July 31, 2007

Say It Ain't So! Astroland to Close? Las Vegas-Style Casinos in Coney Island?

I spent the early part of my life in a unique part of Brooklyn — Coney Island. When I was a kid, I could look out of my bedroom window and see the old parachute jump not far in the distance. I made many a trip on foot to the Boardwalk, to Nathan's, and, in the summers, to Astroland. In the late 70's/early 80's, Coney Island was gritty and decrepit and maybe a little bit dangerous, and it's where all of my earliest memories reside. I am, admittedly, quite nostalgic about the place — so much so that I'm hoping to make the trek back there in the near future and show LL where I grew up now that I'm back in the northeast. But will there still be anything there by the time we can afford the trip?

I've just read that Astroland is closing down and many of the old buildings are being demolished. It's all been bought up by a big developer, you see, and it appears that all that grand and grungy, cheap and cheezy fun is going to make way for high rise apartments with high rise rents and a multimillion dollar Vegas-style casino. The developer is the same one that, years ago, got their hands on Times Square and turned it into a family attraction, complete with multiple Starbuck's and the world's largest Toys-R-Us.

Thankfully, the Parachute Jump, the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel are national historic landmarks and almost certainly won't vanish; the developer will have to build around them, I suppose. Perhaps they can incorporate one or more of the attractions right into their casino eventually. Nonetheless, the character of Coney Island is going to change dramatically, and even the developer says so.

Economically, I'm sure it'll be a boon for Coney Island. Most of the people who live there won't be the ones moving into the new luxury digs; they'll attract bigger wallets from Manhattan, no doubt. Yeah, there's going to be lots more money floating around Coney in the years to come. It'll be polished and shiny and who knows, maybe there will be a nice Prada outlet and $5.00 lattés galore.

All of which ain't Coney Island. It's a lot of other places... and Coney Island isn't supposed to be a lot of other places. For as long as I can remember, there never was anyplace else quite like it. I know, I know... that's progress. Nothing lasts forever. I guess Nathan's will always be there, though the soul of the Boardwalk is really just a cog in a soulless corporate machine now. Shatzkin's Knishes are long gone. Most likely, all the little sideshows will evaporate soon, too, as rents climb through the roof. In a couple of generations, nobody will remember all that stuff; it's not famous in the way that the original amusement parks from Coney's heyday are famous. Give it twenty years and everybody will associate the place with the new, shiny, decidedly pricey Coney Island™, and I'll be some doddering old fart with my insistences of what the place was really like.

Sphere: Related Content