Coney Island Blog - History

Nathan and Ida Handwerker Way

Photo © Coney Island History Project, September 24, 2016

The People’s Playground is dotted with street signs honoring people whose contributions have made Coney Island history.  Last September, the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenue was officially co-named Nathan and Ida Handwerker Way in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Nathan’s Famous.  The distinctive green and white street sign is among the sights we point out on our Coney Island History Project Walking Tour. Over the weekend, we noticed it was missing. The bracket and bolts that attached it to the pole remains, but the sign appears to have been stolen.

Nathan and Ida Handwerker Way

Photo © Coney Island History Project,  September 15, 2017

Also missing is the sign for Milton Berger Place on Surf Avenue between West 8th and West 10th Streets. Berger was a press agent for Steeplechase Park, the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce and Astroland, where his former office window overlooked one of  the signs. A second sign was across the street in front of the Cyclone Roller Coaster. The corner was also co-named Dewey Albert Place for the founder of Astroland and in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Cyclone.

Milton Berger Place

Photo © Coney Island History Project, November 16, 2014

According to the Archives of the Mayor’s Press Office in 1997, when Berger's street was co-named: “His efforts to keep the Coney Island area economically viable led to a variety of promotions and events, including producing fireworks displays, promoting marathon roller-coaster rides, offering parties for handicapped youngsters and helping to secure the landmark designation of the Cyclone Roller Coaster.”

Surf Avenue and West 10th Street

Photo © Coney Island History Project,  September 15, 2017

The Coney Island History Project has reported the missing signs to the Department of Transportation, which replied that it takes 14 days to respond to this type of complaint.

Among the honorary street signs you can see on the Coney Island History Project Walking Tour are Denos D. Vourderis Place at West 12th St, named for the founder of Denos Wonder Wheel Park; Ruby Jacobs Walk on the Boardwalk, named for the founder of Ruby’s Bar & Grill; and Gargiulo’s Way on West 15th Street, named to mark the 100th anniversary of Gargiulo’s Restaurant.  According to New York City Council’s street co-naming legislation, proposed honorees must be either individuals who are deceased or New Yorkers of significant importance to New York City.

Milton Berger Place

Photo © Coney Island History Project, November 16, 2014

posted Sep 18th, 2017 in History and tagged with Nathan Handwerker, Ida Handwerker, Milton Berger,...

Celebrate Historic Coney Island!

7th ANNUAL HISTORY DAY at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and The Coney Island History Project

FREE EVENTS ALL DAY! 12:00PM – 5:00PM. Enjoy Music, Entertainment, Art & History!

Saturday, August 5th

Coney Island History Day

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, 3059 West 12th St (Denos D. Vourderis Place)

-Dress in 1920’s garb for a FREE ride on the landmark 1920 Wonder Wheel! From 12-5PM.

-The Coney Island History Project has designed History Plaques for 17 classic rides and attractions in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Visitors may pick up a free copy of the brochure “History Tour of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park” and sign up for a Self-Guided Walking Tour of the numbered history plaques at each site. Brochures will be available on History Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel, the “Say Boo” Photo Booth across from Spook-A-Rama and the “Say Cheese” Photo Booth next to the Tilt-A-Whirl from 12PM and at the Coney Island History Project from 1PM.

Deno's Carousel

-Two Guided Walking Tours of the history plaques at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park will be led by the Coney Island History Project.  Tours are at 12PM and 3PM and are free but space is limited. Register for the tours on Coney Island History Project’s Eventbrite page.

 -Walk inside the 1960s Astroland Rocket and see a movie! The Rocket returned to Coney Island in 2014 and found a new home beside the Wonder Wheel. From 12-5PM.

History Day

Dreamland Plaza, West 12th Street adjacent to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

-Opening Ceremony on the Dreamland Plaza Stage followed by Free Entertainment. From 2-5PM

-Singer/songwriter Jen Houston writes quirky melodic alt-country tunes with a whimsical retro sound. Her Coney Island song “No One Here But Us Bones," which she performed inside Spook-A-Rama for a music video, won first prize at the 2015 Coney Island Film Festival

-DJ Dan Kingman will take you on a nostalgia trip with music from the 1920s through the 1980s and lead singalongs.

