A stroll on the Coney Island Boardwalk during the coronavirus pandemic
Coney Island, with its famed Boardwalk running beside the Atlantic Ocean, provides a fresh-air escape venue with ample room for the social distancing that’s urgently needed while New York suffers through the onslaught of the deadly disease.
It’s sobering to know Coney Island’s famous Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone roller coaster will not be opening this spring, as I reported. Coney Island’s amusement parks, which were scheduled to open on April 4, will remain closed until further notice to help stop COVID-19’s spread.
Nevertheless, there’s serenity — and superb scenery — to be found by the sea. If you’re in good health, taking a walk for exercise is an activity that’s permissible under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions enacted on Friday. Keep your distance from other people, so we can #FlattenTheCurve.
Even if you don’t live in Coney Island or Brighton Beach, the two neighborhoods where the Boardwalk is situated, you might discover you can walk to it in a reasonable amount of time. On Wednesday, I strolled to Coney Island from Bay Ridge in an hour and 20 minutes. And I’m such a slow walker that I’ve been told a sloth is possibly my spirit animal.
Neptune the sea god
I entered Coney Island via Cropsey Avenue, crossed Neptune Avenue and wound up on West 17th Street. This put me near the section of the Boardwalk where the quirky former Childs Restaurant is located.
It’s quirky because of its Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture. It’s got a look you might expect to find in Southern California, but which is relatively rare in Brooklyn.
When you check out the terra-cotta ornamentation on its white stucco facade, you’ll see Neptune the sea god staring down upon you. Other fanciful figures include fish, seashells and ships.
Architecture firm Dennison & Hirons designed the restaurant, which was constructed in 1923. It was open until the early 1950s. It was part of a chain created by William and Samuel Childs, who were brothers.
The building was designated as a city landmark in 2003.
A few years ago it was renovated and incorporated into Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk. The modern portion of the entertainment venue is an open-air amphitheater with a roof made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
While I was taking photos of the Childs Restaurant building, a kind young man fed a flock of seagulls nearby, at the edge of the Boardwalk along the sandy beach.
‘Do you need anything?’
Later I walked onto the sand to find a good vantage point for photographing another city-designated landmark, the Parachute Jump.
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, but I heard a man speaking on a cellphone as he headed up the Boardwalk.
“Do you have enough food at home? Do you need anything?” he said.
The Parachute Jump isn’t a working ride at this point in its existence. Nevertheless, it’s an icon. The distinctive silhouette of the 262-foot-tall steel tower earned it the nickname “the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn.”
The ride used to have parachutes attached to seats big enough for two people to sit on them.
Retired Navy Commander James H. Strong invented it for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in Queens. Elwyn E. Seelye & Company handled the engineering. In 1940-1941, the ride was moved to Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the Parachute Jump says.
The Mayor of Coney Island
Nearby, on Pat Auletta Steeplechase Pier, people were practicing social distancing. The folks who were fishing kept their distance from people sitting on benches soaking up the sunshine.
The pier is named for the late Pat Auletta, a member of Community Board 13 who was nicknamed “the Mayor of Coney Island,” his New York Times obituary says.
The pier took a beating during Superstorm Sandy and was closed. It reopened in October 2013 after being repaired.
Back on the Boardwalk, I noticed some people were wearing surgical masks. Couples, families and lone pedestrians all kept a respectful distance from each other.
I headed onward to take photos of the Wonder Wheel, which has provided visitors more than 35 million rides over the years.
The Wonder Wheel is a century old
They stay still while the famed Ferris wheel turns sooo slowly, and obligingly stops now and then. Riders get a bird’s eye view of the Atlantic Ocean, beach goers, other amusement park rides and a swath of southern Brooklyn.
The wheel is as tall as a 15-story building. You can see all the way to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in Bay Ridge.
For more fun-loving (meaning people who don’t have vertigo) visitors, the Wonder Wheel has cars that swing as the wheel turns.
The Wonder Wheel was designated as a city landmark in 1989. The beloved ride will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year, when the coronavirus pandemic is over and the time is right.
The shimmer wall
Further up the Boardwalk, I took a look at the murals about ocean pollution, which are painted on a New York Aquarium building.
There’s one by Brooklyn artist Danielle Mastrion that’s especially eye-catching and ominous. It depicts a fish that’s partly composed of plastic bottles.
The aquarium closed on March 16 as a COVID-19 prevention measure.
It has a new wing that opened in 2018 that houses an exhibition called “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!”
Its facade, which is covered with tiny metal tiles that move in the breeze, is called a shimmer wall. It was created by a design team from the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the aquarium, and environmental artist Ned Kahn.
Outside the new wing, people sunned themselves on benches in the Boardwalk Rock Garden. Outside the entrance to the Oceanside Grill, a guitarist belted out Bo Diddley’s song “Who Do You Love?”
The boardwalk is landmarked
The boardwalk itself is a landmark, which was designated just recently, in 2018.
The Riegelmann Boardwalk, which is its formal name, opened in 1923. It is 2.7 miles long and belongs to the City of New York. It was named for Brooklyn Borough President Edward J. Riegelmann, who spearheaded its creation.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the boardwalk has a photograph that was taken the year it opened, which you should take a look at.
When I decided to head for home, I passed the Surf Avenue location of Nathan’s, which is the home of the famous hot-dog eating contest. It was open for takeout and delivery.
Our Lady of Solace
A few people used the restaurant’s outdoor seating for picnics. One elderly couple’s table was covered with an impressive number of beer bottles.
On my way to Cropsey Avenue, I passed the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace. It’s on the corner of West 17th Street and Mermaid Avenue. The church’s name, with its suggestion of comfort being offered, was irresistible. I stepped inside for a moment.
Catholic churches throughout Brooklyn have stopped saying Masses to slow the spread of coronavirus, but on Wednesday it was still permissible to go inside them for solitary prayer. On Friday, the Diocese of Brooklyn shut its churches completely because two priests tested positive for coronavirus.
By the way, Our Lady of Solace’s website has a prayer posted on it that’s about the coronavirus outbreak. It cites Psalm 91, which in the Catholic version says God “will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague.”
Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s column on Brooklyn’s built environment. During the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll share glimpses of places I saw while practicing social distancing. Fellow New Yorkers — please do the same when you take walks.