Coney Island - Abandoned Playland

January 31, 2011 -

There are few places in New York City as depressing and inspirational as Coney Island in the off season. Freezing winds whip up from the Atlantic Ocean, driving snow across the empty beaches and boardwalk. A handful of pedestrians brave the elements, hunkered down into fur parkas in a scene more reminiscent of a frozen Siberian outpost. Nearly every business in Coney Island's amusement district closes for the winter season, shutters pulled down over arcades, bars and seafood shacks. Even the homeless camps under the boardwalk are vacated.

This year, Coney Island's off season has been particularly harsh. Many well-known businesses are not expected to reopen in the summer. Cha Cha's and Ruby's have served their last drinks and have, in turn, been served with eviction papers. Demolition crews are busy tearing down landmarks like the Bank of Coney Island. And in December 2010, Shoot The Freak was destroyed in a surprise attack by its landlord. “They came like thieves in the night,” the booth's owner told The Brooklyn Paper. “Those little sneaks emptied out the place and there is nothing left, except for the Shoot the Freak sign.” The cyclical nature of destruction and rebirth in Coney Island is currently in a valley of annihilation, as the city moves towards a sanitized version of the boardwalk.

Perhaps the best remaining symbol of how Coney Island's colorful past is being left behind is the Playland Arcade. Built in 1935, it "evolved from a Silver's Penny Arcade and remained open year-round until 1981," according to Forgotten New York. The arcade once faced the legendary Thunderbolt roller coaster, which was famed for the 1895 hotel located beneath its tracks. The Thunderbolt and the Kensington Hotel were torn down in November 2000, during another off season "surprise attack," according to The Journal of New York Folklore, demolished by the city to make way for "waterfront development plans for a new, more profitable Coney Island."

Thunderbolt and Kensington Hotel (2000)

Today, the Playland Arcade faces a broad empty field and has been abandoned for many years. Inside the arcade, an army of raccoons and cats has taken over. If not for the freezing winter weather, the stench of their urine would be overwhelming. Hundreds of empty cat food containers litter the floor. Large sections of ceiling have come down, allowing rain and snow to rot the interior. Collapsing walls are propped up by police barricades. Trees grow in the squalor.

Lining the walls of this forlorn structure is an impressive artifact from Coney Island's history, in the form of dozens of hand painted murals. Though badly deteriorated, there are many colorful scenes remaining. Presented almost as panels in a comic book, these are portraits of a different Coney Island era, long past. Strip poker, naked hunting, shotgun weddings, Sasquatch, moonshine, skeeball, mermaids and cartoonish gun violence. This is Coney Island's lost soul, a forgotten and crumbling old arcade full of cat piss, ruinous decay and dark carnival whimsy.

For other photo essays from Coney Island's off-season, visit The Freak's Domain (2008) and Under The Boardwalk (2009).

Inside Playland

Playland of the Mind


Naked Hunting

Dark Murals


Disco Ball

Carnival Prize

Rules of the Game

"Be Happy, Stay and Have Fun"

Strip Poker

Arcade Tree

Cat Food

"More Fun"

The Playland Arcade

Sunset Park: 68th Police Precinct

January 25, 2011 -

A ruined 19th century police station looms over the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park. Facing the busy traffic of 4th avenue, its windows are tightly boarded up and its facade is wrapped in protective scaffolding. Abandoned since the 1970's, this is the "68th Police Precinct Station House and Stable," according to a NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission report, "a handsome and imposing civic ensemble" designed in 1886 by Emile Gruwe, who created a "powerfully massed Romanesque Revival" building with Venetian elements and Byzantine influences. The building opened on March 8th, 1892, according to the NY Times, and served as "the castlelike stationhouse of the old 18th Police Precinct" of the Brooklyn Department of Police. On opening day, the Brooklyn Police Commissioner stated "a man about to commit a crime would stand appalled at the sight of a stationhouse such as this."

Today the station house is in poor condition. Its exterior still retains many evocative architectural elements, however the interior has been almost completely destroyed by fire and decay. Snow sifts through large holes in the roof. The upper floors have collapsed, while lower floors are missing, warped or dangerously unstable. Feral cats and pigeons roam the hollow space. A squatter's mattress rots in a dark corner. In several pitch-black back rooms, sealed off from the sunlight, hundreds of handprints climb the walls.

When landmarked in 1983, the station house and stables had already "been vacant since the mid-197os," according to the NYC Landmarks Commission, and a 1980 fire had gutted much of the precinct building's interior. Shortly after receiving landmark status, the buildings were sold to the Sunset Park School of Music for $15,000, according to the NY Times, and in 1988, the music school received a $67,500 grant "for exterior restoration and interior renovation... for offices, teaching and performance space," according to the NY Times. More then 20 years later, there are few signs of progress on this renovation. Instead, a stop work order has been placed on the property for a variety of safety violations, and the station house has been placed on the New York Landmarks Conservancy list of "at risk" historic structures that are deteriorated and endangered. Without prompt attention, this neglected landmark may soon crumble away and vanish, despite being within plain view of thousands of daily passersby.

For more photo essays from Brooklyn's Sunset Park please visit Bush Terminal (2007), the Brooklyn Army Terminal (2008), the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (2009), Empire Electric (2009) and S & S Machinery (2010).

Pigeon Entrance

Arch Entrance

Stable Arch

In the Stables

Brick and Desk

Door and Mattress

Sports Clinic

2nd Floor Collapse

Interior Ruin

Collapsed Arch