We missed our city while we’ve been sheltering at home: we missed all the different neighborhoods, cuisines, languages and histories of the five boroughs. We’re starting to peek out the door a bit, we still can’t experience our city in full. So we’re going to take our followers on a tour of 10 NYC neighborhoods where we’ve built. We’ll feature our projects, the history and culture of the neighborhood, and some fun facts along the way.
Coney Island, Brooklyn
Let’s take a trip to the very spot where New Yorkers have celebrated summer for more than a century – Coney Island!
Despite its name, Coney Island is not actually an island…. anymore! The area was disconnected from the mainland of Long Island until the 1920’s and 30’s, when the City filled in Coney Island Creek with landfill from construction projects. (Coney Peninsula doesn’t have as nice as a ring to it, we suppose.)
The original inhabitants of Coney Island were the Lenape people, who called the area Narrioch. Though it’s not certain, the word ‘Coney’ could have come from the old Dutch word for rabbit, as wild rabbits were prevalent on the island. For centuries, Coney Island was quiet, remote farmland with few settlers. Development was slow to come to Coney Island, though the first hotel was built there in 1829. The area was so remote, that it was the perfect location to sit and write. Just like Herman Melville did when he wrote Moby Dick, which he did on the island!
Once the railroad reached Coney Island in the years after the Civil War, the area became dotted with seaside resorts and amusements, offering fresh salty air and entertainment to New Yorkers and visitors alike. Soon, the neighborhood became the largest amusement area in the country, hosting millions of visitors a year!
The three most famous amusement parks in Coney Island at the turn of the 20th century were Steeplechase Park, Dreamland and Luna Park. The parks jostled for visitors – always trying to out-do the other. They featured the newest technologies – electric lights, roller coasters, carousels, even displaying premature babies in incubators! The Cyclone roller coaster and the Wonder Wheel Ferris Wheel were just some of the thrilling attractions for visitors.
Enterprising New Yorkers founded many small businesses to cater to the visitors, including Nathan Handwerker, a Polish immigrant who, along with his wife Ida, borrowed $300 to open a hotdog stand that you may have heard of…
Other attractions on the Island included aquariums, the first of which opened in the 1870’s. Coney Island is also home to today’s New York Aquarium.
Unfortunately, the years after the Second World War saw a tremendous decrease in visitors to the Coney Island amusement area, which lead to disinvestment in the neighborhood. By 1966, each of the big three amusement parks had been destroyed or demolished.
At the same time, new residential housing in the neighborhood boomed. Thousands of families moved into newly-built middle-income co-ops that continue to provide strength and stability for the community. Various plans to ‘revitalize’ the community between the 1960’s and 2000’s started and stopped, bringing new housing, new businesses and new amusements.
Then in October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy, the most powerful storm to hit NYC in 300 years, slammed into coastal Brooklyn, bringing wind, flooding and devastation. A nearly 14-foot storm tide broke across the Coney Island boardwalk, and the peninsula was flooded from three sides. The storm destroyed homes and businesses, and badly damaged the beaches, the boardwalk, the amusement parks and other attractions in the area, and left residents without heat, power or hot water, and forced them to eat seawater-tainted food.
Habitat NYC jumped into action. We launched CHR to get homeowners back up on their feet, and after completing 36 Sandy-related home repair projects in Staten Island, we broadened our reach to help affected families in Coney Island as well. “Habitat for Humanity gave me back my way of life. They gave me back my home, which in turn gave me back the feeling of security that I had lost. Their assurance of putting my Sandy-damaged house back into living condition finally gave me a feeling of relief that I hadn’t had for many months,” said Mildred Davis, owner of the first Coney Island home we repaired. See more of Mildred’s story.
But we didn’t work alone – volunteers from Avalon Bay, Alger, Goldman Sachs, Google, Orion Holdings, Ralph Lauren, VOYA, ConEdison and more stood with us, mucking out basements, gut-renovating homes and more. Members of the Marines, Navy and Coast Guard also joined us for Fleet Week NYC in Coney Island!
Our work in Coney Island includes more than just disaster recovery – our A Brush with Kindness team, with help from JPMorgan, Oz Real Estate, Paradigm Talent Agency and Related Fund Management, gave the NYCHA Gravesend Child Care Center a fun, pirate-themed makeover! Arggh!
Coney Island is a celebration of summer, we can’t forget that most summery of past times – baseball! Last year, Habitat Homebuyer Kaddisha and her family threw out the first pitch at the Brooklyn Cyclones game! Another Coney Island summer tradition is the famous Mermaid Parade. This year, the Parade was virtual!