Gregory Bitetzakis Photo © Charles Denson

Gregory Bitetzakis in 2001.  Photo © Charles Denson

Over the weekend, we were saddened to learn of the death of our friend Gregory Bitetzakis, who passed away unexpectedly on January 17 at the age of 81. Until his retirement in 2009, Gregory co-owned and operated Gregory & Paul’s restaurant in Coney Island with his partner Paul Georgoulakos for more than 50 years.

In a conversation with Charles Denson in the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive, Gregory says that he first came to Coney Island in 1948 and operated food concessions on the Bowery, the Boardwalk and other locations including the former Napoli Seven Seas Restaurant.

The first Gregory & Paul’s, which opened in 1962 at the old Howard Johnson’s on West 8th Street and the Boardwalk, was evicted along with other businesses in 1968 when Rockefeller bought the property and donated it to the New York Aquarium. The restaurant then moved to one of the old Hebrew National Deli locations on the Boardwalk at West 15th Street behind the Thunderbolt. They were there from 1969 through 1979. Gregory said the building burned to the ground on a frigid winter night when the wind chill was 49 below zero.

Opened in 1970, Gregory and Paul’s most popular location was on the Boardwalk at West 10th Street and featured the Astroland Rocket on the roof of the store until the park closed in 2008. The Boardwalk store remains open as Paul’s Daughter with Paul and his daughter Tina in charge.

Gregory & Paul's on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone opened in 1976 and was the one where Gregory could be found behind the counter until he closed it and retired to Florida in 2009. In one of the amusing anecdotes that turned up in our oral history interviews with visitors to Coney Island, the "Franks" sign - short for frankfurters - on the Surf Avenue side of the building led to one longtime patron referring to Gregory as "Frank" for decades.  

Gregory was predeceased by his son Steve Bitetzakis, who learned the family business from his father and operated Steve’s Grill House on the Coney Island Boardwalk from 1993 to 2011.

A wake will be held on January 25 from 4:00pm-8:00pm at Meadowlawn Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens in New Port Richey, Florida, followed by a graveside service on January 26 at Trinity Memorial Gardens in Trinity, Florida. There will be a memorial service in Brooklyn on January 29 from 4:00pm-8:00pm at Dahill Funeral Home at 2525 65th Street in Bensonhurst.

Gregory & Paul's, Surf Avenue. Photo © Charles Denson

Gregory & Paul's, Surf Avenue. Photo © Charles Denson

posted Jan 22nd, 2017 in News and tagged with Gregory Bitetzakis, Gregory & Paul's, In Memoriam,...

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Visit the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive to listen online to audio interviews with Coney Island residents, business owners, and visitors - both past and present. Among the additions to our online archive in 2016 are the following interviews recorded in English, Spanish and Russian. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story, sign up here.

Artist Johanna Gargiulo Sherman shares vivid memories of growing up in Coney Island, where her family lived on Mermaid Avenue above the Carolina Restaurant. Her father Joe "Carolina" Gargiulo led a musical trio and was one of the partners in this popular Italian restaurant from 1947 through the 1980s. 

Ecuadorian-born Julio Sauce is a Gravesend resident who has been running in the Coney Island 5K, Brooklyn Half Marathon and New York Marathon since 1998 and is among the fastest local runners in his age category. The interview was recorded in Spanish and includes Spanish and English transcripts.

Shirley Aikens, president of the Carey Gardens Tenants Association and a member of Community Board 13, recounts moving to Carey Gardens with her one-year-old daughter in the 1970s, her first impressions of Coney Island, and how the community has changed over the years.

Antoinette Balzano, a granddaughter of Anthony "Totonno" Pero, the founder of Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitana, tells her family's story. Pizzas have been made in the same way at the Neptune Avenue restaurant since 1924.

Cultural Research Divers' founder Gene Ritter is a Coney Island native, environmental advocate, commercial diver and educator who grew up on West 16th Street. He shares his knowledge of oceans, estuaries, and Coney Island Creek.

Alfie Davis, who has lived in Coney Island for nearly 40 years and is the Tenant Association Leader of the Sea Rise I complex in Coney's West End, tells the story of three generations of her family.

