History Day Deno's Wonder Wheel Park Coney Island History Project

Save the Date! Sunday, June 9th, 2019, from 2pm - 6pm

Eighth Annual History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project

Celebrating Coney Island's Immigrant Heritage!
 
Enjoy Free Live Music, Entertainment and History, including performances by musicians and dancers representing the traditional culture of countries from which people have emigrated to Coney Island. Performers TBA.
 
Hosted by Deno John Vourderis, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and 
Charles Denson, Coney Island History Project 

For more than a century, Coney Island served as the true historic "melting pot" for New York City's immigrant population.  It remains a place of great diversity, where people of small means enjoy an affordable day of free recreation on the beach and Boardwalk. Coney Island continues to be a destination for immigrants, the place to assimilate with people of all nationalities. It's where they finally find true freedom and become Americans.

The Opening Ceremony at 2pm will be followed by Free Live Entertainment from 3-6pm on the Boardwalk Stage in front of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park.

About Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park
Built in 1920, Deno's Wonder Wheel is the iconic centerpiece of the Coney Island skyline and the heart and soul of the amusement and entertainment district. Deno's Wonder Wheel Park founder Denos D. Vourderis, the 8th of 22 children, immigrated to the United States at age 14 to pursue the American Dream. He was born in Greece in 1920, the same year as the Wonder Wheel that he would buy in 1983 as a wedding ring for his wife Lula, restore to its original state and build his park around. Deno's Wonder Wheel Park has the best selection of rides for kids and over 21 thrilling attractions including the classic haunted house dark ride, Spook-A-Rama, and Stop the Zombies, a state-of-the-art virtual reality interactive ride, game and movie in one air-conditioned theater. The park is owned and operated by Dennis and Steve Vourderis and their sons, the second and third generations of the Vourderis family. Deno's Wonder Wheel was designated an official New York City landmark in 1989 and West 12th Street, between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk, was co-named Denos D. Vourderis Place in 2001. Deno's Wonder Wheel will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2020. 

About the Coney Island History Project
The Coney Island History Project is a not-for-profit organization that aims to increase awareness of Coney Island's legendary past and to encourage appreciation of the Coney Island neighborhood of today. Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, our exhibition center is open free of charge on weekends during the summer season. Emphasizing community involvement, the History Project records and shares oral history interviews; provides access to historical artifacts and documentary material through educational exhibits, events and a website; and teaches young people about local history and develops programs in conjunction with local schools, museums, and other organizations. Our multilingual offerings include a brochure in 10 languages, English and Chinese language walking tours, and oral history interviews recorded in several languages. 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.
 
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
events[AT]Coneyislandhistory[DOT]org

DCLA logo

The Coney Island History Project's programs are supported in part by public funds from the NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the NYC City Council, New York City Councilman Mark Treyger, and our members and contributors. 

 

posted Apr 23rd, 2019 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, History Day, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park,...

Coney Island History Project

Photo: Jim McDonnell

You're invited to visit the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center on Coney's traditional Opening Day, Palm Sunday, April 14, and on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019. We'll be open special hours from 1:00PM-6:00PM. Admission is free of charge. 
 
View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past as well as our special exhibit Coney Island Creek and the Natural World. Photographs by the winners of last fall's Astroland Remembered Photo Contest will be on display. Take a free souvenir photo with the iconic Cyclops head from Deno's Spook-A-Rama dark ride and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Among the treasures on display is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact: The 1823 wooden Toll House Sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to go over Coney Island Creek to "the island" was 5 cents! 

2019 marks the 15th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project and our ninth season at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Since our inception in 2004 with a portable booth on the Boardwalk for recording oral history interviews, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!" at our exhibits and special events.

Opening Day festivities start at 10:30AM on the Boardwalk with the Annual Blessing of the Rides at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. The late Pastor Debbe Santiago of Coney Island's Salt and Sea Mission originated the event with Denos D. Vourderis, who invited children from the Mission to enjoy free rides, a tradition that continues today.

