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SPEAK OUT - Abe Stark Rink: Coney’s secret handout

It is some five, or more years since Mayor Mike Bloomberg “took over” Coney Island as a leader on his agenda.

Each year, Mayor Mike, summoned a press conference, on a spring morning, as the sun always blessed the very Boardwalk that our City neglected.

Other elected officials always joined him, soaking in the sun and the publicity that the Mayor sung annually.

We usually branded it “pie in the sky” as we watched the boardwalk nails pop under his shiny shoes, while promising us a “new Coney Island” and his “crew of appointees walked with leather soles to avoid the popping nails.

They were scouting our seashore resort with Manhattanized eyes – planning – plotting – or what?

It is five years now, at least. Where is the action? What action? Wasn’t there a movie once entitled, “Promises, Promises?”

Did anyone re-pop the Boardwalk nails back into the wood? Did they open up the bathrooms more hours? Did they build more bathrooms in the western part of the Coney Boardwalk, where strollers there also have kidneys to be relived?

After one of the Mayor’s visits, we found ourselves walking to our autos, in the same direction. We hustled over to him, instructively… “Mr. Mayor, on the next block, we shall come to the Keyspan Park Baseball Field, next to the Parachute Jump. It is a beautiful sight to behold, 35 evenings a year, when the night baseball fans are blessed heavenly by the cooling summer breezes, blowing across the sands, over our Boardwalk and through the baseball field.”

We suggestively asked, “Why can’t we have football games here, as well?” As he hurriedly reached his auto, he rejoindered.. “It would require a Dome”

But argumentively we advised him, “Every city, every town has a fall football scenario! We had football in NYC without domes! Here in Brooklyn, at Ebbets Field, we had the Dodgers, one of the 8 original NFL teams! Brooklyn College and Manhattan College all played there. Many high schools did, as well…”

We could have gone on with more, to tell him how Notre Dame annually played Army at Yankee Stadium, as did NYU…but his honor reached his car.. and we waved good-bye…

…Too soon, for we had wanted to show his honor, the Abe Stark Arena, right opposite his departure auto.

There is no better kept secret history that we personally accomplished, originally.

It was probably 1966 that an Ice Arena was proposed by the (then) NYC Site Selection Board that comprised the 5 Boro Presidents and the Comptroller. Abe Stark’s staff worked out a location on Surf Avenue, on a residential block, West 23rd Street.

Personally, we thought it a fallacy and our Coney Board of Trade got a meeting with our Borough President. Abe Stark, who insisted he would not change it and we wondered why! On the way back, one of our men said, “You can’t fight the Boro President…” But we personally did! All the way to the Site Selection Board who could not disprove our contentions.

Our site, at West 19th Street was 4 blocks closer to the subway terminal…

It had four landowners to negotiate with opposed to Stark’s 52…it would replace the eyesore, burned-out Ravenhall Bath House block and would give a perfect curtain to Coney’s Amusement Area (across the street from Steeplechase, before it too was demolished)

We were delighted to see that we won. The Site Selection Board conducted a Public Hearing and “we” won… a victory fighting Borough Hall and our Coney Island Board of Trade, in its victory, then suggested to name it for Abe Stark. Mayor John Lindsay used it as a re-election aide and conducted beautiful opening ceremony that aided his re-election – But –

The local politicians got hold of the Ice Arena, and revised it into what it is today, a sea of neglect. The local Chamber of Commerce had opposed the site, since they wanted to spread the amusement area further out – at a very time that it was dwindling to death – the burial of Steeplechase’s ashes – Luna Park, long gone. They didn’t try to fill those holes, but wanted to spread, further from the terminal, instead of strengthening their inner area, where their 2 theaters, Loew’s and Tilyou’s were dead, but not buried.

But now that the city built the Ice Arena, it also called for winter basketball on a paneled insertable floor that could also be used for dancing with band music, and seasonal summer concerts.

The Park’s Department opened the upper Boardwalk-facing floor with wooden tables and chairs, so diners could eat in a palatial, ocean fronting, like all finer dining rooms, like the elite like to eat.

Instead the tables and chairs were politically moved downstairs where Nathan’s was given a concession to sell their hot dogs, 3 blocks away from their own very famous original Nathan’s.

In very short order, the local Community Board had an added expense to pay, for a new roof for the very arena that has always been a long dark community secret.

Did we say “new roof?” The Community Board members noticed that when the money was withdrawn from the Community Budget. Nobody in the community knew we had an arena there. Long Island teen-agers come in on weekends, to skate there and the other occupants are the sea-gulls who practice their toilet needs, on a sanitary roof, provided by the budgets of the very people who – (a) Can’t find enough toilets on the 3 –mile Boardwalk – a need for tired kidneys. And (b) who have to walk the Boardwalk in the daytime only, because we can’t see the popped up nails at night.

One more secret is right next door, just west of the Ice Arena, a whole block of wild trees and wooly, over-grown grass on a full, ocean fronted block, once assigned to the NYC Department of Parks.

You can look it up, Lynn Kelly, president of NY’s Coney Island Development Committee.

Both the Ice Arena and the adjoining forest are “seas of neglect” that were originally consigned to the NYC Department of Parks.

They immediately cast the Boardwalk restaurant aside. They broke up with the basketball flooring, that could have doubled as a dance floor and they have kept any public usage a complete secret for 4-plus years. Verdict: Benign neglect by NYC Department of Parks.

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