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

Ron Rossi, whose interview is part of the NEH on the Road's traveling Coney Island exhibit, being interviewed by Natalie Milbrodt for the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive in 2010

We're proud to announce that selections from the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive will be part of the NEH on the Road exhibit "Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland" touring the U.S. from April 2017 through March 2022.

The NEH-funded exhibit, which first opened at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and traveled to the Brooklyn Museum and San Diego Museum of Art, was adapted from its original format to make it available to smaller venues in communities large and small across the country. This new traveling exhibition from NEH on the Road will explore America's playground as a place and as an idea, examining its persistent presence in the American imagination.

Among the Coney Island History Project interviews featured in the exhibit are Beth Allen, who was an incubator baby in Dr. Martin Couney's sideshow in Luna Park; Joseph Albanese, who recalls a time when police didn't allow bathing suits on the boardwalk even though bathing suits were very modest; and Ron Rossi and Ronald Ruiz, who talk about their experiences riding the Parachute Jump, the Cyclone and Steeplechase Horse Race at Steeplechase Park. Clips from these interviews and several others will be running on a loop at one of the listening stations in the exhibition.

Upcoming venues include the Brazos Valley Museum, Brazos, TX (April 6-May 25, 2017); Ypsilanti Public Library, Ypsilanti, MI (June 16-August 11, 2017) and the Sioux City Public Museum, Sioux City, IA (November 10, 2017-January 7, 2018). Pending destinations include Hagerstown, MD; Green Bay, WI; Reading, PA; Temple, TX; Park City, UT; Hastings, NE; Buford, GA; West Branch, IA; Baton Rouge, LA; Greenville, SC; and Shawnee, KS.

NEH on the Road is a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities designed to create wider national access to the ideas, themes, and stories explored in major grant-funded NEH exhibitions. The program is funded by the NEH and run by Mid-America Arts Alliance, a non-profit regional arts organization located in Kansas City. If you would like to bring the Coney Island exhibit to a venue near you, check the NEH on the Road website for details.


John Bonsignore: Man of the Year, 2005. John and Louise are honored for their work and dedication to the Italian-American community. Photo by Charles Denson

Coney Island is known for bright lights and one of the brightest was John Bonsignore, who passed away on March 20 at the age of 92. John represented Coney’s “old breed”: a talented engineer and inventor who could build or fix anything. He was best known for rebuilding and operating the Bobsled ride after his father brought it to Coney Island from the 1939–40 World’s Fair.  John’s family also owned the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway, Coney Island’s biggest roller coaster, as well as Stauch’s Baths, the largest bathhouse on the Boardwalk. The Bonsignore family owned property and amusements from one end of the island to other.

In 2006, I wrote a book about the Bonsignore family called Wild Ride. The book was the culmination of a multi-year research project aided by the family’s records, and photo albums, as well as oral histories that I recorded at the time. Sometimes we worked in John’s oak paneled home office but mostly we talked during the lavish, multi-course family dinners prepared by his glamorous opera singer wife, Louise. I was always treated like family.

John and Louise on the Bobsled in the 1940s: The cover of Wild Ride!

At the Bonsignore home I heard incredible tales about the “Wizards of 8th Street,” the immigrant artisans of Coney Island’s amusement manufacturing district who created magic behind the scenes for nearly a century.  West 8th Street was once home to woodcarvers, banner painters, machinists, blacksmiths, electricians, sculptors, and visionaries. Thanks to John, the culture and history of that era will not be forgotten.

John and Louise raised their family in a three-story brick building ensconced below the last turn of their Thompson Coaster on West 8th Street, a structure that had once been the offices of LaMarcus A. Thompson, inventor of the roller coaster. John was a large man whose gruff voice was tempered by his intelligence, kindness, and ironic sense of humor. His life played out in two acts. Late in life he enjoyed a successful career in business, but early in life he was a member of the Coney Island elite, the small brotherhood of skilled craftsmen who possessed unusual talents and were mostly invisible, working behind the scenes with a single-minded dedication to the task at hand. They were not the showmen or impresarios who sought the public’s attention. Without these craftsmen, Coney Island’s amusements could not have existed.

