Expedition to Coney Island — March 1, 2011

On March 1, 2011, Pickles of the North and I were near Coney Island, and so we decided to spend some time wandering around there again. Pickles likes to keep up on the latest developments in the rapidly changing Boardwalk and amusement area. And on this walk we found a number of developments happening.

“Boardwalk” Construction

boardwalk stripped to its rafters
The Boardwalk Laid Bare at Ocean Parkway

Here's a photograph of the Boardwalk near its Ocean Parkway entrance. They've gotten the decaying boards on top of the Boardwalk stripped off here. We're not sure what will replace them.

For years the city has been neglecting the regular maintenance of the Coney Island Boardwalk. They've let individual boards break, and allowed the broken pieces to just get scattered by traffic, leaving actual holes in the surface.

Some isolated sections of the Boardwalk have had to be coned off because of the good sized holes formed by adjacent boards having had parts broken off.

They have also allowed the screws that hold the surface boards of the Boardwalk to the structural underpinning to come up, and they have thus left large stretches of the Boardwalk to become a minefield of broken and bent screws just waiting to cut someone's foot or cause them to trip.


boardwalk replaced with concrete
What They're Replacing the Boardwalk With

On the right you can see an example of the concrete that they've already used to replace entire sections of the Boardwalk. It's ugly, and Pickles and I just find this awful looking and maybe even impractical. There had been an issue of the Boardwalk apparently using wood from the Brazilian rain forests for the surface boards, but it can't be that there's only a choice between depleting the rain forests and this ugly concrete!


car driving around on the boardwalk
Idiot Destroying the Boardwalk by Driving a Car On It

And on the left you can see another major reason why the Boardwalk is in disrepair.

This appears to be someone's private car driving around over the boards. But cop cars and Parks Department vehicles are driving over it all the time. Some of the Parks Department and Fire Department vehicles are lighter utility vehicles that don't do as much damage, but cars, vans and even trucks are seen speeding over the Boardwalk to the accompaniment of a huge cacophony of rattling as the boards deform and shake under the weight.

The boards are only about an inch and a half thick or so. They really can't take a lot of abuse like this. They flex under the weight of these heavy vehicles and this helps to loosen the screws that hold them down. It's no wonder that the Boardwalk is deteriorating under the combined effects of heavy vehicles charging about over it and a long term lack or maintenance.

Of course the Police and Parks Departments want that concrete surface, then they can more easily drive cars around on the Boardwalk and they can drive them even faster than they do now and they won't have to worry about flat tires from the screws that their vehicles lift up at the end of the tortured boards. Concrete may be the future of much of the Boardwalk, but we see it as the passing of something good to be replaced with crap.

Boardwalk Businesses Get Reprieve for One Year

Some of the boardwalk businesses shuttered for the winter
Businesses Along the Boardwalk

We have heard that the businesses along the Boardwalk, almost all of which were shuttered for the Winter when we went on this expedition, are getting a reprieve, for a while at least.

They had all been threatened with eviction because the city had given the Italy-based Zamperla company the concession of the land that the city had recently bought back from the predatory Thor Equities company. Zamperla now gets to do pretty much as they please with the businesses along the Boardwalk and the amusement areas, except for Deno's Wonder Wheel Park which is held by a traditional company that's been at Coney Island for a long time.

It looks like this reprieve will only last for a year though.

New Ride Under Construction

new thrill ride under construction
Roller Coaster Under Construction

Speaking of Zamperla, they were working on one of their new thrill rides, part of what they're calling their “Scream Zone.”

This will obviously be a roller coaster type of ride. Yeah, a roller coaster, that also describes the treatment that Zamperla is giving the Boardwalk businesses.

This roller coaster is going up on the land formerly occupied by the venerable Batting Range and the Go Kart City ride.

I liked the batting cages. My father and Uncles would go in there and whack away at balls sometimes. The batting cages had been there since at least the 1940s.

Go Kart City had been there since some time in the 1960s, I think. I know that I was around when Go Kart City was a new thing at Coney Island.

But this Joe Sitt character, who's the principal behind Thor Equities, bought up the land some years ago and evicted the folks who'd been running amusements on it. He claimed that he was going to erect all sorts of wonderful rides, etc. on the sites. Well, all he really did was propose 40 storey condos and hotels and then he let everything go to hell. His vacant lots were covered in rubble and trash, some parts got turned into parking lots that seemed to lack any kind of notice of their legality, and then some lots got stupid tents put over them, until a high wind took care of that.

