Ask Mr. Coney Island

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posted on Dec 10th, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I was born in 1935, and grew up in Coney Island.  I worked at the penny arcades and rides during school vacations, and fished from the jetties all along Coney Island beach.  Played ball in Kaiser Park, named for Dr. Leon S. Kaiser who I knew personally.....he was principal of Mark Twain Junior High School when I attended.  Went to the movies at the Tilyou theater, Loews Coney Island, the Surf Theater...and yes, even the Mermaid Theater. I could go on and on, but the reason I'm writing is because I have a question.  Why is there no West 34th Street in Coney Island. Thanks!
- Chuck Leigh

Hello Chuck,

Coney’s mysterious missing streets are a puzzle that’s mystified anyone who’s lived in Coney Island. Why are 18th Street, 26th Street, and 34th Street missing? I’ve researched this over the years and can give my theories. When a new street grid for Gravesend was drawn up in early 1880 the existing roads and streets were plotted southward across the creek and into the West End of Coney Island, which at the time consisted of sand dunes and a few ramshackle hotels along the shoreline. Gravesend’s ancient roads and streets did not follow a true grid in the Manhattan sense, yet the newer streets were plotted as straight blocks running north/south. If an older street that ran at an angle that did not fit the new grid it was eliminated from the West End plan. As you can see from the maps, 18th Street followed an odd angle as it crossed Coney Island Creek so it was eliminated from the map.

The other missing streets have something in common. They were both early subdivisions made in 1878 when Coney Island’s “common lands” were illegally divided and sold off by John McKane, the felonious supervisor of the Town of Gravesend. The 1878 map shows unusual property lines drawn east of 25th and 33rd streets and these imaginary lines coincide with the first subdivisions of the lands in the West End. The “34th Street” subdivision, from the Ocean to the Bay, was owned by Thomas Furgueson. The “26th Street” plot was owned by Charles Woolsey. Both men were cronies of John McKane. These imaginary lines correspond to the right-of-way for both missing streets and political favors may have something to do with why these two streets were never mapped.

posted on Oct 2nd, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I am a distant relative of M.C. Illions and was wondering where his original workshop was located. None of the relatives (including my father who was there) seem to remember. Thanks.
- Susan Illions Levine

Hello Susan,

The last Illions carousel factory was located in a wood frame building at 2836 West 8th Street near Surf Avenue, across from the old fire station and up the block from the Mangels factory. The entire block was razed in the late 1950s and is now occupied by the Luna Park Houses housing project.

posted on Sep 13th, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I have a picture of my husband's grandparents taken when they were "courting" sometime between 1909 - 1911. The post card-photo was taken at Dream Studio in Coney Island. Is there anything you can tell me about the studio or proprietor: H. Tarr? They are in a car. she is behind the wheel on the right side of the auto, both are wearing hats) hers is a large flowery one, his is a straw hat and there appears to be a "fake" white dog on the hood of the "car". Anything you can tell me about the studio. photographer or picture would be appreciated. I can forward a copy if that would help. Thank you.
- Cathy Sperling

Hello Cathy,

Mr. Tarr operated a souvenir photo postcard business called the Dream Studio on Surf Avenue at West 6th Street below the Pike's Peak Roller Coaster. The studio had numerous full size props including an early automobile and a Wright Brothers style airplane. We have many of his images in our archive and the little white shaggy dog is a constant in these photos. Many of the studios had silly toy props that were used to loosen up the subjects as their photo was taken.

The Dream Studio was destroyed in the 1911 Dreamland fire but reopened shortly after with a new painted backdrop that depicted the burned out ruins of the park. The enclosed photo shows the Dream Studio below the Pike's Peak Railway (circled). The entrance to Dreamland is at right and the Iron Tower is behind Pike's.

Attached is another photo of the little white dog!

posted on Aug 15th, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I grew up in Coney island...and although I was little I remember being terrified by one of the side show windows that had a giant elephant stepping on a little Indian boy... do you have any info on what that place was?  Thanks!
- Candice K

Hello Candice,

The bizarre attraction you remember was the Kaufman family's Torture Chamber exhibit in the Lido Hotel on Surf Avenue at West 12th Street. A visit to the chamber was sure to cause nightmares!

posted on Jun 21st, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I have read and enjoyed your column of questions, answers & pictures. Please tell me if, during the renovation of the Parachute Jump, it was shortened. I seem to think during the mid 1950s that it looked taller.
- Felicia

Hello Felicia,

Believe it or not, you are not the first to ask this question. The "shorter tower" has become something of an urban legend. The reconstruction was carefully documented and no one, including the engineers, construction workers, Landmarks Preservation Commission, Parks Department, or EDC gave any indication that the tower was altered in any way that reduced its height. Compare the two images in the accompanying photo. The 1994 image matches the current image and number of levels.

There are many other myths surrounding the Jump and two are worth mentioning:

1. Despite the numerous stories of made-up mayhem concerning the jump, no one was ever killed or seriously injured while riding it. The ride did not close because of safety issues.

2. The most annoying myth is the one caused by sloppy research from the Landmarks Commision. Although the Parachute Jump closed for good in September 1964 and never operated again, the Landmarks designation report claims that the ride operated until 1968. The report erroneously claims that Coney amusement maven Norman Kaufman operated it after Steeplechase closed. Mr. Kaufman still gets a good laugh over this error. Make no mistake about this: the Landmarks Commission has the wrong date and the jump never operated after 1964. We can be grateful, however, that the tower gained landmark status and hope that someday the Parachute Jump will operate once again!

posted on Jun 15th, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
My parents who were born in 1911 grew up in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn and spent a lot of summer days at Coney Island. I just found a great photo album of my mother's and am curious about a few pictures. I am not sure, but am thinking they are all taken at Coney Island. I am wondering where they were taken, esp. img 136 which is of my uncle in front of what looked like bath cabins with a #44 on the top. The photo that is identified as img065 indicates that one is taken near "Ocean Tide Baths." Is there any info you could provide about those particular baths? THANK YOU so much for what you do! I greatly appreciate being able to ask you these questions as part of my ongoing genealogy search.
- Anne Merritt

Hello Anne,

Most of your photos were taken prior to 1920 at Heney and McCotters Ocean Tide Baths, located at West 35th Street and Surf Avenue at the West End of Coney Island. Ocean Tide had a private boardwalk and was one of the bathhouse bungalow colonies that sprang up along the beach in the late 1890s. Next door was Jefferson Baths, Sea Gate Villa, and Carlton Court. Some of these businesses operated into the 1970s. They were summer bungalows, rented for the season, but also had lockers for beach-goers that could be rented on a daily basis.

The area around 35th Street was heavily Irish and had a number of great bars and restaurants. I'll post more info later. I'm including a 1918 photo of Ocean Tide.

Hope this helps.

posted on Jun 15th, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I grew up in Coney Island, living on 28th St between Surf and Mermaid from my birth in 1955 to 1965 when my family moved to Queens. I have a distinct memory that no one else seems to share. I remember a basement workplace on the corner of 28th and Surf where candy apples were made. The red kind with the crunchy candy on the outside. We would look into the basement and see bushels of fresh mackintosh apples and trays and trays of the finished candy apples on trays lined with wax paper. We would buy a fresh candy apple directly from the "candy apple man" in the basement. Is their any validity to my memory?
- Scott

Hello Scott,

Coney Island’s West End was home to many small candy factories that supplied the amusement zone. You’re probably thinking of Joffee’s Candy on Surf at West 28th, although there was another on Surf at 21st run by a man named George (can’t recall his last name). The shop on West 28th made candy canes, Jelly Apples and ribbon candies. The workers who put the plastic tubes on the ribbons were called “tubers” and the ones who bent the hooks on the canes were known as “hookers(!)”

The candy factory on West 21st made jelly apples, Twirl Pops, and the famous PANGO Pop (named for the flavors: Pineapple, Apple, Nectarine, Grape, and Orange: PANGO!) There was also Tom’s Candy on Mermaid Avenue behind the A&P. John Dorman operated Phillips Candy in the old Stillwell Terminal but moved to Staten Island after being evicted when the new facility was built. His business is still thriving on that other island.

Other factories were the one in the old Child’s Restaurant building on the Boardwalk, known for making “Peeps,” the iconic yellow Easter treats. And of course there was Bonomo’s on West 8th Street next to the Mangels factory. Bonomo is gone but building is still there with the beautiful candy-themed mosaics on the façade. Williams Candy, owned by Pete Agrapides, located next door to Nathans is the last old-fashioned candy shop and has a window full of sweet treats including jelly apples.

posted on May 15th, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
My Dad would bring me down to Coney to around where the aquarium is today. He would put me on the carousel, then sit in an adjacent bar & drink beer while I rode round & round happily for hours. I could see him & he could see me. We'd wave to each other. Here too, I think there was a "Helen Hotel" upstairs. The carousel, bar & hotel was in one building. Again, the late 40's.
- Judy Brown

Hello Judy,

You were riding on the Stubbmann Carousel at West 6th Street and Surf Avenue. The adjoining hotel where your father was enjoying libations was called the Hotel Eleanor. The Stubbmann Carousel was manufactured one block away by Mangels and Illions. The Carousel building and hotel were demolished in the 1950s to make room for the aquarium. The Stubbman's and Feltman's Carousels were later combined into one and installed at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair in Queens. Here are photos of the Stubbman's Pavilion and the hotel to refresh your memory.

 

posted on Mar 14th, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I was sitting by the water over near work and it made me miss Coney since I haven’t been over in months. Anyhow, it got me to wondering about where my parents met – Surf Lanes in Coney. Do you guys have any photos from Surf Lanes? Thank you!
- Scott

Hello Scott,

Here's a photo of Surf Lanes on Surf at 32nd Street taken shortly before it was demolished. It was formerly the Surf Theater and I remember it well because it was where I saw my first movie at the age of three. It became a bowling alley around '58 or '59. Also had a great bar! The yellow Art Deco building survived the urban renewal project that brought us the surrounding O'Dwdyer Gardens housing project but was torn down around 1980. The empty lot became an urban vegetable garden, and recently the site of a senior housing development.

posted on Mar 7th, 2012
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
Fudgy wudgy, hot knishes, ice cold orange drinks....what was the name of THAT orange drink ???
- Donald Russo

Dear Donald,

Sunny Boy was the name! It came in little waxed-paper containers. The distributor was located on West 36th Street and Neptune Avenue.