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At the far western border of the walk-around Coney Island amusement area, Steeplechase Park was its proud western anchor.
Back on the eastern end, the NY Aquarium was its eastern anchor, even though their original director, Dr. Coates refused to ever assume the name “Coney Island Aquarium.”
Since we harbored them, after they escaped lower Manhattan, they insisted on the NY logo, rather than Coney Island. They even got the NYC Highway Dept to construct an overpass from the BMT West 8th Street station directly across overcrowded Surf Avenue, into the Aquarium confines, while high-riser residents lost their direct opening to their beach and boardwalk.
The Aquarium moved into that eastern corner of Coney and made a solid anchor to the steadily wallowing and faltering amusement center.
Coney was not the only northern amusement center that was eradicating. One-by-one they faltered here in the northeast where fun was seasonal.
The famed giant Palisades Amusement Park was one of the first to succumb down the drain, to be replaced by high-riser Palisades palaces. Tall high risers smiling at us, in their palatial luxuries, from across the wide river.
The largest Bronx amusement park area was shuttered and our City redeveloped it into the vast Co-op City, selling very well in post-war housing necessity.
Here in Brooklyn we were losing too many post war battle returnees to private homes being built by giant developers in Nassau, Rockland and Suffolk counties.
Many war returnees and their brides began to sprawl in Staten Island, then unheralded Jersey spots. We had not yet begun to fight back promptly and we had lost too many government issued (GI) war returnees. Housing was in desperate need and fun was beginning to wane – too many post-war problems led by war-returnees.
Marriages were epidemic. Fred Trump was quick to pounce on that loose ball. His way to more money was to build more.
He built some apartment houses in Flatbush and downtown areas and his developer eyes sparkled at some seashore sites – in Coney Island. He was well connected and his mind’s eyes were well concocted. His best political connection was the aptly named Brooklyn Borough President, then John Cashmore.
The City Housing Authority was readying to tear down the waning amusement area of Luna Park.
Trump swung a deal; Instead of the Housing Authority, he would construct it as a modern high riser moderate income development.
It did not take Trump very long. Queues of returning GI’s and their brides were lined up waiting for applications for tall sparkling new apartments. Luna was a forerunner for that side of Coney Island, sprawling from Stillwell Avenue to Ocean Parkway.
Later the Trump machine would gear up to pry part of Warbasse’s renewal area away.
But in the west, the Steeplechase locations came into Trump’s radar. Amusements were faltering – all over our seaboard. Steeplechase was really the most decent recreation spot, but its season was too limited. It’s workers were very seasonal. NY State Unemployment Insurance kept their elderly staff hanging on.
The elderly workers worked from Easter Sunday until the week after Labor Day. The season was further sniped away when the pre-war MardiGras never came back.
It was probably 1956 that Steeplechase was cracked down by the heartless iron hammers of heartless demolition crews who slashed the glass facades out front.
All those logos of that big wide-mouthed clown came crumbling to shreds, now just an oft-used logo of long nostalgic memory.
It was probably 1962 that Steeplechase fell. But we still see nostalgic echoes of its logo – the wide mouthed clown, as a symbol-of-fun we once had.
But in today’s world, property and taxes are too costly to retain summer-only pleasures.
That big guy and his barrels of fun have been gone closer to 50 long years. Properties and their taxes are too unaffordable to maintain solely for 6 months and those who try to bring it back, do have every right, if they can make it year round financially.
Just as those nostalgia lovers dream of yesteryears we who survived that era in that area, can also recall – not just nostalgically – some of the tragedies that came out of the surrounding boundaries.
In a prior column we wrote of the tragic murder, just one avenue from the defunct Steeplechase Park, a liquor store owner who had his throat slashed as he finished his Nathan’s lunch.
We have another very terrible memory of a tailor who came home from the war in Europe and opened a tailor shop just half a block from where Steeplechase had stood with his bride whom he met and married in Europe in uniform.
In the post war years they prospered in their multi-services tailor shop, facing the front of the busy corner Dime Savings Bank then and half a block away from Steeplechase Park area.
Almost every auto coming into Coney could pass their store – but so did tragedy – on a rainy Saturday morning, he was hanging up freshly tailored clothes in the back of their large shop, and his wife was on the phone calling her Staten Island sister. As the store door opened the husband heard the hold-up command for his wife to give them her money, as the hold-up youth pointed to the cash register.
The husband spotted the kid flaunting his revolver so he reached for a rifle in the back of his shop.
As he raised the long rifle, a shot rang out – then another – he was killed, in cold blood in front of his wife, mother of his three beautiful children.
The killers were later caught and came back to lengthy trails while the pastor of Our Lady of Solace, the church around the corner, pursued the lengthy trial, pleading for justice – enforcement of our laws.
And around the other corner was the ruins of what was once called Steeplechase, the Funny Place, embossed with that logo of the clown with the wide-opened tall-toothed mouth, that forever heralded Steeplechase, the Funny Place logo.
Today it is a ball park that brings joy to spectators for 2 short months and serves only as a toilet perch, for the pigeons and sea gulls the other ten because our Mayor has said, you can’t play football here. It would require a dome. That’s another story – for Coney’s future.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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