Financial History Issue 125 (Spring 2018) | Page 10

THE TICKER  CONNEC TING TO COLLEC TIONS Dreamland: A Coney Island Financial Failure By Sarah Poole, Collections Manager As spring finally takes hold in the Northeast after a long, snowy winter, many New Yorkers will start planning warm weather outings. Their destinations might include a trip to Coney Island, the historic seaside section of Brooklyn fea- turing a beach, boardwalk, amusement parks, aquarium and other entertainment. Famous for the original Nathan’s hot dog stand and the Cyclone rollercoaster, Coney Island has been a resort destina- tion since 1829 when developers started building hotels and expanding railroad and ferry access to the area. From the mid-1890s through World War II, Coney Island was the largest entertainment area in the country, home to a number of amusement parks, such as Sea Lion Park (1895-1903), Luna Park (1903–1944) and Steeplechase Park (1897–1964). The most ambitious park to be built during Coney Island’s heyday was Dream- land. Only in operation from 1904–1911, Dreamland was built by former state sena- tor and real estate developer William H. Reynolds. Inspired by the instant success of Luna Park after it opened in 1903, Reyn- olds sought to build a competitor. The first hurdle to overcome to fulfill his dream was acquiring oceanfront property. When two adjacent parcels of land came up for auction in July 1903, Reynolds attended the auction, but the lots ultimately sold to two individual bidders for a total of $447,500. A couple of days after the auc- tion, the developer revealed that the two winning bidders actually worked for him. Reynolds had feared that any aggressive bidding from him would trigger other developers to compete for the properties, driving up the price. The next obstacle in Reynolds’ path was a physical one: West 8th Street divided the two parcels of land that now belonged to him. The former senator was not intimidated by this challenge and wielded his political connections to sup- port his venture. First, Reynolds recruited politicians and local businessmen to invest in his newly-formed Wonderland Com- pany (the park was originally to be called Wonderland), which was incorporated in Dreamland Amusement Park, circa 1904. 8    FINANCIAL HISTORY  |  Spring 2018  |