Coney Island after Sandy: See who's back for the 2013 season

From Nathan's to the New York Aquarium, these Coney Island institutions have overcome thousands of dollars of damage to reopen in time for the warm-weather crowds.

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  • Photograph: Charles Denson

    Coney Island History Project after Sandy, water damaged murals

  • Photograph: Charles Denson

    Coney Island History Project after Sandy: High water mark on the History Project's sign

  • Photograph: Charles Denson

    Coney Island History Project after Sandy, a vintage Funny Face button grins atop ruined books and merchandise in a display case.

  • Photograph: Patrick Wall

    Coney Island USA after Sandy

  • Photograph: Patrick Wall

    Coney Island USA after Sandy

  • Photograph: Patrick Wall

    Coney Island USA after Sandy

  • Totonno's in Coney Island after Sandy

Photograph: Charles Denson

Coney Island History Project after Sandy, water damaged murals


Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of Coney Island, including the homes of many residents, while favorite haunts were forced to close for repairs. But various attractions and rides are set to welcome visitors back for the traditional opening of the pleasure strip on Palm Sunday (Mar 24), and more are not far behind. We checked in on five hard-hit places to see how they're faring, when they're reopening and what you can still do to help.

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Coney Island History Project
The damage: Severe flooding brought an influx of mud and, later, mold, which led to the loss of artifacts such as vintage photos and antique cameras, merchandise including T-shirts and books, and the pricey electronic equipment used for oral-history interviews.
The cleanup: A sizable recovery effort—that included treating and restoring almost-ruined photos and ripping out the walls of the recording studio to replace the electrical wiring and insulation—was aided by volunteers, including an opera set designer who traveled from Washington Heights to help with repainting. There were plenty of donations as well, including display cases courtesy of the owners of Deno's Wonder Wheel.
Where are they now? The project's gallery space will partially reopen on Palm Sunday, with exhibits about the storm itself and a nearby creek that was the cause of most of the flooding, plus a preview of the coming season. "The opening is symbolic, to show the resiliency of Coney Island in the face of fires and storms and urban renewal," says executive director Charles Denson. "It just snaps back." In a way, Denson adds, Sandy created one more chapter in the neighborhood's history for the project to record. The project's antique cameras are now "twice as historic," Denson notes, since they've been through the storm, and he has already spearheaded an effort to take down storm survival stories from neighbors, and encourages others to share their experiences via their website (coneyislandhistory.org) or in person at the society.
How you can help: Volunteers are still needed for some of the legwork—including photo and mural restoration, and painting floors—before the History Project opens for good for the season on Memorial Day weekend. One more way to help: "Come visit," Denson implores. "There's an impression that Coney Island is destroyed and the boardwalk is gone. It's good if the word gets out that everything will be open and did recover."

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Coney Island USA
The damage: The nonprofit was hit hard by Sandy. It had to postpone annual events Noisefest and the Congress for Curious Peoples until the fall because of the damages, which totaled $405,000. The ground-floor areas, which contained a theater, backstage sections, a bar, a gift shop and an ice-cream parlor in the recently purchased building next door, were completely wiped out, plus they lost their pickup truck, according to executive artistic director Dick Zigun.
The cleanup: What proved heartwarming, though, were the hordes that turned out to help. "Armies of people showed up, not just for us but all over Coney Island for weeks, and a lot of what we did was accomplished with volunteer labor," Zigun says. "We really felt the love, with people dropping off donations—a synagogue in Pennsylvania sending a tractor-trailer truck full of supplies, [which was] pretty amazing, and the Red Cross trucks feeding us."
Where are they now? The landmarked 96-year-old main building won't be all fixed up till Memorial Day, but Zigun has plans to install a vintage shooting game that dates back to the 1940s in the storefront of the erstwhile ice-cream parlor.
How you can help: Coney Island USA accepts donations at coneyisland.com, which also contains an Amazon wish list; items range from $20 work gloves to $500 for sound equipment. Or interested folks can volunteer based on their skill set—carpenters are especially needed over the next few months; check the site for updated info.

Totonno's
The damage: It's been a rough few years for the 89-year-old family-run pizzeria. In 2009, an ember from the pizza oven sparked a fire, and it took 11 months to repair that damage. Less then two years after it reopened, Sandy brought four feet of water into the restaurant, ruining everything except a few salvageable pieces of antique furniture, some photographs and the new brick oven.
The cleanup: The generosity of strangers in the hospitality industry—which included checks from a restaurant in Chicago, another in San Francisco and a third from one in Soho—shocked and touched the owners. Mold removal and refurnishing has taken five months. "We tried to get everything put back the way it was," says Louise Ciminieri, who co-owns Totonno's with her brother and sister. "Only the paint and floor colors are different now."
Where are they now? The pizzeria aims to start selling slices on Palm Sunday, too, but there's still last-minute work to complete (call 718-372-8606 before you set out for updates). Ciminieri and her siblings hope to have a ribbon-cutting later in the spring. For her part, Ciminieri just wants to stop turning potential customers away at the door. "They keep on coming—they're coming from all over the country, and it's very sad," she says. "It's not just for the money. I want people to have the pizza."

New York Aquarium
The damage: The tidal surge flooded the entire 14-acre complex; most of the maintenance systems failed, from heating and air-conditioning to electricity and the equipment that keeps the aquatic environments of the animals in equilibrium. Luckily, only a few fish and invertebrates fell victim.
The cleanup: As soon it was safe to return, staff members and veterinarians rushed back to care for the animals. Floor water was pumped out of basements and areas with crucial machinery were targeted first. Generator power was restored by November 3, and thanks to round-the-clock work, it wasn't necessary to relocate any animals.
Where are they now? After a recovery estimated to cost a mind-boggling $65 million, the Wildlife Conservation Society–run aquarium is planning to reopen in late spring, with some of its exhibits, outdoor spaces and a revamped sea-lion demonstration. After all of the sections are back in business, the planned expansion of Ocean Wonders: Sharks! will resume.
How you can help: Visit nyaquarium.com/sandy to find out how to thank the aquarium staff via social media for saving the animals.

Nathan's Famous
The damage: Sandy left the one-square-block original location swamped under almost six feet of water, and rendered most areas of the restaurant useless, damaging the cooking and refrigeration equipment, the electrical system and some walls. President and chief operating officer Wayne Norbitz described the scene that confronted him the day after the storm: "I saw something that was quite surrealistic," he recalls, "I saw this huge ice machine—it could be 12 feet high by eight feet. I saw it floating in the middle of the store. It was just an incredible situation." 
The cleanup: Recovery work has been slow for the iconic shop, that's been open for business at its Surf Avenue location since 1916 and didn't close for a single day until the hurricane hit, according to Norbitz. It's trying to re-create the look of the old locale with a few cosmetic changes, such as an altered color scheme and revised menu boards.
Where are they now? Norbitz estimates that the badly damaged location will open its doors before Memorial Day in May with great fanfare—or at least a huge party. In the meantime, those heading out to Coney Island for opening weekend can visit the location on the Coney Island boardwalk (W 12th St at Boardwalk West), which sustained damage only to its basement. On March 23, the boardwalk concession hosts the local preliminary round of the hot-dog–eating contest, deciding which speedy wolfers will go on to the main event later this summer. The big July 4 competition is on, Norbitz adds, as otherwise "a thousand people would hunt me down" to get their spectating fix.
How you can help: By scarfing down a Joey Chestnut–worthy amount of dogs.

Coney Island in photographs

  • Photograph: Flickr via SmileyReilly

    More than 106,120 New Yorkers call Coney Island home year-round, but upwards of 11 million visitors descend on the area's three miles of beach during the summer season (Memorial Day through Labor Day). Every Friday at 9:30pm through Aug 31, stake out your spot early to get a prime seat for the free fireworks display that lights up the sky between West 10th and West 15th Streets.

  • Photograph: Flickr via emilydickinsonridesabmx

    In its early days, the Coney Island boardwalk was rife with boxing matches, gambling dens and brothels. These days you’re more likely to see out-of-towners, local beachgoers and novice fishermen casting their lines off the pier.

  • Photograph: Flickr via Doug McNeall

    Designed by Vernan Keenan and built by Harry C. Baker with a $175,000 initial investment, the Cyclone roller coaster debuted on June 26, 1927. The wooden ride comprises six loops and 12 steep drops. In 1991, it earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Photograph: Flickr via Barry Yanowitz

    The now-legendary Cyclone stretches 2,640 feet and reaches speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. From start to finish, the ride takes only one minute and 50 seconds to complete.

  • Photograph: Flickr via mollybob

    Deno’s Wonder Wheel first spun in 1920. The only time service was ever interrupted was in July 1977, during that year’s infamous citywide blackout. Workers hand-cranked the wheel to keep the wheel going and bring people down safely.

  • Photograph: Flickr via edenpictures

    Luna Park opened on May 28, 2010, launching with 19 rides, 10 games (plus an arcade) and 11 food kiosks. See more photos from Luna Park

  • Photograph: Flickr via Paul Lowry

    During its first open season, Luna Park had 450,000 visitors, who took more than 1.7 million rides on the facility’s attractions. See more photos of Luna Park

  • Photograph: Flickr via Loozrboy

    The Scream Zone is one of the biggest draws in the relaunched park. Among the six thrill rides is Soarin’ Eagle, a flying coaster that suspends adrenaline junkies in harnesses before sending them through barrel rolls and loops at roughly 26 miles an hour.

  • Photograph: Flickr via Tony Fischer Photography

    Nathan’s Famous started out as a simple boardwalk hot-dog stand in 1916. Over the past 90-plus years, the business spawned a full chain of frankfurter-slinging fast-food joints, including Nathan’s original brick-and-mortar location on the Coney Island boardwalk.

  • Photograph: Flickr via Librarygroover

    Though we like Nathan’s signature beef hot dogs adorned with a simple squirt of ketchup or mustard, we won’t deny that the wieners are also mighty tasty when topped with chili, cheddar cheese, onions or sauerkraut. Don’t skimp on the meal—order a side of crinkle-cut french fries too.

  • Photograph: Flickr via w00kie

    The annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest occurs every Fourth of July just off the Coney Island boardwalk. The enormous Wall of Fame chronicles each year’s winners, displays the current record and counts down until the next competition. See more photos from the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest

  • Photograph: Flickr via Hello Turkey Toe

    Competitive eater Joey Chestnut reigns as the current men’s record-holder in the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. His hoovering achievement stands at 68 frankfurters and buns. See more photos from the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest

  • Photograph: Flickr via Bob Jagendorf

    Another annual Coney Island tradition, the Mermaid Parade takes place every June and provides both adults and kids with an excuse to outfit themselves in flamboyant, sea-inspired costumes—though many aren’t as wholesome as these folks’ attire. See more photos from the Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Flickr via benswing

    This duo seems to have channeled Jaws for its Mermaid Parade inspiration. A real shark hasn't been spotted close to Coney Island's shore since the 2007 (don't freak out—it was just a baby), but horseshoe crabs are regular visitors. The prehistoric-looking crustaceans lay eggs and hatch their young on the shore every May and June. See more photos from the Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Flickr via Bob Jagendorf

    A metallic vixen embodies the namesake fictional creature. See more photos from the Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Flickr via Michael Alexander

    Another offbeat Coney Island event is the annual Beard and Moustache Competition, held in September, which pits bewhiskered folks against each other in such categories as Best Moustache, Best Beard, Best Sideburns, Best and Worst in Show and—for ladies and hairless dudes—Best Fake. See more photos from the Beard and Moustache Competition

  • Photograph: Flickr via Norman Blake

    History buffs can learn more about the area’s storied past at the Coney Island Museum (1208 Surf Ave at 12th St, Coney Island, Brooklyn; 718-372-5159, coneyisland.com). The institution’s newest attraction, a wraparound painting called Cosmorama of the Great Dreamland Fire, depicts the Dreamland amusement park as it appeared before it was destroyed in 1911. The installation conveys the tale of the great fire that decimated the park in a single night through a 360-degree narration, complete with light and sound effects.

  • Photograph: Flickr via Norman Blake

    Even if you’re not inked or riding a chopper, the annual Tattoo and Motorcycle Show offers plenty to admire every September. You can peep custom, stock and vintage cycles, plus a full spectrum of permanent-ink art, from detailed black-and-white portraits to intricate floral motifs that cover the entire upper body. See more photos from the Tattoo and Motorcycle Show

  • Photograph: Flickr via Charity de Meer

    Noisefest, a boisterous celebration of Coney Island’s culture and spirit, heralds the beginning of the season each April. See more photos from Noisefest

  • Photograph: Flickr via Phyllis B. Dooney

    Beachgoers erect grand castles, friendly sea creatures and a wide range of other objects inspired by the Coney Island shoreline during the annual Sand Sculpting Contest in July. See more photos from the Sand Sculpting Contest

  • Party fiends can plan their excursion to Coney Island to coincide with one of the free themed parties that occur throughout the summer season: The Reggae Beach Party features Jamaican-inspired tunes, while the Coney Island Dancers’ Boardwalk Party caters to disco and soulful house crowds.

Photograph: Flickr via SmileyReilly

More than 106,120 New Yorkers call Coney Island home year-round, but upwards of 11 million visitors descend on the area's three miles of beach during the summer season (Memorial Day through Labor Day). Every Friday at 9:30pm through Aug 31, stake out your spot early to get a prime seat for the free fireworks display that lights up the sky between West 10th and West 15th Streets.


Users say

1 comments
Barry Anthony Wiseman
Barry Anthony Wiseman

You Tried The Rest,Now Come To Nathan's Famous For The Best Hot Dogs & French Fries ! I Went There After Flying Into Newark Liberty Airport,With My Mom, At 7 AM, For Hot Dogs & French Fries For Breakfast ! Still The Best !