcrowded with all kinds of animals like monkeys, porcupine, llamas, cats, dogs – it was smelly. It was a popular attraction for people and children and I took my family many times.

One of the last remnants of  Astroland, the Astrotower, was removed in 2013 due to swaying and stability concerns. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
One of the last remnants of Astroland, the Astrotower, was removed in 2013 due to swaying and stability concerns. Photo by Elise Feinstein.

What led to the Astrotower’s demise?

The Astrotower opened in 1962, and it was considered a rotating observation tower that allowed everyone to see the Coney Island skyline until it went out of service in 2009. On July 2, 2013, a park visitor reported the tower swaying in the wind. It caused a lot of panic and evacuated Luna Park amusement area for 48 hours while the ride was dismantled – July 4, 2013.

Dino's Wonder Wheel today. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
Deno’s Wonder Wheel today. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
Straphangers get some of the best views of the Coney Island skyline. Photo by Elise Feinstein.
Straphangers get some of the best views of the Coney Island skyline. Photo by Elise Feinstein.

Can you tell me more about the Wonder Wheel?

The Wonder Wheel was built in 1918 through 1920 and opened on Memorial Day of 1920. The Wonder Wheel’s height was equivalent to a 15-story building, it consisted of 24 cars – 16 swinging, and eight stationary. I would always enjoy the forward sliding cars, it is one of the oldest and most cherished rides in Coney Island. The only time the ride stopped was due to the NYC blackout on July 13, 1977. That ride was brought down safely during that blackout because the owners manually hand cranked the wheel. The Wonder Wheel is a landmark since 1989.

Meet The Photographers:

Abe Feinstein
Abe Feinstein

Abe Feinstein, 87, hasn’t stopped enjoying taking pictures. Photography is in his blood. He has been taking photographs since 1945, first to photograph subjects he intended to draw and then expanding to places he found interesting. He worked in various photography stores, such as Camera Barn, Fotoshop and S. Kleins as a pro camera salesmen. He would take pictures everywhere he went whether it was morning, noon, and night. Feinstein has an extensive collection of Landmarks of Manhattan, Coney Island, and various areas of Brooklyn. Abe Feinstein shot in many formats such as large format, 35mm, color film, black and white film and slide films. Today with the new technology he is now enjoying shooting in digital.

Elise Feinstein
Elise Feinstein

Elise Feinstein, 21, has the same passion as her grandfather for photography, She started taking pictures in high school as her grandpa Abe did, too. Elise attended Edward R. Murrow High School where her love of photography blossomed. Now she attends Kingsborough Community College majoring in Photography and is looking forward to following in her grandfather’s footsteps.

Dedication: I would like to dedicate this project to my grandfather and to Coney Island’s new and exciting future. My grandfather inspired me to take pictures and pursue the idea that I can show others how I view the world. He has taught me many things about photography and he would help collaborate on projects and told me to “Shoot what I like” – Grandpa Abe Feinstein.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. The caption for the photo of Nathan’s with a coaster in the background is incorrect. That coaster is the Thunderbolt.

  2. Thank you for this article and the photos. It’s fantastic to be able to see how much (and how little!) coney island has changed. I’m very curious what it will be another couple of decades into the future. And thank you for posting photos of the old Thunderbolt coaster. I moved to the States 25 years ago, but didn’t spend as much time at coney island as I do now. To this day I regret not photographing the old coaster before it was torn down.

  3. My friend and I are from Central NJ Asbuy Park to be exact , we would go up CI on fridays just to ride the TunderBolt . On one fall nite we went up for a ride . Stop at Nathens to get some hot dogs and fries .then off to the Bolt . Well it was a slow nite nobody riding. Back then it was one dollar of the first ride and 50 cent everyone after that . You would just stay on the ride and go back around . So we gave the attended 20 bucks and told him let us know when we ran out of money around and around we went sometimes not even stopping at the station. What a night . I’m 67 now still live at the shore . What I would pay to do that again . My friend and I would be back on the road heading north . I know these new roller coasters are really neat but nothing like the old rickety Thunder Bolt . Rip my old friend . Timothy R Byram

  4. I was raised in Coney Island since I was 2 yoa. I remember a lot of the rides eating areas, but on Easter was a Special day for everybody the whole amusement park from the Jumbo Jet to the Cyclone was packed and especially good old Nathan’s..my mom has black & white pictures from us standing in from of steeplechase park. My father basically knew every worker in the amusement area, one owner I knew he knew well was the man from the surf ave carousel. He always stop by and talk to him, every time he saw him, because my father use to work at Shatzkins famous Knishes on surf ave next to Nathan’s…I wish I can buy some of those pictures your grandfather took years ago. I just recently when back to Coney island on 5/ 2013, Took pictures, and How so much changed. But my heart will always be in Brooklyn Coney island. Thank you for sharing his story and pictures God bless

  5. The secret tunnel beneath the Cyclone reveals a hidden world of treasure, horror, and death. There are riches to be found in this forgotten grotto that connects the ancient wooden spleen to the Wheel of Wonder and floon. Soon, yes, soon you too will experience the unbridled joy and suffering of the tunnels of love and madness that lie within Nathan’s Hot Dogs, and without the Aquarium mural in space. Aloha!

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