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Coney Island resident Derrick Batts opened Coney Island Hook and Bait Shop on West 24th Street off Mermaid Avenue in May. He recounts learning about life from fishing and gardening, both of which he was introduced to as a boy by older members of the community, and passing on that knowledge to young people.

Candi Rafael, whose family operates games on Coney Island's Bowery, grew up here and started helping out as an eight-year-old. Now 22, she demonstrates the spiel that she uses to call people in to play the games and describes what it's like to work in Coney Island. 

On her first day back in Coney Island since 1959, Kathy Duke O'Melia shares memories of joyful summers spent with her family at a bungalow colony located on West 31st Street near Coney Island Creek. 

Commendatore Aldo Mancusi, the founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America, recalls visiting Coney Island in the 1930s and '40s and growing up in Brooklyn in an Italian family.

Historian Eric K. Washington delves into the life of E.J. Perry, an African-American silhouette artist who worked in the early 20th century at Luna Park, where it was said "he is there with a nice spiel and and he cuts your picture with the scissors in a minute."

Coney Island resident Zinovy Pritsker emigrated from Leningrad to Southern Brooklyn in 1978. His jazz big band, founded 20 years ago, consists of 18 Russian musicians and singers plus a few Americans. The interview was recorded in Russian and includes Russian and English transcripts.

posted Dec 27th, 2016 in History and tagged with oral history, Oral History Archive, Interviews,...

Wonder Wheel Photo © Charles Denson

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year from the Coney Island History Project! Thanks to all who visited our exhibition center and joined us for History Day, Estuary Day and other special events this year. We'd like to say a special "thank you" to our volunteers, who generously donated their time and knowledge, and to our members and patrons who helped fund our free programming. Keep Coney Island in your heart this holiday season with a gift membership for family and friends.
Ring out the old and ring in the new on New Year's Eve in Coney Island, where the landmark Parachute Jump's 8000 LEDs will feature a digital burst of color at midnight, followed by the first fireworks show of 2017. This free, family-friendly event is Coney's third annual New Year's Eve Celebration presented by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, with support from New York City Council Member Mark Treyger, State Senator Diane Savino, Assemblymember Pamela Harris and the Alliance for Coney Island.

The Abe Stark Skating Rink, B&B Carousell, Deno's Wonder Wheel and Triotech XD VR Dark Ride and Thunderbolt roller coaster will be open and free of charge starting at 6:00 PM with free entertainment beginning at 9:00 PM at Steeplechase Plaza. "We want to keep the party going so we are opening once again on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day," said Dennis Vourderis, co-owner of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. The 1920 landmark Wheel, which opened last year for the first time ever on New Year's, will open with its white stationary cars only, weather permitting.

New Year's Eve hours for free rides on the Wheel are 6:00-10:00 PM. On New Year's Day, the Wonder Wheel and the Tritech XD VR Dark Ride will be open 11:00 AM-2:00 PM, before, during and after the Polar Bear Swim, a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine.  Tickets are $5.00 per ride. "Fifty percent of all ticket sales on New Year's Day will be donated to the Coney Island Polar Bear Club," said Vourderis. "We also look ahead to our 100th anniversary in 2020."
We look forward to seeing you at Coney Island History Project events next year. Our exhibition center will open for the 2017 season on Coney's official Opening Day, Palm Sunday, which is April 9th. In the meantime, we continue to record oral history interviews year round and offer weekend walking tours that include a private visit to the History Project exhibition center. During the winter, the 1-1/2 hour tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 PM by advance reservation only. Visit our online reservation site to purchase tickets for the tours or email for info on booking a group or school visit. 

posted Dec 27th, 2016 in News and tagged with New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, Coney Island

The final section of the Coney Island CreekWalk has been completed and installed at Calvert Vaux Park. Conceived and produced by Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, this self-guided tour of Coney Island Creek was funded by a Capacity Fund Grant from Partnerships for Parks, a joint program of NYC Parks and City Parks Foundation.

The CreekWalk project, which began in 2012, includes informational aluminum signs and full-color brochures that describe the history, wildlife, and ecology of the creek at Kaiser Park and Calvert Vaux Park. "I've been researching and documenting Coney Island Creek since the 1960s," Denson said, "and we wanted to share this information with park visitors who may not be familiar with the fascinating history of these parks and the sights to be seen along the two trails where our signs have been placed." 