Within this fraternity John stood out from the rest. ­John Bonsignore was a talented man who possesed that rarest of qualities: the total respect of his peers. In all my years in Coney Island, I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about John Bonsignore. John lived up to the translation of the Bonsignore name: “a good man.” He was truly a good man who left the world a better place. 

A veteran of World War Two, John Bonsignore was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery with full military honors. © Charles Denson

posted Apr 2nd, 2017 in By Charles Denson and tagged with


Why are failed mayoral candidates so attracted to Coney Island development? “Failed” may not be not be the best description, as two of the former candidates with ongoing projects in the neighborhood may run again. Christine Quinn, John “Cats” Catsimatidis, and Jerome Kretchmer all ran unsuccessful campaigns for New York City mayor and are also very involved in Coney Island development.

1973 Mayoral candidate Jerry Kretchmer ©  Hautelife

The first unsuccessful mayoral hopeful to land in Coney Island was Jerome “Jerry” Kretchmer, who ran for mayor in 1973. Forty years later, Kretchmer and daughter Andrea, of the Kretchmer Companies, were the lead developers of the 2013 Coney Island Commons project on Surf Avenue at West 29th Street. This affordable housing project was built on vacant city-owned land that was cleared of viable housing in the 1970s as part of the urban renewal program that leveled the West End section of Coney Island. Kretchmer’s colorfully clad Coney Island housing project is also the home of the new Coney Island YMCA. Back in 1969 Former assemblyman Kretchmer was appointed head of NYC Environmental Protection Agency by Mayor John Lindsay and used his position to propose the city’s pooper-scooper law, something that was controversial at the time, but a law that all New Yorkers should be grateful for.

Mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn at 2016 Coney Island community meeting to promote a homeless shelter on Neptune Avenue © Charles Denson

And then there is 2013’s mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, now the president and CEO of the nonprofit organization Women in Need (Win), who is seeking to build a homeless shelter on Neptune Avenue at West 20th Street. Quinn has chosen an industrial site on polluted Coney Island Creek to house homeless women and children. Her organization plans to demolish the former factory building of the Brooklyn Yarn and Dye Company, a facility that for decades poured toxic waste into adjacent Coney Island Creek, the neglected waterway that’s been listed in the past as having the highest coliform levels in the city as well as high levels of lead and arsenic.  In 2009, after the Coney Island rezoning plan was passed, City Council Speaker Quinn proclaimed, “Coney Island is one of the most recognizable icons in New York City. And that’s why we believe this plan will lead to the revitalization of this storied section of our city.” Quinn’s project, although well intentioned and not part of the rezoning, may not be the revitalization that the neighborhood had hoped for back in 2009, and a majority of local residents made their opposition clear in a December 2016 community meeting where the project was roundly criticized.

Mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis at city hall ©NY Daily News

Billionaire mayoral candidate and Gristedes owner John “Cats” Catsimatidis and his Red Apple Group recently began development on two Boardwalk sites he owns in Coney Island’s West End. Cat’s ambitiously outlandish high-rise project dubbed "Ocean Dreams" at West 35th Street at Surf Avenue would make any Miami Beach developer proud. The development promises to bring a supermarket, retail space, and swimming pools to the neighborhood. Catsimatidis explored a mayoral bid in 2009 and later spent millions of his own money on his unsuccessful 2013 campaign only to lose the Republican nomination to Joseph Lhota.

Early architectural model of Ocean Dreams at Red Apple presentation. © Charles Denson

The Catsimatidis site is appropriately ironic, as it is located across the street from O’Dwyer Gardens, a NYCHA housing project named for a failed New York City mayor. Former Brooklyn District Attorney William O’Dwyer ran for mayor in 1941 but lost to Fiorello LaGuardia. In 1945 O’Dwyer went on to become New York’s 100th mayor after LaGuardia decided not to run, and he later won a second term in 1949 only to resign his office eight months later in the midst of a massive scandal.

