Coney Island History Project Photo by Norman Blake

Coney Island History Project banner being raised while muralist Danielle Mastrion paints our gates in preparation for this weekend's reopening. Photo By Norman Blake.

We’re thrilled to announce the Coney Island History Project is reopening Memorial Day Weekend for the 2021 season after 18 months of virtual programming. In accordance with NY State and City Covid-19 health and safety guidelines, the part of our exhibition center with an open-air front has been reconfigured for socially distanced viewing from outside. Visitors will be able to view movies about Coney Island history, and see Cy, the mesmerizing Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, our original Steeplechase Horse, and other wonders.

In addition, starting in June, we’re presenting a series of outdoor exhibits at Deno’s Wonder Wheel, P.S. 90, and other locations in Coney Island. All exhibitions are offered free of charge. Located on West 12th Street adjacent to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the new, under-construction Phoenix roller coaster, our exhibition center is open Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, from 1:00PM -7:00PM.

Visitors may purchase books, souvenirs, T-shirts and memberships at the History Project's exhibition center. They can also schedule appointments to record an oral history interview for our archive via phone, Zoom or Skype. For the safety of guests and staff, in-person oral history interviews and weekend walking tours remain postponed until further notice. We thank everyone for their understanding and continued support of the Coney Island History Project during these challenging times.

 

 

Jimmy Prince, Coney Island Photo ©  by Charles Denson 2009

Jimmy Prince was the kindest man in the world and the brightest light in Coney Island, a man who personified compassion, love and respect. There was no one else like him. He was born in 1932, the same year that Major Market opened on Mermaid Avenue and he began working at the market in June 1949 at the age of 18. Eventually he owned the store, and kept it open seven days a week, twelve hours a day until 2009. Jimmy became "Mr. Major," and his store became the heart of Coney Island, a refuge during hard times, where people came to find warmth and solace and nourishment. He was always positive and believed that Coney Island would survive.

Major Market became an anchor for Coney Island and an oasis for the community. Many generations grew up visiting “Mr. Major,” and would later bring their children to meet him and continue the tradition through the decades. Jimmy provided the same quality prime meat and produce found in New York’s finest restaurants. He wanted his Coney Island customers to have the best, even if it meant sacrificing and operating at a loss in the later years. He gave respect and received love in return.

In 2007, Jimmy confided that he was contemplating retirement and we began a two-year project to document his last days on Mermaid Avenue. The project became the 2009 featrure documentary, "The Prince of Mermaid Avenue."  After closing the store that he’d operated for 60 years, Jimmy volunteered on weekends at the Coney Island History Project. Our Exhibit Center provided a transition for him as he could spend time with old friends and customers who stopped by to see him. His smile and delightful personality enchanted visitors to Coney Island who met him for the first time at the History Project."Mr. Major's" delightful, upbeat personality always made you feel at home. His passions included collecting baseball cards and postage stamps, and a visit to his home always included a trip to his basement “museum of baseball” where he showed photos of the Brooklyn Dodgers he'd taken at Ebbets Field. He always hoped that the Postal Service would issue a Coney Island stamp and we began lobbying for it. 

 Jimmy's bright light has not gone out, it will shine brightly forever in the hearts of all who knew him. He was a wonderful friend.

– Charles Denson

Jimmy Prince, Coney Island Photo © by Charles Denson 2009

Jimmy Prince and Charles Denson at Major Market, 2003

posted May 25th, 2021 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Coney Island Stories Coney Island History Project

On Memorial Day Weekend, lifeguards will once again be perched in their towers and New York City will celebrate the reopening of Coney Island's beach for swimming. Our new podcast episode "Beach Days" has dropped! Listen and subscribe to Coney Island Stories on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 8 shares stories of days at the beach from the 1920s through the 1990s taken from the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive.

The stories include childhood memories of family outings, a hidden playground under the boardwalk, a lava hot spot on the sand, the knish man, teenage memories of daring swimsuits, summer jobs renting beach chairs and umbrellas, and working as a lifeguard. Memories span the 1920s, when beach goers were fined as much $5 each - the equivalent of $75 today - for walking on the boardwalk in bathing suits, to the 1990s, when “under the boardwalk” was filled in with sand and a way of life changed forever.

The oral histories in the podcast are with Joseph Albanese, Connie Scacciaferro, Richard Termini, Ron Vernon, Steve Larkin, and Crystal Isley. The interviews were conducted from 2009 to 2019 by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, Samira Tazari, and Tricia Vita. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita.

Listen to previous episodes about Coney Island's legendary roller coasters and bathhouses, Mermaid Avenue, and family-owned restaurants and other businesses via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on the Coney Island History Project's website.

Photo credits: Top right, bottom left: Courtesy of Connie Scacciaferro. Bottom right: Coney Island History Project Collection.

posted May 24th, 2021 in Events and tagged with podcast, oral history, history,...

Coney Island Creek

Last Saturday the Coney Island History project joined sponsors City Parks Foundation, NYSMEA and Partnerships for Parks for the sixth annual It’s My Estuary Day on the Kaiser Park shoreline. We tabled with our partners to present the history and ecology of Coney Island natural ecosystems. Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse and the Kayak Foundation brought two dozen kayaks and invited local children and adults to learn to kayak and then paddle over to visit the yellow submarine on Coney Island Creek. It was an amazing day but was bittersweet because it could be the final time they can launch at Kaiser Park, where the city plans to build a massive ferry dock at Coney Island's only public access point on Coney Island Creek.

posted May 24th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Coney Island Creek, kayaking, It's My Estuary Day

What's in a name? 

Two beloved Coney Island icons have magically reappeared, albeit in name only. The eponymous labels recently showed up in signage on two new high-rise residential developments in the heart of Coney Island: Raven Hall  and the Carolina. Although it's nice to have these iconic names immortalized it's just a reminder of how ephemeral Coney Island really is. Will anyone remember that Ravenhall Baths and Carolina Restaurant once operated at these locations? Sadly, there will not be a swimming pool or Italian food to be found at these sites.

The original Ravenhall was one of the oldest attractions in Coney Island. Richard Ravenhall opened a small hotel in the 1860s that later expanded into a sprawling bathhouse resort that covered an entire block at West 19th street between the ocean and Surf Avenue. Ravenhall Baths had Coney Island's largest saltwater pool and dozens of other attractions. After a century of operation the Ravenhall complex was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1963. The Abe Stark Ice Rink and parking lot replaced it in 1969.

Carolina Restaurant on Mermaid Avenue at Stillwell was a popular neighborhood destination for more than 60 years. The restaurant closed 20 years ago and the wood frame building that housed the business was recently demolished to make way for new residential development.

Both of the high-rises that now bear the names of these icons have no relation to the historic Coney Island businesses that once stood nearby. The "Carolina" is a six-story luxury apartment building on Mermaid avenue and West 15th Street that includes the lot where Carolina Restaurant once stood.

The "Raven Hall" high-rise tower, is located on the former site of Washington Baths, not at the site of the Ravenhall resort . The developers must have decided that the name" Washington Baths" didn't sound classy enough. 

Will anyone rent apartments in these buildings for nostalgia's sake, or will the origins of the names be lost to the sands of time? You can listen to oral history interviews that tell the stories of Ravenhall and Carolina in the History Project's archive:

https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive/natalie-johnson

https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive/louise-milano

– Charles Denson

 

 

 

 

 

 

posted Apr 28th, 2021 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Coney Island Stories Podcast Episode 7 Staying in the Game

Our new episode "Staying in the Game" has dropped! Listen and subscribe to Coney Island Stories on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Episode 7 features the stories of independent game operators, past and present, from the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. Among the games that Peter Agrapides, Monica Ghee, Candi Rafael, and Eliot Wofse have operated are Fascination, Balloon Dart, Glass and Dime Pitches, Milk Toss, Basketball, Fish Bowl, High Striker and Water Races. The last of the independent game operators are now concentrated on a small strip of Coney Island’s eclectic Bowery, once the boisterous home of hundreds of unusual games and attractions.

The interviews were conducted by Kaara Baptiste, Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, and Mark Markov between 2009 and 2019. The podcast is produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Listen to previous episodes about Coney Island's legendary roller coasters and bathhouses, Mermaid Avenue, and family-owned restaurants and other businesses via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on the Coney Island History Project's website.

posted Apr 15th, 2021 in Events and tagged with podcast, oral history, history,...

Coney Island History Project Show and Tell Event via Zoom

You're invited to join us for “Coney Island History Show & Tell,” an interactive reminiscence event presented by the Coney Island History Project via Zoom on April 22. Do you have historical or personal objects related to Coney Island that you would like to share? Sign up to “show and tell” your story on April 22 or at a future event by emailing events@coneyislandhistory.org

This biweekly online event is hosted by Tricia Vita and Neter Antoine. Tricia has a certificate in reminiscence and life story work and creates and facilitates reminiscence activities for senior centers and records oral histories for the Coney Island History Project. Neter is a visual artist who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Therapeutic Recreation at CUNY’s Lehman College. She is a 2020-2021 CUNY Cultural Corps intern with the Coney Island History Project. This will be our last Show and Tell via Zoom before we take a break during the warm weather months and resume in the fall.

Tickets for "Coney Island History Show & Tell" are free of charge. Advance registration is required and capacity is limited. Registrants will be sent the Zoom link two days before the event.

👉  Register via Eventbrite for Thursday, April 22 at 7:00PM - 8:00PM.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.

posted Apr 14th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, history,...

Coney Island History Show and Tell via Zoom

You're invited to join us for “Coney Island History Show & Tell,” an interactive reminiscence event presented by the Coney Island History Project via Zoom on April 8. Do you have historical or personal objects related to Coney Island that you would like to share? Sign up to “show and tell” your story on April 8 or at a future event by emailing events@coneyislandhistory.org. Guest sharers on April 8 include Eric K. Washington, historian and author; Martine Emile, Coney Island filmmaker; and Lola the Illustrator, artist and muralist.  Listeners are welcome and will have an opportunity to ask questions via chat.  

This new biweekly online event is hosted by Tricia Vita and Neter Antoine. Tricia has a certificate in reminiscence and life story work and creates and facilitates reminiscence activities for senior centers and records oral histories for the Coney Island History Project. Neter is a visual artist who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Therapeutic Recreation at CUNY’s Lehman College. She is a 2020-2021 CUNY Cultural Corps intern with the Coney Island History Project.

Tickets for "Coney Island History Show & Tell" are free of charge. Advance registration is required and capacity is limited. Registrants will be sent the Zoom link two days before the event.

👉  Register via Eventbrite for Thursday, April 8 at 7:00PM - 8:00PM.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.

posted Mar 27th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, history,...

Coney Island History Project Show and Tell

You're invited to join us for “Coney Island History Show & Tell,” an interactive reminiscence event presented by the Coney Island History Project via Zoom on March 25 and on April 8. Do you have paper ephemera or artifacts of historical or personal significance related to Coney Island history you would like to share? After registering for the event, sign up to “show and tell” your story by emailing events@coneyislandhistory.org. Listeners are welcome and will have an opportunity to ask questions via chat.

This new biweekly online event is hosted by Tricia Vita and Neter Antoine. Tricia has a certificate in reminiscence and life story work and creates and facilitates reminiscence activities for senior centers and records oral histories for the Coney Island History Project. Neter is a visual artist who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Therapeutic Recreation at CUNY’s Lehman College. She is a 2020-2021 CUNY Cultural Corps intern with the Coney Island History Project.

Tickets for "Coney Island History Show & Tell" are free of charge. Advance registration is required and registration for each event is limited to 50 people. Due to capacity, we request that individuals register for one or the other of these two events. You will be sent the Zoom link two days before the event.

👉  Register via Eventbrite for Thursday, March 25 at 7:00PM - 8:00PM.

👉  Register via Eventbrite for Thursday, April 8 at 7:00PM - 8:00PM.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.

 

One of Coney Island's bungalow fires, 1974. Photo by Charles Denson

Coney Island underwent a dramatic and tragic transformation during the 1960s and 1970s, a destructive era that left the West End resembling a war zone. Anyone who lived in the neighborhood during that era has mixed memories of the best and worst that Coney had to offer. New York City went bankrupt, a misguided urban renewal program destroyed homes and businesses, and arson fires gutted block after block. At the same time, people still flocked to the beach, amusements struggled along as popular as ever, and somehow Coney Island survived. New oral history interviews by David Louie and Theresa Veldez provide a vivid portrait of what life was like during that time. David Louie's family owned the popular Wah Mee Restaurant on Mermaid Avenue, and Theresa Veldez grew up in the bungalows of Coney Island. Their stories prove that tragedy and loss cannot erase the memories of good times had.