Coney Island, 1996.

Atlantis, Coney Island

Here I am at Coney Island in 1996, when I was 21 years old. Back when I used to take photos of signs.

Looking at this photo got me wondering whether the sign behind me still exists (I was sure it doesn’t, and I was right—it’s long gone, replaced on one side with a Nathan’s, and on the other with a joint called Cha Cha’s that promises “Live Entertainment For The Hole Family”), and I was led to some other old photos of the Atlantis taken over the course of the past century…

Atlantis, Coney Island
Top: Archival, via Coney Island; Photo by Philip Greenspun // Bottom: Photo by Verplanck; Archival, via Cha Cha’s Club

I haven’t been to Coney Island in years, mostly because I’m afraid it won’t be as beautiful anymore. I don’t say that to glamorize decay, but rather to mourn the loss of so many old and beautifully designed things (like the Atlantis sign!) that should really have been restored rather than thrown in the trash. I feel sad about the little pockets of New York City that aren’t well protected by preservation boards…yes, even old signs on clam bars.

36 comments
  1. VanessaMar 10, 20113:01 am

    Have you seen the book Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York? You would love it. Whenever I’m feeling a little homesick I pull it out and look at the old signs and read the (sometimes sad) stories about the old shops and businesses.

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    I haven’t, but now I want to!

  2. MonicaMar 10, 20113:46 am

    Oh, the Atlantis sign was gorgeous. :(

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  3. TimMar 10, 20115:53 am

    Anna, did you see this in the news the other day? I find the Americana stuff fascinating as well

    http://amusingthezillion.com/2011/02/15/coney-island-boardwalk-8-lease-deal-in-the-works-for-2011/

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    Tim, that’s both heart-crushing and encouraging. I really need to make it out to Coney this summer—I know I’ll regret it otherwise. Thank you for sharing that link.

  4. krisMar 10, 20116:04 am

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now and although I feel stalker-ish saying this…it’s safe to say that you seem really sad. Hang in there girl. :)

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  5. blissMar 10, 20117:32 am

    i agree. i hope those letters are alive and kicking somewhere, loved by someone…

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  6. KathleenMar 10, 20118:17 am

    I love this… I know I’m not from the area at all but anything Coney always pulls at my heart strings a bit. I first visited with my “hole” family 7 years ago (when I was 21) and my brother first started his job at the Sideshow. We were all so proud of him!

    I hear development has begun for huge condos and I that they just ripped up the boardwalk to replace it with concrete – my brother’s friend gathered a bunch of the wood and is going to start making things with it. It’s sad…

    (This is the last time I went: http://jeremyandkathleen.blogspot.com/2009/10/coney-island-home-is-where-heart-is.html)

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    That’s exactly why I feel like I can’t visit anymore. It’s traumatizing to see how much it’s changed. Of course Coney Island has always been renewing itself, even a hundred years ago after being destroyed by fires (and how many fires have there been since? I think there was just a huge one last summer…), but I fear that the most recent wave of development will permanently wipe out one of New York’s last vestiges of a real seaside community. Brighton Beach and Far Rockaway will fall as well, just as soon as the last generations of immigrants die. And what can be done about it, I don’t know…it’s not like anyone can pretend Coney has been thriving for many many years, but still. I wish that investors and developers cared at least a little bit about the preservation and reuse of materials that have endured for so many years.

    I’m so glad that there are people like Donny and his fellow freaks who do care, though. I want to see what they make with that wood!

    (Who wants to walk on a concrete boardwalk, anyway? And isn’t concrete more expensive to maintain in the long run? Argh…)

  7. LMar 10, 20118:58 am

    Never been to C.I. (only once to NYC, in fact) but that Atlantis sign is gorgeous!

    I have visions of at least Photoshopping it on to a rolling pastoral view, ala the Hollywood sign — shame that my photo manipulation skills are so far behind my vision they will never catch up.

    Love your blog; am wishing you armfuls of daffodils and balmy sunny days ASAP.

