Imagine Coney? Here are three ideas: amusement museum; eating contest Hall of Fame; and street hoops haven
A Museum of Amusement History
Credit former Brooklyn Borough Historian John Manbeck, who made this prescient suggestion in the 6/10/02 issue (PDF) of the Brooklyn Paper, in a column headlined "Coney Island Comeback?"
My suggestion? Use some of the promises and profits to help us remember what Coney Island really meant. Coney Island always rebuilt itself. Now build a Coney Island historic museum, a Museum of Amusement History — like William Mangels wanted back in the 1950s.
Build re-creations of Coney Island rides as Rockefeller did in Williamsburg, Va. The Trumps have roots in Coney Island.
Re-construct the old Elephant Hotel. Buy ancient merry-go-rounds and rides like the Virginia Reel. Recruit Dick Zigun to open a bigger sideshow. Re-stage Fire and Flames. Sell John Dorman’s freshmade candy. Create a miniature village of Old Coney Island. Tie in with the current attractions.
A Home and Hall of Fame for Eating Contests
Coney Island was always a place of extremes, but now movies and virtual reality (which, btw, some of have suggested has a place in the new Coney) take people farther from the amusement parks of yesteryear.
But people still go to extremes, and one of the most popular annual events in Coney is the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest (right).
Why not have a Hall of Fame that encompasses all eating contests, with photos, memorabilia, and crucial information? Why not have a restaurant that offers that time-old gastronomic wager, a free meal, if someone can eat an extreme amount?
Just like the current Coney Island Sideshow, the hot dog contest is both campy and serious--after all, you can't fake eating that much.
Coincidentally enough, contest co-impresario George Shea, a p.r. maven who founded the International Federation of Competitive Eating, also reps the Municipal Art Society. Watch his "sermon." Or this one, which has him declaring that competitive eating "is the battleground on which God and Lucifer wage war for men's souls." He's a 21st century carny par excellence.
A Haven for Street Hoops
Coney Island, notably the projects near the island's western end, has a rich basketball tradition, including New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury, his cousin, Sebastian Telfair, now of the Portland Trail Blazers, and
high school star Lance Stephenson, currently the nation's second-ranked shooting guard and star of the web series Born Ready, which just happens to feature the Coney Island skyline.
Nearby Lincoln High School is a perennial powerhouse. Marbury and some of his high school cohorts appeared in Darcy Frey's book The Last Shot, and Spike Lee picked up a similar story in his film He Got Game.
In the summer, among the most famous places for street basketball in New York are Rucker Park in Harlem, the West Fourth Street courts in Greenwich Village (aka "The Cage"), and the "Garden" at Surf Avenue and 26th Street in Coney Island.
"The Cage," more than the other two, is a tourist attraction, given its more central location and proximity to public transit. Why not establish a set of quality outdoor courts near the amusement area and subway station, and treat Coney Island hoops--and street basketball in general--as a regional resource? (Hmm--and what if the arena planned for the Atlantic Yards site ends up in Coney, the site once promoted by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz?)
Maybe Marbury, who's in 2004 announced plans to fund a rec center in Coney Island, would help. He's already launched a low-priced, populist line of basketball shoes: Starbury. And does have some time on his hands.