On September 21, 1966, real estate developer Fred Trump threw a demolition party at Steeplechase Park’s Pavilion of Fun, exactly two years after Coney Island’s legendary amusement park had closed.  While the champagne flowed and bikinied models posed for photos, Trump invited guests to hurl bricks through the stained glass Funny Face, the symbol of Steeplechase.

Opening May 28, the Coney Island History Project’s new exhibit, "The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump's Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion," examines in photos, ephemera, and oral history, the importance of the pavilion and the memories of local personalities who dealt with Trump before and after the tragic demolition of a Coney Island landmark. History Project director Charles Denson interviewed many of the players involved in the loss of Steeplechase and the exhibit reveals many little known facts about Fred Trump’s history in Coney Island . Here are the top ten:

1. The Albert family of Astroland Park made an offer to buy Steeplechase but Marie Tilyou turned them down. Irving Rosenthal of Palisades Park also tried unsuccessfully to buy Steeplechase. Tilyou didn’t want to sell to an amusement operator and chose instead to sell to Fred Trump, who planned to build high rise apartments.

News article from Coney Island History Project Collection

2. Fred Trump’s 19 year old son Donald was present with his father and Steeplechase Park owner Marie Tilyou at the signing of the sales contract for the park.

3. Fred Trump not only bought Steeplechase Park, he had also owned the old Luna Park site and the Velodrome site. He lost both in 1955 due to his blacklisting by the federal government

Vacant Luna Park site. Coney Island History Project Collection

4. Fred Trump hired the builder of Coney Island Creek’s Yellow Submarine to demolish the Parachute Jump in 1966 but reneged when the $10,000 price was too high.

5. Fred Trump offered to demolish the Parachute Jump for free in 1991, even when it was a landmark and he no longer had a financial interest in it.

6. Fred Trump was largely responsible for relocating poor families from the site of Trump Village, which was built in 1964, to the dilapidated summer bungalow colonies of Coney’s West End, creating a poverty pocket that led to the decline to Coney Island. He also profited by collecting fees for the relocations.

Bungalow colony in Coney's West End. Coney Island History Project Collection

7. Fred Trump was fined for illegal filling of Coney Island Creek in relation to a concrete mixing facility.

8. Fred Trump placed an unusual amusement in the Steeplechase Pavilion in the months before he demolished it, an animal husbandry exhibit that was a satellite attraction of Murray Zaret's Surf Avenue Animal Nursery.

Promotional poster for Murray Zaret's Pet Festival. Coney Island History Project Collection

9. Fred Trump, who was known as a shrewd businessman, finally met his match in Coney Island when he was outsmarted by a long-time Coney Island operator and then tried to hire him.

10. In 2009, the City’s Economic Development Corporation fulfilled Fred Trump’s dream by rezoning the western half of the Steeplechase site, which is now the MCU parking lot, for high rise apartments.

Demolished Steeplechase Pavilion. Photo by James Onorato. Coney Island History Project Collection

"The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump's Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion" is on view at the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours are 1:00 PM till 7:00 PM. Admission is free of charge. We're located at 3059 West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk.

View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Among the treasures on display is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact, the 1823 Toll House sign, which dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to “the Island” was 5 cents! You're invited to take a free souvenir photo with Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name.

The Coney Island History Project was founded in 2004 by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park. Executive director Charles Denson is a Coney Island native, a noted historian, and the author of the award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found.

 

Steeplechase Pavilion Coney Island History Project

The Coney Island History Project's first special exhibit of the 2016 season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be "The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump's Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion." A half century ago Coney's most beautiful and imposing structure was demolished by developer Fred Trump, Donald Trump's father. This exhibit examines in photos, ephemera, and oral history, the importance of the pavilion and the memories of local personalities who dealt with Trump before and after the tragic demolition of a Coney Island landmark. During the last decade History Project director Charles Denson interviewed many of the players involved in the loss of Steeplechase and the exhibit reveals many little known facts.

Fred Trump had a long lasting effect on Coney Island that goes way beyond the loss of the Pavilion. His racist tenant relocation tactics at the Trump Village development site destroyed the lives of many poor families who were moved to the dilapidated bungalows of Coney's West End community. None of Trump's Coney Island projects were without scandal or controversy. This exhibit covers them all.

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project is just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past.

Among the treasures on display is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact, the 1823 Toll House sign which dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to "the Island" was 5 cents! Today, the 193-year-old sign is often described as Coney Island's "first admission ticket."

Visitors to the Coney Island History Project are also invited to take free souvenir photos with an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name and "Skully," a giant skull from Coney's Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama.

The History Project's exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours are 1:00 PM till 7:00 PM. Admission is free of charge. 

Join our unique walking tours based on Charles Denson's award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from CIHP's Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online or book a group tour. 

 

posted May 11th, 2016 in Events and tagged with Steeplechase Pavilion, demolition, Fred Trump,...