Among the points of interest are sand dunes, horseshoe crabs, wetlands, shipwrecks (the Yellow Submarine), ribbed mussels, fishing, birds, flowers, and the history of the two parks. The last sign on the trail, located at a scenic viewpoint at Calvert Vaux, describes the site of the historic British invasion of 1776 on Gravesend Bay that led to the Battle of Brooklyn. "Sometimes informational park signs use generic images as illustration, Denson said, "but all of the photos used in this tour were taken on the Coney Island Creek estuary. Coney Island Creek is a unique waterway with a compelling history and great ecological importance." The free brochures will be available at the Coney Island History Project during the summer or from Partnerships for Parks at park events.

The tour at Kaiser Park begins at Bayview Avenue and heads east along a paved path that follows the creek. The signs are installed on the guardrail. At Calvert Vaux Park the tour begins at the parking lot at Shore Parkway and heads west along the paved path that starts at the second kayak launch. The signs are installed on light poles along the path.

Special thanks to Martin Maher and Michael Super of NYC Parks; Pamela Pettyjohn of Coney Island Beautification Project; and Ted Enoch of the Catalyst Program of Partnerships for Parks.

Charles Denson at Coney Island Creek

Charles Denson with Coney Island CreekWalk sign at Calvert Vaux Park

posted Dec 12th, 2016 in Events and tagged with Coney Island Creek, Charles Denson, Kaiser Park,...

Last week it was confirmed that the organization WIN (Women In Need) is planning to open a 300-bed homeless shelter for women and children on the shoreline of polluted Coney Island Creek. The chosen site is a factory building in Coney Island that once housed the Brooklyn Yarn and Dye Company, a business that for several decades poured massive amounts of toxic aniline and hexavalent chromium dyes into the notoriously noxious waterway. What’s particularly disturbing is that during the yearlong planning process no official notification was given to local residents, elected officials, or Community Board 13. Details of the project are still not forthcoming.

The Brooklyn Yarn and Dye factory closed down years ago and the building was last occupied by a community health center that was destroyed in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy. Past usage of this structure has been commercial use only and the idea that the site is now safe for a year-round residential facility that houses vulnerable women and children is debatable. Sandy’s floodwaters radically changed the landscape surrounding this site. If new construction is being proposed, has the site been tested for toxicity? We have no idea because the project has been planned in secret.

This location on Coney Island Creek at West 21st Street, directly adjacent to the homeless shelter, has also been proposed by the City as the site of a massive flood control barrier that is now under study by the Army Corps of Engineers. That means that the shelter might be surrounded by a construction zone that, hopefully, will include mitigation of toxic waste from the bed of Coney Island Creek. This section of the creek was also the site of a waste transfer station in the early 1900s, a marine fueling station that closed in the 1970s, and other polluting industrial facilities. Construction at this site might disturb potentially toxic materials buried nearby and have an adverse affect on nearby structures along the creek’s shoreline, including the proposed shelter and its young inhabitants.

The WIN shelter project is reminiscent of the little league baseball field that opened during the 1990s on the toxic Brooklyn Union Gas Works site on Coney Island Creek at Shell Road. It was soon discovered that the ball field was contaminated with every carcinogenic substance imaginable and the recreational facility was closed down and fenced off.

In 2006 an EPA-mandated cleanup of the gas works site cost Keyspan Energy $114 million. Has WIN done due diligence in finding out if their site is safe? We have no idea as the entire project is shrouded in secrecy. It is not the WIN organization’s job to “educate the community,” as the organization’s spokesperson told the Brooklyn Daily on October 19th. It is the community’s job to provide input and information that will prevent injury to the families that occupy the shelter. Subterfuge helps no one.

Accusations of  “nimbyism” are common when pointing out that a homeless shelter site is inadequate. That doesn’t apply in this case. WIN president Christine Quinn is shutting out the local community and planning a residential facility on a waterway that has a legacy of illegal sewage discharges and industrial contamination. Aniline and hexavalent chromium are known carcinogens. For years these dyes colored the creek as they were discharged into the waterway by the Brooklyn Yarn Dye Company. Coney Island Creek needs to be clean and safe before any residential developments can proceed along its shoreline. An Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) should be completed as soon as possible.

