A gritty, beautiful, birthplace of dreams, Coney Island sits in the furthest reaches of Brooklyn on the Atlantic Ocean. Like a Siren, there is something alluring about this small ribbon of sand that has called to New Yorkers since the 1800s. In many ways the rise and fall and rise and fall of Coney Island is a story of the American Dream and the promise of the great city of New York. If you board the N train where it begins in Astoria, the bustling neighborhood in Queens that Layla and I, and Between the Sheets call home, and travel through the heart of Manhattan, across the East River on the Manhattan Bridge, through Gowanus and Sunset Park, through Fort Hamilton and Gravesend to Stillwell Avenue where the rails meet the sand, you have reached Coney Island.
Today Coney Island is an odd mix of amusements, arcades, abandoned buildings and vacant lots: home of the annual mermaid parade, a freak show, a baseball stadium, and Nathan’s Famous (home of the annual hot dog eating contest), thrown in for good measure. Still reminders of Coney’s former glory and of the American Dream pulse just beneath the surface.
Between the Sheets is connected to Coney Island in more ways than sharing opposite ends of a subway line. The magic and history of Coney Island is an embodiment of the American dream, elegant, brash, never afraid to reinvent itself in the face of change. Something we here at Between the Sheers aspire to as we’ve set out to build a thriving “made in the USA” business out of the ashes of the economic crash. The choice to set our Spring/Summer 2011 photoshoot at Coney Island was inspired by the magic of Coney’s rich history–tapping into the heart of New York and America.
An encyclopedia could be written about the history Coney Island. From upscale beach resort in the 1800’s to home of four amusement parks in the early 1900’s (at the time the largest amusement area in the United States).
Beginning after the Civil War Coney Island became a major resort destination as transportation to the beach was built and Manhattanites looked for a vacation spot within a few hours of the City. Luxurious hotels where built on the sandy beaches and millions of visitors packed Coney Island every summer.
Hotels such as the Manhattan Beach, the Oriental, and the Brighton Beach featured lavish ballrooms, hundreds of guest rooms, and were the epitome of luxury.
With the building of the railroads that would eventually become today’s subway lines millions thronged to Coney Island. As vacationing New Yorkers flocked to the beach the upscale resort quality of Coney Island transformed to one of amusements, sideshows, and entertainment for the masses. Coney Island in many ways was the birthplace of the American tradition of Amusement parks, thrill rides, and circus entertainment. Coney Island was a playland for New Yorker’s of all ages. On a hot summer day the beaches would be packed so that you could barely see the sand. Like a glittering jewel the amusement parks would light up with thousands of twinkling little lights every night.
Since its glory days in the early 20th century Coney Island has fallen on hard times. The classic beauty of the architecture, the glamour, and the spectacle have declined. All of the original resort hotels have fallen victim to time and redevelopment. The amusements, theaters, and shows that were once a jewels on the ocean have also fallen victim to the wrecking ball. The Cyclone rollercoaster and Wonderwheel are all that remain of this time. They are reminders of the faded glory and of the glamour and opulence that once defined this far-flung Brooklyn community.
The BTS photoshoot took place during another time of great transition for Coney Island. Coney’s last great amusement park, Astroland had closed, after operating since the 1960’s. 2010 saw the first season of the new Luna Park amusement park, the first new major amusement park in decades and a re-imagining of one of Coney Island’s golden era parks. A glittering vision of Vegas-style luxury hotels, bigger amusement parks, and luxury condos is now being considered for Coney. Will this return the area to a modern version of its former glory or erase what is left of the beach’s history? Only time will tell.
No matter how Coney Island is reborn the history and vintage glamour will always remain below the surface. This classic Americana was a constant inspiration while we worked to put together our photoshooot. Months after our Coney Island trip we continue to be inspired by the spirit of reinvention and larger-than-life dreams that are part of the fabric of America and Coney Island’s history. These are the values that drive and inspire us as Between the Sheets continues to grow and evolve.
click to see Between the Sheets Collection – Spring/Summer 2011 lookbook shot in Coney Island