Ask Mr. Coney Island

Answers from the expert

Do you have a question for Mr. Coney Island?  Email it to ask@coneyislandhistory.org.

posted on Mar 7th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I heard about a new roller skating rink opening in Coney Island. Is this true and was there ever one here before?
- Gretchen Godmundsdotir

Hello Gretchen,

Roller skating has always been popular in Coney Island, dating back to the Sea Beach Palace Roller Rink of the 1890s. The Palace, located on Surf Avenue at West 8th Street, was transformed from a railroad terminal into a rink that hosted roller dancing and roller racing events (see engraving). There were also rinks at Dreamland, Luna Park, and Steeplechase. There are photos of Babe Ruth, dressed like a farmer, whirling around the Steeplechase Pavilion on roller skates.

The Coney Island Roller Rink (see decal and picture) operated in the old Culver Terminal building on the north side of Surf Avenue at West 5th Street during the 1930s-1940s. The Culver terminal was demolished around 1960 to make way for Brightwater Towers. The Coney Island History Project is working on a skating documentary with Dianna Carlin of Lola Staar, who will be opening a roller rink in the boardwalk Childs building this month. We'll also have a display at our exhibit center under the Cyclone.

posted on Feb 28th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I was born on the boardwalk in Coney Island in June, 1950 at the Half Moon Hotel. I've heard about Abe Rellis and that the hotel was a very popular destination for more affluent guests during the early 20th century. I heard that by the time I was born there, it wasn't called the Half Moon Hotel but the Harbor Hospital. Could you tell me what you know about the Half Moon Hotel? Thanks.
- Alan Drucker

Hello Alan,

The Half Moon Hotel, with it's great mosaic dome, opened for business on May 5th, 1927 on the Boardwalk at West 29th Street. It was managed by the American Hotels Corporation and financed by prominent members Coney Island Chamber of Commerce, including William Ward, Charles Feltman, Edward Tilyou, and William Mangels. The Half Moon was sited at the outer fringe of the amusement area on the theory that the Boardwalk between the hotel and Stillwell Avenue would fill in with other luxury establishments. Many prominent guests visited the hotel and it remained a popular venue for weddings and banquets.

The Great Depression killed the Chamber's dream of greatness and the hotel sat exiled at the West End until the beginning of WW II when it was transformed into a naval hospital. In 1941 the hotel gained notoriety when mob turncoat Abe Reles fell to his death from a sixth floor window while under police protection shortly before he was due to testify in court. No one knows for sure whether he was pushed or slipped during an escape attempt. After the war the Half Moon became Harbor Hospital and in 1953, the Hebrew Home for the Aged. The elegant building was demolished in 1996 before it could be landmarked.

posted on Feb 8th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I was wondering if you were able to find anything out about Gold Dollar Smith's Coney Island Hotel – I have a token that is from this hotel, but not a word about it in ANY literature I have been able to find to date. (ca. either 1854 or 1904?) Please help if you can.
- David Sweet

Hello David,

As you can see from this card, Charles Smith's Gold Dollar hotel was located at Surf Avenue and West 16th Street. The hotel had a telephone so was probably in business around the turn of the last century.

posted on Feb 8th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
My name is Willie Brown I live in Sandusky, Ohio and I volunteer at the Merry Go Round Museum. I am presently restoring a horse and pony cart that was built by the Pinto Brothers. That is all I know about it. The Pinto Brothers tag is on the side. I would really like a photo. If you know where I might obtain one I would really appreciate it.
- Willie Brown

Hello Willie,

The Pinto Brothers ran an amusement factory on West 8th Street in Coney Island, specializing in kiddie rides. Silvio Pinto also operated the Cyclone Roller Coaster for a number of years before selling it to the Parks Department. All of the brothers have passed on but here is a picture of them. Silvio is in the center.

posted on Feb 6th, 2008
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I'm a PhD student here at UC San Diego working on a small research project related to indigenous communities in Latin America and have found an interesting connection to Coney Island. A good friend of mine who works with the humanities council in the city recommended that I contact your organization. I'm on the hunt for  archives from Coney Island and a few other "fairs" in the city from the 1890's. The exhibit/show I'm looking for was a group of Bolivian and Peruvian men that was based at Coney Island during the summer of 1893. Does the museum keep information/archives of  shows from the late 19th century? Are the archives open to researchers?
- Nancy Egan

Hello Nancy,

The Bolivian Indian Village exhibit was located on Tilyou Walk at the Ocean, at what would now be West 16th Street. Indigenous natives were common attractions at Coney Island at the end of the nineteenth century, and the humane treatment of the odd visitors became a cause for reformers who monitored the shows for abuses. American Indians, Philippine tribesmen, and Eskimos were were among those displayed in re-creations of their native habitats.

