Ask Mr. Coney Island

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posted on Nov 3rd, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I remember walking outside as a child and feeling hot ashes hitting me the day Luna Park burned down. Can you tell me the exact date and what caused the fire.
- Dolores

Hello Dolores,

Luna's devastating fire happened on August 12, 1944. It started in the park's scenic railway on West 12th Street, but the cause is unknown.

posted on Nov 3rd, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
There was a restaurant on the corner of West 16th Street and Surf Ave owned by a boxer in the fifties.  What was his name?  Thank you!
- Jimmy P

Hello Jimmy,

His name was Tony Pellone. He and his family had several other bars and restaurants in Coney including the Hollywood Bar in the Stillwell terminal and the Lido on the Boardwalk. "Tough Tony" was a top welterweight who fought against such champions as Kid Gavilan and Bob Montgomery. He died at Coney Island Hospital in 1996.

posted on Aug 24th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
Here I go again. trying to reconcile my vague memories with reality. rode a ride I think was called the virginia reel located just down the block from the bobsled on stillwell avenue near the boardwalk. it had a high red brick wall behind it round tub-like cars that careened down from top to bottom on circular thin tracks. the cars also spun independently . the seats were bench like positioned against the car. we sat side by side around the inside of the car with our legs and knees touching each other. there was a metal pole with a wheel set on top of it which the riders held onto. . this wheel may have been the mechanism for spinning the car on the track. it was a rough ride help me remember. could it be the old luna park reel moved to this location or did it exist at all?
- Joan of South Carolina

Hello Joan,

No, you were not imagining things. The Virginia Reel was located on the Bowery at West 12th Street and operated there until the mid 1960s. Elmer Riehl invented it at Coney Island and installed the first one in Luna Park in 1908. It was named for his daughter, Virginia.

posted on Aug 15th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
Did anyone every get stuck on the parachute jump?
- Christina Noll

Hello Christina,

Yes, people got stuck, but it was a rare occasion. The Jump was well-maintained. The mechanics would occasionally stop the ride on purpose as a publicity gimmick -- the screams of riders dangling in the air was guaranteed to draw a crowd. If a parachute became tangled it required a worker to "ride the hook" and lower himself to the jammed cable from the top of the tower to fix the problem. No one was ever killed or seriously injured on the Parachute Jump.

posted on Aug 15th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
When I was in my teens during the early 50's I was a fanatic rider of the tornado roller coaster. I remember riding up the lift hill (which if I remember correctly faced toward the ocean) as I looked toward my left side and down into what looked like a narrow street there was a bath house where my girlfriends and I used to gawk at the customers going in and out and sunning themselves wrapped in towels and sometimes bare... would like to know something about the bath house when it closed or is it still there. or was it destroyed when the tornado burned.
- Lauren

Hello Lauren,

The bathhouse you saw was Cook's baths (formerly Cox's Baths) which operated until 1973. It burned several years before the Tornado was destroyed by fire.

posted on Jun 12th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
What became of the swimming pool known as raven hall? I remember passing it on my way to the beach. Wasn't it a salt water pool with access to the beach from the swimming pool through a gate near the boardwalk? I remember dancing under the bordwalk at Bay 12 . What a great time back in the early 50's.
- Joan

Hello Joan,

Yes, Ravenhall was a wonderful place that occupied the entire block at West 19th Street. The salt water pool was the largest in Coney Island. There was also a smaller pool next to the Boardwalk entrance, as well as a gym, handball courts, steam rooms, and a small private beach. Ravenhall opened in 1867 as a hotel and over the next century grew into a large resort that was destroyed by fire in 1963, a year before Steeplechase Park closed. The Abe Stark ice rink and parking lot occupies the site today.

posted on Mar 13th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
Could you post a map(s) that superimposes where Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park were related to today's Coney Island structures? I'd love to see some maps showing where various Coney icons were relative to today, such as the main tower in Dreamland, etc.
- Rick Dauer

Hello Rick,

Here's a map from the book, "Coney Island: Lost and Found" that shows the location of the big parks. The Dreamland Tower was located on the site of the Boardwalk ramp to the Aquarium. Dreamland stretched from Surf Avenue to approximately halfway across the present beach; There was no boardwalk when Dreamland was in business.