-Special Surprise Guests!

- A display of Coney Island History Project banners and kiosks emblazoned with Coney Hall of Fame honorees including George C. Tilyou, founder of Steeplechase Park; Dr. Martin Couney, who saved the lives of thousands of premature infants at his Coney Island baby incubator exhibit; Marcus C. Illions, developer of the Coney Island style of carousel carving; and Lady Deborah Moody, who in 1645 founded the town of Gravesend, which included Coney Island, becoming the first woman to found a colony in the new world.

Spookarama Cyclops

West 12th Street Entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

-Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park is currently home to art and signage by Dan Casola (Spook-A-Rama), Greg Lamarche (Coney Island lettering between Kiddie Park and Wheel), The Wizard (Carousel, Sky Fighter, Ticketbooths), Tommy Holiday (Signage) and the late Barbara Listenik (Pony Carts, Thunderbolt). Meet Brooklyn  artists --sign painter Tommy Holiday, artist and muralist Danielle Mastrion and 9-year-old Lola the Illustrator -- at their newly painted walls featuring the Wonder Wheel, Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, and the Skull from Stop the Zombies! They will be joined by legendary artist and Sea Gate resident Sam Moses, who did the elaborate lettering on Danielle and Tommy's mural. Sam has been painting since the 1970s and did great signs like the frozen letters on Denny’s Ice Cream Shop. From 1PM-4PM.

-Enjoy a Children’s Playground in the People’s Playground! Free Balloons, Games, Bubble Machine, Storytime and Stilt Walker. From 1PM-4PM.

Childs medallion at Coney Island History Project

Coney Island History Project, West 12th St next to the entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel

- FREE Admission! View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and film, and the special exhibit “Neptune Revisited: Terra Cotta Relics from the Childs Building, Last of Coney Island's Boardwalk Palaces" at the Coney Island History Project exhibition center. A selection of original polychrome pieces from the Childs Restaurant Building is on display along with archival photographs, ephemera, and an illustrated timeline of the history of the building and its restoration. From 12-7PM.

-Take free souvenir photos with an original Steeplechase horse, from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name, and the iconic Cyclops head from Deno's Wonder Wheel Park's Spook-A-Rama, Coney Island's oldest dark ride. See Coney Island’s oldest surviving artifact, the 1823 Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to “the Island” was 5 cents! From 1-7PM.

For updates on History Day and other Coney news, follow the Coney Island History Project on Facebook, Instagram and twitter. Follow Deno's Wonder Wheel Park on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project

3059 West 12th Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY 11224

D, F, N or Q train to Stillwell Terminal

Phone: 347-702-8553 (Coney Island History Project)

Phone: 718-372-2592 (Deno's Wonder Wheel Park)

http://www.coneyislandhistory.org

http://www.denoswonderwheel.com

Terra Cotta Relics from the Childs Building

The Coney Island History Project's special exhibition for the 2017 season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, is "Neptune Revisited: Terra Cotta Relics from the Childs Building, Last of Coney Island's Boardwalk Palaces." A selection of original polychrome pieces from the Childs Restaurant Building will be on display along with archival photographs, ephemera, and an illustrated timeline of the history of the building and its restoration.

Childs Restaurant Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk has a remarkable history that spans nearly a century. Completed in 1924, and originally the flagship location for the Childs Restaurant chain, the building has served as a candy factory, a book warehouse, and a roller rink. The fireproof building also acted as a firebreak during the disastrous fire of 1932, stopping the flames and saving the amusement area from destruction. Childs survived years of isolation at the westernmost fringe of Coney Island's amusement zone as everything else around it closed down and was demolished.