Deacon Toyin Fakumoju of the Mission will lead the Blessing and the NYC Fire Department Ceremonial Unit will present the colors and sing the National Anthem. A ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by the Vourderis family will be followed by free rides on the Wonder Wheel for the first 99 guests in celebration of the Wheel's 99th year. 

Join us at 2:00PM on Coney Island's Opening Day for a special Walking Tour of the newly landmarked Boardwalk led by historian and History Project director Charles Denson. Tickets for this 1- 1/2 hour, wheelchair accessible tour are $25 and help support the free programming of the Coney Island History Project, a 501c3 not-for-profit organization. The April 14 tour is limited to approximately 25 people. Advance tickets may be purchased here via eventbrite.

Join us on Easter Sunday, April 21st,  to learn about the contributions of immigrants to the history and development of "The Playground of the World" on our Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island conducted in English (at 12:00PM) and Mandarin (at 3:00PM). The Coney Island History Project is offering this special walking tour free of charge as part of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs celebration of Immigrant Heritage Week 2019. Due to limited capacity, tickets must be reserved in advance here via our eventbrite page.

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel, just a few steps off the Boardwalk, the Coney Island History Project is open free of charge on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day from 1:00-7:00PM. The Coney Island History Project is open year round for private group visits and our weekend walking tours as well as by appointment to record interviews with people who have memories of Coney Island for our Oral History Archive.

posted Mar 29th, 2019 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, Opening Day, Palm Sunday,...

The Grashorn Building in the 1880s

The historic Grashorn Building, Coney Island's oldest structure, has been given a death sentence by real estate speculator Joe Sitt of Thor Equities, and demolition of the vacant structure has begun.  The NYC Department of Buildings approved an application for demolition of the entire structure on January 23, 2019. The Grashorn is just the latest in a series of amusement landmarks destroyed by the self-proclaimed "savior" of Coney Island who bought up large chunks of the amusement area more than a decade ago.

Thor made no effort to renovate the building and left it to rot since purchasing it for nearly $2 million a decade ago. Save Coney Island, a preservation group opposing the city's rezoning plan, had proposed a renovation project in 2010, but Thor wasn't interested. Other than the squatters who periodically broke into the building, the only "tenant" was a TV crew who briefly used the ground floor to re-create the Susquehanna Hat Store for the HBO series "Bored to Death." During the filming of "Men in Black 3," the film's production crew used part of the building's gutted interior as its headquarters.

Despite making a $90 million profit flipping Coney Island property during the city's 2009 rezoning of the amusement zone, Thor Equities has recently run into financial problems. Sitt lost ownership of some of his Manhattan properties and has reportedly defaulted on bank loans. In 2018 he put his combined 21 Coney Island properties up for sale, abandoning his scheme to build a shopping mall and hotel complex in the amusement zone.

The Grashorn Building, with its mansard roof, cast-iron cresting, and fish-scale shingles, was built by hardware store owner Henry Grashorn in the early 1880s and is the last surviving structure from that era. It is believed that the contractor was John Y. McKane, the carpenter who became political boss of Gravesend and Coney Island only to wind up in Sing-Sing prison, convicted of corruption.

For more than 60 years, Henry Grashorn's hardware store met the unusual needs of amusement operators by carrying everything needed to operate or repair the rides of Coney Island. The two floors above the store served as a hotel. The building had several owners after Grashorn retired. The last owner before Sitt was the late Wally Roberts, who operated an arcade on the ground floor. Although the building's facade was heavily altered over the years, it still retained its original shape and was easily identifiable. The hotel rooms on the upper floors were perfectly preserved. The Grashorn now joins Thor's other victims, including the Henderson Theater and Coney Island Bank Building, which Sitt ordered demolished in 2010 despite local efforts to preserve them.

The vacant Grashorn Building after Thor Equities bought the property.

The Grashorn Building was the last surviving structure from the earliest days of Coney Island.

The two upper floors in the Grashorn Building were once a hotel.

Architectural rendering released by Save Coney Island in 2010. What could have been. . .   

The Grashorn Building in 1969 still had Henry Grashorn's brass signage.

Susquehanna Hat Store in the Grashorn Building, a set for the HBO series, "Bored to Death" in 2011. Photo © Charles Denson.

 

posted Mar 4th, 2019 in By Charles Denson and tagged with Development, demolition, Grashorn Building,...

Congratulations to NYC Council Member Mark Treyger, Borough President Eric Adams, and NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson for funding the repair and restoration of the deteriorating Ocean Parkway bicycle path, the oldest bike path in the country. According to Streetsblog, the Parks Department will begin fixing the bike path on Ocean Parkway this spring, thanks to a $1-million allocation from Treyger, and $500,000 each from the Borough President and the City Council.

Images from the Coney Island History Project archive show that from the 1890s to 1920s Coney Island was the most popular destination for an army of cyclists who traveled five miles down the Ocean Parkway Cycle Path to Coney Island from Prospect Park. A rustic wood pavilion located at the intersection of Surf Avenue and Ocean Parkway served as an end-of-ride meeting place, and nearby bicycle storage facilities provided parking for riders heading to the beach. Many cyclists had photos taken with their bicycles as a souvenir of their journey to Coney Island. Our print and tintype collection contains countless images documenting these early days of bicycling at the shore.

Women's bicycle club poses for a souvenir photo at Coney Island, 1897.

Cyclists line up at the beachfront pavilion at Ocean Parkway and Surf Avenue, 1890s

Joe's Bicycle Checking and Storage stand on Surf Avenue at West 5th Street.

A cyclist relaxes at Brighton Beach after a ride down Ocean Parkway.

Posing with their rides at Coney Island, 1916.

Sheet music, 1896

 

 

 

 

posted Feb 15th, 2019 in By Charles Denson and tagged with Ocean Parkway, bike path, bicycling,...

A piece of Coney Island transit history unexpectedly reappeared recently when Surf Avenue's old trolley tracks were unearthed and removed during street construction in front of MCU Park. The tracks had been paved over decades ago after trolley car service was discontinued and replaced by buses in 1946.

Trolley tracks reappeared on Surf Avenue and West 17th Street  Photo by Charles Denson

Surf Avenue trolley service began in the 1890s, serving the amusement zone and West End before taking a curve up West 36th Street. There it connected with the Railroad Avenue "Toonerville" trolley line that ran between Mermaid and Surf Avenues and then through Sea Gate to Norton's Point. The rusting tracks brought to light during the excavation were stacked up next to the decaying trolley poles that still line Surf from West 8th Street to West 21st Street, reviving memories of a once popular transit system that died off after World War II.

Coney Island was literally the end of the line for many of Brooklyn's trolley routes. A trolley barn and terminal were located on West 5th Street, across the street from Seaside Park, and Norton's point served as the last stop on the Railroad Avenue line that once connected to the ferry. For many years there was also a spur that terminated inside Steeplechase park at West 17th Street.

Resurrection of streetcar service has been in the news lately with Mayor de Blasio's ambitious plan for a $2.7 billion BQX line, and developer John Catsimatidis's much-hyped but delusional plan to construct a Surf Avenue "trolley" (in reality a jitney bus) connecting his West End high-rises to the Stillwell Avenue subway terminal. Catsimatidis's plan has probably been derailed by the city's recent proposal for a conveniently located ferry terminal a few blocks away.

Whenever a shovel is placed in the sands of Coney Island, a piece of history is uncovered. Many visitors to the History Project have recorded their memories of traveling to Coney Island by nickel trolley when they were young. They say it was a romantic and unforgettable means of arriving at the seashore. These trolley car memories provide nostalgic links to a picturesque form of urban transportation: clanging bells and screeching wheels, rattan seats and rattling floorboards, the rising scent of salt air drifting through open windows as one approached Coney Island while sailing aboard the clunky but beautiful one-eyed machines that once prowled the streets of Brooklyn.

The lumbering buses that replaced the trolleys will never have the same mystique.

– Charles Denson

Trolley car on Surf Avenue at West 12th Street

Closeup of the Surf Avenue rails

Trolley car parked at West 36th Street and Railroad Avenue. The curved track connected to Surf Avenue.

 

 

 

 

 

posted Feb 9th, 2019 in By Charles Denson and tagged with trolleys, trolley service, trolley route,...

Coney Island History Project Immigrant Heritage Tour

On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, learn about the contributions of immigrants to the history and development of "The Playground of the World" on our Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island (康尼岛移民文化遗产之旅) conducted in English (12:00 PM) and (Mandarin 3:00 PM). The Coney Island History Project is offering this special walking tour as part of Immigrant Heritage Week 2019.  Tickets are free of charge for the 1-1/2 hour, wheelchair accessible tour but must be reserved online as each tour is limited to 40 participants. Advance ticketing is available via our online reservation page on Eventbrite. If you have a question, please email events@coneyislandhistory.org.

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.

Coordinated by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), Immigrant Heritage Week is an annual citywide program of events celebrating the history, traditions and contributions of New York City's diverse immigrant communities.  IHW 2019 is scheduled for April 15-21 in recognition of April 17, 1907, the date when more immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island than any other date in history. 

"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."

The walking tour will also highlight businesses operated by immigrants from Hong Kong, Jamaica, Mexico, Russia and Ukraine who have recorded their stories for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive. The Immigrant Heritage Tour will be led by Tricia Vita and Sylvia Ching Man Wong, who facilitate and record oral histories for the Coney Island History Project. 

Please note that the Coney Island History Project exhibit center will be open special hours on April 21, Easter Sunday, from 1:00PM-6:00PM. Admission is free of charge. Visitors are invited to 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. Among the treasures on display at the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center this season 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! Today, the nearly two century old sign is often described as Coney Island's "first admission ticket."

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.

posted Feb 4th, 2019 in Events and tagged with Immigrant Heritage Week, immigrants, Coney Island,...

George C Tilyou Coney Island History Project

"If Paris is France, then Coney Island, between June and September, is the world." --George C Tilyou.

George C.  Tilyou, founder of Steeplechase Park and creator of Coney Island's Funny Face logo was born on this day, February 3rd, in 1862.

Tilyou was a master showman and amateur psychologist who understood how people wanted to be entertained. He realized that his customers were happy to play the fool to entertain others.

He  came with his parents to Coney Island in 1865 at the tender age of three. His father, Peter, opened a small wooden bathhouse and restaurant on the beach, and young George was soon selling bottles of souvenir sand to visitors. The family nearly lost everything when they challenged Coney's political boss, John McKane, in the 1880s. After McKane went to prison, the Tilyous' fortunes improved, and soon George owned a theater, a Ferris wheel, and other rides scattered along the beach.

Tilyou became Coney's biggest booster and a philanthropist who supported local orphanages, the Catholic church, children's hospitals, and other charities.

In 1897 Tilyou moved his rides into an enclosed park at West Sixteenth Street and Surf Avenue. Horse racing was the park's theme. The Steeplechase ride enabled ordinary people to experience the thrill of racing by riding mechanical horses along a steel track.

Read more about Tilyou on his page in the Coney Island History Project's Coney Island Hall of Fame.

posted Feb 3rd, 2019 in History and tagged with George C. Tilyou, Steeplechase Park, Funny Face,...

Ocean Parkway Coney Island History Project Collection

Photo: Ocean Parkway, 1920s. Coney Island History Project Collection.

Today, January 28, in 1975, Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway, the first road of its kind in the U.S., was designated a NYC Scenic Landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux , who coined the word 'parkway,' Ocean Parkway goes from Prospect Park to Coney Island and established a new concept in road building. "It evolved from an idea expressed by Olmsted and Vaux in their 1866 preliminary report to the Park Commissioners of Brooklyn on their plans for Prospect Park. Under the section titled 'Suburban Connections,' they suggested that the shaded 'pleasure' drive on the western side of Prospect Park be extended from the park to the ocean. The road should be 'of a picturesque character...neither very straight nor very level, and should be bordered by a small belt of trees and shrubbery'" (from the LPC's designation report).

posted Jan 28th, 2019 in History and tagged with Today in History, OTDH, Coney Island,...

GONE FOREVER: Beautiful nautical-themed details of the old theater were lost to neglect and vandalism.

Three months ago I was contacted by Eduard Yadgarov of Pye Properties, new owners of the old Shore Theater building, regarding the company's plans for the structure and a possible collaboration with the Coney Island History Project. During our meeting at the sleek new company offices on West 8th Street, I was shown plans for the renovations and new attractions that include a hotel and rooftop restaurant.

We discussed historic preservation of the ornate interior details that I documented a decade ago. I was then told the bad news: Almost all of the beautiful plaster decorations, the mermaids and ships that had once embellished the mezzanine and other areas, had been destroyed by vandalism and water leaks during the time that the building had been occupied by squatters prior to Pye's purchase of the building. Horace Bullard's heirs had let the building rot, and the roof had been leaking for years.

On October 5 Yadgarov and his father gave me a tour of the theater's interior. After donning hard hats, we used flashlights to work our way through the ruins of the once elegant theater. The damage was extensive. In the years following Horace Bullard's death, the vacant building had been stripped of its window frames and almost anything else of value. Water damage had destabilized the theater's decorative interior and exterior brick walls to a point that seemed beyond repair. Only a few historic items remained, and Yadgarov assured me that those relics will be preserved and included in the new construction.

In 2010 I testified in favor of landmarking the building and also gave a presentation at the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing that showed the building's interior, hoping that it could be saved. I had always imagined that the theater could somehow be preserved much as the old Harvey Theater at BAM had been renovated and restored while leaving most of the original details.  But after the tour, which was extremely hazardous as plaster was still collapsing around us, I realized that this was a hopeless situation. The ceiling of the mezzanine with its mermaids and ships and ocean motifs was gone, leaving only piles of damp debris. No trace of the artwork remains.

The only surviving remnants are the beautiful marble columns, ornate railings, and the mosaic water fountain, which Pye Properties has promised to retain, restore and place in the new hotel's lobby. The theater's ceiling and enormous dome, which I had once seen re-wired and lit up by former caretaker Andy Badalementi 10 years ago, has suffered serious water damage. I doubt that it can be salvaged. This was a sad tour, but afterwards I complimented Yadgarov on the company's ambitious efforts to renovate and repurpose the landmark structure. Not many developers would take on such a seemingly impossible and expensive task. Although a restored theater would have been a great project, it no longer seems feasible. It will be wonderful to have the landmarked building open to the public once again, filled with new amenities and attractions for Coney Island.

– Charles Denson

SAVED: The mosaic fountain on the theater's mezzanine will be preserved and restored.

SAVED: The ornate railings on the balcony steps will be salvaged and repurposed.

2006: The theater's marble columns have survived and will be restored and placed in the hotel's lobby but the plaster ceiling artwork is gone forever.

The lobby ceiling, decorated with nautical creatures and sporting unusual lighting fixtures, is intact and will be restored by Pye Properties.

posted Jan 22nd, 2019 in By Charles Denson and tagged with Shore Theater, Coney Island, Landmark,...

Coney Island History Project

Happy New Year to our members, funders, and friends and many thanks for your continued interest and support! Looking back on highlights of 2018 at the Coney Island History Project as we welcome 2019, our 15th anniversary season, our year-round activities include walking tours, oral history interviews, and cultural enrichment programs at schools and senior centers in the community. We can't wait to see everyone again when the History Project's free exhibit center re-opens April 14, 2019, for Coney Island's Opening Day. 

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. 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. Emphasizing community involvement, the History Project teaches young people about local history and develops programs in conjunction with local schools, museums, senior centers, and other organizations. 

We are grateful to the Albert family for their ongoing support, and to the Vourderis family, operators of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, for providing us a space and for their interest in preserving Coney Island's heritage. The Coney Island Project is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, New York City Councilman Mark Treyger, and our members and contributors. Printed materials made possible with funds from the Destination: Brooklyn Program, funded by the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and NYC & Company Foundation, administered by Brooklyn Arts Council.

posted Jan 1st, 2019 in News and tagged with Happy New Year, New Year, Coney Island History Project,...