When the Mayor Bloomberg administration was new he held an annual, balmy pilgrimage to the sun-soaked Boardwalk in Coney Island.
No other nostalgia brings memories of childhood and youth better than Coney Island here; or Atlantic City across the waters of New Jersey.
Atlantic City hit taller heights with Boardwalk hotels and more glamour “joints” but here on the sunny coast of Brooklyn, we packed ‘em in, better. Our most famous ‘ads’ came in the tabloid photos, the days after Memorial Day and 4th of July; enlarged photos of our over-crowded beach-front, captioned boldly, “That’s Joe in the Black Trunks!”
There had to be thousands of Joes crammed into one photo-and Jennies in their teenie bikinis too! Coney was the poor-man’s eternal paradise; a wide open ocean that looked out to all the ships coming in from the foreign seas. And after the World’s Fair closed down at the end of the 1930’s. the Tilyou clan bought the Parachute Jump, transporting it at great expense from its Queens’ Fairgrounds home, to its Boardwalk-facing new nest- a vivid centerpiece of both history – and a rosier future – hopefully!
But the waning months of that 1930’s World’s Fair, was closing with ugly portents of ‘that war in Europe’ that was now engulfing the world.
Adolph Hitler himself showed us previews during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin; as the 30’s came to a close, the fairgrounds closed down some of the buildings of that war-torn world.
But Steeplechase notched a great step forward, it seemed then – until we grew into that same war. Treating England as a vital ally, we began to lose some of our Merchant Marines and many vessels, buried in the war-torn turbulent Atlantic.
Ultimately we were drawn into the actual war on December 9 ’41, the lights went out, ordered by our Commander in Chief, President Franklin Roosevelt.
For four long years we lived in homeland darkness, particularly along our waterfront. But Coney continued to be the poor-man’s funland - his favorite ‘girl’ a mustard dripping frank and a foamy brew – then off to war.
But that was summer with sailors in their whites – their girls in sexy tights.
Overseas they were playin’ fox-hole radios, “When the Lights Come On Again,” Ultimately they did. Guys came home hungry for the gals they’d swooned for and many gals said I do and they did.
During the war, very little housing was built. Laborers were away – fighting, and many of the gals were busy making their fighting gear, or working to feed their kids – or their parents.
Most of the returnees hiked out to the suburbs, where some developers were building up the city’s suburbs – a newer way of life – newer waters for swimming, near newer beaches.
Coney’s monies – jobs – visitors, all dwindled. Luna Park had a few fires. Darkness enshrouded more pockets of emptiness – less jobs, many lights no longer lit. Ravenhall’s burned away forever.
Fred Trump, using the aptly-named John Cashmore (our Boro Prez, then) took over the housing construction of Luna Park Houses, tearing down all of Luna Park as well as the once-famed Coney Island Velodrome, home of pro-boxing and wrestling events, as well as speed motorcycle or pro-bike racing on a beautifully boarded oval, and many heralded boxing and wrestling matches, in their pro-ring.
In that era, Fugazy Bowl, three blocks away staged many pro championship boxing and wrestling matches. As a teenager we watched Frankie Hayes of Bay Ridge do battle with Bantam Champ Pete Sanstol.
In winter, behind Nathan’s, Stauch’s Arena held weekly indoor boxing and wrestling matches.
In the new Coney Island, envisioned by Mayor Bloomberg, he picked a staff of people to re-propose a new Coney Island. As a member of the Community Board here for some 40 years, we were never able to bring our histories of the past before that Board, instead offering us a brief untapped interview in their Walk Street office with their committee of one.
They do not know of, nor shall they care, about how prior administrations broke up the old Coney Island, using the Stillwell Terminal as a rich vs. poverty divider; the rich living in the one fare zone and double faring the poor, isolated from all industry – except crime, and we have so many tales of that.
More to come.