Yeah, a whole lot of the old Coney Island is gone now. Sad.

New “Luxury” Condos Under Construction

so-called luxury condos under construction
The Future “Luxury” Condos

Speaking of new construction down at Coney Island, some bunch of “developers” is putting up what they're calling a luxury condominium on the dead end street at West 32nd St. and the Boardwalk.

It looks like balconies are going to be a big part of these condos.

I wonder if the developers of this project are telling the potential buyers/residents that they will be enjoying their luxury in some rather mean streets. The Coney Island Houses project is just across W. 32nd St. from these condos. I don't know how anyone with the money to buy into one of these condos could imagine that they're moving into a very welcoming neighborhood here. Yeah, they'll get some sideways views of the lower New York Bay, but they may need to wear protective vests to survive the experience.

A small apartment building that used to occupy some of the space between the point of view of this photograph and the nascent condo project burned down some years ago. I'm sure that the owners of the building wouldn't have been able to sell those apartments for nearly what the new condo units will go for.

In the foreground is a bench on the Boardwalk. Right under it you can see some containers for cat food and fresh water that some of the locals have put out for the many pussycats that live and roam around in what is now a field of woody weeds and collapsed cabanas from very long ago.

Nathan's Under Reconstruction

Nathan's dining area
Inside Nathan's

Even the venerable eatery Nathan's, founded in 1916, is undergoing some construction these days.

With Nathan's it's really some reconstruction. they appear to be trying to rearrange their working space.

They have a temporary wall running down the middle of the place now. Reconstruction is going on on one side, and we get to eat on the other.

This all makes the area where you can eat inside a bit smaller than it had been, but in Winter you can usually find seats and a table in there. Lunch time can be a bit too crowded for that though. Of course if the weather's not too bad outside their picnic area, across Schweikert's Walk from Nathan's building, is always open.


the part of Nathan's being renovated
View From Outside the Space They're Renovating

Here's a photograph of just what they're doing on the other side of that temporary wall. It's looking like the oyster bar is going to go.

To the left of this shot is where they have had some pretty wasted space for years. Maybe they're going to rearrange things so that it's more useful to the business with this renovation.

I'm sure they'll be all ready for customers by the time the season starts.

The Henderson Building is Gone

boarded up lot where Henderson Building used to be
Where the Henderson Building Used To Be

This photograph is the current view from Stillwell Ave. and Bowery St. looking northeast.

The Henderson Building used to be there. It had been built in about 1899, and then it was rebuilt after a big fire in 1903. In 1923, Stratton's Walk was widened into Stillwell Ave. and the Henderson Building was cut in half.

Harpo Marx made his debut with the other Marx Brothers in the Henderson Building. It was quite the music hall and vaudeville place back then.

After Thor Equities acquired the building and the land it was on the place got cleared of tenants and some thought that the building would just be renovated and repurposed. There were people working on it for a while. But then the wrecking machinery was brought in. It turned out that the people working on it had just been taking out the asbestos so that the structure could be legally destroyed.

The Henderson Building is completely gone now. Another sad thing to contemplate at Coney Island these days.


Henderson Building rubble
The Rubble of the Henderson Building

On the left is a photograph of the rubble strewn lot and all that's left of the Henderson Building.

Beyond the temporary wooden wall around the site you can see the peaked roof structures that the Thor Equities tents had been draped over before they got shredded in a storm.

It looks like what Thor Equities builds doesn't last nearly as long as what it has destroyed.


Henderson Walk still closed past deadline
What Might be Going on Here?

On the east side of the Henderson building was Henderson Walk, one of the many small sidewalks that used to make wandering around in the Coney Island amusement area so interesting in my youth.

It used to be that you could find smaller rides and extra attractions, like places where you could take your photograph while posing behind some scene, or a pony ride or something like that in these smaller streets.

But from the sign it looks like the permit for keeping Henderson Walk closed off from the public has expired. This raises a question. Is the destruction work taking a little longer than expected, or is Thor Equities planning to take over Henderson Walk and thus acquire the space taken up by the sidewalk for their own purposes? As far as I know Henderson Walk has been public land in Brooklyn for a long time. I guess that time will tell what the fate of this little bit of sidewalk is to be.

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