Time is running out if you want to swim on Coney Island’s beach this summer
Eye on Real Estate: The last day for lifeguards is Sept. 8.
Before you know it, swimming season’s going to end at Coney Island’s beach. Have you let the summer go by without splashing around in the sea?
The amusement park rides, landmarked and otherwise, are such an irresistible part of the People’s Playground that it can be hard to remember the Atlantic Ocean laps the shoreline just a block away from a subway station.
City-hired lifeguards who protect the safety of beachgoers on Coney Island and other public waterfront recreation areas will end their work on the Sunday after Labor Day — so the clock is ticking for swimmers at Manhattan Beach, too, as well as the sun and surf spots in other boroughs.
I hit the sands of Coney Island last weekend and snapped photos. Here’s a good look at what you’ll be missing if you don’t fit a trip to the shoreline onto your calendar by Sept. 8.
Bright um-brella-ella-ellas (yes, we old geezers reference Rihanna songs when it suits our purposes) form a wall-to-wall carpet of color on the shoreline closest to the Stillwell Avenue entrance to the landmarked Boardwalk.
If you’re happy being part of a crowd, here’s where you lay out your beach towel. When you look behind your shoulder, you see the iconic Wonder Wheel and you know there’s only one place in the world you could be — Coney Island.
This is an ideal spot — because if you decide you’re bored by the lunch you packed, all the great Boardwalk food businesses are close by, like always-busy Nathan’s, Paul’s Daughter and Coney’s Cones, which sells pistachio gelato.
If you like a beach experience with a little more breathing room, keep strolling down the sand, past all those people splashing in the waves beneath the lifeguards’ watchful eyes.
Duck under the Pat Auletta Steeplechase Pier and keep walking. In about 30 seconds you’ll wind up on sands that are just barely populated.
If this is where you stake out your sunbathing spot, another landmark, the Parachute Jump, is standing right there to remind you that you are spending the day in the one and only Coney Island.
If you’re wondering why the pier is named for Pat Auletta, he was a business owner and Community Board 13 member everybody called the Mayor of Coney Island.
Would you wear a rented bathing suit?
If, like me, you’re haunted by history, when you walk the sands on the Coney Island shoreline, you’ll think of all the generations of New Yorkers who have counted on Coney Island as their respite from hot summers in the city.
You’ll remember this place became a resort after the Civil War. People rode on railroad trains to get here and stayed in hotels.
The hotels often had facilities that rented out bathing suits, a posting on the Ultimate History Project’s website says.
Actually, they were “bathing costumes,” head-to-toe outfits for the sake of modesty. But even so, that’s a hard thing for my 21st-century brain to wrap itself around. Yeah, I know guys in this day and age rent tuxedos for weddings. But bathing suits? Yikes.
You’ll remember the huge, crazy amusement parks of the early 20th century. The landmarked rides that stand tall today are reminders of Coney Island’s past glory days.
The Coney Island History Project’s website is an excellent resource for delving into the history of the People’s Playground.
A famous roller coaster with wooden tracks
But back to the present, where sadly, the clock is ticking on how much summer is left.
Since this is Coney Island where you’re swimming and sunbathing, you’re also going to spend time riding on the rides and strolling on the Boardwalk.
Swimming ends at 6 p.m. when the lifeguards go off duty, but the rides stay open much later than that, so you’ve got lots of time.
One of the most famous rides, the Cyclone, is a city landmark. It opened in 1927.
This roller coaster has wooden tracks, which makes it a rarity.
Thanks to the Cyclone’s design, which involves a “twister-type circuit,” the roller coaster is propelled by its own momentum rather than machinery for all but the first few seconds of its trip, a city Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report about the Cyclone says.
The historic ride was designed by engineer Vernon Keenan and built by inventor Harry C. Baker.
The designation report traces the origins of the roller coaster back to 18th-century Russia, where folks got their thrills on “ice slides.” Sounds fun.
On a clear day, you can see the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge
The iconic Wonder Wheel is landmarked too. It is celebrating its 99th year in operation, having opened on Memorial Day in 1920.
The Vourderis family, which has owned the mighty wheel since 1983, takes good care of it.
