Before the weather took a turn for the worse, I’m glad I took my two boys on a trip to Coney Island on Thursday. For me, it’s not only a fun outing but a trip through time, since I grew up a short walk from the Coney Island shorefront on the outskirts of Bensonhurst.
While passing through the old ‘hood, I couldn’t resist a stop at my old apartment building on West 16th Street and Harway Avenue. The last time I was there was in 2004, sadly, to visit my sick Aunt Barbara, who passed away a short time later. The two tower co-op complex there, Harway Terrace was built in the early 60s, and my parents and my aunt's family were among of the first families to move in. We lived on the 19th floor and had an awesome view of much of south Brooklyn. I stil get chills when I remember watching the area lose power, block by block, at the start of the 1977 blackout.
Back then, everyone I knew in the building was either Jewish or Italian. Today it is more typically diverse. We also stopped at the shul I went to as a kid, where I had my bar mitzvah, even though we had moved away from the neighborhood to Flatbush a year earlier. The Marlborough Jewish Center, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to exist anymore, having been taken over by Otsar, a Jewish organization that helps families of children with disabilities, as a day care center. The only sign that a shul was once there was the cornerstone, which looked sadly like a tombstone, and lists the years the congregation was established, 1956, and when the full building extension was completed, 1975. I still remember sneaking into the new building during davening with my friends as construction was completed to explore the classrooms and other facilities that the congregation must have falsely hoped would attract new members. It was never a thriving Jewish neighborhood.
My sons were fairly tolerant of the outing, 16-year old Zack more so than 10-year-old Jacob, who stayed in the car while I snapped pictures. I resisted the urge to go inside. Better to keep my memories intact, and besides, there were roller coasters waiting.
And so it was on to the shorefront, where our first stop was the Cyclone. I first rode this landmark coaster when I was 14, and after a long absence discovered it again when I began dating my future wife, Jody, whose mother is a former employee of Astroland, and have since visited about a half dozen times, the last two with my kids who are old enough. The height requirement of 52 inches is somewhat higher than that of many other rides, incuding most of the coasters at Hershey Park. Zack was tall enough to ride two years ago. Jacob is still too short. Better safe than sorry. Since the Cyclone is a genuine historic landmark, so recognized by the city in 1998 and added to the National Register of Historic Places three years later, it’s not going anywhere. There will be plenty of time for Jacob to ride.
Adjacent to the Cyclone the new Luna Park, a reincarnation of the park that stood there at Coney Island’s heydey in the early 20th Century, and a name that is still borne by a nearby housing project. The area is in a large degree of flux right now as the city and developer Joseph Sitt argue over the details of the enormous amusement and residential development he's planning. The only thing left of Astroland, which stood there from 1962 to 2008, is the Astro-Tower, which used to lift spectators high enough to see the entire boardwalk and aquarium, the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium (now called MCU Park) and the less attractive areas beyond. For some reason, although the tower has not been torn down, as the other Astroland rides were, it's out of commission, it’s rotating observation deck perpetually trapped in mid-climb.
Although we have years of fond memories of using our season pass at Astroland, I can’t say I missed the aging park they used to call the poor man’s Disneyland. Although in 1962 the theme was futuristic, it quickly became an anachronism. The rides showed their age and many were boring. The log flume was often filled with rusty water.
Luna Park is suitably modern, some of the rides are pretty cool even for a teenage veteran of Hershey Park and Six Flags, and there is a computerized ticketing system. At $26 for a four-hour unlimited pass, it’s a pretty decent bargain. Since the best rides are $5, after the fifth time you’re essentially riding free. Your faithful blogger is always looking for recommendations for the readers, especially the budget-conscious. Put an afternoon at Luna Park on the list.
There’s always a Jewish flavor to Coney Island, although it’s more in the history than the present. But there are always a few yarmulkes and Chasidic families in the crowd. When I asked for help to retrieve Jacob’s wayward Mets cap from under a ride, the supervisor’s name was Akiva. A plane skirted the coastline pulling a banner that read: “Aviva, I Love You So Much, Please Marry Me – Avi.”
One thing the area lacks though, is kosher food of any kind nearby, and so it was back in the car afterward and off to Flatbush (the other old 'hood), where our two-and-a-half-men party chowed down on guy food at Nosh Express: corn dogs, burgers and burritos. (Add that to the recommendation list, too.)
With school and my return to the office lingering, as well as some storm shockwaves this weekend, it turned out to be a perfect day, weather and otherwise.
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