May 22 Greek American Folklore Society Music and Dance at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park


Save the Date! On Sunday, May 22, the Coney Island History Project presents a performance of Greek music and dance in honor of Denos and Lula Vourderis, the founders of Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. Dancers from the Greek American Folklore Society will perform dances from Crete, Pontos, and more. Then the audience will be invited to learn a few steps and join in. The event also features live music by Yiannis Mandas (Cretan Lyra), George Exarchakis (Cretan Laouto) and Evangelia Makropoulos (Daouli). The free performance will be at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, 3059 West 12th Street in Coney Island, below the park's Phoenix roller coaster. The event starts at 3PM and will run for about 90 minutes.

“We originally planned this performance of Greek heritage two years ago to celebrate the Wonder Wheel’s 100th birthday,” said Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project. “It’s great to finally be able to honor the Wheel and the Vourderis family for their historic commitment to Coney Island.” Denson’s book, Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel Park, tells how Denos Vourderis, who was born in Greece in 1920, the same year the Wonder Wheel was constructed, came to the purchase the ride and build his family’s amusement park around it. In 1948, he was a hot-dog vendor in New York when he promised his girlfriend Lula: “You marry me, I buy you the Wonder Wheel.” She married him and 35 years later, the Wheel came up for sale and he kept his promise and bought it for her, the world’s largest engagement ring.

After a backbreaking restoration that took several years, the Wonder Wheel prospered, becoming an official New York City landmark in 1989. Three generations of the Vourderis family –parents, children, and grandchildren—have worked to make Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park a success story, the best that Coney Island has to offer. Denos passed away in 1994, and Lula followed him 2019. West 12th Street adjacent to the park is named “Denos D. Vourderis Place” and “Theodora Lula Vourderis Way” in their honor.

The Greek American Folklore Society is dedicated to the study, preservation and instruction of the history and traditions of Hellenic folk culture. They share their work with the public through stage re-enactments of traditional Greek customs, songs and dances, as well as through lectures, exhibits and workshops. Founded in 1983 as a non-profit organization in Astoria, the Society's activities encompass a wide variety of folk art traditions from all regions and islands of Greece, in addition to the communities of the Greek Diaspora past and present.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

The Coney Island History Project is pleased to announce the upcoming exhibit "Barbara Rosenberg: Coney Island Street Photography, 1964-2010" on view from May 28 through September 5, 2022.

Barbara Rosenberg (1938-2016) was born and raised in New York City, where she lived her entire life. She was the consummate New Yorker, a social worker who dedicated her life to street photography here, and around the world. Barbara began taking photos as a kid and always had a camera with her. "I was drawn to photography after seeing the photographic images of the French photographers Doisneau, Brassaï, and Cartier-Bresson," she said, "New York City became my canvas, the streets and Coney Island especially, supplied me with an unending source of images." 

She used her camera to express her passion for culture, history, and the human condition. A 2011 article in American Photo Magazine described her approach as "unobtrusive, aesthetically artful, and quietly humorous." Working out of a darkroom in her apartment, she developed negatives, made prints, cut mats and made frames, ultimately spending more than a decade selling her work from a stall on Columbus Avenue. "I would sell to people who just fell in love with my work," she said of her years running a booth.

Barbara documented Coney Island for fifty years and when she died in 2016 she left her photographic work to the Coney Island History Project. We remember her with a selection of her work covering Steeplechase Park, the Polar Bear Club, and Boardwalk attractions from the 1970s. "I am always an observer," she said, "the small gesture, the quiet mostly unobserved moments became my subject matter." 

"Barbara Rosenberg: Coney Island Street Photography, 1964-2010" will be on view from May 28 through September 5, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, from 1:00PM- 7:00PM. The Coney Island History Project exhibition center is located at 3059 West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk. For additional information, e-mail events@coneyislandhistory.org.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

posted May 9th, 2022 in Events and tagged with Barbara Rosenberg, photography, Coney Island,...

Tymell Murphy

Tymell Murphy is a professional basketball player and the author of a new book, Poetry in Motion: Poems and Stories.  Photo courtesy of Tymell Murphy.

Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's oral history archive are interviews with basketball player and author Tymell Murphy, who grew up in Coney Island, and Australian circus historian and author Mark St. Leon, whose family performed at the original Luna Park.