The scandal, which dated back to O’Dwyer’s years as Brooklyn district attorney, involved allegations connecting the mayor to the mafia and the mysterious death of mobster Abe Reles. Hit man Reles, also known as “Kid Twist,” was tossed from a sixth-floor window of Coney Island’s Half Moon Hotel while under police protection before he could testify at trial against his fellow “Murder Incorporated” gangsters. O’Dwyer’s admitted friendship with mobster Frank Costello led to his 1950 resignation as mayor of New York City. Coincidentally, the Half Moon Hotel, which was demolished in 1994, was located on the Boardwalk, just two blocks from O’Dwyer Gardens.

Former Mayor William O'Dwyer testifies at U.S. Senate crime hearings in 1951

O’Dwyer had another Coney connection. Known as a passive mayor who liked to transfer power to unelected officials, he appointed Parks Commissioner Robert Moses to a newly created post called “New York City Coordinator of Construction.” Moses transformed the appointment into one of the most powerful positions in city government, one that gave him total and complete control over all city projects and funding. Moses would go on to implement ruinous slum clearance projects that destroyed entire neighborhoods, uprooted thousands of families, and left hundreds of blocks of vacant lots after development funding ran out. In 1949 Moses declared the residential West End of Coney Island an urban renewal site and used eminent domain to level the entire neighborhood, leaving a sea of high-rise housing projects surrounded by burning ruins. One of those high-rise projects would be named O’Dwyer Gardens.

O'Dwyer Gardens surrounded by ruins, 1970 Photo © Charles Denson

Coney Island spent decades making a shaky recovery from dubious urban planning. Now, after a 40-year hiatus, Coney is once again being flooded with high-rises. Construction has already begun at the vacant sites in the former amusement zone where Ravenhall and Washington baths were once located. It might seem counterintuitive to cram thousands of units of high-rise housing onto a vulnerable sandbar during a time of global warming and predictions of catastrophic sea level rise, but that seems to be Coney Island’s future.

The new Surf Avenue: Surf Vets Place (at center) is now under construction. High-rises (at left) will soon replace the MCU Park parking lot and surround the Parachute Jump. The Abe Stark Skating Rink on the Boardwalk will also be demolished for residential development.

Farther east, at Trump Village, billionaire developer Ruby Schron is demolishing the Trump Shopping Center to build a glitzy 40-story high-rise in its place. Schron must have tower envy, as his building is twice the size of the dismal buildings that developer Fred Trump erected in the early 1960s. Schron’s erection will be twice the size of Fred Trump’s! Future residents will have views of Trump Village rooftops and the Atlantic Ocean but will also have a sweeping view of the sprawling 10-acre multi-district Sanitation Department garbage truck facility being planned a block away on Coney Island Creek at Shell Road.

Trump Village shopping center is being demolished and replaced by a 40-story high-rise © Charles Denson

Long-neglected Coney Island Creek is also experiencing a bizarre series of developments. Cube Storage has already built two oversized public storage facilities on the banks of the creek, and a third big box is under construction at the Cropsey Avenue Bridge. Unfortunately, there is no master plan for future public access or maritime development along the Coney Island Creek estuary, and oversized big-box warehouses seem to be the waterway’s future.

CubeSmart public storage building on Coney Island Creek Photo © Charles Denson

Some of these changes bring back memories. My family moved from Coney Island Houses to O’Dwyer Gardens when it opened in 1969, and I witnessed the area’s transformation during the 1970s. The Catsimatidis site includes the YM-YWHA building on Surf Avenue that was our beloved community center during the 1960s. Cats now owns the abandoned building, and its future is in doubt. Next to the Y was one of the last bungalow colonies in Coney Island, and I documented the demolition of that old complex in 1970. The site has been vacant ever since. It would be wonderful if the new Catsimatidis project actually improved the neighborhood with new stores and affordable housing. Time will tell if this is just another luxury high-rise, cut off from a neighborhood filled with broken promises.

Many believe that high-rise developments will benefit Coney Island in some way, but the unfortunate truth is that climate change will dictate the future of this neighborhood. If current predictions are correct, Coney Island may become an “underwater world” by the year 2100.