The landmark building's colorful, nautical-themed terra-cotta façade, marble columns, and multi-arched entranceway, have charmed and mystified Boardwalk visitors for nearly a century. One of the most striking images on the building is a medallion of King Neptune with gold crown and trident, rising from the sea, dripping with seaweed, and gazing out as if serving as guardian of the Boardwalk. The Childs Building, now connected to the adjacent Ford Amphitheater, recently underwent a magnificent, multi-million dollar restoration and has once again reopened as a restaurant. Last May, prior to the opening of the Amphitheater, Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson made a short film about the building's history and future, which may be viewed here.

The building's restoration included replication and replacement of the beautiful but seriously damaged terra-cotta decorations that covered the facade. Hundreds of replications were lovingly hand-painted and hand finished by the Boston Valley Terra-Cotta Company in Buffalo, New York. Visitors to the Coney Island History Project can now get an up-close view of many of the original polychrome terra-cotta pieces that were removed, including the King Neptune medallion and a medallion showing an image of the Boardwalk and building that was hidden away for decades on an interior wall of the restaurant.

Childs Building Medallion at Coney Island History Project

Original Terra cotta medallion showing an image of the Childs Building from an interior wall of the restaurant is on view in the Coney Island History Project exhibit. The medallion is 48 inches in diameter. Photo by Charles Denson

 The Coney Island History Project exhibition center is open free of charge on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. We're located on 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. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with the iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops and Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse, from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Among the rare treasures on display is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact from the dawn of the "World's Playground." The 1823 Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to "the Island" was 5 cents!

posted May 18th, 2017 in Events and tagged with Childs Building, Childs Restaurant, Terra Cotta,...

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at the Coney Island History Project

When the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops left Coney Island in 2014 for a national tour of art museums as part of the NEH-funded Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art exhibit "Coney Island Visions of an American Dreamland," the identity of the artist who created this fabulous piece of folk art remained unknown. Until now. 

The Cyclops - or "Cy" as we affectionately call him - has returned home to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and beginning Memorial Day Weekend will be on display at the Coney Island History Project along with documentation of the artist who created the iconic sculpture and its mesmerizing moving eye nearly 60 years ago. 

Thanks to the reminiscences of a former neighbor, who recalled the artist building the figure in his yard, the Coney Island History Project has learned that he was Dan Casola (1902-1990), a Coney Islander known to us by reputation as a highly regarded painter of sideshow banners. Less well known is that he made mechanized props and painted signs for a number of Coney Island attractions including the 1950's dark ride Spook-A-Rama, created wax figures for Lillie Santangelo's World in Wax Musee, and painted the mural over the bar at Club Atlantis on the Boardwalk. Born in Italy, Dan Casola's family emigrated to New York when he was a child. He lived and worked in Coney Island until the late 1970s when he retired to Arizona. 

Interviews with Dan Casola's daughter Patricia Casola and son Wesley Casola recorded by Charles Denson for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive provide details of their father's life as a freelance artist. Patricia Casola describes him as a tinkerer and a self-taught man who told her, "I learned by doing this," when she asked where he got his skill and inspiration. Says Wesley Casola, who recalls his father creating the Cyclops from plywood, chicken wire and sheets of celastic,"it'd be nice for him to get some credit for it."

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at the Coney Island History Project

Thousands of visitors have taken souvenir photos, videos and selfies with the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at the Coney Island History Project. The Cyclops eye moves back and forth and glows red at night. Photo: Coney Island History Project

The artist had a penchant for maintaining multiple studios, including two in the family's home on Stillwell Avenue and a secret studio behind Spook-A-Rama, where they brought him dinner. Boxes full of glass eyeballs for the taking and free rides were some of the perks of being Danny's kids. The artist's appropriation of household items such as his wife's black brassiere and his children's wind-up toys for his spooky creations was legend. The interviews are available for online listening on the Coney Island History Project's website.

The circa 1955 Spook-A-Rama, located in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, is Coney Island's oldest operating dark ride. In September 2011, the Cyclops, a Coney Island legend that had originally sat atop the roof of Spook-A-Rama but had not been seen for decades, came out of retirement to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Coney Island History Project. After being stabilized it became the centerpiece of our induction ceremony and a popular attraction at the History Project exhibition center from 2012 through 2014. 

