In 2004 Carol Hill Albert and Jerry Albert founded
the Coney Island History Project in memory of Dewey Albert.
Jerry Albert was a passionate believer in Coney Island. You had to be a believer to accomplish what he did. It began when Jerry’s father, Dewey, bought the derelict Feltmans Restaurant property as a favor for Nathan Handwerker, who wanted to move his Nathans Famous restaurant to the 3-acre Feltmans site. When the deal to move Nathans fell through, Dewey turned to his son for help.
Jerry Albert grew up on the beachfront in Sea Gate at Coney Island’s West End, enjoying a childhood of building boats and exploring the waters of Gravesend Bay and Coney Island Creek. His sense of adventure would inspire him to create something unique in Coney Island.
Jerry accepted the challenge and began creating the space-age-themed amusement park called Astroland. His optimistic motto was “A Journey to the 21st Century.” Jerry proved to be a visionary and he transformed Coney’s oldest attraction into its newest.
Coney Island was fading in the early 1960s, and was in desperate need of a lift. While many were giving up and closing their businesses, Jerry Albert was an ambitious young man who understood the potential in the amusement zone and wanted only the best. Resurrecting Coney Island became his quest. He traveled across Europe seeking the newest, most exciting rides for the park he envisioned. After returning, he headed west and teamed up with Disney ride builder Arrow Development to create unique rides for the park. The old Feltmans property soon began a radical transformation. In 1964, after a $3-million-dollar investment, Astroland Park opened with an exciting assortment of unique rides: the Water Flume, a The Mercury Capsule Sky Ride, Deep Sea Diving Bells, and a Moon Rocket, all new attractions never before seen on the east coast.
All amusement parks need a tower and Jerry made sure that Coney had one. The futuristic Astrotower with its circular observation car became the park’s centerpiece. The newspapers dubbed it “The Big Bagel in the Sky” and one declared that: “There’s only one place where anyone would dare to put up such a thing, and that’s Coney Island, that land of the frivolous, where gaiety and fun have reigned for years. We’re glad to see the old place hasn’t lost its zest for the bizarre.” Jerry embraced the tower’s “bagel” theme and served a spread of bagels and lox at the tower’s dedication. The space-age theme caught the public imagination as Variety declared in a front-page story “Nowhere is this fierce concern with rocket propulsion, satellite launchings and lunar landings more evident than at the new Astroland…”
Astroland would continue to sponsor popular events, from Coney’s first film festival, in 1963, to the dramatic air shows of the 1980s. Albert had a love of antique cars and classic wooden yachts. Among his lovingly restored antique cars was a pearl green 1960 Cadillac, a regular entrant in the Mermaid Parade, which he kept on display below the Cyclone Roller Coaster.
Jerry’s enthusiasm and investment in Coney Island proved to be pivotal, a turning point for Coney Island that helped keep it afloat for nearly half a century. He oversaw the restoration of the landmark Cyclone Roller Coaster, saving it from destruction. He was an admired civic leader and a faithful booster. As long as Jerry had a say, Coney would survive the turmoil that forced so many others to give up. Under Jerry’s leadership Astroland thrived as he continued journeying across the country on a quest to find the most exciting rides and attractions for Coney Island. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Albert considered selling his beloved Astroland Park but instead retired and turned over park operations to his wife, Carol Hill Albert, who ran it successfully through its last decade.
Dewey and Jerry Albert