New York's Coney Island takes another wild ride into new era

Mon May 12, 2014 9:48am EDT
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By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Change has come again to New York City's Coney Island seaside resort, famous since the mid-19th century for its carnival atmosphere, sandy beaches and amusement parks.

After decades of decay, the neighborhood in Brooklyn has been spruced up with new rides, restaurants and refurbished theme parks still called Dreamland and Luna Park in keeping with its rich history.

Long a summer haven on the Atlantic Ocean for blue-collar families, Coney Island now also attracts foreign tourists and affluent so-called hipster Millennials who have moved to Brooklyn borough in droves.

"Since the beginning of Coney Island, it was always a place of anarchy," said Amy Nicholson, maker of the documentary film "Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride" on changes in recent years, especially under former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a proponent of high-end development.

"It was always a place for outsiders. It was always a place for people of lower income, or very little means, to go and let off steam," Nicholson said.

Home to landmarks including the 150-foot-tall (46-meter-tall) Wonder Wheel, the 87-year-old Cyclone wooden roller coaster, Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand and a boardwalk peppered with kitschy shops and sideshows, many small businesses and family-owned theme parks have been pushed out in the past five years.

Aging boardwalk staples including the Astroland amusement park, Shoot the Freak and the Zipper ride that turned visitors upside-down have been replaced by larger, state-of-the art rides. One famous ride, the Thunderbolt, is returning this summer after operating from the 1920s to the 1980s. This time it will be made of steel, not wood.

Coney Island, a four-mile-long (6.4-km-long) peninsula in southwestern Brooklyn, is one of New York City's most visually distinct neighborhoods. Controversy has often surrounded development and changes by various property owners at Coney Island since the 1840s, when the first structures were built.   Continued...

People ride the Cyclone at the Astroland Amusement park in the Coney Island neighborhood of New York June 26, 2007.  REUTERS/Keith Bedford (UNITED STATES)