Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Blast From The Past - The Coney Island Thunderbolt

In 1924 George Moran commissioned John Miller to design and build an 86 foot tall wooden roller coaster over the top of part of the Kensington Hotel located in the heart of New York's Coney Island. Some of the support beams for the Thunderbolt were actually driven through the hotel's structure.

The hotel belonged to George Moran and later his son Fred, the family converted it into their home and lived there for more than 40 years, with the coaster rattling their living room with every ride. The building was featured in the 1977 Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall and last occupied by May Timpano, who live there until a fire in the mid 80's.

The Thunderbolt operated from 1925 to 1982, slowly rotting away until November 17th 2000 when one of Coney Island's few remaining monuments was bulldozed at 6AM. It was rumored the demolition was scheduled during the early morning hours, so that a community supporters of the structure were unable to get proposals for the structure's landmark status processed.

It was said the Thunderbolt was demolished because the structure was unsafe, even though it was completely surrounded by a fence. The roller coaster & land were owned by Horace Bullard, in fact he still owns the land and it's for sale. Speculation was Mayor Giuliani ordered the demolition because he and the owners of the Brooklyn Cyclones, whose new stadium was next to the Thunderbolt, thought the coaster was an eyesore. The stadium was to be the beginning of revitalization efforts in Coney and a pet project of Mayor Giuliani.

While the Thunderbolt was way beyond repair after 18 years of neglect, it sad that such a historical piece of Coney Island met such a shady demise. It was the first classic coaster that I saw, in person, in an unrideable state. I was fascinated by it and wished I would have had the opportunity to experience a ride on the Thunderbolt.