Courier Life’s

The Ravenhall Baths and the downfall of Coney

Brooklyn Daily
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Tragedy struck the Coney Island’s mighty Ravenhall Baths in the 1960s.

Boys like my pagemate Carmine Santa Maria were cavorting life-guards there braving fresh salt-water to save little children and the comely maidens who floated in the choppy water sucked in from the nearby ocean.

It was a mid-winter fire that ravaged that Boardwalk building, its dock, and its indoor offices, bringing death to that summer magnate for swimmers and bathers.

Ravenhall had served as a Boardwalk frontier, way across W. 19th Street from the famed Steeplechase pool, that the Trump tycoons were about to execute thus destroying the last vestiges of the pool connection, leaving the desolation to the historians.

One day, when Mayor John Lindsay asked those of us on his Seaside Advisory Board (myself included): “What does Coney Island need most?”

First to answer was tiny Nathan Handwerker, the man who built his fortune one nickel at a time selling franks, who pushed the mayor for a new bath house.

As the weiner king put it there in City Hall, “We need a place our visitors could take a bath.”

The mayor laughed as Handwerker drove his joke home: “ A lot of people coming to Coney need a shower.”

The news reached the Parks Department that, working with Borough President Abe Stark, came up with the idea of a multi-purpose new Boardwalk structure, and the Planning Commission then had a project that might revive the burned out and abandoned amusement area facilities.

Before Community Board activists and committees came to the area leaders, Stark devised a plan to build a multipurpose year-round facility — but not at the decimated Raven Hall site, or in the surrounding amusement zone. No, the area selected was five blocks beyond, five blocks further from the vast subway terminal. Five blocks away from the amusement zone on a block that had a gas station on Surf Avenue, followed by two blocks of clean brick homes, with no relation to amusements.

Four of us as business leaders had a meeting with Stark, telling him it was the right thing in the wrong place — but he shook his head saying “Let it be, where we said.”

Driving home, one of our four said, “He’s the Borough President, we can’t fight him.”

Of course, that was indigestible to me.

Back in my store on Mermaid Avenue, I combed the comparison between our more logical more economical location, and his more costly one.

We called one of our mates, including the late Al Hirsch who had been a the Stark meeting. We had just four land owners versus 52 of Stark’s way; was a few million dollars less for land purchase — and truly within the fun zone that Ravenhall portrayed.

We put it all into a prepared proposal and submitted it to the (then active) Site Selection Board, which consisted of the five borough presidents and the comptroller. Six months later, a secretary of the board called us in to a conference before a public hearing. He confided that it the ruling would be almost unanimous. Almost all preferred our controversial site, particularly because it eliminated the blight of the untouched, burned-out Ravenhall.

A hearing was held soon after. We had our say.

The vote came in. The first five voted for the new site we submitted. Stark voted last; good willed his vote, making it unanimous.

Books were printed and distributed depicting all of the facilities it should provide and we took home a copy of that legal portrayal.

In my next column I shall portray the ideas and the failures that came of this costly project, which to this day, produces no known revenue, other than a parking lot attendant who collects if you want to park at those virtually always-closed facility.

In the meantime, save our wooden Boardwalk. It is virtually all we have left connecting us to the past glory that was Coney Island, the place the hoodwinkers took away.

This is Lou Powsner.

Lou Powsner, the 92-year-old Dean of Brooklyn Columnists, has been writing for the Graphic since the 1970s. His column appears every two weeks on Send correspondence to with the Subject Line "Attention Lou Powsner."

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Reader Feedback

Lou Powsners column was a trip back to memory land
talking about Ravenhall, Coney's largest pool.
Carmine and I often raced across the 30 yard pool, most of the time I won, but he'll say different.
He was fast and he loved and imitated the way I did the purpoise (or dolphin) Those were the days, can't wait to read your next column on Ravenhall.
Nov. 10, 2011, 1:08 pm
Jane Pignatelli from Bensonhurst says:
Does anyone remember how much a locker cost in Ravenhall.
May 31, 2014, 5:01 pm
Richard Parissidi from Chicago formerly Bensonhurst says:

It's been many years since my palls and. I had a season pass
To Raven Hall. It was a place to remember .

