January 6th, 2014

Coney Island History Project

2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project! Ten years ago our oral history project began with a portable recording booth located on the boardwalk. The colorful booth-on-wheels, dubbed the “Memory Booth,” had an air-conditioned recording studio illuminated by a skylight. Wooden “wings” opened from the booth to display our mission statement and historic photographs. We parked our booth in front of the Aquarium’s education center during the day and in front of Astroland at night. Our program proved to be so popular that we later expanded to a permanent location.

Memory Booth

Coney Island History Project Memory Booth, 2005

The History Project was founded by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park, and opened its exhibit center below the Cyclone in 2007. In 2011 we moved to our current home beside the Wonder Wheel at the invitation of the Vourderis family, owners of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. During the last decade we’ve recorded the oral histories of many departed Coney luminaries whose stories would have been lost forever. The voices of Jack Ward, Jimmy McCullough, Matt Kennedy, and Joe Rollino and others can be found in our archive.

Charles Denson and Carol Hill Albert

Carol Hill Albert and Charles Denson in the Memory Booth, 2005

The Coney Island Hall of Fame pays tribute to pioneers and visionaries whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape and define Coney Island over the past century and was inaugurated on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone roller coaster in 2005. Our exhibits have included “Land Grab: A History of Coney Island Development,” “Woody Guthrie’s Coney Island Years,” “The Astroland Archives Photography Exhibit,” “Coney Island Icons,” “Luna Park Revisited,” “The Dreamland Fire Centennial,” and “Coney Island Bathhouses: A Lost Culture.” In 2012, we presented the first solo show by local photographer Abe Feinstein, who has been documenting his neighborhood for more than 50 years.

2013 saw our recovery from Hurricane Sandy and the opening of two new exhibits: “The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard” displayed several salvaged Millard murals as well as a full photo documentation of his work from the walls of the Playland building, which was demolished in February. We also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Vourderis family’s operation of the Wonder Wheel with a photographic history of the famous landmark.

The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard

“The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard” Exhibit, 2013

In August, the 3rd Annual History Day presented by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project was the inaugural event at the new Dreamland Plaza on West 12th Street. The free event included a Coney Island history trivia contest, an interactive magic show, and performances by organ grinders from the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) and the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) as well as the opportunity for visitors to hand crank the organs.

History Day, Coney Island History Project

Prof. Phineas Feelgood’s World of Magic at History Day, Dreamland Plaza, August 2013

History Project director Charles Denson’s Sandy documentary “The Storm” premiered at the Coney Island Film Festival in September and was screened at the Brooklyn Art Council’s Scene: Brooklyn Film Series commemorating the 1st anniversary of Sandy. In October, the New York State Marine Education Association (NYSMEA) presented the Herman Melville Literary Award to Charles Denson for his contributions to marine education through the Coney Island History Project, his books and his preservation efforts for Coney Island Creek.

CreekWalk Coney Island Creek

A series of informational plaques designed and created by Charles Denson were installed on the creek side of Kaiser Park, 2012

The 2014 season promises to be our most exciting yet. In late December our proposal for the return of the Astroland Rocket was approved by the City and we’re now planning an extensive exhibit about the rocket and space-themed Coney attractions of the past. Ownership of the historic Rocket will be transferred to the History Project and the Vourderis family will provide a permanent home for it in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.

Astroland Rocket

Coney Island: The “Star Flyer” Rocket debuted in Astroland in 1962

From the balloons, blimps and biplanes of the early days of aviation to the Astroland-sponsored airshows by the Thunderbirds, Golden Knights and Blue Angels, flight demonstrations have drawn crowds to Coney Island.The Rocket exhibit will cover the history of flight-themed attractions in Coney Island, encompassing science, amusements, photos and films. Ever since Thompson and Dundy brought “A Trip to the Moon” to Steeplechase Park in 1902, space travel and aeronautics have been a fantasy theme in Coney’s amusement parks. When the Star Flyer Rocket debuted in 1962 as the first ride in Coney’s new space-age theme park, it was called the “Cape Canaveral Satellite Jet” (TIME), “The Spaceship Auditorium” (Billboard) and the “Cannonball Adderly Rocket” in anticipation of Adderly dedicating the rocket for Astroland’s official opening on July 1, 1962. The rocket was rechristened the “Astroland Moon Rocket” in 1963.

PS 16 field trip

PS 16 Students Visit the Wonder Wheel on Field Trip to Coney Island History Project, May 2013

This year we hope to continue our school programs, bringing Coney Island history to local schools and giving educational tours. Last year we were invited to work with sixty students at PS 226 and an after-school program at PS 16. We produced a film based on their artwork and poetry. Our unique walking tours continue to be offered year-round, attracting current and former New York residents as well as visitors from across the country and around the world.

We are now revamping our web site and online oral history archive. While the new site is under construction, some pages will be intermittently unavailable. Please be patient during the redesign, once it is complete you will see many new features, including the Director’s Blog.

souvenir photo Coney Island History Project

Visitors pose for souvenir photo with the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at Coney Island History Project, August 2013

December 23rd, 2013

Happy Holidays from the Coney Island History Project

November 22nd, 2013

The Coney Island History Project has answered the City’s RFP and submitted a proposal to bring the Astroland Rocket back to Coney Island. If our proposal is accepted we will assume ownership of the Rocket and plan to move it to a location near our exhibit center in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park provided by the park’s owners, Steve and Dennis Vourderis. History Project co-founder and Astroland owner Carol Albert has offered to pay the cost of moving the Rocket back to Coney Island.

If the rocket comes back to the location we have chosen, the restoration of the ride would be overseen by Steve Vourderis and it would become an educational exhibit designed by History Project director Charles Denson. Stacy and Steve Vourderis, who spearheaded the park’s annual History Day, hope to make the Rocket the centerpiece of next year’s celebration.

When Astroland was closing, the Albert family had long planned to preserve the Astroland Rocket by donating it to the Coney Island History Project, the not-for-profit organization they founded in 2004. CIHP director Charles Denson is the author of Coney Island and Astroland, which uses primary sources to tell the history of the park, and the curator of the CIHP exhibit “The Astroland Archives Photography Exhibit: Back to the Future.” Mr. Denson would have liked to keep the Rocket as an exhibit, but at the time the History Project’s exhibition center was under the Cyclone roller coaster and did not have parking space for a rocket.

Astroland Rocket

The Rocket was the first ride at Astroland and it defined the park’s space age theme when it opened in 1962. As one of the first of the “imaginary” space voyage simulators constructed during the Space Race, The attraction showed simulator films of “rocket rides” while the chassis “rocked” its viewers to outer space. The Ride, which has 26 seats, lasted about three minutes, the length of the film. Originally built as the “Star Flyer,” the Astroland Rocket later sat atop the boardwalk restaurant Gregory and Paul’s.

November 20th, 2013

Coney Island Lois Wilson

In 1928, when John F. Kennedy was a young boy living with his family in the Bronx (the Riverdale section, not the South Bronx), his father, Joe, was forming RKO studios and producing a movie called “Coney Island. ” The flick starred silent picture queen Lois Wilson and was directed by Ralph Ince.

Presented by Jopseh P. Kennedy

The motion picture industry had recently moved from Brooklyn (Vitagraph Studios in Midwood) to Hollywood and most of the Coney scenes were shot in Los Angeles. Promotion for the film described it as the story of ” a young woman swept up in the romantic magic of America’s favorite fun destination. . . “

Joseph P. Kennedy sold his movie studios in the early 1930s, went into the liquor business, and then into politics as President Roosevelt’s ambassador to Great Britain. The rest is history.

Coney Island, silent film

November 6th, 2013

Mark Treyger

The Coney Island History Project congratulates History teacher Mark Treyger on his election as Coney Island’s new councilman. Councilman-elect Treyger begins his term sporting an impressive public service record. His campaign focused on education, the environment, tenants’ rights, and youth employment, all issues vitally important to Coney Island. But perhaps his most important attribute is an understanding of history. Mr. Treyger is a fan of the book Coney Island: Lost and Found and he will now have a hand in shaping Coney’s place in history and the future of New York.

November 5th, 2013

Coney Island History Project: Then and Now

Can you identify these still existing 19th-century Coney Island buildings?

One of the new features on our soon-to-be-released revamped website will identify historic Coney Island buildings, tell their histories, and show the structure’s evolution by using before and after photos.

October 31st, 2013

Spook-A-Rama Cyclops Coney Island

Happy Halloween from Mr. Cyclops and the Coney Island History Project! During the off-season, Coney Island History Project Walking Tours include a private visit to our exhibit center. This Spook-A-Rama veteran used to be on the roof of the iconic 1950s dark ride, which was restored after Sandy and is still in operation. “We didn’t just want to be back,” said Dennis Vourderis, who owns and operates Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park with his brother, Steve, in an article in the Wall St Journal. “We wanted to be better. We wanted to stay special.” The Cyclops is on loan from the Vourderis family of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park.

October 31st, 2013

Merryl Kafak and Charles Denson

The New York State Marine Education Association presented the Herman Melville Literary Award to Charles Denson at their annual conference. “NYSMEA is pleased to recognize Charles Denson’s contributions to marine education through the Coney Island History Project,” said Dr. Meghan Marrero, President of NYSMEA. “His books, audio walking tours, and other works are important and timely. The NYSMEA Herman Melville Literary Award is a well-deserved honor.”

The award is presented to a member or non-member who has made a major contribution to the world of maritime literature and/or art. Mr. Denson has documented the Coney Island Creek for over 40 years and is working on a book and film about the waterway. In the photo above, he is at the award ceremony with Dr. Merryl Kafka, NYSMEA board member and co-founder of the Rachel Carson HS of Coastal Studies in Coney Island.

“Coney Island as a resort began not on the ocean but on the banks of the Creek nearly two hundred years ago,” says Denson. “The first hotel, restaurant and amusement park opened on the banks of Coney Island creek, and the history goes back nearly 400 years. The creek has great potential.” Last year, Charles Denson and the Coney Island History Project received a grant from the Partnership for Parks to create CreekWalk, a self-guided walking tour brochure and a series of informational plaques installed on the creek side of Kaiser Park.

Coney Island Creek Self-Guided Tour

October 25th, 2013

The Storm by Charles Denson

This month, on the 1st anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Charles Denson’s “The Storm” is screening at the Brooklyn Art Council’s Scene:Brooklyn Film Series on a program with Sandy-themed documentaries on October 29. On the West Coast, the film will be shown October 26 at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival, where it won a Grand Festival Award.

Mr. Denson’s 20-minute documentary shows rare and dramatic footage of the storm coming ashore on the evening of October 29, 2012, as well as preparations for the storm, the surge at Coney Island and Sea Gate, and the storm’s aftermath. It begins with footage of Hurricane Donna striking Coney Island shot by his mother in 1960. Mr. Denson rode out Sandy in Sea Gate, where his apartment and car were destroyed by the storm surge.

“I thought, ‘nobody’s filming this. I’ve got to record this,'” Denson said in an interview in the Brooklyn Paper when the film premiered at last month’s Coney Island Film Festival. “I realized, it’s very different when you actually experience something and put your life on the line to record something,” Denson said.

Scene Brooklyn 2013

Tuesday, October 29: From the Floodlines, BAC’s Scene: Brooklyn Film Series Venue: Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main Street, DUMBO Doors Open at 7pm, Screening 8pm – 9:40pm –This year’s BAC film series runs from October 25-October 29 and features films and media art inspired by or relating to Sandy and its aftermath. –Tickets are $10. Info here. Saturday, October 26: Berkeley Video and Film Festival Venue: East Bay Media Center, 1939 Addison St, Berkeley Arts District Screening at 5:50pm –Ticket info here.

The Storm by Charles Denson

September 27th, 2013

Coney Island History Project Walking Tour

The Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, but we continue to offer walking tours year-round. Our unique tours are 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.Through the end of October, Coney Island History Project Walking Tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm by advance reservation only. Beginning in November tours start an hour earlier, at 1pm, and are also by advance reservation. The 1-1/2 hour tour is wheelchair accessible.

All tours are weather permitting. If a tour is cancelled due to the weather forecast, ticket orders will be refunded. Advance purchase of tickets via our online reservation site is required for the fall and winter series. If you have a question or you would like to schedule a private tour or group visit, please email coneyislandhistory@gmail.com.

Coney Island History Project

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