Charles Denson

Summer campers at the Surf Avenue YM-YWHA in 1961

The view at dawn from O'Dwyer Gardens, 1970. The bungalows (at right) were demolished and the Y building (at left) is now owned by John Catsamitidis. © Charles Denson



posted Mar 13th, 2017 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Coney Island History Project

You're invited to visit the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center on Coney's traditional Opening Day, Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past and take a free souvenir photo with 'Skully' or our original Steeplechase horse at our exhibition center. We'll be open 1pm-6pm. Admission is free of charge.

2017 marks the 13th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project! Since the History Project's inception in 2004 with a portable recording booth on the Boardwalk, followed by the opening of the Coney Island Hall of Fame in 2005 and the inaugural season of our exhibition center under the Cyclone in 2007 and moving to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park in 2011, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!" at our exhibits and special events. 

The Opening Day festivities start at 11:00AM on the Boardwalk with the 32nd Annual Blessing of the Rides at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. The late Pastor Debbe Santiago of Coney Island's Salt and Sea Mission originated the event with Denos D. Vourderis in 1985, who invited 300 children from the Mission to enjoy free rides and Easter baskets, a tradition that continues today. 

A ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by park owners Dennis and Steve Vourderis will be followed by free rides on the Wonder Wheel for the first 97 guests in celebration of the Wheel's 97th anniversary. At Luna Park, the first 100 on line at the Cyclone roller coaster will ride the roller coaster for free and egg cream samples will be given out.  Coney Island's 1920 Wonder Wheel and the 1927 Cyclone are official New York City landmarks.

At the Coney Island History Project, visitors may take free souvenir photos with the only original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park (1897-1964) its name that remains in Coney Island and "Skully," a figure from Coney's classic Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama dark rides. Among the treasures on display at the Coney Island History Project's exhibit center is Coney's oldest surviving artifact. The 1823 wooden Toll House Sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to "the Island" was 5 cents!

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. We will also be open on Easter Sunday, April 16, from 1:00-6:00PM. 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.

Coney Island History Project

Gregory Bitetzakis Photo © Charles Denson

Gregory Bitetzakis in 2001.  Photo © Charles Denson

Over the weekend, we were saddened to learn of the death of our friend Gregory Bitetzakis, who passed away unexpectedly on January 17 at the age of 81. Until his retirement in 2009, Gregory co-owned and operated Gregory & Paul’s restaurant in Coney Island with his partner Paul Georgoulakos for more than 50 years.

In a conversation with Charles Denson in the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive, Gregory says that he first came to Coney Island in 1948 and operated food concessions on the Bowery, the Boardwalk and other locations including the former Napoli Seven Seas Restaurant.

The first Gregory & Paul’s, which opened in 1962 at the old Howard Johnson’s on West 8th Street and the Boardwalk, was evicted along with other businesses in 1968 when Rockefeller bought the property and donated it to the New York Aquarium. The reataurant then moved to one of the old Hebrew National Deli locations on the Boardwalk at West 15th Street behind the Thunderbolt. They were there from 1969 through 1979. Gregory said the building burned to the ground on a frigid winter night when the wind chill was 49 below zero.

Opened in 1970, Gregory and Paul’s most popular location was on the Boardwalk at West 10th Street and featured the Astroland Rocket on the roof of the store until the park closed in 2008. The Boardwalk store remains open as Paul’s Daughter with Paul and his daughter Tina in charge.

Gregory & Paul's on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone opened in 1976 and was the one where Gregory could be found behind the counter until he closed it and retired to Florida in 2009. In one of the amusing anecdotes that turned up in our oral history interviews with visitors to Coney Island, the "Franks" sign - short for frankfurters - on the Surf Avenue side of the building led to one longtime patron referring to Gregory as "Frank" for decades.  

Gregory was predeceased by his son Steve Bitetzakis, who learned the family business from his father and operated Steve’s Grill House on the Coney Island Boardwalk from 1993 to 2011.