June 17, 2014, 4:46 pm
gconey from Coney Island says:
Does anybody know the date of the Ravenhall's big fire. I remember the night it happened but cannot recall even what month it was. thanks, gconey
Jan. 21, 2015, 3:25 pm
jdelb from staten island says:
To gconey - it was in 1963, but don't know the month or the day - sorry -
Jan. 21, 2015, 3:41 pm
Andrew Caleca from Bensonhurst says:
Remember me and my pals doing one arm chins. the late 1950!s. Jasper Benicasa
Feb. 10, 2015, 3:36 pm
Andrew Caleca from Bensonhurst says:
does anyone remember me and my pals doing one arm chins??Jasper Bennicasa was the champ. late 1950!s.
Feb. 10, 2015, 3:39 pm
Al ( Lid's ) Albanese from Knickerbocker Village. says:
I rember good times at ravenhall, we took the d train from madison st. to the last stop coney island. With our towels rolled up under our arms. Stayed there all day, the pool and the beach. went back to the locker rooms changed then went to Nathens couple of dogs french fries that we ate on the subway trip back home. Simple pleasure's. God i miss them.
Sept. 9, 2015, 6:17 pm
Rudy from 71st park. Bensonhurst bklyn n y says:
1950 Sal the life guard. Joe pasco punching bags. Diving boards the ace , King, queen and the jack The high bar with jaspare one arm chins each arm. Tonto the weight lifter.and much more those Were the days.
Jan. 28, 2016, 2:43 pm
BOB from BAY RIDGE says:

Somone asked what the price of a season locker was. It was $22.50 in the summer of 1962, the last year I attended.
The pool and othr facilities were shoing their age then
June 20, 2016, 8:24 am
John from lower east side manhattan says:
Pier 15 , dancing under the boardwalk . Raven Hall. Season passes 1951 , 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, Arrived early stayed late.
Great times , Handball, Food , Drinks, GIRLS. Wonderfull.
Sept. 1, 2016, 10:31 am
John from lower east side manhattan says:
Sal , I remember HIM LIKE HE WAS STANDING HERE NOW. A True character. My GRAND FATHER OWNED 166 MADISON ST AIs Bar. played pool at Tommy blues POOL ROOM on market street. Went to St Josephs grammar . Got married there . Played a lot of hand & soft ball ,in Alfred E Smith . GREAT TIMES .. Rudy you hit the right button.
Sept. 1, 2016, 10:51 am
John from lower east side manhattan says:
Al Albanese . i am 78, how old are you . name sounds familiar.
I use to make out in the under ground of KBV..we used the K&K to get entrance.
Sept. 1, 2016, 10:57 am
ruth gruber wayne from flatbush(WHEN I WAS YOUNG) says:
now in Palm City, fl. Took my now 60 yr old daughter to Nathans for a hot dog when my wallet was stolen. the police told me to wait there and a few minutes later came back with my wallet! they knew the kids and the Fagin. grow up in Flatbush(from Bensonhurst) and moved to the Island Those were great days at
Brighton BEACH.
Sept. 2, 2016, 4:51 pm
jerome naccari (jerry black} from w. 16th st. btwn Mermaid & Neptune av. says:
Grew up in Coney Island, played a in burned out Luna Park. Worked at Panarellos grocery store on w. 16th st. Hung out with Tony Frisone, Mario Vila & his brothers Vinnie & ?? Hung out at Henrietas candy store on Mermaid av. btwn w.16 & 17. The BEST memories of my entire life. Now I am 80 yrs young:):):) Thank you Coney Island....
Sept. 16, 2016, 11:33 am

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