Thursday, December 14, 2017

On the Boardwalk: Coney Island 1999

Coney Island has been the summer beach playground for New Yorkers for over a century. America’s first large engineered beach fill was the boardwalk and recreational beach on Coney Island in 1922 - 1923 (Farley 1923). With the completion of the project, immigrants and factory workers could escape the sweatshops of the sweltering city and enjoy a (crowded) Sunday at the beach for only a nickel subway ride (Stanton 1999). "The Improvement helped convert nearly 2 miles of shoreline characterized by ramshackle development and narrow to non-existent beaches from which the general public was excluded, to a world famous resort that was accessible to all for no more than the cost of a subway fare." (Dornhelm 2012). Coney Island is part of the borough of Brooklyn.

In the photograph above, the off mushroom-shaped frame was once a parachute jump, where guests would hop off and float to the ground. The boardwalk has been rebuilt many times.
Coney Island beach pumping in 1922.
Coney Island 1941. From the archives of the Beach Erosion Board, now at the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory, US Army Corps of Engineers.
This is the scene at Coney Island on a summer day in 1941, at the eve of World War II. The subway was still a nickel then.
Despite being refurbished and "urban renewed," there are still old structures and remnants of Coney Island's exuberant past.
 There is still an amusement park, but it is small compared to the ones in the 1950s.
Notice the rocket architecture, likely something from the Sputnik era when rockets were modern and trendy.
The famous hotdog stands are still there and thriving. The fries look great, but I may pass on the mystery-meat hotdogs.
This stone structure was known as a terminal groin and was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers at W 37th Street. The reason is convoluted. The community at the west tip of Coney Island is known as Seagate and is closed to the public. By law, beaches which are nourished with Federal funds must be accessible to the general public. Therefore, when the Corps of Engineers performed beach nourishments on Coney Island, the sand had to be restricted to the part of the beach east of W 37th Street (to the right in the photograph).
View across Gravesend Bay to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Seagate, Coney Island.
Along this shore, longshore transport is from east to west. Thanks to numerous beach fill projects, sand has filled the project to the seaward end of the 37th Street terminal groin and moves around the tip and to the shore at Seagate. The sand moves around the west end of Coney, past the Coney Island Lighthouse, and into Coney Island Creek. Some residents complained that the beach on the north side of Seagate was too wide (after decades of complaining they were suffering from beach erosion).
Rockaway Beach also has a wide boardwalk and the beach has also been nourished many times to provide storm and flood protection as well as recreation benefits.

Photographs taken with a Leica M3 rangefinder camera with 35mm Summicron-RF and 50mm Summicron (type 4) lenses on Kodak Kodachrome 25 film. I scanned the frames on a Plustek 7600i film scanner using Silverfast Ai software.


Dornhelm, R.B., 2012. The Coney Island Public Beach and Boardwalk Improvement of 1923. Fourth Annual Northeast Shore and Beach Preservation Association Conference (NSBPA), October 24-26, 2001 | Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ.

Farley, P. P. 1923. Coney Island public beach and boardwalk improvement. The Municipal Engineers
Journal, Vol. 9, Paper 136, pp 136.1-136.32.

Stanton, J. 1999. “Coney Island - Nickel Empire (1920's-1930's).” (, accessed 09/27/2017)

Update, Jan. 19, 2018:  A friend sent me this interesting picture of Coney Island during Hurricane Donna in 1960. The photograph was on Facebook in the "Old Images of Brooklyn" group. Original source is unknown. It looks like it might have been a 4×5 original, so possibly from a press photographer.


  1. Thank you very much for posting these treasures... Until I left-for-good, in 1999, I lived on Surf Avenue for many years... It was a real treat viewing these nostalgic captures of the old neighborhood... You certainly have a great eye for photography.