It is 150 feet tall — the equivalent of a 15-story building — weighs 400,000 pounds and has safely carried more than 30 million riders. If you’ve recently ridden this fine Ferris wheel, these facts are fresh in your mind. They’re posted on a sign beside the waiting area where you board it.
There are two lines for two types of cars, swinging and stationary. For people who are plagued by a fear of heights, like me, the stationary cars are a godsend.
I’m pretending to be nonchalant as I mention that I rode on the Wonder Wheel last weekend. But it was only the third time in my long life that I’ve ever been on a Ferris wheel. Any Ferris wheel.
The Wonder Wheel is the only one I’ll ride.
The opportunity to see views of Brooklyn that are one-of-a-kind finally convinced me to try it for the first time just two years ago. It was a white-knuckle experience, but the scenery made it worthwhile.
On opening weekend in April, I rode the Wonder Wheel in the fog, which was also a heart-pounding but gratifying experience.
I decided not to let this summer end without seeing the views in better weather. My photos don’t do them justice. Maybe my hands were shaking just a little bit. Or a lot.
It’s glorious up there. The kiddie rides down below look like lovely abstract patterns in a painting. The ocean stretches away to the far horizon.
When you turn your head away from the sea, a mini-golf course down below looks like a landscape architect’s drawing. Off in the distance, you see the Lower Manhattan skyline with the World Trade Center as well as the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.
After I got back on solid ground, I looked up the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s report about the Wonder Wheel. It says the wheel’s inventor was Charles Herman and the manufacturer was the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Amusement Company.
Don’t you wish the Parachute Jump still worked?
Braver souls than I will want to devote additional hours to other rides. My knees were still shaking from my trip on the Wonder Wheel. So I sat on a bench and people-watched for a while. When my legs were steady, I took a stroll on the Boardwalk.
The doors were open at B&B Carousell, so I ducked my head inside to snap photos of the painted ponies. There really are supposed to be two “L”s in the word “Carousell,” so please don’t email me to tell me it’s a typo.
This fabulous merry-go-round has been around since the 1930s. It was shipped away to Marion, Ohio, for five years to be repaired. In 2016, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
When you’re walking in this direction, the famous Parachute Jump is the next landmark you’ll find.
As old-timers and history buffs know, its nickname was “the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn.” When it was a working ride a half-century ago, parachutes with double seats hung from its pinnacle.
It was such a cool ride. If it were restored and made workable, I would ignore my fear of heights and try it out.
The Parachute Jump’s six-sided steel tower is 262 feet tall, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about it says.
It has been on the Boardwalk since the early 1940s. Its original home was the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which was in Queens.
Which way to the shimmer wall?
Another important sight on this end of the Boardwalk is Childs Restaurant.
The spectacular stucco Spanish Colonial Revival-style building was designed by architecture firm Dennison & Hirons and constructed in 1923.
Since this is a city landmark, I know this from the designation report the LPC wrote about it.
The glamorous old restaurant’s facade was meticulously restored and incorporated into Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk, which has a 5,000-seat covered theater with a busy concert and show schedule.
The other great sight on the Boardwalk is in the other direction, heading towards Brighton Beach.
It’s worth the walk.
It’s the New York Aquarium’s futuristic-looking new wing, which opened last year.
It houses a new exhibit called “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!”
You can go after you spend your day swimming and sunning on the beach. That’s because on Friday, Aug. 30, and Saturday, Aug. 31, the aquarium will stay open until 10 p.m. There’s a 50 percent discount after 6 p.m.
I’m obsessed with the outside of the building that’s visible from the Boardwalk. A railing surrounding it has suspended metal tiles that move in the wind and catch the light.
It’s called a shimmer wall. It’s the brainchild of a design team from the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the aquarium, and environmental artist Ned Kahn.
Queens of the night
You should stick around after sunset. There’s lots of eating and drinking to be done, and the rides are open.
The Wonder Wheel is lit up in bright lights, which are beautiful.
The Parachute Jump is the queen of the night.
It is covered with 8,000 light bulbs, which you don’t notice in the daytime. At night they pulse and flash in dazzling patterns.
They’re mesmerizing to watch.
If you’re feeling just a little melancholy because summer’s about to end, the light show will cheer you up a bit.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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