June 30th, 2013

July 1, 2013: TODAY’S 60th ANNIVERSARY SCREENING OF ‘LITTLE FUGITIVE” WAS CANCELLED DUE TO RAIN AND IS RESCHEDULED FOR TUESDAY, AUGUST 27.

Join us on July 1 August 27, for a free screening of “Little Fugitive” at Coney Island Flicks on the Beach. The 1953 movie by Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin was filmed in Coney Island on the beach, boardwalk and in the amusement parks, and will be introduced by the directors’ daughter Mary Engel. This year is the 60th anniversary of the film, which won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

The Coney Island History Project is co-sponsoring the pre-show, which begins at 7:30PM with Coney Poetry presented by Amanda Deutch of PARACHUTE: The Coney Island Performance Festival and a Coney Island history and film trivia contest. Prizes include autographed copies of History Project Director Charles Denson’s “Wild Ride: A Coney Island Roller Coaster Family,” poetry broadsides from PARACHUTE, and postcards from the Coney Island History Project. Stop by CIHP’s tent on the Boardwalk to say hello and learn about our free exhibit center on West 12th Street and oral history archive.

“Little Fugitive,” which screens at dusk, stars 7-year-old Joey (Richie Andrusco), who runs away from home to hide out in Coney Island after being tricked into thinking he’d shot his older brother. With his Mom away and with only a few dollars in his pocket, he eats, plays games, rides the carousel and ponies, and collects bottles on the beach and boardwalk to finance more rides.

“Andrusco’s chewable little face registers 30 shades of pluck, and codirector Morris Engel’s ever-mobile camera casually captures perfection–in sunlight filtering through boardwalk slats, in the quiet descent of the Parachute Jump, in the endlessly repeating pratfalls of the batting cage,” writes Eric Hynes in Time Out. “Little Fugitive” is fun for the whole family, and is a perfect time capsule of Coney in the early 50′s.

Coney Island Flicks on the Beach are shown at dusk on a jumbo 40-foot screen on the beach at West 10th Street every Monday night through August 19. The free summer series is presented by Rooftop Films in partnership with the Alliance for Coney Island and NYC & Co. “Little Fugitive” is an Artists Public Domain/Cinema Conservancy release. For info about upcoming films, see the schedule in the Coney Island Fun Guide.

May 16th, 2013

The Curious Playland Arcade Art Of Larry Millard

“The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard” will be on view at the Coney Island History Project from May 25 through August, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, from 12 noon-6pm. The exhibit of photo documentation and several examples of original artwork being restored is open to the public free of charge. The History Project’s exhibition center is located under Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s iconic entrance sign at 3059 West 12th Street, just a few steps off the Boardwalk.

The mural-covered interior of the Playland Arcade on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue delighted patrons for many decades yet few knew the story behind the colorful artwork that covered every inch of the establishment. Playland closed in 1981 and the building stood empty until it was demolished in 2013. The Coney Island History Project’s multi-year mission to save and document the unusual murals inside the Playland Building ended successfully on February 14 with the removal of several of Larry Millard’s iconic artworks and the remaining letters from the Bowery entrance’s neon sign hours before demolition.

Previously saved murals were displayed at the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center last year. We worked with Gateway Demolition to remove several of the murals just before demolition. Our previous efforts at preservation were hampered by trespassers, vandals, black mold, the untimely death of Playland’s caretaker, Andy Badalamenti, as well as Superstorm Sandy, but finally the story of the artist who created them can be told.

Playland Arcade

In the winter of 1957 a mysterious unemployed artist named Larry Millard showed up at the Playland Arcade on Surf Avenue looking for work. Forty-five-year-old Millard claimed to have been a cartoonist for the New York Daily News and offered his services as a sign painter. Playland owner Alex Elowitz hired him to paint some small lettered Skeeball signs. His lettering was perfect and he continued working at the arcade through the summer of 1958 painting large and colorful and murals on every inch of wall space.

Millard followed a daily routine, arriving early in the morning unshaven and smelling of alcohol, suffering from the shakes. He was given a couple of bucks for a bottle of Thunderbird wine that he bought at the liquor store across the street next to Mama Kirsh’s restaurant. The drink steadied his hand, enabling him to paint.

Stanley Fox, who worked at the arcade owned by his brother, described Millard as “artsy-looking,” with dark hair and a mustache, always wearing a Fedora and usually accompanied by his girlfriend, an African-American woman named Eunice. Millard would arrive daily with sketches to be approved by Elowitz. “My brother paid him by the day, maybe $25. Larry lived somewhere in Coney Island, although no one was sure where.”

The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard

Millard’s Skeeball signs led to the complex cartoons he illustrated with puns and jokes: busty, leggy women with hapless boyfriends. Many of his murals were in the cartoon style of Lil’ Abner creator Al Capp. The public loved his work and he continued painting Playland until every wall was filled. When Millard finished his murals at the Playland building he began painting outdoor signs around Coney Island, and murals at Stauch’s and at the B&B Carousell.

Millard disappeared from Coney Island around 1960 and was never seen again. He left a mark much like native petroglyphs: deceivingly simple yet undecipherable and opaque. His work is mysterious and edgy, erotic and “cartoony.” When you look past the inherent humor in his pieces it’s possible that most of his sketches were sad self-portraits telling his life story: the portrait of a tortured soul who had bad luck with women. — Charles Denson

April 19th, 2013

horace

Horace Bullard passed away on April 9th after a long, painful bout with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although he was a controversial figure and I disagreed with him over the years, I believed that his 1980s plan for Coney Island was viable and heartfelt. Horace spent millions of dollars buying property and putting together plans for a major Coney Island amusement park. He remained confident that his plan would come to fruition until a recession and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ended his dream.

I spent many hours interviewing Bullard for my book, “Coney Island: Lost and Found” and we stayed in touch over the last ten years. Unfortunately, he could not let go of his anger over the loss of his Coney Island lease and his belief that Mayor Giuliani’s decision to cancel the lease was racially motivated. Horace became bitter after losing the Steeplechase site and he let his remaining properties, including the Shore Theater and Thunderbolt Roller Coaster, deteriorate. He never fully recovered after Giuliani illegally ordered the demolition of the old coaster in November 2000.

Last spring an interested party representing a popular sports figure contacted me about a plan to buy and restore the Shore Theater and asked me to be the go-between as they were having problems with the negotiations. I agreed to contact Bullard and it seemed that the sale might actually happen. Unfortunately, during this process there were loud calls in the media for the city to take the building using eminent domain. The timing could not have been worse. Bullard was riled and nothing more was said about the plan.

Bullard’s grand amusement scheme was bold, audacious and fantastic. Back in the 80s he had investors lined up and the support of the public, the media, and elected officials . He had everything he needed except luck. His decade-long road show kept Coney in the public eye when many had written it off. Bullard’s death brings a dramatic but sad chapter of Coney Island history to a close. As his daughter told me, “My dad had such a passion and dream for Coney Island. He was and extraordinary man in so many ways . . .”

– Charles Denson

April 18th, 2013

Coney Island History Project Executive Director Charles Denson visited two classes at PS 226 as part of the Brooklyn Public Library’s educational outreach program. The students were completing a year-long project about Coney Island that included debates about development, creating video documentaries, and site visits to the neighborhood. The program was developed by the Brooklyn Public Library’s local history division, Brooklyn Connections, which has also invited Denson to speak at a workshop for teachers called “Local History in the Classroom.”

“The students were incredible,” said Denson. “They were fascinated by Coney Island’s history and asked probing questions about development, culture, and the past and future of the community. They were also interested in the techniques of primary source research, which really surprised me.” Denson’s book, “Coney Island: Lost and Found” was used as the program’s textbook. “In the past the Coney Island History Project has worked with local schools PS 188 and Mark Twain, and we hope to expand the history program this year to include local ecology and how climate change will affect Coney Island’s future,” said Denson.

denson.school

March 28th, 2013

Coney Island History Project on flickr

Missed Opening Day? Visit the Coney Island History Project on Easter, one of Coney’s most popular days of the season, to preview our 2013 exhibits. Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, our exhibition center–rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy–will be open from 1 PM to 6 PM on Sunday, March 31. Admission is free for one and all!

You’re invited to take a free souvenir photo with the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops seen in the above slide show of Opening Day. This amazing piece of folk art was originally on the roof of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s 1950s dark ride, which was restored after flood damage from Superstorm Sandy.

This season, the History Project will exhibit films and photos about Sandy’s impact on Coney Island. As part of our continuing oral history project we’ll be recording personal stories about the storm’s aftermath and how it affected the Coney Island community. The public is invited to come to our exhibit center for an audio or video recording, or we can come to your home or business.

Additional exhibits for 2013 include “Coney Island Creek,” “The Wonder Wheel: Coney Island’s Iconic Amusement Attraction,” and “The Curious Art of Larry Millard,” an artist whose murals covered the now-demolished Playland Arcade.

The History Project’s regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. Hours are 12 noon to 6 PM on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. In the spring, we’re open for oral history interviews (by appointment), walking tours (by advance reservation) and special events (TBA). For additional info, e-mail events@coneyislandhistory.org.

March 18th, 2013

The Coney Island History Project, destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, reopens on March 24th to record the oral histories of the storm!

View on YouTube

February 14th, 2013

Playland Demo 2 medium

The Coney Island History Project’s multi-year mission to save and document the unusual murals inside the Playland Building ended successfully today with the removal of several of Larry Millard’s iconic artworks and the remaining letters from the Bowery entrance’s neon sign hours before demolition. The building has been vacant since Playland Arcade closed in 1981. All of the murals were carefully documented over a period of five years. Previously saved murals were displayed at our exhibit center last year. CIHP Director Charles Denson worked with Gateway Demolition to remove several of the murals just before demolition. Our previous efforts at preservation were hampered by trespassers, vandals, black mold, the untimely death of Playland’s caretaker, Andy Badalamenti, as well as Superstorm Sandy. The Coney Island History Project will have an exhibit this season.


Playland demo medium

Playland letters medium

December 17th, 2012

ny1_charlie

The damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy on the Coney Island History Project’s West 12th Street exhibition center, and our determination to rebuild in time for the 2013 summer season, was recently covered by NY1 News in an interview with Project executive director Charles Denson. You can view the entire interview on the NY1 web site.


December 3rd, 2012

Alvy West

Alvy West (born Alvin Weisfeld), a noted musician, long-time resident of Sea Gate and a familiar presence on the Coney Island boardwalk died on November 30, 2012 at the age of 97. He is survived by four children, John, Sara Jo, Barbara and Jim, three grandchildren and five great grandchildren. He was married to his late wife Kittie for over fifty years. Alvy West is the uncle of the late Jerome Albert, former owner of Astroland Park and co-founder of the Coney Island History Project. Coney Island residents were thrilled the year Alvy West volunteered himself and his band for one of the Cyclone’s Opening Days.

Alvy was an accomplished alto sax player, composer, arranger and conductor of note who worked with some of the greats of the music industry including Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and Anita O’Day and was the musical director for Andy Williams and other television shows. In his early years, he toured with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and then led his own combo, the Little Band, which a Billboard review said more than lived up to its advance praise when they played at the Hotel Edison’s Green Room: “The group’s new sound is built around the delicate tone of the maestro’s alto sax, which aside from the occasional solo flights, predominately weaves unison melodies with one or more of the other six guys in the band. The end product sound is full but far more distinctive than that put out by many full-size orks [orchestras].” Alvy’s musical legacy is being carried out by his son Jim West, a noted jazz pianist.

A private funeral service for family was held Monday, December 3, 2012. The date and time for a memorial celebration of Alvy’s life for family and friends will be announced at a future time.

November 7th, 2012

Four feet of water from Hurricane Sandy surged into the Coney Island History Project, causing extensive damage to our exhibit center and office on 12th Street near the Boardwalk. Over the weekend, like our friends and neighbors in Coney Island, we began a major clean up effort. Artifacts and photographs that might be saved were hosed down with water. Walls had to be ripped out and desks, cabinets and display cases, already rusted and rotting from the salt water, were dragged to the curb as trash.

“Coney Island has been destroyed many times,” said History Project director Charles Denson, who rode out the storm in Sea Gate, where his apartment flooded and his car floated away. “In the past it has burned to the ground and been ripped apart by storms.. And it has always recovered. We plan to be back better than ever.”

Please help support The Coney Island History Project’s rebuilding fund with a tax deductible contribution via our website. Your support is appreciated!

Charles Denson washes damaged photograph

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