    [Reply]

  8. Krystal/VillageMar 10, 20119:02 am

    I love these photos so much….the colors, everything.

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    I’m sure they were all shot on film, of course—I know mine was.

  9. SarahMar 10, 201110:09 am

    I haven’t been there since they closed Astroland. And now that I know they’ve ripped up the boardwalk I don’t know that I want to go back!

    Also: http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=3099

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    Ouch. :(

  10. cherylMar 10, 201110:18 am

    Oh I hear you! Never been to NYC (it’s on my bucket list) but I share your feelings on the loss of iconic urban landscapes and the despair at not knowing what could possibly be done to avoid the loss of beautifully designed things when investors and developers seem not to care…I feel the same way here, having be born and raised in Detroit and living there until a few years ago. I want to see it flourish and grow and be celebrated, rather than be the subject of a coffee table book on urban decay. Thank you for sharing your photos and viewpoints.

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  11. jodiMar 10, 201110:58 am

    oh, wow. what a great sign! it’s really too bad that it’s not there anymore.

    i just read an advance copy of Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando. it’s a YA novel, but it was really great story of a teenager who lived abroad all her life and moves with her dad and brother to her grandparent’s house in coney island. i’m crap at book synopses — but i highly recommend reading it!

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    I’ve actually read ALL of Tara Altebrando’s other books (including the ones she’s written as Tara McCarthy), so I’m sure I’ll wind up reading Dreamland Social Club, too! Glad to hear it’s good—I really like her style, even the YA stuff.

    Tara Altebrando /

    Awesome. I dearly hope you like my Coney book. LOVE the Atlantis picture.

  12. ilyanaMar 10, 201112:29 pm

    Hi Anna, long time reader, first time commenter here! I had to come back and comment because as soon as I left your blog I saw this: http://www.re-nest.com/re-nest/daily-find/boardwalk-table-by-uhuru-daily-find-141180. The price is outrageous but it’s still pretty to look at. They actually have a whole line made from reclaimed wood from Coney Island here: http://uhurudesign.com/nydesignweek10.html

    [Reply]

  13. jbhatMar 10, 201112:31 pm

    I too become weepy/mad about careless disregard for the past. But you are way more articulate about it than I could have been. Thank you for sharing your photo and these thoughts.

    jbhat

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  14. JillMar 10, 20114:21 pm

    sigh. there is still a lot of beauty at coney island, but this situation the past year has been dire. last year i went on a tour with the ‘save coney island’ group that’s been fighting developer joe sitt and his demolition crews. it’s inspiring to hear about all the community activism that’s taken place in defense of the historical buildings there, but they’ve gotten virtually no support from the nyc community / bloomberg at large. really sad, and i get nauseous if i think about it too much. i still can’t believe they tore down the beautiful old bank building.

    by the same token though, coney island (at least to me) has always been about the wonderful community of people that work and live and visit there. it’s always attracted such a unique following of outsiders and artist types, and awesomely weird people. there’s nothing like it anywhere else, and that’s why i love it.

    thanks for the beautiful photos, anna — if you ever want to browse through some more awesome shots, you should check out some of these contributed to our flickr group. it’s no secret that coney is a perennial fave of photographers! http://www.flickr.com/search/groups/?q=coney+island&m=pool&w=1249634%40N23&s=int

    [Reply]

  15. jeannetteMar 10, 20116:29 pm

    the hole family being courtney and frances bean?

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    HAHAHAHA. Oh man.

    Diane /

    Hahaha! I just spit all over my computer. Thanks, I needed a laugh!

  16. HeatherMar 11, 201110:29 am

    Among the many things I just love about this blog is how every pic you post from the 90’s looks exactly like a picture of me. Only I lived in SF in 1996, and the pic of me is by the Cliff House and Sutro Baths ruins. Funny how all these years later, I am obsessed with seeing what Anna did with her house this weekend… Cheers.

