High tide for Brooklyn’s waterfront

Coney Island History Project to land Astroland Rocket in Wonder Wheel Park
Community Newspaper Group / Vince DiMiceli

Brooklyn’s waterfront is getting more fun by the day.

Coney Island, Brooklyn’s legendary amusement destination, is emerging from decades of decline, the storm of the century, and the bitter months of winter to reclaim its reputation as the Playground of the World while a long-dreamed-of green space on the river in Brooklyn Heights is becoming a playground in its own right.

This Friday, and for the first time since 1927, a new roller coaster will swoop and dive in Coney Island. Named the Thunderbolt — after a famed ride that once thrilled millions a short distance away — the new attraction slated for W. 15th Street off Surf Avenue will be the first Coney coaster to feature an upside-down loop since the historic Loop-the-Loop ride closed shortly after World War I. The Thunderbolt will also include a heart-stopping 11-story drop, surpassing even the 85-foot hill of the legendary Cyclone coaster five blocks away.

The new coaster will be part of Luna Park, which opened in 2010 on Surf Avenue between W. 10th and W. 12th streets. In 2012, the funzone expanded to include the B&B Carousell, a restored 108-year-old ride with hand-carved wooden horses situated on the Boardwalk adjacent to the landmarked Parachute Jump, which has been decked out in state-of-the-art lights that pulse and dazzle nighttime crowds.

But Luna’s wildest, and wettest, attraction may still be yet to come.

The park’s owners told us about preliminary plans to construct a water park on the vacant parcel next to the new Thunderbolt. The lot belongs to Jasmine Bullard, daughter of the late Coney Island land baron Horace Bullard, who sought unsuccessfully to revive the amusement district in the 1980s. Luna’s leaders said they are thrilled at the prospect of a partnership with the younger Bullard.

“I have great respect for their family,” said Alberto Zamperla, who runs Luna Park.

Details on what rides the splashy spot will have remain sketchy.

“It’s in the very primary stages, we don’t want to mention anything yet,” said Luna Park president Valerio Ferrari.

But Coney wouldn’t be Coney without its sense of nostalgia, and the neighborhood has two vaults of Coney relics to remind visitors of those halcyon days — plus one big exhibit of a People’s Playground icon once thought lost.

The Coney Island Museum at the corner of W. 12th Street and Surf Avenue reopened on May 22 following a year-and-a-half of renovations. Visitors can now check out 1920s funhouse mirrors, vintage bumper cars, and rare, turn-of-the-century Coney Island postcards for just $5.

A short walk away, on W. 12th Street between Bowery Street and the Boardwalk — under the iconic Wonder Wheel — the Coney Island History Project is holding an exhibit till Sept. 1 on the famous “Funny Face” that has come to represent Coney Island.

But the biggest event for Coney history buffs will be the return of the Astroland Rocket. The space-age ride was the symbol of Astroland Park, which sat in what is now Luna Park’s location from 1962 until 2008.

The rocket spent the last several decades as a sign atop Boardwalk oyster bar Paul’s Daughter, pointing visitors toward the now-shuttered fun-zone’s gate. The city took possession of the rocket after Astroland closed, and left it to rot behind vacant buildings on the Staten Island waterfront. But History Project curator Charlie Denson is teaming up the owners of Wonder Wheel Park to restore the iconic rocket, not as a ride, but as a museum piece.

There is no date set yet for the missile’s return, but the History Project promises it will be this summer, as part of a larger exhibit on space-themed rides.

“It’s real Coney Island history,” said Denson.

No doubt about it — Coney’s future looks bright.

“This is a very exciting time for Coney Island,” said Johanna Zaki, director of operations for the Alliance for Coney Island, a business group representing amusement district interests. “With everyone united, working together to showcase Coney as the One and Only, New York City’s favorite seaside entertainment destination, 2014 is poised to be Coney Island’s best season in modern history.”

But the fun won’t only be in Coney. The scenic Brooklyn Bridge Park along the neighborhood’s famous piers, two-and-a-half decades in the making, is halfway to becoming a reality.

In 2011, the historic Jane’s Carousel — a 90-year-old ride with exquisite hand-carved horses — opened to the public. Last year, it added acres of elevated space where folks can relax and frolic. The so-called “uplands” added four-and-a-half football fields of grassy knolls to the stretch of park nearest to the harbor, below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, on piers 3 and 4, and are the first parts of those piers to open. Last year also saw the opening of a bike and footpath that runs between Furman Street and the water, connecting all the piers in that section of the green space.

The addition also includes a granite terrace and a hill that is supposed to keep the peace in the park by blocking sound from the nearby Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Visitors can enter the park addition at Pier 5 or Pier 1.

“Opening the piers 3 and 4 uplands means even more people will have more access to more of Brooklyn Bridge Park and our waterfront,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights). “That’s great news for all of us who’ve been fighting to expand this extraordinary park with year-round recreation and real community access.”

But the best yet is yet to come. On May 22, Pier 2 got a one-of-a-kind grown-up playground. The recreation space includes three shuffleboard courts, two bocce fields, six handball courts, five basketball courts, another half-acre of green space, and a fitness center with exercise equipment. It is also slated to get a roller rink at the end of June. There will also be a shelter built from materials reclaimed from an older building, to give protection from the elements.

This article is part of a series about how development is shaping the borough’s future, written for the Community Newspaper Group’s free magazine Brooklyn Tomorrow, which is on newsstands now.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
SWING’S THE THING: Kids swing in the new play area of Pier 2 at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham