Coney Island History Blog - News
Photos of the Week: Coney Island History Project on Coney’s Opening Day
Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Coney Island History Project

Polar Bear Club Member Eddie Mark and Coney Island City Councilman Mark Treyger pose for a souvenir photo with ‘Skully,’ a veteran of Spook-A-Rama and the Spookhouse, and the newest addition to our exhibit center.

After special hours on Palm Sunday and Easter, the History Project is currently open for weekend walking tours and group visits. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online. For info on booking a group tour, email events@coneyislandhistory.org.

Coney Island History Project

This 3-year-old, one of our youngest visitors, and his dad are regulars at Coney Island Always, the miniature animated amusement park in the window next door.

The Steeplechase Park fan seen below poses with our original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave the park its name. Visit our flickr page to view more photos from Opening Day and Easter

Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours in 2015 will be from 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Coney Island History Project

March 29: Coney Island’s Opening Day, History Project Exhibit Center Preview of 2015 Season
Monday, March 23rd, 2015

You’re invited to preview the Coney Island History Project’s exhibition center season on Coney’s Opening Day. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island’s colorful past and preview selections from upcoming exhibits. Among the new additions for Opening Day is “Skully,” a Giant Skull which came from the Coney Island Hysterical Society‘s Spookhouse, formerly the Dragon’s Cave dark ride, and later found a home at Spook-A-Rama, thanks to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Vourderis family. Like the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which was previously on display at the History Project, the Skull’s eye sockets light up, and will soon move again with a little electrical work.

Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center

Dark ride veteran ‘Skully’ poses for his first souvenir photo at our exhibit center with Steve Vourderis, Denos Vourderis and Charles Denson. Take a selfie with him on Opening Day!

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project will be open on Palm Sunday, March 29th, and again on Easter Sunday, April 5th, from 1:00PM till 6:00PM. Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours will be from 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be “Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920.” Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island.

Coney Island Stereoviews at Coney Island History Project

Join our unique walking tours based on History Project director Charles Denson’s award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from CIHP’s Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Tours and group visits to the exhibit center are given year-round. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online or book a group tour.

Palm Sunday is the official season opener for Coney Island’s rides and attractions. The Opening Day celebration starts at 10:30AM on the Boardwalk with the annual tradition of the Blessing of the Rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park by Pastor Debbie Santiago of Coney Island’s Salt and Sea Mission. Built in 1920 by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company, Deno’s Wonder Wheel is celebrating its 95th season with a free ride on Opening Day for the first 95 riders. At the 1927 Cyclone, where the first 100 people on line ride for free, the annual Egg Cream Christening of the roller coaster’s front car is at 12 noon. The Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone are official New York City Landmarks.

At the Coney Island History Project, visitors are invited to take a FREE souvenir photo with “Skully” or our original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Hope to see you at this year’s festivities!

February 28: Charles Denson Talk at Wadsworth Atheneum’s Coney Island Symposium
Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Trailer Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland

Official Trailer: Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

On Saturday, February 28th, Charles Denson will present a slide talk on the Coney Island History Project’s mission and origins as part of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art’s Coney Island Symposium: An Intersection of Art and Identity. The exhibit Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008, which opened on January 31st at the Wadsworth, features more than 140 paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera and film clips. The symposium begins with a keynote address by Exhibition Curator and Chief Curator Robin Jaffee Frank, followed by a series of panel discussions and special presentations.

Charles Denson has been a consultant and a member of the exhibit’s project team for the past six years and has contributed numerous ephemera and prints from his personal archive, as well as writing a chapter for the exhibit’s catalog. He also recorded descriptions of artwork for the show’s audio tour. Selections from the Coney Island History Project’s vast archive of oral history recordings were used in the “Step Right Up!” interactive listening station that accompanies the show.

“Robin Jaffee Frank first contacted me in 2009, during the show’s earliest planning stage,” Denson said. “At our first group meeting at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2010, Robin revealed her ambitious plan for a show that explored Coney Island in a way that had never been attempted before. Her Coney Island theme included artifacts, prints, film, sheet music, and the best examples of modern art as well as the classical paintings that depict the earliest years of Coney Island, a subject that I had always found fascinating. I am extremely honored to be a part of this exhibition.”

Charles Denson and Robin Jaffee Frank

Charles Denson and Robin Jaffee Frank, 2012

Among the artifacts in the Wadsworth exhibit is the 1955 Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which was a popular attraction at the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center for the past two years. According to a review of the Wadsworth show in the Hartford Courant, “The five-foot-tall wall-mounted sculpture, loaned to the exhibit by the family who runs Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, is installed at the entrance to the exhibit galleries, flanked by two creepy paintings by Arnold Mesches, in which Cy presides over sinister-looking amusement parks.”

The Coney Island exhibit is on view in Hartford through May 31, 2015 before traveling to the San Diego Museum of Art, July 11, 2015 – October 13, 2015; Brooklyn Museum, November 20, 2015 – March 13, 2016; and the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, May 11, 2016 – September 11, 2016.

Cyclops Wadsworth Athenuem

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Stacy Vourderis visiting the park’s Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which is part of the Coney Island exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT

Award-Winning Coney Island Documentary “Prince of Mermaid Avenue” Debuts Online
Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

After closing his Mermaid Avenue market in 2009, Jimmy Prince, now 82, remains active and was profiled in New York Magazine’s “My Day.” In the summer, he volunteers at the Coney Island History Project exhibit center, where his longtime customers are delighted to see him again.

“Prince of Mermaid Avenue,” a film about Jimmy Prince by History Project Executive Director Charles Denson, is now available for viewing on his Coneyologist channel on YouTube. The film won Best Documentary at the 2009 Coney Island Film Festival. This 60-minute feature is based on more than 60 hours of raw footage shot over a three-year period.

Jimmy Prince was the last link to what Mermaid Avenue meant to Coney Island in the “good old days.” The Avenue was once a bustling street of family-run mom-and-pop stores. Each block had bakeries, luncheonettes, five-and-dimes, clothing and shoe stores, furniture stores, delis, and butchers. It was a tight-knit community.

The city’s urban renewal plan of the 1960s called for the demolition of the entire West End, including Mermaid Avenue, and few businesses survived the development onslaught. Jimmy Prince transformed his Major Meat Market into the soul of an earlier era, a cordial oasis of tradition and hope, a throwback to what Coney Island was and what many dreamed it could be again one day. Prince worked at Major’s for sixty years, seven days a week, twelve hours a day, and formed a unique relationship with a community that hungered for respect.

When he finally faced retirement,the decsion to close the store dragged on for over a year. He dreaded making a formal announcement about the store’s closing, but his friends could sense it was coming. His loyal customers expressed their love for him and their fear for a future without him. This film documents Jimmy’s decision to retire and the painful process of leaving the Coney Island community that he loved and supported for so many years.

Jimmy Prince Coney Island History Project

Jimmy Prince poses for photo with visitors from Spain on a recent Coney Island History Project Walking Tour. The Prince of Mermaid Avenue, who had just come from a walk to and from Sea Gate and a bite to eat at Tom’s, stopped to regale the group with Coney Island stories

Terminal Hotel Sign Rescued by Coney Island History Project
Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Terminla Hotel Sign Coney Island

Coney Island History Project volunteer Daniel Ioannou carrying the Terminal Hotel sign which was rescued just before the building’s demolition. January 4, 2015. Photo © Charles Denson

Many people have expressed their dismay over the tragic loss of the historic Terminal Hotel, a beautiful building located on one of Coney Island’s busiest intersections. We’re happy to report the Coney Island History Project was able to salvage the Terminal Hotel’s sign thanks to a coordinated effort by CIHP volunteers Daniel Ioannou and Keith Suber, and CIHP director Charles Denson. After remaining in close contact with the building’s owner and the demolition contractor, we were able to retrieve the sign shortly after the fire department completed their investigation.

The Terminal Hotel site has now been cleared and the sign exists as the last remnant of the historic structure that was gutted in a spectacular multi-alarm fire on December 18th. It joins the Coney Island History Project’s collection of signage from Astroland, the Playland Arcade, Steeplechase and other vanished places in Coney Island.

The one-hundred-and-ten-year-old Terminal Hotel on the corner of Mermaid and Stillwell Avenues operated as a hotel until the 1970s. The upper floors were abandoned and boarded up after it closed. A series of restaurants occupied the first floor over the years, and the new Food Center and Turkish Restaurant that recently opened on the ground floor after Hurricane Sandy were part of a much needed revival of the area and will be missed.

Terminal Hotel Coney Island

Demolished Terminal Hotel building on Mermaid and Stillwell Avenues, Coney Island. January 6, 2015. Photo © Charles Denson

Happy Holidays from the Coney Island History Project!
Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

CIHP_HolidayCard2014

Happy Holidays from the Coney Island History Project!

It’s going to be an historic New Year’s Eve in Coney Island as the 8,000 LED lights of the landmark Parachute Jump ring in the New Year, followed by the first fireworks show of 2015. This free, family-friendly event marks the beginning of a new tradition and is sponsored by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, NYC Council Member Mark Treyger, and the Alliance for Coney Island.

The Coney Island History Project exhibition center will open for the season on Coney’s Opening Day, which is Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015. In the meantime, we continue to offer weekend walking tours that include a private visit to the History Project’s exhibit center. During the winter, the 1-1/2 tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm by advance reservation only. Visit our online reservation site to purchase tickets for the year-round walking tours or email events@coneyislandhistory.org for info on booking a group or school visit.

During this busy holiday season, please take a moment to sign Council Members Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch’s public petition calling on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the historic Riegelmann Boardwalk as an official Scenic Landmark. Currently, there are a total of nine Scenic Landmarks in New York City, including Prospect Park, Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.

“For nearly a century, Coney Island’s wooden boardwalk has provided the public with a rustic observation platform, a cool, soft, raised promenade that captures ocean breezes and affords a respite from New York City’s hard concrete jungle. Much like the unfortunate destruction of Penn Station before it could be landmarked, the ‘concrete solution’ to the Boardwalk’s maintenance problems is shortsighted and ill advised. This historic structure must be protected and preserved,” said Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project and author of Coney Island: Lost and Found.

Terminal Hotel Fire
Friday, December 19th, 2014

Terminal Hotel 1974 Photo Copyright Charles Denson

Photo by Charles Denson, 1974

The one-hundred-and-ten-year-old Terminal Hotel on the corner of Mermaid and Stillwell Avenues that burned on December 18 operated as a hotel until the 1970s. The upper floors were abandoned and boarded up after it closed. A series of restaurants occupied the first floor over the years, and the new Food Center and Turkish Restaurant that recently opened on the ground floor after Hurricane Sandy were part of a much needed revival of the area and will be missed. The fire has dealt a serious blow to one of Coney’s busiest corners.

Photo by mrwdib via Instagram

Photo by mrwdib via Instagram

“Coney Island Creek: An Uncertain Future,” A Film by Charles Denson
Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

“Coney Island Creek: An Uncertain Future,” a film by Charles Denson, was recently screened at Coney Island Library and is now up on Denson’s Coneyologist channel on YouTube. Featuring interviews with stakeholders including local residents, ecologists, anglers, birders, divers, park volunteers, teachers, and the Brooklyn Parks Commissioner. The 18 minute video is part of a longer documentary film project currently underway.

“I grew up near Coney Island Creek and began photographing it in the 60’s when the waterway was at its lowest point, polluted and neglected, but I always knew there was something special about the creek and that it would survive,” Denson says in the film’s introduction. Today, the future of Coney Island Creek is uncertain. Will it be an asset or a liability? The city is currently funding a feasibility study to decide whether to dam up the creek by building a tidal barrier with culverts, a move that would most likely turn the waterway into a toxic cesspool and do little to prevent flooding. Will Coney Island Creek become a restored wetland that prevents flooding or will it become a hazard to the community? Informed community input is vital.

Coney Island Vets on Veteran’s Day
Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Coney Island Veteran's Day photo by Charles Denson

Coney Island Vets on Veteran’s Day: Stan Fox, Vietnam 1966-67, Qui Nhon. Bobby Tropper, Vietnam 1967-69, Tay-Nihn. Fox, who volunteers with the Coney Island History Project, operated the Playland penny arcades in Coney Island from the 1940s through the 1980s. Tropper is a game operator on Jones Walk. Photo © Charles Denson.

Remembering Stewart “Stewie” Glass, Longtime Coney Island Game Operator
Thursday, October 30th, 2014

RIP Stewart Stewie Glass

RIP Stewart “Stewie” Glass, Coney Island game operator for the past 50+ years. He passed away after suffering a heart attack. For the past two seasons, Stewie ran a balloon game on the Bowery. The basketball game in Charles Denson’s 2007 portrait was in the Grashorn Building on Surf. A graveside service will be held at Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Iselin, New Jersey, on Thursday at 1:00pm.

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