As one of the largest and most varied metropolises of the modern world, New York City is home to some stunning and interesting architecture. But it wasn’t always that way. Were it not for the dreams of enterprising architects, many of the buildings that have become beloved to NYC would never have graced the city’s skyline. And, unfortunately, many never did. In this column, we’ll showcase a different would-be NYC architectural dream, and tell you about the history behind the New York City that never was.
Coney Island has always been known for its outrageous architecture and general atmosphere. Before it became beloved to New Yorkers and Brooklynites alike, back in the 1870s, the small peninsula was being developed as a “pleasure island” of sorts. First, there were the lavish hotels (like the Manhattan Beach, which were great, rambling, wooden things, all wrap-around porches and high, spire-like ceilings). Then came the race tracks, three of them (the Brighton Beach Racing Association, the Coney Island Jockey Club, and the Brooklyn Jockey Club) all competing for patrons, and then three celebrated restaurants, Tappan’s, Villepigue’s, and Lundy’s.
The original Manhattan Beach Hotel in the 1870s, next to its famed bathing pavilions.
By the 1880s, entrepreneurs were lining up to buy the remaining land on Coney Island. And for what? Well, for fun, of course. Hoards of architects and businessmen teamed up and raced to create the first, the biggest, the best, nay, the most spectacular entertainment institutions on the sin-swollen scrap of land. Fantastic designs like James V. Lafferty’s Elephant Hotel (a 122-foot tall, functioning hotel built in the shape of an elephant) were not uncommon.
And so it was not so giant a leap, what entrepreneur/architect Samuel Friede proposed to build in 1906: the Coney Island Globe Tower, a literal world of entertainment, sitting full and proud as a setting sun on the little peninsula’s horizon.
A conceptual sketch of the would-be Coney Island Globe Tower.
Had it ever been built, the Globe Tower would have been the largest steel structure ever erected . The 700-foot-high globe would have 11 floors, which were to be filled with restaurants, a vaudeville theater, a roller skating rink, a bowling alley, slot machines, an Aerial Hippodrome, four large circus rings, a ballroom, an observatory, and a weather observation station.
One can only imagine the difference between this 1907 headline and the headline that would have been published after it came out that the Coney Island Globe Tower project was a scam.
Needless to say, the extravagant masses of early 18th century New York City were thrilled.Public money poured into the project with claims of 100% returns on investments. After two years of almost no construction, the Globe Tower was revealed to be a grand fraud, and the second sun of Coney Island would never touch the peninsula’s riotous, gaudy shores.
Get in touch with the authors @kellitrapnell and @benjaminwaldman.