Not everything that looks bombed out is necessarily bad — particularly out on Coney Island.
Thirty years ago, when Dick Zigun, founder of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow and erstwhile “Mayor of Coney Island,” came to the neighborhood, there were still vestiges of what it looked like when it was the city’s playground.
“There was so much infrastructure and architecture and personality from its heydey,” Zigun said. And some of the personalities of that era were still living there, among the vestigial tridents and mermaids. “You got a real sense of the historic Coney Island.”
Now, 75 percent of that is gone, he said, replaced by vacant lots as decrepit history has been torn down. For example, there was the Thunderbolt rollercoaster that had a house underneath it. Both were torn out, illegally, Zigun added, by the Giuliani administration.
“[Before that], the Lindsay Adminstration and [Robert] Moses dumped a lot of housing projects here without a job base,” he said. Since then, investment in the area has helped provide jobs and the growing Russian community out there has helped revitalize the entire area from Brighton Beach to Bensonhurst.
Despite the empty lots, a lot of the old Coney Island is still visible. The Cyclone, of course, is there, as is the Wonder Wheel and the Parachute Drop. Joining them soon should be restored B & B Carousell, a historic ride that the city saved from the scrap heap.
And what about the personalities that make Coney Island so unique?
They’re still “alive in terms of eccentric nutjobs like me,” Zigun said. “My job is to preserve artifacts and behave in an ostentatious way.”
— Michael P. Ventura