Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light

Even after it closed in 1964, the Parachute Jump has always been a towering icon for Coney Island. Two summers ago, after a $5 million restoration and light installation by Leni Schwendinger Light Projects, it appeared the 277-foot tower had regained its glory. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz tended to disagree.

“Every move was approved, every change was vetted,” Schwendinger told AN, “but near the end, it was clear he was unhappy. Marty never said it publicly, but you could tell.” On February 7, during his State of the Borough address, Markowitz made his opposition clear.

“Personally, I look forward to phase two of blinging up the Parachute Jump as Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower,” he said. “And no promises here, but I still hold out the dream of making the Parachute Jump an operational ride once more. If the Giants can beat the Patriots, there’s no reason we can’t ride the Parachute Jump in this new century.”

This was not just Markowitz’s pipe dream: a Request for Proposals for the aforementioned “phase two” was released by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) just hours before the borough president gave his speech. 

While it will not alter Schwendinger’s work, the RFP calls for “an enhancement to the existing lighting system that will result in a much brighter and very dramatic illumination of the Parachute Jump.” An EDC spokesperson, Janel Patterson, said this could still affect the appearance of Schwendinger’s installation. Proposals are due March 7.

It turns out Markowitz is not the only one disappointed with her work. “We need to dump the way-too-tasteful, subtle, artsy-fartsy design and get someone who understands amusement parks,” Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun said. When the project was unveiled on July 7, 2006, many in attendance reportedly expressed disappointment and disdain, which Markowitz spokesperson Nancy Becker said was one of the reasons for pursuing the second phase. She said Markowitz wants three things: “Bigger, better, brighter.”

“I guess it wasn’t until it was actually done that they decided this isn’t what they wanted,” Al Thompson, the project manager, said. He added that Schwendinger had proposed a number of “flashier” designs, but there was not enough money for it. “Now that there’s money, she would be my first choice,” Thompson said. (Thompson, who is a structural engineer at the firm STV, also said that Markowitz’s desire to turn the Parachute Jump back into a ride would be all but impossible, given the cost of construction and insurance.)

And there are those who want to keep Schwendinger’s lights on. Alex Herrera, director of technical services at the Landmarks Conservancy, which awarded Schwendinger one of her many awards for the project, said Markowitz’s desire for more glitz is all wrong. “The way it was done, it’s quite stunning,” he said. “I can’t even imagine how to bling it up even further, except maybe to dip it in gold.”

Schwendinger said she would like to return to the project, perhaps with new higher-wattage LEDs. Markowitz would rather she did not. “She did her work and did the project as she saw fit, and we’ve moved on to other ideas,” Becker said. “No, she was not considered.”