Close-Up On: Coney Island


Portions of this article have been updated.

Coney Island saw the world’s first roller coaster, invented the hot dog, and at one time housed a half-scale 15th-century German city populated by more than 300 midgets from around the continent. During its peak, Coney Island was a playground for the rich and poor alike, offering a novelty of attractions and debauchery that enticed drinkers, swindlers, outcasts, writers, politicians, businessmen, and immigrants, all of whom forgot their differences for a moment as they bathed in the light of the most spectacular amusement park in the world. In a sense, Coney Island was a microcosm of New York City, a place where cramped intensity allowed one to transcend the harsh reality of social caste. Today, the shadows of yesterday’s rides serve as testament to the insane ingenuity of mankind. But the new Coney Island is alive and growing with an ever changing mix of immigrants, artists, businesses, and even a minor league baseball team.

Boundaries: The Belt Parkway and Coney Island Creek to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the south, Ocean Parkway to the east, and Norton’s Point to the west

Mass Transit: The F, D, N or Q trains will have you beachside in 45 minutes to an hour from midtown.

Average Price to Rent: Studio, $800 ($550 to $600); one-bedroom, $1000 ($600 to $700); two-bedroom, $1100 ($700 to $900); three-bedroom, $1200 to $1300 ($1100).

Average Price to Buy: Nearly all properties for sale on Coney Island are houses: two-bedroom, $725,000 ($195,000); three-bedroom, $1 million ($215,000); four-bedroom, $1 million and up ($220,000).

Cultural Institutions: Cyclones baseball has partly filled the void left by the Dodgers more than 40 years ago. Perhaps the borough most famous for its baseball sensibilities can finally begin to heal. The New York Aquarium at Coney Island opened its doors in 1957. In 1896, it was situated on what is now Battery Park, making it the oldest continuously operating aquarium in the United States. Coney Island USA, a nonprofit arts organization, offers museum and theater programming dedicated to revitalizing the community through accessible art.

Community Organizations: The nonprofit Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island serves 1000 meals a day to elderly clients and provides transportation and home care services to the area’s needy.

Landmarks: The Parachute Jump, a/k/a Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, was designated a landmark on July 10, 1977. Nathan’s Famous introduced hot dogs to the masses in 1916 and continues to light up Surf Avenue. The “10-in-1” sideshow may be Coney Island’s best-remembered contribution to American culture, paving the way for Jerry Springer and a new generation of like-minded entertainment. Sideshows by the Seashore is the last of its kind in the U.S. and still offers attractions like tattooed men, fire-eaters, and snake charmers.

Famous Residents: Woody Guthrie lived in Coney Island, and his son Arlo was born there in 1947, as was actor Louis Gossett Jr. and Phoenix Suns point guard Stephon Marbury. Leona Helmsley lived there when her name was still Leona Mindy Rosenthal, and Isaac Bashevis Singer lived in the private community of Sea Gate, which became the setting for his novel Enemies: A Love Story.

Notable Events: The annual Mermaid Parade and Nathan’s Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest are two of Coney Island’s better-known events. The Coney Island Short Film Festival (September 21 to October 2) is open to filmmakers working in all genres but favors Coney Island-related material. The annual Siren Music Festival showcases up-and-coming bands and indie gods, as well as an eclectic mix of artists, drag, cabaret, and plenty of attractions that go well with beer. Past performers include the Donnas and Guided by Voices.

Best Bar: A few steps away from West 12th Street on the Boardwalk sits Ruby’s Bar, a cave of a place lit mostly by the sun’s rays. Lining the bar’s wall is a massive collage of pictures depicting Coney Island’s past and present. Plastic cups and locals are the norm.

Best Restaurants: Gargiulo’s, on West 15th Street between Surf and Mermaid avenues, has been serving classic Italian pasta and seafood dishes for over 90 years. Nathan’s, of course, is a must.

Local Politicians: Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Assemblywoman Adele Cohen, State Senator Diane Savino, and City Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr.—all Democrats

Crime: The 60th Precinct includes Sea Gate, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, West Brighton Beach, and Bensonhurst. As of September 25, 2005 they reported 6 murders, 15 rapes, 296 robberies, 211 felonious assaults, and 200 burglaries. (The 60th Precinct includes Sea Gate, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, West Brighton Beach, and Bensonhurst. As of August 4 they reported 4 homicides, down from 6 last year; 17 rapes, up from 15; 229 robberies, down from 245; 173 felonious assaults, down from 189; and 153 burglaries, up from 131).