The Bolivian exhibit came to a sad end on August 24th, 1893 when a freak wave during a storm wiped out the entire village as the natives slept in their beachfront huts. The extent of injuries to the indians is unknown and the show did not reopen.

posted on Dec 28th, 2007
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
My grandparents, Adam and Caroline Trueson, had a restaurant in Coney Island on Surf Avenue around 1900. Several people in my family have a photo of it, which my late Father gave them. I'm trying to place it. One family member placed it near the entrance to Luna Park Recently, another relative told me it was across from Steeplechase because she remembers the horses. I'm told my grandfather owned several properties in Coney Island. I have two addresses from forclosure announcements from the NYT archive. (He lost them in the 30s.) My photo isn't great. It says, Lackawanna Hotel on it. I don't know the name of the restaurant (it may have been a bar or a beer garden, etc.) It may have been Caroline's or Trueson's but I can't be sure.
- Barbara Trueson

Hello Barbara,

Your grandparents' restaurant was located on the north side of Surf Avenue between 15th and 16th Street directly opposite Steeplechase Park. It is circled in the photo I've provided. If you compare this 1920s image to the one you have from the 1890s you'll see that it's the same building, slightly altered on the ground level. Hope this helps.

posted on Dec 27th, 2007
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I'm researching the visit of the anglo-french pioneer aviator Henri Farman to Coney Island in July/August 1908, when he gave a few public demonstration flights at Brighton Beach race track. It was the first flight New Yorkers had ever seen, and was written up extensively in the NY Times and Sceintific American. Few photographs seem to have survived though. Would you be kind enough to give me any advice as to where might be a good place to start looking? Does the event figure in your own archives?
- Reg W.

Hello Reg,

According to this story in the San Francisco Call, Farman made a flight in his "heavier-than-air flying machine" on July 31, 1908. This is the only photograph I've ever seen.

posted on Dec 27th, 2007
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
One of the old videos on the archive.org shows a ride which is quite similar to the Harry Hargreave's Niagara Barrel ride on the west coast... but with a different seating, no glasswork and a high speed spin, the name Gyro is shown. What can you tell me on the history and mechanism of this particular ride?
- Tony G.

Hello Tony,

The Gyro Globe operated on West 12th Street near the Wonder Wheel for two decades, closing in the early 60s. The Kyrimes family operated the Gyro, as well as the adjacent Virginia Reel and Hurricane rides.

The Gyro had a simple circular bench seat in a globe that revolved within an armature, turning and tilting in all directions. A real nausea-inducer!

posted on Dec 18th, 2007
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I was 6 years in 1968 and I remember this ride - it's a bit difficult to describe, but I will do my best. The outside was like color ball and it was on a skyline writer. You entered, you sat down, and it traversed part of Coney Island. The exterior was round and it would accommodate 4-6 people. It looked very futuristic, like something out of The Jetsons. I remember this very vividly (so does my sister, who 4 years old at the time). Eventually, this ride or tram was torn down because of an accident. This MIGHT have been in the early 1970s. My husband and my brother-in-law believe I am imagining this, but I KNOW that this existed. Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Mr. Coney Island and I hope you have a very nice holiday season.
- Viola

Hello Viola,

You are most likely describing the Astroland Skyride which opened in 1964 and ran from Surf Avenue to the Boardwalk.

The ride closed in the mid-seventies, but not because of an accident. It just wasn't exciting enough for most thrill-riders.

posted on Nov 24th, 2007
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I have two old Coney Island beach chairs "wood & canvas" the canvas on the top canopy is marked M&C. They were rented on the beach with similar marked umbrellas from concessions run by the parks department. Could you give me some info on them... when and where manufactured, how old, what do initials stand for and when when they discontinued? I have seen them in photos on the beach from the 50's.
- Paul M.

Hello Paul.

M.C. was owned by Bob Myers who had his headquarters on West 12th Street underneath Ward's Kiddie Park. Myers operated a concession, granted by the Parks Department, that rented beach chairs, umbrellas, and the rolling chairs on the Boardwalk. The business operated in Coney from the 1930s through the early 1960s at five locations under the boardwalk, from Sea Gate to Manhattan Beach.

Every spring, Myers would load up his 1932 Ford truck with his beach equipment and distribute it to the under-the-Boardwalk tin shacks where it was rented to the beach-going public during the summer. The rolling chairs could also be rented in the winter. They were stationary and lined up in front of the Ward's building, occupied by sun-worshipers who used them year-round.

You have a valuable piece of Coney Island history!