NYC Bids Sad Farewell To Coney Island's Historic Theme Park
updated 12:16 p.m. ET, Sun., Sept. 7, 2008
NEW YORK - After nearly half a century, Coney Island's beloved Astroland theme park is shutting its doors.
Only the Cyclone roller coaster and the Wonder Wheel, which are considered city landmarks, will remain of the renowned amusement park in which New Yorkers and those across the tri-state area shared summers and hot dogs for 46 years.
Last year, the city announced a redevelopment plan for 47 acres of the shabby old Brooklyn seafront, which includes the 3-acre parcel that Astroland sits on.
Carol Albert -- whose family has owned the rides by the Brooklyn boardwalk for almost a half century -- said Thursday that she told employees she's permanently closing the park after Sunday.
For years, the future of the outer space-themed park built in 1962 has been the focus of bickering among Thor Equities, which owns 11 acres of the seaside property, ride operators and city officials, with the Albert family threatening previously to shut it down.
In a statement released last week, Albert said she gave up on negotiating a two-year lease with developer Thor Equities after they missed a Thursday deadline to reply.
" I have given up on trying to get Thor to negotiate which I have attempted to do every month since June, and numerous times in August. Each time their response was, 'We have no answer,' she said. "The safety of our customers and our commitment to employees means our time has run out. Ride parts must be ordered a minimum of eight to 10 months in advance. My employees cannot live in a state of limbo any longer. It takes six months to pack up a three-acre amusement park that has been in operation for 46 years, so a January 31st deadline means start packing yesterday. We are out of time."
The End Of Astroland
Last fall, Thor and Astroland agreed to a one-year lease extension that expires Jan. 31. Albert wanted a lease for the summers of 2009 and 2010, saying her 300 employees need more job security.
They "cannot live in a state of limbo any longer," she said, adding that ride parts must be ordered a minimum of eight to 10 months in advance.
Albert sold Astroland to Thor Equities two years ago.
Thor had planned to break ground next year on a $1.5 billion complex including high-rise hotels and New York's first new roller coaster since the wooden Cyclone was built 75 years ago.
Officials this year suddenly shrank the amusement zone to 9 acres because property owners -- mainly Sitt -- would not give up the extra tracts of waterfront for the city-proposed park.
That angered community activists, who accused the developer and the city of trying to over-gentrify the so-called workingman's Riviera, where visitors can still find freak show attractions such as a fire-eater and the Human Blockhead, who drives a drill into his face.
"Many in the community had hoped along with us that Astroland could remain open to keep the lights on in Coney Island until the rezoning issue had been resolved, because carnival rides, as the 'Summer of Hope' sadly proved, are no substitute for a permanent amusement park," Albert said in her statement. "However, when even our good friend, Councilman Domenic Recchia could do nothing to persuade Thor to negotiate, it became clear we had no choice but to close the business permanently on Sunday night, Sept. 7. Coney Island's future as a tourism and amusement destination is clearly in peril."
Albert's father-in-law, Dewey Albert, unveiled the outer-space-themed Astroland park in 1962. Now looking ahead to its 47th summer season, Astroland has 75 year-round employees and 275 seasonal workers.
Coney Island, once billed as America's Playground, was the most popular resort destination in the country in the early part of the 20th century. It evolved into an entertainment fixture, alongside two other local creations: the hot dog and the roller coaster.
Astroland Kiddie Park and the Cyclone roller coaster opened for the final weekend on Friday. All attractions opened at noon Saturday and Sunday.
All New Yorkers were invited to come to Astroland to bid farewell to the historic icon.
The Cyclone reopens on April 5, 2009.