Tymell Murphy and his family moved to Coney Island's Surfside Gardens in 2003. He shares boyhood memories of always having a basketball court nearby being a lifesaver and reminder of what he wanted to do. After playing basketball in high school and junior college, Murphy went to FIU in Miami and played for the Florida International Panthers in the NCAA. He went on to play overseas for professional teams in Egypt, Dubai, Mexico, Japan and China. When the pandemic brought sports to a halt in 2020, Murphy returned to the U.S. and used the pause to devote time to creative writing, a passion of his when he was younger. "I never really had a plan to create a book out of it," he says of Poetry in Motion: Poems and Stories, "It just all came together at the right time."

Elsie St Leon Luna Park

Elsie St. Leon performing at open air circus in Luna Park, circa 1910. Photo courtesy of Mark St. Leon.

Mark St. Leon is descended from Australia's earliest circus family and has written numerous books and articles including Circus: The Australian Story.  Research at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts led to his discovery of photos and news clippings about the St. Leon family's performances in Coney Island at Thompson and Dundy's Luna Park in the early 1900s. He shares stories of the St. Leon troupe of bareback riders, acrobats and tightwire artists who came to the U.S. led by his great-uncle Alfred and starring Alfred's children Elsie, Ida and George. Elsie and Ida also performed the lead role in the hit play Polly of the Circus produced by Luna Park founder Frederick Thompson. Mark St. Leon’s website is The Pennygaff.

More than 400 oral histories are available for listening in the Coney Island History Project’s online archive. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story via phone or Zoom, sign up here. We record oral histories in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and nearby neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places.

posted May 6th, 2022 in News and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, oral history,...

Coney Island Stories

"Growing Up in the 1950s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, is being released today. Listen and subscribe via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on our website.

Season Two’s theme is “Growing Up in Coney Island” through the decades, from the 1930s to the 21st century. In Episode Three, Coney Islanders who grew up in the ‘50s share their stories of living in apartments and over stores on Mermaid Avenue and its side streets. More than a thousand families were able to move into the two brand-new city-owned projects, Gravesend Houses and Coney Island Houses. Others made do with seasonal bungalows and rooming houses as year-round homes. World-famous Steeplechase Park was their neighborhood playground and television was a popular new indoor pastime.

The oral histories in Episode Three are with Susan Petersen Avitzour, Barbara Unterman Jones, Sheldon Krimsky, David Louie, Johanna Gargiulo Sherman, and Ronald Stewart. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Leila Goldstein, Samira Tazari, and Tricia Vita between 2007 and 2021. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. 

Season Two of the podcast series is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

 

Lobbying for casinos in the 1970s. Photograph by John Rea

CASINOS FOR CONEY

Joe Sitt's Casino Island? Casinos are once again being considered for Coney Island. We thought this scheme died in the 1970s. Developer Thor Equities and the firm's lobbyist, Patricia Lynch, are making the rounds, speaking with local NYCHA leaders, Community Board 13, and others, lobbying to build a Casino on Thor property. Thor owns a good chunk of land (rezoned in 2009 for hotels and high rises) on the Bowery and on Stillwell Avenue. The meetings have taken place in secret with little publicity. Luckily, this plan is a long shot, and one has to remember that Atlantic City casino developers broke all the promises made in the '70s to the local community. Jobs and community benefits are always the hook, but are rarely delivered. Coney Island does not have the infrastructure to support a casino. Good luck with this one. 

THAT SINKING FEELING: THE CONEY ISLAND FERRY

For anyone who still thinks the ferry in Kaiser Park is a good idea, please be aware that on April 6, 2022, the NYC Economic Development Corporation and its contractors were fined $70,000 by the State of New York for violating numerous environmental laws during construction of the Coney Island Creek ferry landing. Some of the fines were for illegal dredging and dumping in Coney Island Creek and Gravesend Bay, and for not reporting an oil slick. The EDC managed to violate nearly every aspect of its permits. This does not bode well for the future operation of the ferry, which is situated in a precarious location that negatively impacts the environment, impedes recreation for the community, and endangers educational programs at Kaiser Park.

Improper dredging for the Coney Island ferry violated New York State enviromental laws.

EARTH DAY AT CONEY

It's nice to see that the little food stand, Boardwalk Bistro, is open again on the Boardwalk below the Ocean Drive high rises at West 35th Street. Food stands have been lacking at the West End beach since Larry and Vinny's Pizzeria closed in 1996. I enjoyed a nice hot potato knish with mustard there last week. It's not Shatzkins, but we welcome a food concession at this popular beach location. Anyone remember Sam's Knishes on the Boardwalk at 32nd?

Leaving the boardwalk I noticed that the Miami Beach-style glass towers built by John Catsimatidis are apparently an environmental nightmare. The Ocean Drive buildings were given a giant "F" Energy Efficiency Rating, something rarely seen in New York. The large "F," posted at the building's entrance, means that: "the owner of such building has not complied, and the owner has had an opportunity to be heard with respect to such non-compliance." Happy Earth Day!

"Ocean Dreams" gets a big "F."

posted Apr 24th, 2022 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Coney Island History Project
You're invited to visit the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center on Coney's traditional opening day, Palm Sunday, April 10, and on Easter Sunday, April 17. We'll be open special hours--1:00PM-6:00PM. Admission is free of charge. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past as well as banners previewing our special exhibitions for the 2022 season.

Barbara Rosenberg’s Coney Island Photos (May 28 – September 5, 2022)
Street photographer Barbara Rosenberg documented Coney Island for 50 years. When Barbara died in 2016 she left her photographic work to the Coney Island History Project. We remember her with a selection of her work covering Steeplechase Park, the Polar Bear Club, and Boardwalk attractions from the 1970s. "I am always an observer,” she said, "the small gesture, the quiet mostly unobserved moments became my subject matter."

Remembering Astroland: 60th Anniversary (Mid-July – September 5, 2022)
Space-age-themed Astroland Park opened in the summer of 1962 on the site of Feltman’s Restaurant. After the closure of Steeplechase in 1964, Astroland became an anchor that helped keep Coney vibrant until its closure nearly half a century later. We celebrate this anniversary with a selection of historic images from our archive.

Our exhibition center season begins Saturday, May 28. We’ll be open 1:00PM-7:00PM, weekends and holidays, from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. This year marks the 18th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project and our 12th season at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Since our inception in 2004 with a portable booth on the Boardwalk for recording oral history interviews, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!" at our exhibits and special events. Our history banners will also be on display starting April 10 at Deno’s Wonder Wheel in the plaza below the Phoenix Roller Coaster.

On Palm Sunday, the Coney Island History Project will have an information booth on the Boardwalk in front of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Deno’s opening day festivities start at 10:00AM on the Boardwalk with the 37th Annual Blessing of the Rides ceremony with Pastor Toyin Facus of Coney Island's Salt and Sea Mission. Pastor Debbe Santiago originated the event with Denos and Lula Vourderis, who invited children from the Mission to enjoy free rides, a tradition that continues today. After the Blessing, the first 102 guests at the park will receive a free ride on the 102-year-old Deno's Wonder Wheel.

Coney Island Stories Podcast
"Growing Up in the 1940s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, is being released today. Listen and subscribe via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on our website.

The 1940s started out with the Parachute Jump moving to Steeplechase Park from the New York World’s Fair. Aerial photos of packed beaches became emblematic of the era. When the U.S. entered World War 2, dim-out regulations darkened Coney’s skyline to prevent its lights from silhouetting ships offshore and making them a target for German U-boats. In the 1942 and ’43 Mardi Gras parades, servicemen were showered with confetti and lions from Luna Park riding by in their cage were advertised as ready to meet Hitler.

In Episode 2, Coney Islanders who grew up during the war years recall seeing gun emplacements on the boardwalk and soldiers camped in Kaiser Park. Their households had blackout curtains, ration coupons and victory gardens. Some had summer jobs in the amusement area despite being underage. After the war, their families took in relatives and boarders who were refugees and survivors of the concentration camps.

The oral histories in this episode are with Steve Burke, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Phil Einhorn, Deena Metzger, and Gloria Nicholson. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch and Samira Tazari between 2009 and 2018.  The podcast is produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita from oral histories in the Coney Island History Project's online archive. Season Two of the podcast series is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Coney Island History Project

Stutman family photo on the beach at Bay 5, father, mother, younger sister, and Rena, 1954. Photo Courtesy of Rena Stutman Rice.

Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's oral history archive are interviews with Rena Stutman Rice, who grew up in Brighton Beach, and Esther Delgado and her daughter Maria Schwab, who are lifelong residents of Gravesend.

Rena Stutman Rice shares stories of growing up in Brighton Beach, where she lived on Brightwater Court and later on Ocean Parkway. A clip from her father's home movie of her as a baby appears in the documentary The Boys of 2nd Street Park. Among her memories of the 1950s and '60s are playing in the park and going to Brighton's Bay 3 and Bay 5 beaches. She also recalls her mother's stories from the 1930s and stores and delis patronized by her family such as Mrs. Stahl's Knishes and Zei-Mar Delicatessen.

Coney Island History Project

Maria Schwab (left) and Esther Delgado (right). Photos courtesy of Maria Schwab.

Both Esther Delgado and her daughter Maria Schwab grew up in Gravesend in Delgado’s mother’s home where they still live today. Delgado (née Scarlino), 88, recalls the bungalow her maternal grandparents first rented in 1929 for $33 a month because they thought it was close enough to walk to Coney Island beach. Schwab shares stories of growing up in Gravesend in the 1960s when the neighborhood was predominantly Italian and the tradition of having dinner with the extended family kept the streets deserted and the stores closed on Sunday afternoons.

More than 400 oral histories are available for listening in the Coney Island History Project’s online archive. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story via phone or Zoom, sign up here. We record oral histories in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and nearby neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places.

Coney Island History Project

O'Dwyer Gardens and ruins of the demolished bungalow colony on Surf Avenue and West 35th Street. Photo © Charles Denson, 1970. The property was a vacant lot until two years ago when John Catsimatidis' Ocean Drive apartments were constructed on the site.

Were you and your family original tenants of Surfside Houses, O’Dwyer Gardens, Carey Gardens, or Unity Towers in the 1970s? We'd like to record your memories for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive and the "Growing Up in the 1970s" episode of our Coney Island Stories podcast. These NYCHA apartment complexes opened in 1969 (O’Dwyer and Surfside), 1970 (Carey Gardens), and 1973 (Unity Towers).

We are working on scripts for future episodes about growing up in the 1980s, 1990s, and the first decade of the 2000s. If you were a child or teenager growing up in Coney Island during those years, we’re also interested in recording your memories.

Audio interviews are currently being recorded via phone or Zoom. Please contact us at events@coneyislandhistory.org or https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/schedule-interview or send a message via Facebook, twitter or Instagram.

The Coney Island History Project launches Season Two of our oral history podcast Coney Island Stories on Tuesday, March 8th.

This season’s theme is “Growing Up in Coney Island” through the decades, from the 1930s to the 21st century. In Episode One, Coney Islanders who grew up in the ‘30s, including George Ancona, Charles Berkman, Edith Storch, and Ralph Perfetto, recall hardships as well as simple pleasures. During the Depression, families from other New York City neighborhoods flocked to Coney Island. The rent was cheaper and the beach was down the block.

The oral history narrators in Season Two describe growing up during the Depression and World War II, urban renewal (a narrator whose family was evicted calls it “urban removal”), the residential development of middle-income co-ops and public housing, and the decline of the amusement area and its eventual revival. Across the generations, their commonalities include the beach, the boardwalk, and jobs in the neighborhood, including the amusement area.

Season Two of the podcast series is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. "We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received enabling us to record, preserve, and make available so many voices and narratives that tell the fascinating story of Coney Island,” said Charles Denson, executive director of the Coney Island History Project. "Coney Island has an incredibly complex history, and diverse first person accounts provide an irreplaceable resource for the future.”

The podcast is produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita from oral histories in the Coney Island History Project's archive, which has over 400 interviews.  Among the eleven episodes in Season One of Coney Island Stories are “Schools of Their Own,” “A Century of Bathhouses,” “Beach Days,” “Legendary Roller Coasters,” and “Mermaid Avenue.” Listen and subscribe via your favorite podcast app or at https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/podcast