Jews in Coney Island: A History

From the fashionable to the freak-show.

Print this page Print this page

The Island Itself

The history of Coney Island is directly tied to the New York real estate market. Because of its popularity, its entertainment industry, and potential profits associated with both, private and public interests have competed for over a century to control its ownership and development.

Some prominent Jews have been involved--somewhat controversially--in the urban development of Coney Island. Starting in the 1930s, and continuing through the 1950s, Robert Moses--the master urban planner of New York City--undertook to improve and reform Coney Island, to diminish the tawdry aspects of its entertainment, and to expand public housing there. Moses did bring some good results to the neighborhood, such as expanding the beach, and making it cleaner and safer. But his ill-advised demolition of Coney Island's West End and replacement with high-rise public housing led to further decline.

In the 1990s Brooklyn-born Joseph Sitt, the private real estate developer of Thor Enterprises, quietly bought up large parcels of Coney Island and created plans to develop it into a big Las Vegas-style destination. Opposing camps included the city planning commission and local community activists, trying to hold onto Coney Island's unique historical flavor. By the end of July 2009, the New York City council approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plans to redevelop Coney Island, in negotiation with Sitt, and new plans are being made to create more high-priced entertainment and luxury housing and hotels. With activists continuing to protest these plans, it seems the future of Coney Island may be unpredictable as its past.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Ilana Abramovitch

Dr. Ilana Abramovitch was formerly the manager of curriculum at the Museum of Jewish Heritage--A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. She is a writer, ethnographer, educator and co-editor of Jews of Brooklyn (Brandeis University Press, 2002).