It is a place for families and funky. A destination for the rich and the regulars. A place that was shabby but always full of wonders.
Coney Island has been an escape for New Yorkers since about 1830, and the draw is clear for photographer Harvey Stein, who has been taking pictures of the Brooklyn district for decades.
"It's the people that attract me," Stein told DailyMail.com. & # 39; The environment is constantly changing. It's always inviting. There is always something new. & # 39;
Stein has been photographing his beach and promenade, rides and games, local characters and tourists since 1970. He has published two books on Coney Island, a third on the way that was delayed due to the pandemic.
"It used to be dangerous when I started there," he recalled, adding that although it has developed well and is more family-friendly, it will never be Disneyland.
Coney Island simply has something to offer. The Brooklyn beach attracted vacationers in the 1830s, and luxury hotels were soon built in the 1870s and 80s. Street photographer Harvey Stein pointed out that after the subway was built, anyone could go there. It was a popular place until after World War II, when people in the 1950s and 1960s had cars and more choices for leisure activities like television and movies. For many it has lost its appeal, said Stein. But not for him. Stein started photographing Coney Island in 1970 and hasn't stopped. Top Legs in Photo Booth, 1974. He told DailyMail.com that he wanted nothing more than to expose her legs
Stein grew up in Pittsburgh, attended Carnegie Mellon University and graduated in metallurgy. Although he didn't particularly like the field, he eventually got a job at Bethlehem Steel. To pay for college, he signed up for the army and was sent to Germany for about 20 months. Above The Hug, Closed Eyes and Smile, 1982, about which Stein said it is probably one of the most famous images in his collection. "He is so full of life." Stein indicated the parachute jump in the background. Built for the 1939 World's Fair, it was relocated to Coney Island and opened in 1941, but closed in the 1960s. It suffered for years before it became a landmark in the late 1980s and has been restored a few times
The Thunderbolt opened on Coney Island in 1925. The wooden roller coaster shown at the top right was closed in the early 1980s, but was left standing. "You didn't have the money to tear it down," Stein told DailyMail.com. Above three children and a woman in a picture called Looking at the Thunderbolt, 1990. "I love this picture because it is ambiguous," he said. According to Stein, it was an empty piece of land for about 10 years after the trip was demolished. There is now a minor league baseball stadium on the site. Stein noted that there was once a house under the roller coaster in which the owner once lived
While serving in the U.S. Army in Germany, Stein picked up a camera. The base had a dark room and he learned to develop what he shot. He came to New York City to attend graduate school with the thought that he could return to Europe. Instead, he stayed and lived mostly on the Upper West Side. Stein has photographed the Polar Bear Club and has been swimming annually on New Year's Day for years. Above, the Polar Bear Club, 1981. Stein said he hadn't posed them – they just stood there. "I like the way they are put together. It was a present. & # 39; There was a time when the promenade was below, but the city has now filled it. At some point the polar bears had their clubhouse there
While there is no consensus on how Coney Island got its name, it is clear that around the 1830s vacationers flocked to its beach. In the 1870s and 80s, luxury hotels emerged that were at times a playground for the rich.
On June 16, 1884, the country's first roller coaster – the Gravity Switchback Railway – was unveiled, according to the amusement park operator's current website.
After the subway was built, everyone could go to Coney Island, Stein explained. The beach was popular until after World War II, when people started buying cars in the 1950s and 1960s and had more choices for leisure activities like television and movies.
"It has lost its appeal," he said, adding that the trips were not being maintained. "It was going downhill."
Stein, who grew up in Pittsburgh, recalled going to Coney Island as a teenager in the late 1950s. He attended Carnegie Mellon University and graduated in metallurgy. Although he didn't particularly like the field, he continued and got a job at Bethlehem Steel. He had signed up for the army to pay for college and was then sent to Germany to serve there for about 20 months.
"I picked up a camera in Germany," he recalled. "I started teaching myself."
In the 1960s, the base had a dark room and Stein was able to develop his pictures. He fell in love with photography.
Back in the United States, Stein attended Columbia University's graduate school thinking that he would soon be back in Europe. Instead, he stayed in New York City and took a course with Ben Fernandez, a well-known photographer, while doing a full-time job. Fernandez became a mentor, advised him to buy a Leica, and told him to go to Coney Island to shoot. It was 1970.
"I've been taking pictures on Coney Island since then," he said. "This year I'm going to take photos there for the 50th time."
When he started taking pictures in 1970, Coney Island was not crowded and things fell into disrepair: it was full of peeling paint and the promenade was full of holes. It wasn't safe either. "There were gangs," he recalled.
There was a period of time when people could go under the boardwalk and people used the space to take drugs and have sex, Stein said.
In the 1970s, New York City was in a financial crisis, was in debt, and almost filed for bankruptcy. Stein pointed out that Coney Island's fortune was linked to the city's health. "If the city goes bad, Coney Island goes bad."
