The Coney Island Parachute Jump Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in Brooklyn. It can be seen from Queens, New Jersey, Staten Island, and most of Manhattan. Also, it is a spectacle to observe when illuminated at night.
At 250 feet tall and weighing 170 tons, this steel framed structure was actually built for the 1939 New York’s World Fair. The tower was then moved from Flushing, Queens to the Coney Island boardwalk in 1941 to be part of the Steeplechase amusement park.
Yes, the Parachute Jump tower was actually an amusement park ride! Two riders would sit in a seat beneath each parachute. The parachutes would then be lifted to the top of the tower by a pulley mechanism.
Once at the top, the parachutes were “dropped” and their wings would open up to slow the descent. Shock absorbers at the bottom of the ride cushioned the landings. Each parachute required 3 operators, hence the operating cost of the overall ride was very high.
Unfortunately, the Parachute Jump ride ceased operating in 1964 when the Steeplechase park closed permanently. The park soon fell into disrepair and was acquired by the city in 1969 who then unsuccessfully tried to sell it in 1971. As a result, efforts were made to demolish the structure. However, objections from local historical societies and the overall costs of the demolition prevented such from happening.
In 1980, the tower was added to the national register of historic places and was formally recognized as a landmark by the city in 1989. Finally, in 1993, efforts were made to clean up and restore the area around the ride. The City of New York repainted the structure and stabilized it. Since 2002, the tower and the surrounding areas have benefited from a $5 million restoration plan. In 2003, LED lights were added. In addition, there has even been talk to bring back the actual parachute rides! However, stakeholders downplay these hopes given the high costs of implementing modern safety practices.
Today, the structure is known for its stunning light shows. Its many LED lights can be programmed to display all sorts of patterns. These displays are often tailored to match current events. For example, the tower lights up in the colors of the American flag every year to commemorate the observance of Memorial Day. Moreover, the tower’s lights sometimes flash in rhythm to the music being played at MCU park.
Whether as an amusement park ride, a light tower, or a landmark, the Parachute Tower was and will always be a symbol of Coney Island. It will forever be admired by tourists and locals as Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower.