Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Elephantine Colossus: Brooklyn's most unusual hotel

Above: an 1885 diagram of Elephantine Colossus , more famously known as 'the Elephant Hotel', an actual guest house from the early days of Coney Island.

The hotel opened in 1885, a 12-storey pachyderm with 31 organ-themed guest rooms that faced the ocean and featured an observation deck and a cigar store in its leg.

The press was given a tour when it opened that spring: "The 'Stomach Room' ... is 60 by 35 feet and trinagular in shape. From the stomach room the explorers walked through the elphant's diaphragm and along his liver up into his left lung, where a museum is to be situated during the summer. Then the course was from the lung into the 'Shoulder Room, then up the 'Cheek Room, where they looked through the elephant's right eye out onto the ocean."

If that doesn't seem absurd enough, in the 1890s its oddly shaped rooms served as a brothel. According to Emil R. Salvini, "'Seeing the elephant' became synonymous with an adventure that you would not discuss with your kids."

Like so many things from Coney Island's early days, the hotel burned down, a victim of a fire on Sept. 27, 1896 that also took out the nearby Shaw Channel Chute, a roller coaster that encircled the hotel. It was, not surprisingly, often referred to as the Elephant Scenic Railway.

James Lafferty, the owner of the hotel, also built the New Jersey roadside attraction, Lucy the Elephant, which you can still find hanging out in Margate City.

You can find more info on this intreguing entry into New York's hotel history here.

The two pictures above are courtesy the NYPL Digital Library

Below, the Elephant in perspective (1886):


  1. A few years later, in 1898 the famous Elephant was built in Paris for the World Festival of 1900 (which also served for the building of the Eiffel Tower). Strangely enough it was also a brothel at a given time :) It is featured in the film The Moulin Rouge! (2001)
    Maybe the same constructer?

  2. On some maps of the era there's another structure close to the elephant labeled the "Baby Elephant." Not sure what it was though. I've never seen any pictures or mention of it anywhere else. The way things went in old Coney Island I'm guessing it opened and then immediately burst into flames.

  3. any idea what was the approximate address of the elephant?

  4. The Elephant was on the north side of Surf avenue, between West 12th street and Jones walk (where Luna Park Furniture is). It was situated a little bit back from the avenue behind a row of stores, so today it would be in that park just behind the el.

  5. I have discovered, among my mother's belongings, a photograph, glued onto a card (kind of slightly heavier than postcard weight), of this building while it was still under construction with scaffolding around it. You can see it at: