One of the nation's major amusement areas since the Civil War, Coney Island is the subject of a photo exhibit that opens on Friday, Jan. 23, at the Westport Arts Center.

More than 50 pictures by 14 photographers are featured in "Coney Island: Side Show," which will be on display through March 14 at the Riverside Avenue arts center.

The Westport exhibit focuses on Brooklyn, N.Y.'s beachside amusement parks over the past 80 years. At the peak of its popularity before World War II, Coney Island had three competing amusement parks and dozens of independent amusements.

They attracted as many as 100,000 people a day -- more than any of the Disney parks today -- before the area began a steady decline after the war, when the automobile made other destinations reachable and air conditioning became an alternative to beat the city heat.

The exhibit's amusement-park photos -- the arts center calls the photos "side shows" -- explore "the allure" of the parks, according to Helen Klisser During, the exhibit's curator.

The show includes photos by Arthur Fellig (who went by the pseudonym "Weegee"), Arthur Leipzig, Sid Grossman, Bruce Davidson, Morris Engel, plus Connecticut photographers Nathaniel Gibbons, Douglas Healey, David Kalman and Stephen Wilkes, the arts center said.

The exhibit is a companion show to one on display at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, "Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008."

An opening reception is planned for Friday evening, Jan. 23, featuring During and the curator of the Hartford exhibit.

The Westport Arts Center gallery, 51 Riverside Ave., is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.