Tuesday 6 January 2009

Catching Up With Coney Island

I started labelling my posts about architecture ‘Catching Up With...’ because I liked the idea that buildings were simply periodicals or movie releases that enjoyed a slightly longer shelf life, allowing you more time to get around to enjoying them – plus it always takes a little while to sort through all the architectural photographs I tend to take while travelling. A recent post on Jeremiah Moss’s excellent blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York reminds us all, however, that life on the shelf can get pretty tough at times. On December 31 a rally was held at Coney Island, probably the greatest artificial paradise on the Atlantic seaboard, to protest at how the property owners are now forcing out the local people and attractions. ‘A few days before Christmas,’ Jeremiah relates, ‘Thor CEO Joe Sitt’s agents began evicting longtime tenants by cutting off locks, asking for triple the rent, or refusing to discuss 2009 leases. On Christmas Eve, huge custom-sized “Space For Lease” banners were put up on Ruby's Bar & Grill, Nathan’s Boardwalk store, Cha Cha’s and other businesses on Thor owned property in Coney Island.’

Having pounded a few beers myself at Ruby’s and eaten hotdogs at Nathan’s with my good friends Mark and Susanne Boswell one sun-scorched day back in the summer of 2006, this news saddens me greatly. A close reading of Rem Koolhaas on the subject of Coney Island in his Delirious New York would indicate that the synthetic climate-controlled vistas of Manhattan could never have existed without first being tried out here first.

‘This was Atlantis Risen, Babylon by the Sea,’ I wrote of my visit to Coney Island in issue 10 of Nude magazine. “Every defaulting cashier, every eloping couple, every man or woman harbouring suicidal intent,” according to Mr Denison, came flocking here to lose themselves in the crowds.

‘Today the Wonder Wheel, the Cyclone and a no longer functioning Parachute Drop preside over a dense labyrinth of wire fences, walkways and fairground attractions. Most of the prizes on offer take the form of Bart Simpson dolls, Nemos or Hello Kittys hanging in identical rows, cloned in colours that look almost right but are absolutely wrong. Mark shoots a couple of hoops at one attraction, winning a teddy bear tricked out like a clown in red, white and blue frills.

‘Susanne’s delighted. The bear seems pleased too. Out by the shimmering ocean, a plastic palm tree sprays laughing children with fresh water.’

The pictures above were taken either by Susanne or Mark: they show the Wonder Wheel, the Cyclone and the fabulous basking inhabitants of Ruby’s Old Time Bar and Grill. Sic transit gloria mundi.

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