Another piece of Coney Island history is gone, thanks to an observant local ironworker.
The famed Astrotower was completely dismantled a week after Sean Lennon, a Sheepshead Bay resident, noticed the 270-foot landmark swaying in the wind on Saturday, June 29.
“In my head, it was all about Jenga. My son was just on a worldwide commercial [for the game] and all I saw and thought about was Jenga for weeks,” Lennon recalled. “We were going to meet on the Boardwalk. I looked up and thought, “That looks like a big Jenga tower!’”
The quick-thinking Lennon got the attention of two firefighters stationed near Nathan’s who admitted that the Astrotower seemed unsafe, but said that the Department of Buildings had jurisdiction over the situation.
“In my business, if you see something dangerous that doesn’t look safe, you report it,” Lennon explained, adding that he is a fourth generation member of Local 1580. “This was an unstable structure right over children’s heads.”
Lennon called 3-1-1 and posted a video of the Astrotower violently swaying on his Facebook page. DOB inspectors did not come out to Coney Island until Tuesday afternoon –a move that prompted the evacuation of the Cyclone roller coaster, the Wonder Wheel and the adjacent area of Luna Park.
Crews from the Fire Department, Office of Emergency Management, Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Commission were on the scene for hours, assessing the situation. A decision was made to take down a portion of the Astrotower on the evening of July 3.
“I know steel is not allowed to sway,” Lennon said, adding that according to a device known as a tiltometer, if a structure is at 16 percent, it’s a “run for your life” situation. In his personal opinion, the Astrotower was at about 17 percent.
“When you put steel structures up in the air like that, there is a type of wiry antenna attached,” Lennon explained. “Even on highways and bridges, there are these antennae that hang off the sides that eat up the vibrations that keep the structure from vibrating off its base. Even if you put washers on, [stuff] happens. There was a bunch of antennas that aren’t there anymore.”
Lennon believes that the vibrations from the rides around the Astrotower are partially the cause of its demise.
“The counterweight that held everything stable in place was the big thing that went around,” he said, referring to the spinning observation car. “When the frequency of everything around it adds up to a phenomenal number, that frequency is alive in the steel and making the tower its very own ride.
“Steel is not a rubber band; it doesn’t sway back and forth, and dance,” he went on. “It will snap, especially if it’s 270 feet in the air.”
Lennon revisited the site nearly a week later on Tuesday, July 9. He said that he spoke to one of the workers at the now defunct Astrotower who told him that the structure was simply held down by just two feet of cement. When the tower was swaying, the cement surrounding it would come up by about an inch.
“When they built it, I don’t think they took into consideration all the rides around it. Anything close to the water like this…who knows what’s really going on underneath this ground,” Lennon contended.
But, Lennon does not want to be seen as a hero.
“More than anything, I just wanted everyone to know that I didn’t do this for recognition, I just wanted everyone to be safe,” he said. “Whenever I want to celebrate something or have a good time, I go to Coney Island. It’s my little playground.”
Eddie Mark, chairperson of Community Board 13, said that the deconstruction couldn’t have happened at a more poignant time.
“It reflected the old Coney Island. I guess we had to take this one down to make way for the new Coney Island,” Mark contended, stressing that safety is key.
“People were concerned about safety over the holiday weekend,” Mark added. “Instead of waiting for something to happen, we were proactive instead of reactive.”