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  17. MerleMar 11, 20114:21 pm

    One of the wonderful things about NYC is the evolution of its neighborhoods.
    Coney Island and Brighton Beach have hosted scores of immigrants who changed both neighborhoods over the years. I grew up in Brooklyn and have fond memories of visiting Coney Island many times during my childhood. As a mother and grandmother, I have returned with my children and granddaughter and still find the scene exciting and ever-changing. Go visit………..have a hotdog at Nathan’s, walk the boardwalk, go into the aquarium, have blini at a Russian restaurant……….and cap it all by watching fabulous local dancers doing salsa, hip-hop or swing in the early evening hours of the summer on the boardwalk.

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  18. dewiMar 12, 20118:39 am

    There will remain plenty of decay for future generations of artists to be intrigued by the area.

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    It’s NOT the so-called intrigue of decay I cling to, it’s the rapidly-declining attention to design in details. That’s not exclusive to Coney Island, of course. I could say the same thing for signage and houses and sidewalks and industrial bolts all over the country—it’s just that places like Coney Island managed to hold on to so many vestiges of a disappearing area of quality in manufacturing and design due to neglect.

  19. dewiMar 12, 20118:44 am

    @Merle. I agree with you NYC changes all the time, each generation becomes nostalgic when they witness development.. I too grew up in Brooklyn.
    A favorite activity in my misspent high school adolescence in the 1970’s was going off season to ride the cyclone on acid. Then spend the night wandering the dark hauanted streets all the way to Seagate.

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  20. HeatherMar 12, 20116:54 pm

    Coney Island is one of my favorite places on earth. I lived in Brooklyn for a decade and visited often. I also worked for a public art organization called Creative Time, and we worked with the graffit artist ESPO to bring the tradition of hand-painted signage back to the amusement district (it was called “brooklyn baroque at the turn of the last century). The project was called The Dreamland Artist Club, and over the course of two summer (2004-2005), we paired artists–both stusio/gallery artists and street artists– with local businesses to create new hand-painted signs. I bet you would love it. You can see pictures here: http://www.creativetime.org/programs/archive/2004/dreamland/new/
    and here: http://creativetime.org/programs/archive/2005/dreamland/

    Also, I went to Vassar college in Poughkeepsie, making me vry familiar with the Newburgh airport!

    Love your blog.

    Heather

    [Reply]

    Melanie /

    Amazing!!! Sorry for the enthusiasm, I’m just a big hand-painted sign fan (and a big ESPO fan). I especially love this video on the Syracuse project, Steve Powers is seriously the best: http://vimeo.com/15438315

  21. BODIE and FOUMar 13, 201111:02 am

    I’ve never been to Coney Island but it looked like a nice place to hang out..
    I felt like you when they (property developers) destroyed the old Spitafields market in east London. It was such a magical place, with lots of young independent designers. The place had a rea soul and now it’s just another flipping Mall with high-street names…
    I hate going there now….I wish I was a multi-millionaire, I could have bought the place and save it…

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  22. Michelle...Mar 13, 20118:28 pm

    I love this post. I too lament the loss of pieces of architecture/Americana like this. I hope I can be involved in saving some of it in my future career.

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  23. danielle KreeftMar 15, 20115:59 pm

    i agree! it’s such a shame that little treasures like this get done away with…
    so lovely that you got to see it though! xo.

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  24. kateMar 17, 201111:39 pm

    Steven Powers did a phase where he went to all of the ones with handpainted signs and repainted them, so that they wouldn’t put up tacky printed ones. it was a massive project, I’m sure if you google ‘steven powers coney island’ you can see the results. It’s so sad to see true design being replaced by terrible design every where you turn.

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  25. natalie.Mar 25, 201112:41 am

    what great photos! i admit, i’ve avoided ever going to coney island since i’ve only seen it in it’s grandeur in photos. i can’t imagine the heartbreak to realize it is nothing like it once was, and is, in my imaginary memory.

    [Reply]

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