The Iron Tower, built in 1878, was located adjacent to the site of the new Aquatic Animal Health Center. Many parts of old Dreamland still exist below grade. When the site was excavated a few years ago, the entire foundation of the Iron Tower was revealed, dismantled and carted off. The tower stood on a cribbing of brick and massive pine timbers which, when exposed, were still filled with sap and looked newly cut, perfectly preserved by salt water. The Coney Island History Project is locating and documenting many of these sites for the city, hoping to preserve historical artifacts when new development begins. Drop by our exhibit center this summer and you'll find a more detailed map on display. We're under the Cyclone.

posted on Mar 7th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I heard about a new roller skating rink opening in Coney Island. Is this true and was there ever one here before?
- Gretchen Godmundsdotir

Hello Gretchen,

Roller skating has always been popular in Coney Island, dating back to the Sea Beach Palace Roller Rink of the 1890s. The Palace, located on Surf Avenue at West 8th Street, was transformed from a railroad terminal into a rink that hosted roller dancing and roller racing events (see engraving). There were also rinks at Dreamland, Luna Park, and Steeplechase. There are photos of Babe Ruth, dressed like a farmer, whirling around the Steeplechase Pavilion on roller skates.

The Coney Island Roller Rink (see decal and picture) operated in the old Culver Terminal building on the north side of Surf Avenue at West 5th Street during the 1930s-1940s. The Culver terminal was demolished around 1960 to make way for Brightwater Towers. The Coney Island History Project is working on a skating documentary with Dianna Carlin of Lola Staar, who will be opening a roller rink in the boardwalk Childs building this month. We'll also have a display at our exhibit center under the Cyclone.

posted on Feb 28th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I was born on the boardwalk in Coney Island in June, 1950 at the Half Moon Hotel. I've heard about Abe Rellis and that the hotel was a very popular destination for more affluent guests during the early 20th century. I heard that by the time I was born there, it wasn't called the Half Moon Hotel but the Harbor Hospital. Could you tell me what you know about the Half Moon Hotel? Thanks.
- Alan Drucker

Hello Alan,

The Half Moon Hotel, with it's great mosaic dome, opened for business on May 5th, 1927 on the Boardwalk at West 29th Street. It was managed by the American Hotels Corporation and financed by prominent members Coney Island Chamber of Commerce, including William Ward, Charles Feltman, Edward Tilyou, and William Mangels. The Half Moon was sited at the outer fringe of the amusement area on the theory that the Boardwalk between the hotel and Stillwell Avenue would fill in with other luxury establishments. Many prominent guests visited the hotel and it remained a popular venue for weddings and banquets.

The Great Depression killed the Chamber's dream of greatness and the hotel sat exiled at the West End until the beginning of WW II when it was transformed into a naval hospital. In 1941 the hotel gained notoriety when mob turncoat Abe Reles fell to his death from a sixth floor window while under police protection shortly before he was due to testify in court. No one knows for sure whether he was pushed or slipped during an escape attempt. After the war the Half Moon became Harbor Hospital and in 1953, the Hebrew Home for the Aged. The elegant building was demolished in 1996 before it could be landmarked.

posted on Feb 8th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I was wondering if you were able to find anything out about Gold Dollar Smith's Coney Island Hotel – I have a token that is from this hotel, but not a word about it in ANY literature I have been able to find to date. (ca. either 1854 or 1904?) Please help if you can.
- David Sweet

Hello David,

As you can see from this card, Charles Smith's Gold Dollar hotel was located at Surf Avenue and West 16th Street. The hotel had a telephone so was probably in business around the turn of the last century.