With three days to go until the traditional Palm Sunday opening of Luna Park at Coney Island, the temperature was just above freezing.
Alberto Zamperla, 60, president and chief executive of the Italian amusement park operator and ride provider Zamperla SPA, steered The Commercial Observer into the company’s warm, modest offices across from the landmark Cyclone roller coaster.
A central hallway was lined with newspaper clippings that recount the area’s history as a summer retreat and amusement park destination.
“Coney Island, that marvelous city of lath and burlap, should always be approached by the sea, as then, and then only, can the beauty of this ephemeral Venice be appreciated,” began an article published on August 15, 1908, in Scientific American. “Landward, the trains run through squalid neighborhoods, and past the back of everything. Its best foot is put forward toward the sea.”
Coney Island peaked before cars and planes allowed New Yorkers to easily escape the city heat far outside the five boroughs. Its decay during the second half of the 20th century is as mythic as its halcyon days. Its boardwalk and amusement area rivaled the squalor of surrounding neighborhoods. The seaside was, to put it kindly, down at the heels.