A message from the director:
As the Coney Island History Project enters its ninth successful year of operation I’d like to thank the contributors, members, and volunteers who’ve helped us achieve success in documenting Coney Island’s history and culture. We look forward to another season of working within the community and greeting visitors from all over the world!
One year ago we moved the History Project exhibit center from one Coney landmark to another, leaving the Cyclone and settling into our new location at Deno’s Wonder Wheel. We are now expanding our exhibit space and doubling it for the 2012 season. We need your support more than ever to continue our policy of “free admission for one and all.” The History Project would like to give a special thanks to CIHP co-founder Carol Albert for her continued support and encouragement and the Vourderis family of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park for providing us a space to continue our mission.
In 2011 we had our share of excitement, beginning with months of roller coaster construction in our “front yard,” and ending as we remained open during a freak October snowstorm. As hurricane Irene approached in August, everything in our exhibit center had to be moved to higher ground in anticipation of flooding that, luckily, never occurred. Our Dreamland Fire exhibit was a huge success that resulted in the History Project being featured on the Travel Channel’s series “Mysteries at the Museum.”
In 2011 our ecology program focused on Coney Island Creek. My creek presentations included slide shows at Kingsborough College for the New York State Marine Education Association. I gave another presentation at the New York Aquarium for the staff and scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society. The Aquarium event drew the largest turnout ever for their monthly staff meeting. The History Project also provided a historical perspective for the Travel Channel’s show “Off Limits,” where I guided host Don Wildman to the wreck of the Yellow Submarine on Coney Island Creek.
The History Project has been awarded a grant from the Partnership for Parks to create signage and a brochure for a “CreekWalk” tour along Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park. The first phase was a photo exhibit at the Coney Island Library showing forty years of my documentation of the creek. The show opened last September and runs through February. We will have an event at the new park house in Kaiser Park. I’ll lead a winter tour along the creek and give a slideshow. The date will be announced soon.
What began as a project of our oral history program ended up as a feature length documentary about reformed gang members helping at-risk youth in Coney Island. “The Last Immortal” premiered at the Coney Island Film Festival and won the award for best documentary. A free screening of the film was held at Liberation High School in November, and several more screenings will be announced for the upcoming season, including more showings of our award-winning 2009 documentary about Jimmy Prince and his customers, “The Prince of Mermaid Avenue.”
The History Project’s new space will include a sound studio for recording the oral histories of anyone who has a Coney Island story to tell. Among the 2011 interviews to be soon posted include Leni Schwendinger, lighting designer of the Parachute Jump, and Joe Lazzaro, 84-year-old member of the original Coney Island Iceberg Club.
Last year, the History Project introduced our Coney Island walking tours with Amanda Deutch and me as guides. Between us we have over a century of family history in Coney Island. Our “authentic unexpurgated illustrated tour” tells the real story of Coney Island and is based on my book, “Coney Island: Lost and Found.” The History Project Walking Tours drew visitors from New York and all over the world. We had diverse groups of tourists, architects, school groups, amusement enthusiasts, and former Coney Island residents.
Hall of Fame
This season we plan an expansion of the Coney Island Hall of Fame exhibit at our annex space on Jones Walk at the Bowery. The inductees last year were Gravesend founder Lady Deborah Moody, the Spookarama Cyclops, and the landmarked Shore Theater Building.
Plans for the Future
Coney Island is in transition and the History Project will document the changes and will play an important role by providing insight into Coney’s past and future. Upcoming exhibits include the 50th anniversary of Astroland, artifacts from Wonder Wheel Park, point-of-view before-and-after photographs of Coney Island, “Made in Coney Island,” and the work of Coney’s famous arcade muralist, Larry Millard.
The bad news was the loss of two Coney landmarks: the Coney Island Bank building and Henderson’s Music Hall. The good news is the return of two evicted iconic businesses Ruby’s Bar and Paul’s Daughter. This season we’ll continue to be the leader in education and history and community projects.