As part of the traveling exhibit "Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland," the Cyclops traveled for the past two years in the company of artwork by some of America's most distinguished artists to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, San Diego Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum and San Antonio Museum of Art. 

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at Brooklyn Museum

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops on view in "Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland" at the Brooklyn Museum in 2016 with Charles Denson's photo of Cyclops atop Spook-A-Rama as a backdrop and Arnold Mesches' painting "Anomie 2001: Coney" featuring the Cyclops. Photo: Brooklyn Museum 

"The sculpture is unique, one-of-a-kind, a throwback to the hand-made craftsmanship and creativity that made Coney the center of the amusement universe," said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. 

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops will be on view at the Coney Island History Project exhibition center located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk. The History Project is open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day from 1-7pm. Admission is free of charge. 

posted May 15th, 2017 in History and tagged with Spook-A-Rama, Cyclops, Artist Unknown,...

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Among the additions to the Coney Island History Project's online Oral History Archive in 2017 are the following interviews recorded by Amanda Deutch, Charles Denson, Kaara Baptiste, Leslee Dean, Mark Markov, and Samira Tazari. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story, sign up here.

Steve Larkin has vivid anecdotes about working for Bob Myers, "The Chairman of the Boardwalk," at a Coney Island beach chair and umbrella rental company in the 1970s. Getting working papers when he turned 14 and working his way up from "schlepping chairs" to being a cashier was a rite of passage. 

Charles Robert Feltman, great-grandson of Feltmans Restaurant founder and hot dog inventor Charles Feltman, tells the family history, describes what Coney Island was like in the 1940s, and reveals why the family is no longer in the hot dog business.

Grace Lo has been a homeowner and community activist in Coney Island's West End since 1989. "At that time we were immigrants who took a chance to live in what people said was not a good neighborhood," Lo explains. "We wanted to make the community better."

Harold J. Kramer and Linda Kramer Evans share their family history and childhood memories of visiting their Great-Aunt Molly and Great-Uncle George. The couple owned and operated Coney Island's Thunderbolt and lived in the house under the roller coaster which was later immortalized in Woody Allen's 1977 film Annie Hall. 

Brooklyn resident Ronald Wimberly is a storyteller, cartoonist and designer whose graphic novel Prince of Cats is partly set in Coney Island. His retelling of Romeo and Juliet mixes comics, hip-hop and Shakespearian poetry, which he describes as "a take on '80s New York as if it were five years after The Warriors." 

Gravesend native Donna Bianco became a police officer at age 22 and was assigned to Coney Island in the 1980s and '90s, when the neighborhood was crime-ridden and scarred with abandoned buildings. Bianco, whose mother enjoyed Coney Island in its heyday, says she learned to love her beat and its sense of history. 

Barry Yanowitz grew up in Trump Village in Coney Island where he could see the Cyclone and hear the screams of riders from his window. In the early 2000's, an interest in history drew him to photography as a way to document the changes he saw in Coney Island and the rest of New York City. He talks about being a street photographer and his favorite photographs of Coney Island.

Dionne Brown grew up in Surfside Houses, has lived in Coney Island all her life, and works here as Assemblymember Pamela Harris's Deputy Chief of Staff. Writing as D.L. Jordan, she is the author of Living Life Like It's Golden, which describes the epiphany she reached when she turned 40. The book's subtitle is "The Latter Years of My Life Shall Be the BEST Years of My Life!"

Eliot Wofse, who grew up in Luna Park Houses, shares memories of the amusement area as his boyhood playground. He reflects on his philosophy of running amusement games, which he did for a living from the 1960s through the early '80s and again in the late 2000s, and the unsustainable cost of private proprietors like himself doing business in the new, corporatized Coney Island.

Susan Hochtman Creatura recalls living in Coney Island Houses when it was new and her Jewish immigrant grandparents, who lived nearby. Her parents marveled that this New York City housing complex for working class people was located right on the beach. "They talked about how Coney Island was a paradise," she says. "They had so much fun here, they didn't feel poor." 