A wake will be held on January 25 from 4:00pm-8:00pm at Meadowlawn Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens in New Port Richey, Florida, followed by a graveside service on January 26 at Trinity Memorial Gardens in Trinity, Florida. There will be a memorial service in Brooklyn on January 29 from 4:00pm-8:00pm at Dahill Funeral Home at 2525 65th Street in Bensonhurst.

Gregory & Paul's, Surf Avenue. Photo © Charles Denson

Gregory & Paul's, Surf Avenue. Photo © Charles Denson

posted Jan 22nd, 2017 in News and tagged with Gregory Bitetzakis, Gregory & Paul's, In Memoriam,...

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,...

Wonder Wheel Photo © Charles Denson

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year from the Coney Island History Project! Thanks to all who visited our exhibition center and joined us for History Day, Estuary Day and other special events this year. We'd like to say a special "thank you" to our volunteers, who generously donated their time and knowledge, and to our members and patrons who helped fund our free programming. Keep Coney Island in your heart this holiday season with a gift membership for family and friends.
Ring out the old and ring in the new on New Year's Eve in Coney Island, where the landmark Parachute Jump's 8000 LEDs will feature a digital burst of color at midnight, followed by the first fireworks show of 2017. This free, family-friendly event is Coney's third annual New Year's Eve Celebration presented by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, with support from New York City Council Member Mark Treyger, State Senator Diane Savino, Assemblymember Pamela Harris and the Alliance for Coney Island.

The Abe Stark Skating Rink, B&B Carousell, Deno's Wonder Wheel and Triotech XD VR Dark Ride and Thunderbolt roller coaster will be open and free of charge starting at 6:00 PM with free entertainment beginning at 9:00 PM at Steeplechase Plaza. "We want to keep the party going so we are opening once again on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day," said Dennis Vourderis, co-owner of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. The 1920 landmark Wheel, which opened last year for the first time ever on New Year's, will open with its white stationary cars only, weather permitting.

New Year's Eve hours for free rides on the Wheel are 6:00-10:00 PM. On New Year's Day, the Wonder Wheel and the Tritech XD VR Dark Ride will be open 11:00 AM-2:00 PM, before, during and after the Polar Bear Swim, a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine.  Tickets are $5.00 per ride. "Fifty percent of all ticket sales on New Year's Day will be donated to the Coney Island Polar Bear Club," said Vourderis. "We also look ahead to our 100th anniversary in 2020."
We look forward to seeing you at Coney Island History Project events next year. Our exhibition center will open for the 2017 season on Coney's official Opening Day, Palm Sunday, which is April 9th. In the meantime, we continue to record oral history interviews year round and offer weekend walking tours that include a private visit to the History Project exhibition center. During the winter, the 1-1/2 hour tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 PM by advance reservation only. Visit our online reservation site to purchase tickets for the tours or email for info on booking a group or school visit. 

posted Dec 27th, 2016 in News and tagged with New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, Coney Island

The final section of the Coney Island CreekWalk has been completed and installed at Calvert Vaux Park. Conceived and produced by Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, this self-guided tour of Coney Island Creek was funded by a Capacity Fund Grant from Partnerships for Parks, a joint program of NYC Parks and City Parks Foundation.

The CreekWalk project, which began in 2012, includes informational aluminum signs and full-color brochures that describe the history, wildlife, and ecology of the creek at Kaiser Park and Calvert Vaux Park. "I've been researching and documenting Coney Island Creek since the 1960s," Denson said, "and we wanted to share this information with park visitors who may not be familiar with the fascinating history of these parks and the sights to be seen along the two trails where our signs have been placed." 

Among the points of interest are sand dunes, horseshoe crabs, wetlands, shipwrecks (the Yellow Submarine), ribbed mussels, fishing, birds, flowers, and the history of the two parks. The last sign on the trail, located at a scenic viewpoint at Calvert Vaux, describes the site of the historic British invasion of 1776 on Gravesend Bay that led to the Battle of Brooklyn. "Sometimes informational park signs use generic images as illustration, Denson said, "but all of the photos used in this tour were taken on the Coney Island Creek estuary. Coney Island Creek is a unique waterway with a compelling history and great ecological importance." The free brochures will be available at the Coney Island History Project during the summer or from Partnerships for Parks at park events.

The tour at Kaiser Park begins at Bayview Avenue and heads east along a paved path that follows the creek. The signs are installed on the guardrail. At Calvert Vaux Park the tour begins at the parking lot at Shore Parkway and heads west along the paved path that starts at the second kayak launch. The signs are installed on light poles along the path.

Special thanks to Martin Maher and Michael Super of NYC Parks; Pamela Pettyjohn of Coney Island Beautification Project; and Ted Enoch of the Catalyst Program of Partnerships for Parks.

Charles Denson at Coney Island Creek

Charles Denson with Coney Island CreekWalk sign at Calvert Vaux Park

posted Dec 12th, 2016 in Events and tagged with Coney Island Creek, Charles Denson, Kaiser Park,...

Last week it was confirmed that the organization WIN (Women In Need) is planning to open a 300-bed homeless shelter for women and children on the shoreline of polluted Coney Island Creek. The chosen site is a factory building in Coney Island that once housed the Brooklyn Yarn and Dye Company, a business that for several decades poured massive amounts of toxic aniline and hexavalent chromium dyes into the notoriously noxious waterway. What’s particularly disturbing is that during the yearlong planning process no official notification was given to local residents, elected officials, or Community Board 13. Details of the project are still not forthcoming.

The Brooklyn Yarn and Dye factory closed down years ago and the building was last occupied by a community health center that was destroyed in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy. Past usage of this structure has been commercial use only and the idea that the site is now safe for a year-round residential facility that houses vulnerable women and children is debatable. Sandy’s floodwaters radically changed the landscape surrounding this site. If new construction is being proposed, has the site been tested for toxicity? We have no idea because the project has been planned in secret.

This location on Coney Island Creek at West 21st Street, directly adjacent to the homeless shelter, has also been proposed by the City as the site of a massive flood control barrier that is now under study by the Army Corps of Engineers. That means that the shelter might be surrounded by a construction zone that, hopefully, will include mitigation of toxic waste from the bed of Coney Island Creek. This section of the creek was also the site of a waste transfer station in the early 1900s, a marine fueling station that closed in the 1970s, and other polluting industrial facilities. Construction at this site might disturb potentially toxic materials buried nearby and have an adverse affect on nearby structures along the creek’s shoreline, including the proposed shelter and its young inhabitants.

The WIN shelter project is reminiscent of the little league baseball field that opened during the 1990s on the toxic Brooklyn Union Gas Works site on Coney Island Creek at Shell Road. It was soon discovered that the ball field was contaminated with every carcinogenic substance imaginable and the recreational facility was closed down and fenced off.

In 2006 an EPA-mandated cleanup of the gas works site cost Keyspan Energy $114 million. Has WIN done due diligence in finding out if their site is safe? We have no idea as the entire project is shrouded in secrecy. It is not the WIN organization’s job to “educate the community,” as the organization’s spokesperson told the Brooklyn Daily on October 19th. It is the community’s job to provide input and information that will prevent injury to the families that occupy the shelter. Subterfuge helps no one.

Accusations of  “nimbyism” are common when pointing out that a homeless shelter site is inadequate. That doesn’t apply in this case. WIN president Christine Quinn is shutting out the local community and planning a residential facility on a waterway that has a legacy of illegal sewage discharges and industrial contamination. Aniline and hexavalent chromium are known carcinogens. For years these dyes colored the creek as they were discharged into the waterway by the Brooklyn Yarn Dye Company. Coney Island Creek needs to be clean and safe before any residential developments can proceed along its shoreline. An Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) should be completed as soon as possible.

On Tuesday, November 1 at 6 pm, Community Board 13's Environmental Committee will hold a public meeting to discuss pollution issues affecting Coney Island Creek. Representatives from DEP and DEC are expected to attend. The meeting will be held at Liberation High School, 2865 West 19th Street, Coney Island.

Toxic coal tar ("black mayonnaise") being removed from a small section of Coney Island Creek in 2006.