Lost Coney Island by Charles Denson

There was much to be thankful for in Coney Island during 2013: The B&B Carousell returned, Steeplechase Plaza opened, the storm-damaged pier was rebuilt, and the Parachute Jump was given a new lighting scheme. But the year also saw the demise of several historic structures. The Astrotower demolition received the most publicity as the tower was cut to pieces amid a cloud of mass hysteria. Nearly the entire amusement zone was closed down on the Fourth of July as the swaying tower met its demise. The demolition was unnecessary and left a huge hole in Coney’s skyline. The other structures we lost received little attention. West Eighth Street bore the brunt of the demolition. Until the 1960s West Eighth was a center of an amusement manufacturing, and until recently you could still see remnants of its industrial past. Now those remnants are being slowly erased.  

Eye Candy

First to disappear were the beautiful mosaic murals on the façade of the old Bonomo candy factory at the Neptune Avenue end of the street. The colorful triptych dated to the 1940s, and each stylized panel illustrated the story of candy manufacturing: raw materials, processing, and delicious finished products. When scaffolding went up around the building, I asked the workers what was happening. They claimed they were “cleaning the front.” A week later, the enormous murals were gone. The murals were located next door to the old William F. Mangels amusement factory, which now houses the Department of Motor Vehicles. We had tried for years without success to document the history of the murals, but the building’s owners were not helpful, and the artist was never identified.

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The Bonomo Murals

The Castle

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The KeySpan Building
Farther up the block, on Coney Island Creek, the sprawling brick headquarters of the old Brooklyn Union Gas Company was unceremoniously reduced to rubble this past fall as the site was cleared for a public storage facility. The 85-year-old Tudor revival building was an architectural gem, and there was nothing else like it in Coney Island. We will miss the decorative Flemish brickwork, copper-lined gable dormers, multicolored slate roof, buttresses, huge bay windows, tall chimneys, and massive wood front doors. The building’s fixtures and decorative elements were scavenged and carted off to a Manhattan antique store.  

Coney’s High Line

At the Surf Avenue end of West Eighth Street, the half-century-old steel arch pedestrian overpass known as the “Shark Bridge” was demolished after years of civic neglect. The bridge, spanning Surf Avenue, was built in 1956 to connect the West Eighth Street elevated station to the Aquarium and Boardwalk. Beach-goers, especially the elderly and families with children, used it to avoid the dangerous traffic on Surf Avenue. The bridge was controversial when Robert Moses erected it as an entrance to the Aquarium because some felt that its purpose was to bypass Coney’s attractions. There are no plans to replace the bridge, and visitors will now have to fight traffic to get to the beach.

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The Shark Bridge: Coney's High Line No more easy access

The Carolina Building

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Last fall, the 19th-century building on Mermaid Avenue that once housed Carolina Restaurant was bulldozed, to be replaced an apartment house. The Carolina closed a decade ago, and the building recently housed a Chinese restaurant that never reopened after suffering damage from Hurricane Sandy. The surrounding area was once the center of an Italian-American community that boasted numerous Italian restaurants. Gargiulo's is the last one standing. Coincidentally, an old billboard advertising the Carolina, located behind a gas station on Neptune Avenue and West 17th Street, was removed earlier in the year, also to make way for an apartment building.


I'm heart broken...especially about the Bonomo murals. Could it be they were removed and not destroyed?

I heard the sound of chisel meeting tile. I have a photo of one mosaic partially gone. They are now in a landfill somewhere. So sad.

I 'm glad I saw the candy murals before. They disappeared.

I grew up in Coney Island and lived there until 1980...
These changes are sickening...I remember being fascinated by the Bonomo murals as a kid because they were so unusual (abstract....)...
There was NO reason to remove these murals....WHY???
The Brooklyn Union Gas "Castle" really was an architectural beauty and you couldn't help but stare at the majesty of that beautiful structure when driving by...
Replaced by a GRUESOME steel box storage facility??? How sickening....
So many low class foreign interlopers have been crammed in here....They have NO affinity for the history or beauty of anything in Amerika...They are destroying our history because it's not theirs...
I couldn't deface those priceless Bonomo mosaics if someone paid me a milllion dollars...
Who really cares about the unsightly (ironically soviet looking) utilitarian"Shark Bridge"...But the other losses here are heart wrenching...
The 1940's looking quaint Carolina Restaurant was always beautiful to look at....
I remember seeing the line waiting for a table out the door on Friday and Saturday nights in the 70's....
Does ANYONE remember Stella's Italian Restaurant a few blocks away? (with the green wooden storm door at the entrance...?...In the early 70's as a kid we walked out of there when my younger sister took her shoe off and started chasing the flies away....)
I now live in Bay Ridge....The demolition of GORGEOUS, century old Green limestone Lutheran church on 4th Ave (and Ovington ave) to make way for ANOTHER public school was an even bigger travesty that what you showed here....

