Astroland’s 45-year-old ride into the space age appears to have finally come to an end on Surf Avenue.
At noon on Sunday, the old park at West 10th Street in Coney Island began to stir to life one last time as the ironic sounds of the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” blared over the loudspeakers and a mix of die-hard devotees and novice thrill-seekers alike gathered outside the gates waiting to get in.
Dennis Toeppen flew all the way from Chicago, Illinois just to experience Astroland once in his life before it forever fades into history.
“I flew in on American [Airlines] this morning,” he said. “I heard about the closing of Astroland last night at about 8 p.m., and I booked a flight and came.”
Last week, Astroland owner Carol Hill Albert broke the news that she was fed up trying to wrangle a lease extension out of landowner Joe Sitt and Thor Equities that might have kept Astroland around until the city’s rezoning plan was finally implemented.
At least one of Albert’s neighbors on Sunday, however, grumbled that the family didn’t have to sell the land to Sitt in 2006, and should have worked to revitalize the park more than 20 years ago.
Others expressed their utter lack of faith in women’s clothing store impresario Joe Sitt’s ability to build anything that might even remotely rival the fun of Astroland Amusement Park.
“I would have to see it to believe it,” said longtime West 8th Street resident Ruth Messiana. “It’ll wind up being a ghost town. Who’s going to come? Astroland was the draw. Without that they have nothing.”
Thor Equities put the students of the High School of Sports Management on West 19th Street into “Summer of Hope 2008” t-shirts and gave them free passes to all the rides.
Principal Robin Pitts said that she was “enthusiastic” about the opportunity to enjoy Astroland for the “last time” and not really sure what next year in Coney Island might be like without it.
“Hopefully, Thor Equities and the partners will make sure that the residents of Coney Island have a place to go and enjoy themselves,” she said.
Some ride operators doled out free rides to visitors regardless of whether they had an exclusive pass from the landowner or not.
Luis Vega manned “The Breakdancer” and talked about next summer in Coney Island — and the likelihood of getting back his old UPS job.
“This is going to be an empty lot,” he said. “It’s going to look sad.”
Jose Del Cruz said that after working at Astroland for the last eight years, he might try and get another job at the Nellie Bly kiddie park on Shore Parkway.
“What will Coney Island be without the rides?” he said. “You won’t have the crowds and it’ll slowly die down.”
Brooklyn Historian Ron Schweiger walked through Astroland Amusement Park and predicted that Thor Equities’ efforts to bring in new rides and attractions to fill Coney Island next year will fall as flat as the inflatable “bounce houses” the developer brought to his empty lot on Stillwell Avenue in August.
“It’s going to be like a traveling carnival show,” Schweiger warned. “That’s not going to bring people. It’ll bring a few people, but not the kind of crowds you want to bring. This is going to be pretty much an empty space. Then you know what he’s going to say to the city? ‘See, Coney Island’s dead. Let me build my condos and hotels.’ Who’s going to want a hotel here when there’s nothing to see?”
Thor Equities spokesperson Stefan Friedman insisted that 2009 would honor Coney Island’s “authentic past” while “paving the way to a brighter future.”
“With Astroland’s closure a possibility for some time, Thor Equities has been in touch with numerous amusement operators who share our vision of beginning the revitalization of Coney Island even before a re-zoning is passed that would allow for a permanent year round redevelopment,” he said.
The owners of several small businesses along the boardwalk, like Ruby’s Bar & Grill, are still waiting to see if Thor Equities will renew their leases.