Yoga and meditation teacher Chia-Ti Chiu has been teaching Yoga on the Beach in Coney Island since 2014.The idea for the donation-based classes on the beach off West 19th Street originated with Coney Island's Lola Star. "Having our view be the ocean, I often refer to it," says Chia-Ti. "How can you live a life as expansive as the horizon?" 

Al Burgo, who grew up in Gravesend Houses in Coney Island's West End in the 1960s, tells stories of street games and streetwise hijinks. Burgo's first job as a boy was shining shoes on the Boardwalk, an experience that he made into the 2013 film Shoe Shine Chicken. As a teen he had a thriving business selling knishes on the beach.

posted Apr 10th, 2017 in History and tagged with oral history, Oral History Archive, Coney Island,...

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Visit the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive to listen online to audio interviews with Coney Island residents, business owners, and visitors - both past and present. Among the additions to our online archive in 2016 are the following interviews recorded in English, Spanish and Russian. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story, sign up here.

Artist Johanna Gargiulo Sherman shares vivid memories of growing up in Coney Island, where her family lived on Mermaid Avenue above the Carolina Restaurant. Her father Joe "Carolina" Gargiulo led a musical trio and was one of the partners in this popular Italian restaurant from 1947 through the 1980s. 

Ecuadorian-born Julio Sauce is a Gravesend resident who has been running in the Coney Island 5K, Brooklyn Half Marathon and New York Marathon since 1998 and is among the fastest local runners in his age category. The interview was recorded in Spanish and includes Spanish and English transcripts.

Shirley Aikens, president of the Carey Gardens Tenants Association and a member of Community Board 13, recounts moving to Carey Gardens with her one-year-old daughter in the 1970s, her first impressions of Coney Island, and how the community has changed over the years.

Antoinette Balzano, a granddaughter of Anthony "Totonno" Pero, the founder of Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitana, tells her family's story. Pizzas have been made in the same way at the Neptune Avenue restaurant since 1924.

Cultural Research Divers' founder Gene Ritter is a Coney Island native, environmental advocate, commercial diver and educator who grew up on West 16th Street. He shares his knowledge of oceans, estuaries, and Coney Island Creek.

Alfie Davis, who has lived in Coney Island for nearly 40 years and is the Tenant Association Leader of the Sea Rise I complex in Coney's West End, tells the story of three generations of her family.

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Coney Island resident Derrick Batts opened Coney Island Hook and Bait Shop on West 24th Street off Mermaid Avenue in May. He recounts learning about life from fishing and gardening, both of which he was introduced to as a boy by older members of the community, and passing on that knowledge to young people.

Candi Rafael, whose family operates games on Coney Island's Bowery, grew up here and started helping out as an eight-year-old. Now 22, she demonstrates the spiel that she uses to call people in to play the games and describes what it's like to work in Coney Island. 

On her first day back in Coney Island since 1959, Kathy Duke O'Melia shares memories of joyful summers spent with her family at a bungalow colony located on West 31st Street near Coney Island Creek. 

Commendatore Aldo Mancusi, the founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America, recalls visiting Coney Island in the 1930s and '40s and growing up in Brooklyn in an Italian family.

Historian Eric K. Washington delves into the life of E.J. Perry, an African-American silhouette artist who worked in the early 20th century at Luna Park, where it was said "he is there with a nice spiel and and he cuts your picture with the scissors in a minute."

Coney Island resident Zinovy Pritsker emigrated from Leningrad to Southern Brooklyn in 1978. His jazz big band, founded 20 years ago, consists of 18 Russian musicians and singers plus a few Americans. The interview was recorded in Russian and includes Russian and English transcripts.

posted Dec 27th, 2016 in History and tagged with oral history, Oral History Archive, Interviews,...

\"50th Anniversary of Fred Trump's Demolition of Steeplechase Pavilion\" Opens May 28

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.

Astroland seeks to buy Tilyou's - Coney Island History Project Collection

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

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 of Coney Island. He also profited by collecting fees for the relocations.

Bungalow Colony - Coney Island History Project Collection

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.

Murray Zaret's Pet Festival and Animal Husbandry Exhibit - Coney Island History Project Collection

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 Coney Island History Project exhibit. Photo by James Onorato

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.

 

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,...

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.

Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's online Oral History Archive are the following interviews. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story, either in person or on the phone, sign up here

What better place than Coney Island for a man who floated down the Amazon River in a rubber suit and was the first to swim the English Channel. Craig Boyton Dudley talks about his great-grandfather, Paul Boyton, who built Sea Lion Park, Coney Island's first enclosed amusement park, in 1895. Boyton's Shoot the Chutes was incorporated into Luna Park and operated until 1944. 

Economic development specialist Georganna Deas is a Coney Island resident and advocate who has lived in the Gravesend Houses on Kaiser Park for 40 years. Among the issues she talks about was getting rid of the smokestacks along Coney Island Creek, challenging the Transit Authority to make Coney Island a one-fare zone, and organizing against the privatization of Coney Island Hospital.

Louise Milano shares memories of her mother, Carolina, who operated Carolina Restaurant on Mermaid Avenue for 60 years, and of growing up in a restaurant family. Carrie prepared traditional home style cooking such as breaded baked clams, fried zucchini flowers, and stuffed artichokes with garlic that remains memorable to generations of Coney Island residents.

Taty Alicea and her son Ralph Alicea share fond memories of Coney Island's famous Laughing Lady, a popular mechanical attraction that was part of the Magic Carpet Fun House and is greatly missed. 

Federico Ausbury and Maira Vergara are a husband-and-wife music duo whose band is called A Flying Dodo Society. Last summer, they busked on the Q train and in Coney Island on the boardwalk and the pier. They talk about their journey from Argentina, where Maira is from and they first met, and Puerto Rico, where Federico grew up, to Brooklyn and Coney Island. Ausbury sings one of his new songs, "Coney Island (Shake Your Shoes)," accompanying himself on kalimba.

Marina Rubin, the author of Stealing Cherries (2013), reads excerpts from her book of flash fiction, and talks about storytelling, poetry and the Russian Jewish immigrant experience. Born in the small town of Vinnitsa, Ukraine, she immigrated to the U.S. with her family, who sought political asylum and settled first in Bensonhurst and then in Coney Island. 

David Head is a retired NYC Transit worker and former chairman of the Black History Committee for TWU Local 100. He talks about the accomplishments of Granville T. Woods (1856-1910), an African-American inventor whom he has championed. Among Woods' many electrical patents was one for the world's first electric roller coaster, which was located in Coney Island a century ago. Head was instrumental in having a Coney Island street across from Stillwell Terminal renamed Granville T. Woods Way and wrote a book about Woods' career.

Gabriel Valencia lives in Coney Island and has worked at Gregory & Paul's eatery, now called Paul's Daughter, for 20 years. He came to New York from Mexico to join his brother and learned English little by little, by talking with the customers at the counter. Paul Georgoulakos and his family are good people who treat him "like family," says Valencia. He tends the bar at the popular restaurant, which was founded at this location in 1962 and is the oldest on the Boardwalk. 

Basil Jones is the chef at Footprints Cafe in Coney Island, which specializes in Caribbean cuisine, and is the originator of their famed Rasta Pasta. Born in Jamaica, Jones learned to cook as a boy helping out in his grandmother's kitchen. He talks about his culinary career, from his first job at a hotel restaurant to creating unique dishes for Jamaica's 25th anniversary. A scholarship to culinary school brought Jones to the U.S, where he settled in Brooklyn and developed the original menu for Footprints.

Misha Mokretsov, head coach and owner of the New York Fencing Academy in Coney Island, has trained nationally top-ranked fencers in every age group. He says that fencing is an intellectual as well as a physical sport, making it a popular choice of parents and one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. Among his fencing academy's first students were the children of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants who had fenced in their youth. When weather permits, the students do physical conditioning on Coney Island's beach.

posted Mar 28th, 2016 in History and tagged with oral history, Paul Boyton, Carolina Restaurant,...