Astroland’s Rocket Is Set for Re-entry
After the Astroland Park rocket in Coney Island was dismantled this month, its fate seemed up in the air. But the city announced on Wednesday that it had found a landing place for the beloved rocket — and it is, um, Coney Island.
Several weeks ago, the rocket was removed from its familiar perch atop a Boardwalk food stand. That caused an uproar among Coney Island enthusiasts over what would become of the rocket, which after the park opened in 1962 became as much a symbol of Coney Island as Nathan’s and the parachute jump.
But on Wednesday, city officials announced that the Albert family, who owned Astroland, which closed last year and was sold to developers as part of a large Coney Island construction project, had donated the rocket to the city, which will include it as a centerpiece in the new development.
The redevelopment plan for Coney Island has been a sensitive subject for many people who fear that change will sanitize Coney Island, and the importance of the rocket as a symbol was not lost on city officials, who put out a press release Wednesday calling the rocket in a headline “a Symbol of the City’s Commitment to the Redevelopment of the Storied Amusement Destination,” and said it would relocate the rocket to “Coney Island’s New Amusement and Entertainment District.”
The release quotes Robert C. Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development, as saying: “Coney Island is the people’s playground, and the Astroland rocket is its symbol of the adventure, discovery and fun that have brought New Yorkers here for years.”
“As we move forward and put in place a redevelopment and revitalization plan that will create an even better future for Coney Island’s amusement district, we want to preserve, and enhance, her past, and I am pleased to say that the rocket will continue to be part of Coney Island for generations to come,” Mr. Lieber said in the release.
And Seth W. Pinsky, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, called the rocket “a quintessential part of Coney Island’s history that serves as a unifying link between its fabled past and its future as a year-round entertainment destination.”
The 71-foot-long, 12,000-pound rocket, which was taken down from atop Gregory & Paul’s food stand, is currently in storage on Staten Island and will become a permanent and iconic part of the 27-acre redeveloped amusement district in Coney Island, city officials said.
Originally opened as the Star Flyer, the aluminum tube seated 26 riders for a three-minute simulated blastoff, courtesy of a hydraulic lift, and a film that simulated space travel. In recent years, it served as a prop advertising Astroland. The release includes numerous other quotations from elected officials who waste no opportunity to use space travel symbolism in promising that the city’s preservation of the rocket is a sign that revitalized Coney will incorporate the best elements of good old Coney.
The rocket would be on display in the 27-acre Boardwalk amusement park that the city plans to build, a project that is paired with a 19-block redevelopment project to create hotels, restaurants and retail space, as well as thousands of apartments, to expand the area’s use as a year-round destination.
Whereas the rocket had been mounted atop the snack bar for years, it may be displayed in a way that allow visitors to get a much closer look.
“We’re looking into all the options for making it accessible to the public,” a city official said.
Reached Wednesday by phone, Dick Zigun, founder of Coney Island USA, said he felt the city’s decision to preserve the rocket was a gesture of good faith. “We still disagree with the city about aspects of the plan,” he said, “but this is a happy day because the rocket is worth saving — it represents the naming of the park and the optimism of the country back in 1962.”
But Mr. Zigun, who resigned last June as director of the Coney Island Development Corporation in protest of aspects of the city’s plan, said he would continue to fight against parts of the plan, including rezoning that he says threatens Nathan’s, and the planned location of three large hotels near the Boardwalk and the Wonder Wheel.
“We’re still adamant that the new Coney Island should be a mix of the historic old Coney Island and the best of the new,” Mr. Zigun said, “or else you homogenize, suburbanize and standardize.”
By Corey Kilgannon
New York Times