On Thursday, May 26, Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson will give a slide talk called "Immigrants Who Made Coney Island Famous" at the Coney Island Library, 1901 Mermaid Avenue at West 19th Street. The talk begins at 6:30pm and is free to the public.

"My talk tells the story of several immigrant families who started small in Coney Island and then went on to become enormously successful due to hard work and perseverance," says Mr. Denson. "Immigrants like Nathan Handwerker of Nathan's Famous and Denos Vourderis of the Wonder Wheel started with nothing, built successful businesses, and helped to shape Coney Island. Immigrant artisans Marcus Illions and William Mangels brought craftsmanship and artistic experience from their native countries and built factories in Coney Island that produced great works of folk art in the form of carousels and other amusements. Recent immigrants continue to play an important role in the community." 

posted May 11th, 2016 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, history, immigrants,...

May 14: It's My Estuary Day at Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park

You're invited to It's My Estuary Day on Saturday, May 14, from 8:00AM-3:00PM, a day of service, learning and celebration along Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park! The free event will include a coastal clean-up, tables representing environmental organizations, demonstrations of water chemistry techniques, oyster monitoring projects, seining, underwater robotics, diving demonstrations, and talks by ecologists and scientists. 

Stop by the Coney Island History Project's table to learn about our free programs and pick up a copy of the new Coney Island CreekWalk booklet produced by the History Project for Partnerships for Parks. We'll have bilingual interviewers in attendance to record your stories about the neighborhood and the Creek for our Oral History Archive.

Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson will give a talk on Coney Creek at It's My Estuary Day. Visitors may also take a self-guided walking tour by following the markers created for the Coney Island CreekWalk in 2012 by the History Project with the support of Partnerships for Parks. 

Featuring over 40 partner organizations, this free event is organized by the Cultural Research Divers, BMSEA (Brooklyn Marine STEM Education Alliance), and NYSMEA (NY State Marine Education Association), and hosted by Making Waves, a coalition of stewards caring for Coney Island Creek and Kaiser Park. 

Join us at Coney Island Creek!

posted May 2nd, 2016 in Events and tagged with It's My Estuary Day, Esruary Day, Kaiser Park,...

Waterfront Conference. Photo by Ian Douglas courtesy Waterfront Alliance

May 12 is the Waterfront Alliance's 2016 Waterfront Conference aboard the Hornblower Infinity in Hudson River Park. Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson will participate in the panel Forgotten Waterfronts: Activating and Engaging the Shoreline. Panelists also include Melissa Garcia, Senior Director of Operations and Finance, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (facilitator); Marcy DePina, Program Director, Newark Riverfront Revival; Eric Fang, Principal, Perkins Eastman; Randy Ng, Member, Guardians of Flushing Bay; and Eric Wilson, Assistant Commissioner of Planning & Predevelopment, NYC Housing Preservation & Development.

The theme of the all-day conference is how we define and deliver equity at the waterfront from jobs to education, transportation, and recreation. It will feature several panels and a keynote conversation with Maria Torres­ Springer, President of the NYCEDC and Michael Sorkin, Director of the Graduate Urban Design Program at City College. For tickets and additional information please visit the Waterfront Conference website

posted May 2nd, 2016 in Events and tagged with Waterfront Conference, Waterfront Alliance,...

On May 4th, the City Council's Land Use Committee will be hearing testimony on Councilman Mark Treyger's resolution calling for Coney Island's Riegelmann Boardwalk to be designated an official scenic landmark. 

"The landmarking process in this city needs to be an equitable process, because the history and tradition of all of our city's neighborhoods must be preserved," says Councilman Treyger. "Too much has been lost already. The Boardwalk is a quintessential part of Southern Brooklyn's history, and I am encouraging all residents of Southern Brooklyn, as well as any New Yorker that remembers walking down the Boardwalk, feeling the cool ocean breeze embracing them, to join me on May 4th at City Hall. Let your voice be heard! Testify at this hearing and make sure the city administration and the Landmarks Preservation Commission know how much the Boardwalk means to you and to our city."

In February, Treyger introduced the resolution to the City Council where it received the support of all but one of the City's Council Members, as well as Public Advocate Letitia James. The resolution  will be one of several pieces of legislation discussed at the Committee's May 4th 11:00 AM hearing in the Council Committee Room at City Hall. 

Last May, Charles Denson accompanied Council Members Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch to a private meeting with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to advocate for the landmarking of the Boardwalk. He gave an illustrated historical presentation to LPC staff showing that the beloved structure is indeed eligible for landmark designation. We are still awaiting the LPC's decision.

posted May 2nd, 2016 in Events and tagged with Boardwalk, Scenic Landmark, Landmark the Boardwalk,...

The mysterious Childs Restaurant Building, with its nautical-themed terra cotta decorations, has fascinated Coney Island visitors for years. Charles Denson 's film illustrates the structure's history and future. The Boardwalk landmark will reopen this summer as the Coney Island Amphitheater.

Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island
On Saturday, April 23, the Coney Island History Project is offering a new walking tour free of charge as part of Immigrant Heritage Week. Coordinated by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, the annual citywide program of events celebrates the history, traditions and contributions of NYC's diverse immigrant communities. IHW begins on April 17th in recognition of the date in 1907 when more immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island than any other date in history. The theme for Immigrant Heritage Week 2016 is "From Many, Making NYC One."

The Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island is the newest in the Coney Island History Project's walking tour program. The 1-1/2 hour, wheelchair accessible tour explores the contributions of immigrants to the history and development of "The Playground of the World." 

"Coney Island has traditionally been a place where immigrants who wanted to start a business could start small and work their way up," says Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project. "A person of small means with no experience or capital could lease a stall on the Bowery and open a game concession with nothing more than a few baseballs and milk bottles. Coney was also the place where immigrant families could escape steaming tenements, get fresh air, bathe in the ocean and assimilate with people of all nationalities. It's where they finally found true freedom and became Americans."

Among the stops on the walking tour and the stories of struggle, success and achievement are Nathan's Famous, founded in 1916 by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker; Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, where the landmark 1920 Wonder Wheel was purchased by Greek immigrant Denos D. Vourderis as a wedding ring for his wife; and the B&B Carousell, created in 1919 by German and Russian immigrants and now Coney's last hand-carved wooden carousel.

The tour will also go by stores and attractions operated by immigrants from countries such as China, Mexico and Jamaica who have recorded their stories for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive. The Immigrant Heritage Tour will be led by Amanda Deutch and Tricia Vita, who facilitate and record oral histories for the Coney Island History Project. 

The April 23rd tour is offered at 12pm and 3pm. Tickets are free but must be reserved online as capacity is limited. If you can't make it to Immigrant Heritage Week, starting in June, the Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island will be added to the schedule of our weekend walking tours, which cost $20. Advance ticketing is available via our online reservation page. If you have a question or would like to schedule a group visit, email events@coneyislandhistory.org.

Our unique tours are based on History Project Director Charles Denson's award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from our Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. 

On Thursday, May 26, Mr. Denson will give a slide talk at the Coney Island Library, 1901 Mermaid Avenue at West 19th Street. The talk begins at 6:30pm and is free to the public.

"My talk tells the story of several immigrant families who started small in Coney Island and then went on to become enormously successful due to hard work and perseverance," says Charles Denson. "Immigrants like Nathan Handwerker of Nathan's Famous and Denos Vourderis of the Wonder Wheel started with nothing, built successful businesses, and helped to shape Coney Island. Immigrant artisans Marcus Illions and William Mangels brought craftsmanship and artistic experience from their native countries and built factories in Coney Island that produced great works of folk art in the form of carousels and other amusements. Recent immigrants continue to play an important role in the community."

The Coney Island History Project, founded in 2004, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that aims to increase awareness of Coney Island's legendary and colorful past and to encourage appreciation of the Coney Island neighborhood of today. Our mission is to record, archive and share oral history interviews; provide access to historical artifacts and documentary material through educational exhibits, events and a website; and honor community leaders and amusement pioneers through our Coney Island Hall of Fame.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger, and our members and contributors.

On Thursday evening at the Alliance for Coney Island Gala, our dear friend Jimmy Prince received the Legacy Award. Charles Denson was honored with the Recognition Award. His speech was read by Coney Island History Project board member and former New York State Assemblymember Adele Cohen, who accepted the award on his behalf: 

For more than 60 years Jimmy Prince has served as the heart and soul of Coney Island, the real Coney Island, a place of kindness, and respect, and family. He's a man who represents the best that this community has to offer.

“Mr. Major” has made a difference in the lives so many people, during good times and bad. It's been a pleasure to work with him for so many years, and to now have him volunteering at the Coney Island History Project.

I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to record and capture a critical part of Jimmy's life while filming the documentary, "The Prince of Mermaid Avenue," a film that I would recommend to anyone who wants to know what Jimmy and Coney Island are really about.

It's a humbling experience to be sharing the honors with Jimmy tonight and I'd like to thank the Alliance for including me in this event.

Congratulations Jimmy! You’re a true saint and we love you!

posted Apr 15th, 2016 in News and tagged with Jimmy Prince, Charles Denson, Alliance for Coney Island,...

To The White House or Bust

Bernie Sanders will pay an historic visit to the Boardwalk on Sunday afternoon. After a rally at 2pm -check-in starts at 11-- he'll participate in the New York electoral tradition of eating a hot dog at Nathan's Famous.  Coney Island is a favorite campaign stop for local politicians, but we can't recall a rally by a presidential candidate. Back in 1911, however, Luna Park staged a race between an elephant and a donkey, from Coney to Washington. "1912--TO THE WHITE HOUSE OR BUST!" There's no record of whether the GOP's elephant or the Dem's donkey won the race, but Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson beat Republican William Taft and Progressive Teddy Roosevelt in the 1912 election.