What Coney Island looked like at the Turn of the 20th Century

The early 20th century marked a transformative era for Coney Island, elevating it from a local leisure spot to a national treasure. Situated on the southernmost tip of Brooklyn, this iconic locale provided a unique blend of exhilarating attractions, quintessentially American fare, and unparalleled ocean vistas. The years surrounding the turn of the century witnessed a surge of innovations and investments that shaped the Coney Island we know today. Join us as we explore the developments that defined Coney Island in the early 1900s.

Luna Park: A Luminous Wonderland

At the dawn of the 20th century, Luna Park opened its gates to the public in 1903, forever changing the amusement park landscape. Designed by Frederic Thompson and Elmer “Skip” Dundy, the creators behind the infamous Trip to the Moon attraction, Luna Park dazzled visitors with its electrically lit architecture and grand attractions. These included the Dragon’s Gorge and the Helter-Skelter slide, both marvels of early 20th-century engineering. With over 250,000 electric lights illuminating the park, Luna Park was often described as an electric Eden, capturing the limitless optimism of the new century.

Nathan’s Famous: The Hot Dog Ascends

While Charles Feltman is credited with introducing the hot dog to Coney Island in the late 19th century, it was Nathan Handwerker who popularized it in the 20th. Opening Nathan’s Famous in 1916, Handwerker revolutionized the culinary scene by offering high-quality frankfurters at just 5 cents each. This iconic establishment quickly gained fame, making the hot dog synonymous with Coney Island. The annual hot dog eating contest, which started in the early 20th century, further embedded Nathan’s—and the hot dog—into Coney Island’s cultural tapestry.

Dreamland: The Illustrious Yet Ill-Fated Amusement Park

Another significant addition to Coney Island’s entertainment sphere was Dreamland, which debuted in 1904. Aimed to be more upscale and refined than its competitors, the park featured ambitious attractions like Venetian canals and a miniature railroad. However, its life was short-lived. In 1911, a massive fire engulfed Dreamland, reducing it to ashes and marking the end of an ambitious chapter in Coney Island’s history. The park’s tragic demise became a poignant reminder of the transience of human endeavors, even in an age of unprecedented optimism and progress.

The Role of Subway Expansion

Subway expansion played an instrumental role in democratizing access to Coney Island. The completion of the subway link in 1920 made the trip from Manhattan to Coney Island faster and more affordable than ever. Now, for a single nickel, visitors could effortlessly escape the confines of urban life and bask in the seaside glory that Coney Island offered. The subway system effectively blurred the lines between classes, making the beach and the amusements accessible to all New Yorkers.

#1 Feltman’s Sign and Ziz Roller Coaster at W 10th & Surf Ave, 1900s

#2 BRT Railway Depot and Potter’s Candy House, 1900s

#3 Riccadonna Hotel at Ocean Parkway & Sea Breeze Ave, 1900s

#7 Barker Inviting Crowd to “Original Turkish Harem,” Circa 1900

#9 The Bowery Created by George C. Tilyou, Early 1900s

#10 Manhattan Beach Hotel View Over Star-Shaped Plantings, 1900s

#14 Fun Time for Young Men and Woman at Beach, Circa 1900

#25 Watching the ‘Shooting the Chutes’ Ride, 1903

#30 Bathers Enjoying the Ocean at Coney Island Beach, 1903

#31 Luna Park Illuminated at Night, Between 1903 and 1906

#34 Firemen Extinguishing a Fire in Coney Island, 1903

#36 Dreamland Amusement Park View from Shoot the Chutes, 1904

#37 Crowd Leading to the Circle Swing at Luna Park, 1904

#38 Men Delivering Wet Goods to Coney Island Amusement Park, 1904

#39 Smallest Locomotive Carrying Passengers in Dreamland, 1904

#40 Women Sharing a Bench in Surf at Coney Island, 1904

#41 Bathers Playing in the Surf at Coney Island, 1904

#43 Pedestrians and Funhouses Along the Bowery, Mid-1900s

#61 Entrance to Luna Park in Coney Island, Circa 1905

#63 Three Friends on the Beach at Coney Island, Circa 1905

#64 Surf Avenue Bustling with Shops and Tourists, Circa 1905

#65 Surf Avenue Packed with Revelers and Horse-Drawn Carriages, Circa 1905

#66 Luna Park’s Bridge of Laughs Attraction, Circa 1905

#68 Whirl of the Whirl Amusement Ride at Luna Park, Early 20th Century

#74 Crowd of Bathers Enjoying Coney Island Beach, 1905

#75 Overhead View of Coney Island Amusement Parks, 1900s

#84 Daytime View of Dreamland Amusement Park, July 10

#87 Loop-the-Loop Ride in Brooklyn, Early 20th Century

#88 Balmer’s Bathing Pavilion in Brooklyn, Early 20th Century

#89 Oceanic Hotel on Neptune Avenue, Early 20th Century

#90 Crowd of Beachgoers at Coney Island, Early 20th Century

#93 Luna Park with Attractions: Burning of the Prairie Bell and the Man Hunt, 1908

#96 Luna Park Highlights: Camera Obscura, Miniature Railroad, Red Mill, and Tickler, 1908

#99 High-Angle View of Surf Avenue with Entrance to Steeple Chase Park, 1909

#103 Over-Dressed Revelers at Coney Island Beach, Early 1910s

#104 Beachgoers at Coney Island Beach with Manhattan Hotel in Distance, Early 1910s

#105 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, Street Scene, May 1954

#106 Child with Tuberculosis Seated Outdoors at Sea Breeze Hospital, Early 1900s

#107 White World Amusement at Coney Island, Circa 1900

#108 Submarine Boat Building at Coney Island, Circa 1900

#109 Young Women Eating Lunch on Coney Island Beach, Circa 1900

#111 People Enjoying Ocean Beach at Coney Island, Circa 1900

#114 Cowboys Playing Wild West Polo on Horses at Coney Island, Circa 1900

#115 Sterilizable Bathing Suits at Coney Island Beach, Circa 1900

#116 Waterslide Enthusiast at Coney Island Amusement Park, Circa 1900

#117 Preacher Exhorts Crowds Amid Revelry at Coney Island, Circa 1900

#118 Cars Carry Mallet-Wielding Competitors in Polo Game, Circa 1900

#120 Throngs at Coney Island Amusement Park, Circa 1900

#124 Crowds Relaxing on Coney Island Beach, Circa 1900

Written by Adriana Palmer

Blogger, Editor and Environmentalist. A writer by day and an enthusiastic reader by night. Following the Jim Roh's prophecy “Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.”

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