Crystal Isley

Memories of growing up in Coney Island Houses in the 1980s and '90s

Crystal Isley recalls the excitement of moving to Coney Island Houses from Williamsburg with her family on the day before her fifth birthday. With her bedroom window overlooking the beach and the sounds of the ocean lulling her to sleep, "I felt it was mine," she says of Coney Island, which she saw as her own "personal paradise." She describes a happy childhood growing up in a close-knit community and the freedom of playing with friends on the beach and under the boardwalk.  Little by little, things started to change and ducking from gunshots and murals memoralizing someone's passing became normal. "Either people saw Coney Island as the end-all, be-all, or they wanted more," says Crystal. "I was one of the people who wanted more. There had to be more than just these three avenues." After living in Coney Island from 1983-2003, Crystal married and has a career as a brand marketing manager. She lives on Ocean Parkway with her family, close enough to visit her mother, who still lives in the same apartment where she grew up, and to take her daughter to the beach and amusement park of her girlhood. "You knew the magic for what it was at that time, and that's what I feel when I watch her experience it," says Crystal, who after reflecting on the gentrification underway in the neighborhood, says "Coney Island is home, and will always be home."