I grew up in Luna Park in the 1960's, and spent many hours staring at those murals from my bedroom window. So sad to see that they have been destroyed. I was also sad to see the Brooklyn Union Gas Company building, the Shark Bridge, and the Astrotower taken down. I though the BUG building had been landmarked years ago, but apparently not.

Yes, I do back in the '60's...when we couldn't afford Gargiulo's down the block(across Mermaid Ave) Stella's was the place. In the beginning there was no waiting---and then a short wait--only had about a dozen tables. The food was great and the flies loved it too. My best memories (every time) was when Mom and Pop would Fight in the kitchen and then Pop would serve the food with a big smile. They would always throw pots/pans at each other--occasionally I would hear glass breaking and everyone would check their food for Glass. All good times. I also noticed your last name--Denson--I went to school with Diane Denson--any relation?

I remember Stella's fondly. I was born in Coney Island Hospital and my mother lived (if I remember correctly) on 13th Street around the corner from Woody Guthrie who lived on Mermaid. She recounts tales of him sitting on the stoop (NYC vernacular for the front steps of your home or apartment) singing and playing his guitar.

I recall the same histrionics of the mom and pop kitchen fights at Stella's but the memories are fading as this was 55 years ago. Over a dozen years my parents must have taken me there at least 50 times whenever we visited my Dad's aunt and uncle in Seagate. As a young food lover, Stella's was my standard for home cooked immigrant Italian food. The decor was poor man's Coney Island typical of the era but who cared. My clearest memory is when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old, the owner would always have a bottle of seltzer (the old glass bottle with the metal spray spout) on the table. He would pour me a half glass of cheap red wine and spritz it with the seltzer. What a hoot.

I spent many years visiting and walking around Coney Island. It truly was a wonderland of iconic history.

I loved the place!
I was told that the combative couple were not husband and wife, but brother and sister.

I was often there when the upstairs "deck" was occupied by rowdy Brooklyn Union Gas workers.
They sure knew how to have a good time.

Both sides of my family are from Coney but my mother's side (Jaccarino) ate at Stella's often. I remember going as a kid and being frightened because the couple who owner the place were always screaming and cursing at one another. I remember the flypaper hanging from the ceilings, and the walls which had lumps in them from where they painted over the flies! The animal nursery and the Wax Musee were defiently my favorite things as a child. I was disappointed that they were gone by the time I had kids of my own but at least Cyclone, Astrotower and Spookarama were stillthere <3

My hubby and I remember it well. We got engaged there almost 50 years ago. Great times. The wax covered empty wine bottles used as candle holders. And yes the flies, lol. I think we used more energy chasing them away than we did eating. We both grew up on CI and wouldn't change a thing. What a great childhood we had growing up there. So much has changed but we will always remember it as it was back in the day.

We run a program for seniors called Circle of Memories and our guest fondly remembers Stella's on W.15th St.
We are putting together a scrapbook for her and that would be a great photo to have. Thanks. John

I was hoping someone would remember the strolling violin player there on weekends. That was my grandfather (Sam) he was my hero and really miss him. If someone ever comes across any pics of Stella's, it would mean the world to me if you would share them with me. All the best everyone.

When I was a little girl, I went and graduated from Our Lady of Solace. My family and I always went to Stella's. The food was awesome. Never had good Italian food since. Such a shame it burned down.

Yes, I also remember Stella's just as described above. The owners were brother and sister. If fact, they were the aunt and uncle of my aunt that married my father's brother. We used to have the Italian bread bakery but didn't deliver to Stella's because their bread was baked by the Gerace's ( which was very good).

