Sunday, December 21, 2008

Coney Times

For some time now I’ve been meaning to write about two books on New York City that I think are quite wonderful. Both are about big entertainment centers, one in Manhattan and the other in Brooklyn and even though they still exist, they’re not the way I remember them. The way they were for me in the 1950’s when they swung their influence on me and my art for years to come are gone. For those familiar with my sculptures you might say “Oh yes I can see the influences” or maybe not. The subjects that the books are about are Times Square and Coney Island, and I’ve written about these two places several times on this very blog. The first book “Times Square Style Graphics From The Great White Way” is by Vicki Gold Levi & Steven Heller. I don’t know who Levi is, but I’ve been familiar with Heller’s work as a design historian for some time through the many books on graphic design that he’s edited. The one on Times Square is a full color look back at how it was and what it looked like from 20’s up to the 50’s and is loaded with wonderful reproductions of menu’s, matchbook covers, programs, posters, sheet music, postcards, hotels and more. There are a few pages devoted to Radio City Music Hall and a terrific section of photos of movie theatre marques and shots of the square itself that set my heart a fluttering. There is very little text, and I would love it if Heller would do a sequel to this book. The other book is “Coney Island Lost And Found” by Charles Denson, and for me this is the best book ever done on Coney. Mr. Denson who grew up in Coney Island in the mid 1950’s (exactly the time line that I was a kid and a regular visitor) has filled the book not only with historical text and photos but also with his own memories of his growing up there. Even more remarkable to me is that as a kid he started to photograph Coney Island and the book is loaded with his own snap shots and photos. He documents the decline and fall of the once great amusement center with before and after photos, and many essays on not only the attractions but also the people who ran the rides and amusements and who called this neighborhood (for that's what it really is) home for many years. He also writes about his family and friends and what it was like to grow up in this surreal part of Brooklyn. The section on Steeplechase was especially melancholy for me, as this was my favorite place in Coney when I was growing up. When they were tearing the place down, Denson and some of his friends would sneak in and take photographs. Wonderful stuff. For many years I collected books and postcards on New York City and these two books are wonderful additions to my collection


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