Day Eighty-Five: Back to Coney Island for the Annual Sandcastle Building Contest and Walking Surf Avenue August 19, 2017

I had a busy day running around Newark and then Brooklyn visiting both the Newark Museum and Coney Island. I love how everything gets planned on the same day. Everyone is preparing for the Solar Eclipse on Monday, so both the Newark Museum and the American Museum of Natural History are getting ready for the viewings. So I stopped at the Newark Museum first today to see what they were planning knowing that New York was going to be very busy.

The Newark Museum is running a series of members mornings with a early morning tour of the museum and a light breakfast that seems to be catching on with the membership. We had a early morning tour of the kinetic sculpture of Uram Choe, a Korean artist who specializes in metal working sculptures that move on motion. His one piece upstairs in the Asian galleries opens up like the sun would in the morning and his downstairs on the second floor piece is a serpent eating itself, which is based on an old legend.

Mr. Choe’s is from an architect background and each piece moves on a series of motors based on motion. Every piece is placed with such detail and the way it moves is so intricate. The Newark Museum (See TripAdvisor review) is going though a major renovation where they will be opening the original entrance to the museum in the Fall after twenty years and hopefully a new beginning for a museum with a major identity crisis.

The museum has such amazing works to see in a beautiful setting but the problem is that Newark still has a negative  image to most suburbanites. No one I know wants to go there and that is a real problem for the city.  The museum in a great area of the downtown that is being rebuilt and refigured with all sorts of new housing and lofts but it will take time to shake the riots of the 60’s from peoples minds.

They just opened the new American Indian exhibition and refigured the American Art wing to reflect the development of the United States from Native American time to the present. Their Asian and African galleries are very detailed but the biggest problem they have is the imagine of an ‘African’ museum which they can’t seem to shake. It is such a gem and try not to miss going there.

We had a long talk in the gallery about the artist and about the development of Korean Art from Ancient times until today and then the museum had a beautiful Continental breakfast on the top floor of the Ballentine House. This was Mrs. Ballentine’s daughter’s section of the house that was built in the late 1890’s when they moved in after her husband’s death. The room, now used as the trustees room, is a look back on the Gilded Age and the invention of electricity in modern homes. It really showed me the treasure trove of artifacts that exist in this small museum.

After the tour, there was a quick tour of the museum and then a train ride to Manhattan and then a long subway ride on a beautiful clear sunny day to Coney Island. The whole thing took about two hours and I got there by three o’clock.

The Annual Sandcastle Building Contest I thought would be much bigger than it was. Only about twenty people were competing in it. Several mounds of  sand in one section of the beach outside of Luna Park were used but still the imagination of the work was spellbound.

Most of the works that I saw were some form of castle which seemed to be the object that everyone based their idea on but some people were a little more creative. There were gorillas, octopuses, people crawling out of the sea and one artist even dug out a complete hole and had the imagine of a women lying in the sea. There were some pretty interesting ideas at play. I am not sure who won that afternoon but the prize was $500.00.

Some of the professional artists did works to welcome everyone to the contest and their detail work was interesting as you see in the picture above. This was not done by a group of ten year olds.

I walked along the beach to relax my feet and as I walked I could not believe how empty the beaches were for a Saturday afternoon in August. By the water it was full but towards the back by the boardwalk it was empty. Not the Coney Island of yesteryear when every spot was full. I guess its just not that place anymore.

After a long walk along the beach, I dried off and walked the boardwalk to the end to Seagate, a private community at the end of the boardwalk. Along the way, I passed by the Coney Island Houses, one of the more dangerous housing complexes in Brooklyn. I don’t know whose brilliant idea it was to build low income housing along the shorefront but that made no sense to me.

It looked like the complex was having a barbecue, that is until two guys went after each other in the basketball court area as the DJ was announcing a kids dance. She was beside herself to tell them to calm down. Then you had two groups of people trying to calm the situation down. It was not a pleasant scene.

I got to the end of the boardwalk and decided I wanted to see all of Surf Avenue to see the real changes on the island since the closing of the amusement area. I agree with an article I read years ago, it still is like a war zone.

They built all this public housing outside Seagate and as you walk along Surf Avenue until you get to about where the rehab center is, it just looks like Beirut. The whole area is full of rundown looking public housing and the street itself is a shell of the once glorious resort if it ever  was that. If there are ever going to get this island back into shape, the city seriously needs to rethink this part of the island.

I walked the entire length of Surf Avenue down to Brighton Beach and really looked at the stretch of the island facing the shore. By Brighton Beach, the area got so much nicer and more built up. Even in some of the pockets before the amusement area, they are building new condos along the boardwalk in between the projects. Even still, even when you reach Nathan’s, there is just too much wasted opportunity along the shorefront.

I turned around and walked up Stillwell Avenue by the subway spot and there they are starting to knock down the block and replacing it with low rise apartment buildings. This is where all the hipster people must be living. It looks like more of this area is about to come down.

For dinner, I went to Totonna’s Pizzaria Napolitano at 1524 Neptune Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets (See TripAdvisor review). This place is harder to get into than any trendy restaurant in Manhattan. They only make so much dough and as a matter of fact the smaller pizzas sold out before I got there and it was 4:30pm when I ate my lunch/dinner. The place was busy the entire time I got there. The only bad thing about the restaurant is the seating. They need to reconfigure their tables to accommodate more people. You can’t seat a single person like myself at a six top table.

The menu is so simple. Either you get a small or large pizza with a choice of ten toppings for $2.50 extra. The drinks were pricey with a bottle of Coke being $2.50. The pizza was $20.50 for the large or $18.50 for the small. The place is cash only.

The pizza was wonderful and with the size and the quality of ingredients, well worth the money.  You get a large pizza that is a large pizza with fresh tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella, which gives it a different flavor from the shredded processed cheese most places use giving it a creamy flavor. The whole thing was topped with fresh basil and I added sausage to it. Cooking it in a coal brick stove gave it a nice smoky flavor. Needless to say, the owner could not believe I ate almost the entire pie at one sitting.

I met Louise Ciminieri, the current owner and the granddaughter of the original owner. She told me how the business passed down from her grandfather to her uncle and then to her. Her uncle had a habit of only making so much dough and after it was gone, the restaurant closed for the day. A little strange for a business to make money.

She could not have been nicer or more welcoming to me and seemed to get a kick at the fact that I made such a fuss in meeting her. I told her of all the reviews online and the fact that my own mom had eaten here probably when he uncle first owned the business. She has not changed the place much over the years and she explained how the neighborhood has changed so much since they opened. What was once an Italian neighborhood is now all car repair places.

After dinner, I took once last walk around Surf Avenue and then headed back to Manhattan where I ended up spending the rest of the evening at an outdoor concert in Bryant Park. It was nice to just relax and listen to the music.

It was a beautiful night and a great way to end the trip to Coney Island.

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