I too remember Stellas! The food, the bread, the shouting in the kitchen and the flies. Every Sunday my future wife, future mother and father in law would have dinner at Stellas. Great food and memories!!!

I only got to eat there maybe once or twice . I was only 6 months old. And someone yelled at my dad for taking an infant to a classy restaurant and my dad laughed . He is 80 and still tells that story about Stella's. And if you told the guy Andy that owned the place it was cold inside. He would tell you to drink more wine

The very first Stella’s was diagonally across the street from what was the second home of the place. It had a front dining room and then in the back was another room which you accessed through a narrow section that had a huge old chest where they kept the plates, glasses, silverware etc. the back room was severe to say the least, it had a very high ceiling and if I recall correctly, a skylight in it. The kitchen was to the right and there was a potbelly stove sort of in the middle of the room.
There was always something that my mom had said that I barely remember, but that the brother, Andrew, and his sister were paesani , from Basilicata, Provincia di Matera. I must have been around nine years old back then. We hardly ever ate out, but on special occasions we did, and since the food was like my mother cooked, it was acceptable!
Many years later, I was with my lover, Richard, and I told him about the place and we went there. It was back in about 1972 or so. The old place was there but empty and until I looked across the street to see the “new” location I wasn’t quite sure. When I entered and saw Andrew, I knew I was back!
We’d drag everyone out there to eat . It was so delicious and cheap! I can still taste the baked clams and the chicken scarpariello.
Most of the screaming went on between Andrew and the waitress, his sister, Connie. Then there was also Nicky, I believe That was her name was. Skinny woman with jet black dyed hair. She barely spoke.
Connie and Andrew would scream and curse each other, but when Connie came to the table she tried to act as if nothing had happened and she had this forced smile on her face. She always looked exhausted.
BTW, their bread was amazing, typical Lucanese from Geraci bakery. It was made in a wood fired oven and when I had my own restaurant upstate in Hunter/ Haines Falls, NY. I would travel all the way to Brooklyn to pick up the bread.
Ah, memories!

I was 18 years old, when I went to Stella’s Restaurant, on my first date, with my husband, Bill
We had antipasto, baked clams on 1/2 shell, linguine with white cam sauce, and a bottle of red wine. We took home our leftovers. The dinner was delicious and very reasonably priced.
Our entertainment came from the kitchen with loud yelling in Italian, and noises of pots, pans being slammed. This was the norm, nobody panicked or left, but waited it out! I MISS STELLAS!!!

When I was a kid back in the 60's I use to go to an art studio which was located in the old hotel across from Nathans. The only project I ever worked on was creating a paper mache elephants head. I believe it became an exhibit with other art from the studio. Does anyone remember it?

My family ate there regularly from the sixties on till they sold. The fighting was between the owner and his sister Tessie, who did waitress duty on the weekends. The regular waiter was Charlie an older man who loved my baby brother's red hair and who would give us kids extra black olives with our antipasto. My father would give us their homemade red wine mixed in with our Pepsi soda, a wedge of lemon completed the drink. The owner also had a "bad" boy son, Louie who was the bane of his parents life. Louie stole the bell from their church as a prank and they nearly had a heart attack when the cops came to inquire about it. They swore up and down it couldn't be their son but later the mother found it in Louies bedroom, cost them an extra donation to the church because of Louie. We loved that place, it was a second home to us and because it was so inexpensive my father would let us bring friends with us to dinner. If we were lucky my father would have a generous feeling after all the red wine and he would treat us kids to the B&B carousel, the bumper cars and the cyclone. Great times all came from Stella's, I miss those times.

I worked in Coney Island in the late 70's and a group of us would often have lunch at Stella's. I remember the fighting and how when they served the food with a smile as of we couldn't hear them screaming from 10 feet away. It was funny. The food was good too!

I worked for Buddy in the Greyhound race games and he would sometimes treat me to dinner there. Oh how I remember the fighting between the waitress and the chef and one time she told him to drop dead and everyone was laughing and applauding.
LOL the good ole days!!

It was the good home cooked food, real Italian dishes and always a floor show and never a bad meal. That's were I was introduced to escarole and beans, pasta fagoli. And real Italian cheesecake and espresso with anisette.

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