Fred Trump And The Destruction Of Steeplechase Park
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Politics and Activism

Fred Trump And The Destruction Of Steeplechase Park

"You won't find the original amusement park rides and other attractions on Coney Island today."

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Fred Trump And The Destruction Of Steeplechase Park
Dick Mooran - Flickr

Years before Donald Trump was a constant face in the business and now political world, his father, Fred Trump decided he wanted to build apartment buildings on Coney Island. The the same Coney Island known for its amusement parks. Unfortunately, you won't find the original amusement park rides and other attractions on Coney Island today, and that's partially thanks to Fred Trump.

George C. Tilyou grew up in a family that ran and owned a restaurant on Coney Island. The responsibility of which was transferred to him when he was an adult. When thinking of how to improve his business, it must have been fate that Tilyou attended the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and happened to see the first Ferris wheel (built by George Washington Gale Jr. to match the Eiffel Tower unveiled at the 1889 Paris World's Fair.) Upon seeing maybe one of the greatest feats of the late 1800's, Tilyou decided to build his own Ferris wheel. The wheel became extremely popular and lead to the construction of Steeplechase Park, the first (and last) of the three major Coney Island amusement parks.

While Steeplechase Park entertained people for years, all good things come to an end. In 1964, Tilyou's daughter, Marie Tilyou closed the amusement park in response to decreased profits and the destruction of the neighborhood. Not long after closing, Marie sold the park to Fred Trump.

Trump saw the area as not a place to entertain young and old alike, but as a place to create giant seaside towers of apartments. There was a problem though, the area wasn't zoned for residences. Naturally, Trump didn't take this and fought (and tried to cheat) his way into getting what he wanting. When he noticed this wasn't working, he decided to have a "amusement park funeral." Trump saw the problem in his way as the neighborhood's attachment to the amusement park. Like any rational person, he decided to destroy what people loved to get their support.

The "amusement park funeral" featured girls in bikinis and the chance to destroy the amusement park with stones and bricks. Once Trump was done trashing the 69 year old piece of history, he bulldozed it (except for certain rides and concessions). It was destroyed just in time, otherwise it would have gotten that ever-dreadful landmark status. Once again he resumed his attempts to get the area rezoned.

Ultimately, the local government decided not to let Fred Trump build his hotels and he decided to lease the land to ride operators. This was the start of one of those ride operators, Norman Kaufman's attempt to restore the park to its original glory. He worked at it until the 1980's but was never able to compare to the original Steeplechase Park. Kaufman was eventually evicted from the land by the city (Trump sold the property in 1969) and most of his additions were removed.

In the following years, a variety of things occupied the land (or were proposed to occupy the land). Today, the MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones sits where Steeplechase Park once was. The only thing left that would tell anyone there was once an amusement park there is the defunct Parachute Jump, known to some as the "Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn."

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