Coney Island was a dangerous place in the 1970s and there were gangs and drugs, Stein said. Above, Amusement Rider, 1990. Stein told DailyMail.com that he was drawn to the mural painted on the side of a scary ride. At one point there was a lot of nudity. "I wanted to show the germiness," he said. "All of that is gone – they wouldn't do that anymore." In the 1980s and 1990s, barbed wire, fences and watchdogs were used to keep people away. Many trips were closed and then left standing
The Coney Island Polar Bear Club has been swimming in the Atlantic in winter since it was founded in 1903. Stein regularly photographs the club's annual swim on January 1st. "I thought everyone was running in … but the child was running towards us," he said of the picture above, New Year's Run in the Ocean in 2009. Stein drives to Coney Island in winter to take photos and take a full portrait of the place create. "I like the isolation there – the silence of winter." As the polar bear members and others jump into the sea in swimsuits, Stein notices that he and other visitors are wearing winter coats
There have been many trips and operators in the history of Coney Island. Some legendary rides such as the Wonder Wheel, which turns 100 this year, have been marked and serviced. In May 2010, Central Amusement International Inc unveiled 19 new rides to Luna Park on Coney Island. The company that manages and operates the amusement park is owned by the Zamperla family, according to its website. Above one of these new rides in a picture called The Brooklyn Flyer in Luna Park, 2010. Stein said he wanted to capture the ride when every seat was taken. To the left is part of a ride called Astro Tower
After graduating from graduate school, Stein began full-time employment. He also took a course with Ben Fernandez, a well-known photographer. Fernandez became a mentor, advised him to buy a Leica, and told him to go to Coney Island to shoot. It was 1970. When he started taking pictures, Coney Island was not overcrowded and things were falling into disrepair: it was full of peeling paint and the promenade was full of holes. Above, The Pier from the Beach, 1970. Stein said it was a wooden pier this decade and that it has now been rebuilt and reinforced
Stein wanted to show the germiness of the spot in the 1980s and pointed to one of his pictures – Amusement Rider, 1990 – which shows a mural of a half-naked woman at the side of a trip. At one point there was a lot of nudity. "All of that is gone – they wouldn't do that anymore," he said.
But in the late 1980s, the city also marked many of Coney Island's legendary rides, such as the Wonder Wheel and Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster. In the 1980s and 1990s, barbed wire, fences and watchdogs were used to keep people away. Many trips were closed and then left standing.
In the 2000s, a developer planned a hotel resort, which led to a backlash from the community. The city eventually bought back part of the country from the contractor.
In May 2010, Central Amusement International Inc unveiled 19 new rides to Luna Park on Coney Island. The company that manages and operates the amusement park is owned by the Zamperla family, according to its website.
At the end of last year, long-standing promenade stores like Ruby's Bar and Grill feared that their rents would go so high that they would have to be closed, the Brooklyn Paper reported. Then the pandemic hit and the city was closed in March. Companies like the Wonder Wheel, which had planned celebrations to mark its 100th anniversary, are still closed.
Stein, who shot Coney Island in winter and the Polar Bear Club swims on the first day of the year, said his upcoming book without pictures would not be complete during the pandemic. He went to Coney Island with a friend in July.
"It lacked its typical energy," he said. & # 39; It was like half of what it is normally. Understandably, it wasn't the same thing – the music, the noise. & # 39;
Stein has published two books on the Brooklyn neighborhood: Coney Island, which came out in 1998, and Coney Island 40 Years, which came out in 2011. His third book, Coney Island People: 50 Years, is slated for early 2022 and has been pushed back because of the coronavirus pandemic. As a teacher at the International Center for Photography, Stein has also bought many classes in Coney Island.
"I didn't plan it," he said of his decades of photos of Coney Island. "It's like a home away from home."
"It's the people that attract me," Stein told DailyMail.com about Coney Island. & # 39; The environment is constantly changing. It's always inviting. There is always something new. & # 39; Above is a picture called Head Stand and Walkers, 1977. Stein said the Polar Bear Club would go swimming in winter. A man asked Stein if he should do a handstand and then did one. Even though it was a sunny day, Stein indicated that it was winter and cold. He said of the picture above: "It looks to me like it could be the surface of the moon."
The Wonder Wheel [left] is a symbol of Coney Island and New York City. According to the current website of the operator, the trip built in 1920 was originally called Dip-the-Dip. It will be 100 years old this year, but the festivities have been postponed due to the pandemic and the journey is currently closed. Above is a picture titled Black Hooded Man, 2009. Stein said he quickly took the picture above and captured a random moment. "Sometimes there are happy accidents," he told DailyMail.com. "I've never taken a photo like this."
Stein has been photographing New York City, including Midtown Manhattan and Harlem, for years. He said, "My approach on the street is to deal with my topic." He explained that he is trying to be about three to four feet away from his subject, which is difficult during the pandemic. Above Happy New Year Man, 2010. The man pictured wanted to take part in the annual Polar Bear Club swim. "A person like this wants attention," he said. And so Stein took his picture
Stein told DailyMail.com that he had no intention of spending nearly five decades taking photos of Coney Island. "It's like a home away from home." Stein has published two books on the Brooklyn neighborhood: Coney Island, which came out in 1998, and Coney Island 40 Years, which came out in 2011. His third book, Coney Island People: 50 Years, is slated for early 2022, a picture titled View from the Wonder Wheel, 2007. & # 39; I wanted to get a scene from above & # 39;