On Tuesday, November 1 at 6 pm, Community Board 13's Environmental Committee will hold a public meeting to discuss pollution issues affecting Coney Island Creek. Representatives from DEP and DEC are expected to attend. The meeting will be held at Liberation High School, 2865 West 19th Street, Coney Island.

Toxic coal tar ("black mayonnaise") being removed from a small section of Coney Island Creek in 2006.


To anyone who spends time on Coney Island Creek, the revelation that 16 buildings at the Beach Haven complex were illegally pouring 200,000 gallons of raw sewage into the creek on a daily basis came as a shock. We were assured in the past that the Avenue V Pumping Station, recently renovated at a cost of $210 million, would prevent this sort of pollution. The storm sewer outlet at Shell Road, designated CI-641, has been a notorious source of pollution for decades. What’s particularly disturbing is that this latest incident was not reported to the community when discovered. The many people who were using the creek for food and recreation during the summer never received a warning.

The storm sewer at the headwaters of Coney Island Creek at Shell Road was found to be spewing 1.4 million gallons of raw sewage into the waterway every week. The source was an illegal sewer hook-up at the Beach Haven housing complex.

It’s ironic that Beach Haven, built by Fred Trump 60 years ago, was the source of this latest fiasco. The Trump Organization, led by Fred and son Donald, had its headquarters at Beach Haven, and Fred Trump was fined in the past for filling and polluting the creek. We pointed out these facts in our recent exhibit about Fred Trump’s scandalous 1966 demolition of Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park. The Trumps no longer own the buildings.

The Trump Organization offices at Beach Haven, 2006. The Trump's have since sold and the housing complex is now reportedly owned by controversial developer Rubin Schron.

In the 1960s Fred Trump was fined for dumping in the creek and damaging sewers and drains.

Unfortunately, this recent discovery is not unusual. Many other illegal sewage hook-ups to the creek’s storm sewers have been discovered in the past, most recently at the OH-021 CSO outfall at West 15th street.  Another notorious outlet is the mysterious one at the end of the mudflat at Shore Road in Calvert Vaux Park. It’s a direct drainage outfall, and its source is still unknown.

On September 15th I was taking a water-quality sample at the site in Calvert Vaux Park and was nearly overcome by toxic fumes. I had to dispose of the “mud shoes” that I’d worn into the creek, as it was impossible to remove the black oily substance that permeated them. Environmental activist Ida Sanoff had also noticed the stench the day before when she and her husband were driving along Shore Parkway. She reported it to Steven Zahn at DEC on September 14, noting that this was a “dry weather” incident and not related to runoff or overflow. This wasn’t the first time Sanoff had reported this problem. We’re still awaiting an answer as to the source of these noxious incidents on the creek.

Water sample from Coney Island Creek for the Citizens Water Quality Testing Program of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Brooklyn College, September, 2016. Partnership for Parks, Coney Island Beautification Project, and the Coney Island History Project have been sampling.

These unfortunate incidents and many others highlight the problems with the city’s proposal to install a flood control dam on Coney Island Creek before a cleanup of the waterway takes place. The EDC’s dam project is still in the planning stage, and was recently added to the Army Corps Jamaica Bay Reformulation Study for flood control. It’s obvious that the gates of this flood barrier will clog up with floatables and silt and block the normal flushing action of the tides. This dam could create a toxic cesspool that might back up into the surrounding neighborhoods during a heavy rainstorm. The pollution problems concerning the creek need to be addressed and corrected as part of any flood control construction plan. Time is running out.

The city's proposed flood control dam on Coney Island Creek. 

The shoreline of the creek is now undergoing rapid change by developers, none of it maritime related. A demolition permit has been issued for what may be Coney Island ‘s oldest structure.  The Shell Road House, one of the last private homes located on the banks of the creek and believed to date back to the 1870s or earlier, will soon fall to an oversized development. The historic Great Eastern Company’s coal silos on Neptune Avenue were recently demolished for yet another Cube storage warehouse. And now Christine Quinn is planning a homeless shelter on the toxic site formerly occupied by Brooklyn Yarn and Dye Company, the factory that poured toxic aniline and chromium dye waste into the creek for several decades. There seems to be no master plan or guidance for the future of Coney Island Creek.

