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Coney Bye-Land

As the pace of Coney Island’s much touted “revitalization” has accelerated in recent months, many beloved landmarks, historic buildings and mom-and-pop businesses have become casualties of plans to modernize the “amusement core” and transform it into a year-round (and far more mainstream) tourist destination.

Frea signLuna Park operator Zamperla USA (the parent company is based in Italy) was chosen by the city to be the new landlord for a long stretch of boardwalk businesses. After asking the existing tenants for proposals, Zamperla offered new leases to two survivors: corporate chain Nathan’s and funky T-shirt entrepreneur Dianna Carlin of Lola Staar Boutique. The others were left out in the windswept cold.

The jilted operators include two longtime family-run businesses: the delightfully eclectic, signage-heavy snack stand Paul’s Daughter (formerly Gregory and Paul’s) which has been dispensing hand-cut fries and cotton candy since 1962; and Ruby’s Bar, a friendly dive/social center where weirdos, freaks, old timers, drunks, artistes and just plain folks have raucously socialized and enjoyed the oceanfront view for decades.

Root beer dad.The building that houses Ruby’s opened as a Hebrew National Deli and Bar in 1934. Ruby Jacobs (who grew up in the area and already owned a number of bathhouses) took over in the 1970’s and his daughters Cindy and Melody (along with Melody’s husband Mike Sarrel) have been presiding over its quirky charms ever since their dad passed away ten years ago. The walls are lined with hundreds of fading photographs of amusements past and present. (And in the days before the city built new municipal bathhouses, it was one of the few places offering desperately-needed “facilities”—for customers only, of course!)

Paul Georgoulakos, now 81, opened his nosh mecca Gregory and Paul’s in 1962. (His friend Gregory ran a similar venue across from the Cyclone.) Eventually he passed managerial responsibility on to his daughter, Tina. For many years, the 18-foot long, 14,000-pound Astroland Rocket was mounted on the roof, until it was donated to the city by Astroland’s Albert family when they lost their lease in 2008. It is currently in storage in Staten Island; the city has promised that it will be returned to Coney Island sometime in the vague future. Now Tina is trying to figure out what to do with the stand’s other iconic sculptures, known as “Mama and Papa Burger”. The proud patty pair will most likely be removed and possibly undergo makeovers—but with home ownership flipping, who knows where they will end up?

Ruby's.Some of the businesses (including Ruby’s) have vowed to fight and have banded together to hire a lawyer. Paul’s Daughter threw a thank you party and massive food give-a-way on November 13. Ruby’s has hosted multiple “last call” fundraising weekends and encourages fans to sign their online petition.

Off the Boardwalk, Joe Sitt of Thor Equities is doing his best to quickly demolish four of Coney’s few remaining historic buildings including the Bank of Coney island and the Henderson Building. (This is where Harpo Marx made his debut in 1899. It later housed the excessively gruesome World of Wax Museum).

The non-operational but nicely refurbished Parachute Jump isn’t going anywhere; it’s landmarked, along with The Cyclone and The Wonder Wheel. And Coney Island USA (home of the Freak Show) owns its building. But aside from these historic reminders of Coney past, it seems that there is little room in the new Coney for the kind of rough-edged weirdness that has made the resort so memorable for so long.

(Ruby’s is slated to be demolished and replaced with a sports bar. Of course.) [Post by Anne D. Bernstein]

Sections: Attraction News 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Coney Bye-Land”

  1. Mod Betty / Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    SO Sad! We did a RetroRoadmap visit to Coney Island a couple of years ago, and while it wasn’t on par with it’s classic past, it still was a fun place to check out, and I’m sure one of the few places that city-dwellers could go to have some tacky seaside fun without getting into a car. Dang you Thor!

  2. momazilla Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Bye land? More like BUY land

  3. Craig S. Thom Says:
    December 3rd, 2010 at 8:23 am

    It sounds as if they want to do to Coney Island what happened to Underground Atlanta: turn it into a clean, safe, and completely uninteresting replacement.

  4. Charley Bennett Says:
    December 16th, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Why would they do this? I agree with Craig. Why does everything have to be like the Mall of America?

  5. Kevin Says:
    January 2nd, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    I agree with Charley’s sentiments. Everything is starting to look like a strip mall or a cloned-Californiaesqe eatery. Or a big mall. Which all look the same.

    Outside Disneyland, we used to have so many clever, individualistic family motels. Sure, some of them had become divey, but the whole area was redone. Now it looks the same as any hotel row anywhere; Houston, St. Louis, Denver, all the same.

  6. mermaid Says:
    February 2nd, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Well, it’s not like Coney Island will ever be a wholesome place, it’s surrounded by low income housing, projects, drugs and the very poor. While I appreciate the classic kitsch of the park area, the neighborhood is not filled with charming little bungalows like the Jersey Shore and the Hamptons.

  7. Margarita V. Bowers Says:
    February 10th, 2011 at 5:55 am

    I realize buildings have to be replaced and brought up-to code for safety reasons. These kind of buildings don’t last forever. It costs more to try to repair them than to build new ones.

    I am just glad that someone is trying to keep Coney Island, alive. Because where I live, in my state, we have lost soooo many Theme Parks and Fun Places. Most are ALL GONE!! I am just glad that my children also got to experience those places that I grew-up having fun at, before they were all gone. But, the grandchildren and other children of today will not have all those happy memories. Even a lot of the ice cream stands are gone. NO PLACES HERE TO HAVE FUN ANYMORE. Just be thankful that you HAVE Coney Island Luna Park. Wish I did.

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