I’ve always enjoyed observing Coney Island from high places.
As a kid, I’d sneak onto the roof of Coney Island Houses, where I grew up. As a teenager, I scrambled up the rusty ladder on the abandoned Parachute Jump.
Every Sunday morning for the past few years, I began the day at the top of the Astrotower with the mechanic who does the maintenance and watched the amusements come to life. From a friend’s 20th floor apartment at the Sea Rise towers, I can tell if the bluefish are running in Coney Island Creek. I’ve climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the Coney Island lighthouse and gazed into its blinking red eye.
A high vantage point always put things in perspective and made it easier to forget the problems of the neighborhood. During my childhood, I watched the glow of a thousand fires from my window as buildings burned. But when the smoke cleared, the beautiful beach, and the ocean, and the bright spinning lights were still there. The lights could never be extinguished. The neighborhood continued to evolve. I documented that evolution for nearly 40 years and now share that documentation with the public as director of the Coney Island History Project.
Soon there will be new lights illuminating Surf Avenue: a re-creation of the colorful spinning pinwheels and crescent moons that once adorned the entrance to Luna Park. Perhaps this kinetic nod to the past at the new Luna Park will help people realize the importance of historic preservation and resurrection for Coney Island, “The Playground of the World.”
Charles Denson is director of the Coney Island History Project [834 Surf Ave. near W. 10th Street (718) 266-0012]. The organization’s newest exhibition, “Luna Park Revisited,” opens May 29.