Shell Road House

The soon-to-be-demolished Shell Road House on Coney Island Creek, 1940s. The house was moved slightly and turned sideways in 1928 when Shell Road was widened and realigned.

The house at 2916 Shell Road circa 1920, before the street was paved and widened. The Van Sicklen farm house and Coney Island Toll House were next door. Both were demolished at the time the street realignment was done. The old Coney Island Plank Road terminated at this location. A stub of the old road was later renamed Triton Avenue.

The only good news is the city’s $32 million wetland restoration plan that is out for an RFP. This project restores marshland and provides improved public access along the shores of Calvert Vaux Park and Kaiser Park at the mouth of the creek. “Passive flood control” rather than mechanical solutions is what we now need to focus on.

posted Oct 6th, 2016 in By Charles Denson and tagged with Coney Island Creek, sewage, pollution,...

Astroland Rocket

Celebrate World Space Week this weekend - October 8, 9, and 10 - with a  walk inside Coney Island's famed Astroland Rocket. Located next to the landmark Wonder Wheel in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, the historic Rocket is open free of charge to visitors during park hours, which are 12:00 PM through 6:00 PM on weekends and holidays through October.

"The Astroland Rocket at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park is a continuing symbol of America's successful space program in the 1960's and it is an inspiration today," says Deno John Vourderis, a third-generation member of the family who owns the park and gave the space-age icon a permanent home in Coney Island. "Visitors to our park are encouraged to ask questions and seek knowledge, The Vourderis family works hard to help ignite inquisitive young minds hoping to develop the geniuses of tomorrow. This is what helps make our world, our country, and our local communities great. Welcome to Coney Island, there's enough magic here for everybody."

One of the first and only surviving simulators constructed for amusement parks during the Space Race, the Rocket debuted in 1962 at Coney Island's space age-themed Astroland Park. Originally billed as the "Star Flyer," the Rocket was also called the “Cape Canaveral Satellite Jet” (TIME), “The Spaceship Auditorium” (Billboard), and the “Cannonball Adderley Rocket” in anticipation of Adderley dedicating the rocket for Astroland’s official opening on July 1, 1962.  The ride was rechristened the “Astroland Moon Rocket” in 1963. The Rocket, which has 26 seats, showed films of space voyages while the chassis “rocked” its viewers to outer space. 

After Astroland closed in 2008, park owners Carol and Jerry Albert donated the Rocket to the City of New York, which promised to make it a centerpiece of the new Coney Island. In 2014, the Coney Island History Project and Deno's Wonder Wheel Park teamed up to assume ownership of the Rocket and bring it home, a story chronicled in Charles Denson's film The Rocket Has Landed.. The 18-minute film tells the history of the Astroland Rocket and its journey back to Coney Island after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy while in storage on Staten Island

Astroland Rocket

"Outer space simulators have played a prominent role in Coney's amusement history,” says Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project and author of Coney Island: Lost and Found. “It began when Thompson and Dundy brought 'A Trip to the Moon' to Steeplechase Park in 1902 and culminated in 1962, at the height of the space race, with Astroland's Moon Rocket. The ride provided visitors with an exciting taste of intergalactic travel."

World Space Week is an international celebration of science and technology, and their contribution to the betterment of the human condition. The United Nations General Assembly declared in 1999 that World Space Week will be held each year from October 4-10. These dates commemorate the October 4, 1957 launch of the first human-made Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, which opened the way for space exploration and the October 10, 1967 signing of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activites of States in the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. 

Astroland Rocket

posted Oct 4th, 2016 in Events and tagged with Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Astroland Rocket, Astroland,...

S̶a̶t̶u̶r̶d̶a̶y̶ ̶A̶u̶g̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶6̶t̶h̶ ̶1̶p̶m̶-̶6̶p̶m̶
Sunday August 7th
At Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park
& The Coney Island History Project


2:00 PM - 2016 Coney Island Hall of Fame Induction and Dedication Ceremony, Dreamland Plaza Stage, West 12th Street at the Boardwalk
-The honorees are the Coney Island Boardwalk, Deno's Wonder Wheel, Gargiulo's Restaurant and The Wizards of 8th Street. A plaque will be dedicated to the Albert family, founders of the Coney Island History Project and the Coney Island Hall of Fame 

1:00 PM - 6:00 PM: West 12 Street from the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park to the Boardwalk:
-Display of banners and kiosks celebrating Coney Island history and past Hall of Fame honorees
-David Head will sign copies of his book on African-American inventor Granville T. Woods (1856-1910), who was inducted into the Coney Island Hall of Fame in 2008
-Amanda Deutch, poet and founder of Parachute Literary Arts, will have a Poetry Making Station featuring vintage typewriters. Letterpress posters with Walt Whitman and Muriel Rukeyser's Coney Island poems will be for sale
-Commendatore Aldo Mancusi, founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America, will play his hand-cranked Hofbauer street organ from the museum. Crank a tune and receive a certificate commemorating History Day!
-DJ Dan Kingman will play retro tunes and lead singalongs throughout the day
-Keep an eye out for our stiltwalker for free balloons and salt water taffy while supplies last

1:00 PM - 6:00 PM: At Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project:
-Dress in 1920s garb and get one Free Ride on the Wonder Wheel! The Wheel opens at 12:00 PM
-Walk inside the iconic 1960s Astroland Rocket, which returned to Coney Island in 2014 and has a new home beside the Wonder Wheel. Adjacent to the Rocket, see a special display of historic figures and signage from the park's classic 1955 Spook-A-Rama dark ride
-At the Coney Island History Project, share and preserve your Coney Island memories by recording an interview for our Oral History Archive. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and film, and the special exhibit "The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump's Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion"
-Take free souvenir photos with old-timey cutouts at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and with the Coney Island History Project's "Skully" from Coney's Spookhouse and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project
3059 West 12th Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY 11224
D, F, N or Q train to Stillwell Terminal
Phone: 347-702-8553 (Coney Island History Project)
Phone: 718-372-2592 (Deno's Wonder Wheel Park) 
For additional info, email


posted Jul 27th, 2016 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, history, festival,...

History Day

Celebrate historic Coney Island at the 6th Annual History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island's oldest amusement park, and the Coney Island History Project. The free event will be held from 1-6 PM on S̶a̶t̶u̶r̶d̶a̶y̶ ̶A̶u̶g̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶6̶t̶h̶. Sunday, August 7th.

At 2:00 PM, Charles Denson, historian and director of the Coney Island History Project, will present the 2016 Coney Island Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The event will take place onstage at Dreamland Plaza, which is on West 12th Street at the Boardwalk as part of the History Day celebration.

Carol Hill Albert and Charles Denson

Carol Hill Albert and Charles Denson at dedication of the Coney Island History Project Memory Booth on the Boardwalk, 2005.

A plaque honoring Carol Hill Albert and the late Jerry Albert, who founded the Coney Island History Project and the Coney Island Hall of Fame, which was originally along West 10th Street, will be dedicated on History Day.  The Alberts, who were owners of Astroland Park and longtime operators of the Cyclone Roller Coaster, founded the History Project in 2004 in memory of Astroland co-founder Dewey Albert. Ms. Albert will represent the Albert family.

The Hall of Fame honors architectural wonders as well as historical figures who were pioneers and visionaries whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape and define Coney Island.

Coney Island History Project Coney Island Hall of Fame

This year’s Hall of Fame honorees in the architecture category are Coney Island’s landmark 1920 Wonder Wheel and the Riegelmann Boardwalk, which opened in 1923, and is currently under consideration for Scenic Landmark designation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Vourderis family, who have owned and operated the Wheel for more than three decades, will accept the plaque for the Wheel. Rob Burstein, President of the Coney-Boardwalk Alliance, will represent the Boardwalk.

Also being honored this year is Gargiulo's Restaurant, which opened in 1907, making it the oldest restaurant in Coney Island. The four Russo brothers, Nino, Ralph, Michael and Victor, bought the business from the Gargiulo family in 1965 and continued the fine Neapolitan tradition that made the establishment the classiest Coney Island destination for special events and fine meals. Gargiulo's is the last vestige of the many fine restaurants that were once sprinkled along the four blocks of Coney's "Little Italy" section. The Russo family will be represented by Nino Russo.

William F Mangels Factory Coney Island History Project

Workers at William F. