Luna Park at Coney Island was an “electric Eden” of spindly towers and ornate architecture laced with some 250,000 lights. The amusement park was closed in 1944 after a catastrophic fire, and mostly photographs remain. (A new Luna Park opened at Coney Island in 2010.) To recapture some of the lost wonder, artist Fred Kahl, aka the Great Fredini, is building a 3D-printed facsimile of Luna Park in miniature.
The beginning stages of the project, representing 10,000 hours of work, opened at the Coney Island Museum in May. The museum proclaims Thompson & Dundy’s Luna Park: 3D Printed by the Great Fredini the “world’s largest art installation ever created with desktop 3D printer technology.” It will develop over the course of a year, with Kahl adding more buildings and people to the 1:13 scale landscape. These figures are small portraits of real visitors and Coney Island locals made with Kahl’s Coney Island Scan-A-Rama 3D portrait studio, a part of Coney Island USA’s Artist Incubator program.
Up on the second floor of Coney Island USA, the Coney Island Museum reopened this past Memorial Day after closing for repairs on the 97-year-old building following Hurricane Sandy. The destruction was just one part of the changes happening on Brooklyn’s Atlantic shore, where new construction is edging in on the few historic structures that remain. As Kahl told TIME in a video interview produced by Ronni Thomas of the Midnight Archive: “There’s more remaining of ancient Rome than there is of turn-of-the-century Coney Island.”
The 20th-century Luna Park was almost unfathomably extraordinary, with the sci-fi “A Trip To The Moon” ride crowning its elaborate wonders. Starting in 1903, its creators, Frederic Thompson and Elmer “Skip” Dundy, embraced new technology, installing extensive electric lights and even an ice manufacturing facility for their North Pole ride. They also hosted Dr. Martin Couney’s Infant Incubators for premature babies, who were cared for free-of-charge with funding from guests who gave 25 cents to view the infants.
In this way, Kahl is bringing some of the spirit of innovation back to Coney Island while also reviving a specter of its past. Most of the items on display at the Coney Island Museum are vintage relics, from funhouse mirrors to battered bumper cars, but the segment of 3D-printed Luna Park is pristine and offers something new. It’s still hard to imagine the Coney Island of yesteryear given what remains, but this could offer a better idea of it as a real place, where technology and wonder fused in an illuminated spectacle.
Thompson & Dundy’s Luna Park: 3D Printed by the Great Fredini is a year-long installation at the Coney Island Museum (1208 Surf Avenue, Coney Island, Brooklyn).