Coney Island Stories Season 2 Episode 6

"Growing Up in the 1980s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, has dropped. Listen and subscribe via your 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 Six, narrators who grew up here in the 1980s, or grew up coming to Coney Island from nearby neighborhoods, share their stories. They remember living in Gravesend Houses and O’Dwyer Gardens, high-rises overseen by the New York City Housing Authority, as well as apartments on West 19th Street and in Brightwater Towers.  Astroland Park, Fabers Fascination Arcade, and Ruby’s Bar and Grill were their playgrounds.

Coney Island during the 1980s is best symbolized by Greek immigrant Denos Vourderis’s purchase of the 1920 Wonder Wheel, the amusement area’s oldest continuously operating ride and the founding of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Another ray of hope in 1980’s Coney Island was the Astella Development Corporation’s plan to build low-rise attached homes on vacant lots slated for high-rise projects that were abandoned when the city went broke in the 1970s. Astella developed or renovated nearly one thousand single-family, owner-occupied homes on city-owned land in the 1980s.

The oral histories in Episode Six are with Alito Hernandez, Shavon Meyers, Zohra Saed, Eric Safyan, and Jeffrey L. Wilson. The interviews were conducted by Kaara Baptiste, Charles Denson, Leila Goldstein, and Tricia Vita between 2017 and 2021. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.

©2022 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved. This program is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

posted Aug 8th, 2022 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, podcast,...

Remembering Astroland

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the opening of Astroland Park, Coney’s space-age attraction that debuted in 1962 at the dawn of the space race. The Coney Island History Project is celebrating the event with a new permanent exhibit of history panels installed in front of the Astroland Moon Rocket located at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.  The Rocket is in the lower park, across from the Bumper Cars and adjacent to the Wonder Wheel.

It’s not often that an attraction leaves Coney Island and then returns. The Astroland Rocket was the first ride at Astroland. After it was retired in the 1970s, it was lifted to the roof of Gregory and Paul’s Restaurant on the Boardwalk, and served as an iconic advertisement for the Park. When Astroland closed in 2008, Carol and Jerry Albert, owners of Astroland Park, donated the Rocket to the City, which promised to make it a centerpiece of the new, revitalized amusement and entertainment district. 

The old space ship languished in a vacant lot on the shoreline of Staten Island, abandoned, forgotten, and damaged by Hurricane Sandy until rescued by the History Project and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. The Vourderis family offered space for the Rocket and History Project founder Carol Albert paid to have it moved back to Coney Island in 2014, where it found a new home and a place of honor beside the landmark Wonder Wheel.

"Outer space simulators have played a prominent role in Coney's amusement history,” said Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project. His 2015 film, The Rocket Has Landed, tells the story of Coney's fascination with intergalactic travel. “It began when Thompson and Dundy brought 'A Trip to the Moon' to Steeplechase Park in 1902 and culminated in 1962, with Astroland's Moon Rocket."

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park is open daily from 12pm until 10pm on weekdays and until 11:30pm on Fridays-Sundays through Labor Day, weather permitting. In September and October, Deno's is open weekends and school holidays. The exhibition is free and on view from July 31 through October 30 during park hours. Hours of operation are subject to change depending on weather conditions.

Remembering Astroland

Remembering Astroland

Remembering Astroland

Remembering Astroland

posted Jul 27th, 2022 in Events and tagged with Astroland, 60th anniversary, Astroland Rocket,...

Coney Island History Project Podcast Coney Island Stories

"Growing Up in the 1970s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, has dropped. Listen and subscribe via your 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 Five, Coney Islanders who grew up in the 1970s share memories of being the original tenants of Carey Gardens and O’Dwyer Gardens, newly built high-rise developments overseen by the New York City Housing Authority. They remember the razing of entire blocks in the West End during urban renewal, pervasive crime affecting their lives, and gangs like the Homicides and the Seven Immortals inspiring the movie The Warriors. By mid-decade, New York City went broke and abandoned Coney Island. The one bright spot in the 1970s was Astroland amusement park’s two million dollar investment in new rides, including the Enterprise, named after the USS Enterprise in the TV series Star Trek, and sponsorship of air shows with the Army Golden Knights and the Air Force Thunderbirds.

The oral histories in Episode Five are with Karen Dawn Blondel, Mindy Gress, Orlando Mendez, Gene Ritter, Keith Suber, and Eliot Wofse. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, Katya Kumkova, Mark Markov, and Tricia Vita between 2016 and 2022. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.

This program is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Jokes with Josue by Emmanuel Elpenord

On June 3rd, the Coney Island History Project presented Jokes with Josue: A Haitian Puppet Show created and performed by Emmanuel Elpenord. The free performance was at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park in the plaza below the park's Phoenix roller coaster. In the audience were first, second, and third graders from Coney Island’s P.S. 90, the Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness down the block.

Emmanuel Elpenord is a first-generation Haitian-American actor, puppeteer, improviser and voice artist. "Jokes with Josue is a series of Haitian riddles featuring a marionette and cut-aways to toy theater scenes, all set under Haitian music," said Elpenord. “It includes a longer-form Haitian folktale or fable performed in a traditional style with some call and response games, pantomime, character voices and improvisation."

Born and raised in Coney Island, Elpenord recorded an oral history for the History Project’s archive in 2020 in which he shares memories of growing up in Sea Rise apartments and a souvenir of the Wonder Wheel. We'll be posting a video of the puppet show in the coming weeks. Additional photos by Norman Blake may be viewed here.

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

Jokes with Josue by Emmanuel Elpenord

Carlos Quinones Coney Island History Project

Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's oral history archive are interviews with Carlos Quinones, a longtime resident of Coney Island who drove the Mermaid Avenue bus for many years; Sharon Tera, whose parents owned a popular Boardwalk restaurant; and Alan Kirschenbaum, one of the original tenants of Coney Island Houses.

Carlos Quinones, 72, is a Coney Island resident who lived in Gravesend Houses as a boy. He is well known in the neighborhood for his collection of classic cars. Quinones is a Vietnam War veteran and a retired MTA employee. In this oral history he shares memories of working games from age 14, placing the Puerto Rican flag atop the Parachute Jump in the 1970s, and driving the Mermaid Avenue bus. 

Sharon Tera Coney Island History Project

Born in 1947, Sharon Tera lived in Coney Island for the first 14 years of her life. Her parents, Ethel and Ise Tera, owned Ethel's Restaurant on the Boardwalk at West 19th Street. "Between my mother being Jewish and my father Japanese, we had a combination of that kind of food," Tera says. "So we had chicken noodle soup, we had clam chowder. Or you could just get fried shrimp in a hot dog bun." Tera shares childhood memories of mastering Skee-Ball at neighboring arcades, learning to develop photos at the photo studio next door, and having free run of Washington Baths and Steeplechase Park. 

Coney Island Houses Rendering 1954

Alan Kirschenbaum grew up in Coney Island Houses, where his family was among the original tenants of Coney’s first superblock high-rise housing project. They lived there from 1956 until 1966. He vividly describes the architecture and amenities of the buildings, where the windows were designed to bring in the ocean breezes, the kids played sports on the "Little Grass," and the summers seemed endless. Among his amusement park memories are Steeplechase Park's giant slide and Astroland's diving bells, rocket and trout fishing pool.

More than 400 oral histories are available for listening in the Coney Island History Project’s multilingual 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.

Photo Credits: Charles Denson, Sharon Tera

posted Jun 22nd, 2022 in News and tagged with Coney Island, oral history, Oral History Archive,...

Coney Island Brewery Beer Can Art

A group of Coney Island artists and their friends created beer can art pieces and exhibited their work at Coney Island Brewery in the spring. Funny Face, Moveable Mermaid Can, Coney Island Is For Lovers, and See Me, Hear Me, Touch Me, Beer Me were among the titles of these ingenious 12-ounce size artworks.

The artists in the show included Angeline DelValle, Carlos Cordero, Dana Danger, Daniel Fischer, End of the Line, Erin Mathewson, Jennie Jones, Joey Bones, Obsidian and Benjamin Bard, Sam Nahra, Tom Kane, and Victoria Pitula.

We were impressed by the creativity of the artists and thank them for their generosity. Sales of the work were donated to the Coney Island History Project.

posted Jun 17th, 2022 in News and tagged with art, Artists, Coney Island,...

It's My Estuary Day at Coney Island Creek and Coney Island Ferry Update

Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, tabled at It's My Estuary Day on Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park, held on June 4th. The annual event is organized by the New York State Marine Education Association in partnership with the NYC Parks Department and participating organizations. Activities included a beach clean-up, underwater oyster reef observation via a remote operated vehicle, seining, and kayaking. More than 150 students from three boroughs plus Yonkers were in attendance.

It is currently horseshoe crab monitoring season at Kaiser Park and Calvert Vaux Park. The crabs are counted and tagged at the beach at high tide to assess the health and well being of this important species. If you wish to volunteer, please choose the site and date via this link and contact the site coordinator to schedule.

In late May, the City’s Economic Development Corporation met with Coney Island residents to provide updates on the Coney Island ferry project. Officials announced that plans to bring a ferry to Kaiser Park were delayed indefinitely, citing “significant sand shift" where the dock is proposed, according to an article in The City. The narrow channel approach for the ferry is dangerous and prone to shoaling and sand buildup that can cause ferries to run aground at low tide. This serious problem and others were pointed out many times at public meetings and in written comments over the last two years, but the warnings were ignored by City officials who wanted to push the project through. New locations for the ferry dock are now being considered.

Photo Credit: Charles Denson

posted Jun 9th, 2022 in News and tagged with Coney Island Creek, It's My Estuary Day, Kaiser Park,...

Coney Island Stories Podcast Growing Up in the 1960s

"Growing Up in the 1960s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, is being released today. Listen and subscribe via your 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 Four, Coney Islanders who grew up in the 1960s share memories of being the original tenants at Luna Park Houses and Trump Village, high rise co-ops that opened in the 1960s. They remember the last years of Steeplechase Park, a rising crime rate and urban renewal. In 1967, Mayor Lindsay declared the entire West End of Coney Island a poverty zone. More than 40 blocks were slated for condemnation. The one bright spot during the 1960s was the space age-themed Astroland Park. The park became the anchor for Coney Island, the glue that held it together while many businesses gave up and many property owners sold and moved away.

The oral histories in Episode Four are with Alison Cintorrino, Alan Kirschenbaum, Jim Lucarelli, the Salvia sisters, Lucille DaCosta and Gladys Sandman, and Tony Williams. The interviews were conducted by Amanda Deutch, Ali Lemer, Shavon Meyers, and Tricia Vita between 2016 and 2022. 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. 

Coney Island History Project

The Coney Island History Project's exhibition center opens for the 2022 season on Saturday, May 28th, of Memorial Day Weekend. Since the History Project's inception in 2004 with a portable recording booth on the Boardwalk and the inaugural season of our exhibition center in 2007, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!” The exhibition center is open free of charge on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays (1:00PM-7:00PM) from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. We're located at 3059 West 12th Street, adjacent to the West 12th Street entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk.

Visitors can view historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. You're invited to take free souvenir photos with "Cy," the mesmerizing Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, and Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Our rarest treasure on display is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact from the dawn of the "World's Playground." The 1823 Toll House sign in our collection dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to "the Island" was 5 cents! Visitors can also share and preserve their Coney Island memories by recording an oral history for our multilingual archive, which has over 400 interviews available for online listening.

The Coney Island History Project's special exhibition for the 2022 season is "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."

Barbara Rosenberg

June 3 Jokes with Josue, a Haitian Puppet Show created by Emmanuel Elpenord

Save the Date! On Friday, June 3, the Coney Island History Project presents Jokes with Josue: A Haitian Puppet Show created and performed by Emmanuel Elpenord. The free performance will be at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, 3059 West 12th Street in Coney Island, in the outdoor plaza below the park's Phoenix roller coaster. The show is designed for kids ages 5-8. It starts at 1:00 PM and will run for about 30 minutes with Q&A afterwards.

Emmanuel Elpenord is a first-generation Haitian-American actor, puppeteer, improviser and voice artist. "Jokes with Josue is a series of Haitian riddles featuring a marionette and cut-aways to toy theater scenes, all set under Haitian music," says Elpenord. “It includes a longer-form Haitian folktale or fable performed in a traditional style with some call and response games,  pantomime, character voices and improvisation."

Elpenord has performed as Othello, Duke Orsino, and Oberon in Shakespeare in Bryant Park; as a puppeteer at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater in Central Park; in the Off Broadway run, national and international tours of The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show; and as Eeyore, Owl, and Rabbit in the Off-Broadway run of Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Adaptation, returning to Theater Row on June 18.

Born and raised in Coney Island, Emmanuel Elpenord is a magna cum laude graduate of Brooklyn College with a BFA in Acting, BA in TV/Radio Production, and BFA in Creative Writing. In 2020, he recorded an oral history for the History Project’s archive in which he shares memories of growing up in Sea Rise apartments and a souvenir of the Wonder Wheel. He recalls auditioning for Luna Park's Nights of Horror Halloween event in 2012, in which he was cast as the Devil. "I still treasure the experience as like my little badge of carnydom in having worked at Coney Island," says Elpenord in the interview. "I'm one of the freaks too."

Elpenord created Jokes with Josue and commissioned a marionette carved by Kevin White and costumed by Taylor Harrison for the June 3 performance in Coney Island. The sound is produced by  Haitian-American DJ MetroSoundsNYC. Poster design by Erin Mathewson. Among the invited guests are first, second, and third graders from Coney Island’s P.S. 90, the Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness.

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

For more info, email events@coneyislandhistory.org.

Emmanuel Elpenord

Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Elpenord.

posted May 25th, 2022 in Events and tagged with June 3, Coney Island, Emmanuel Elpenord,...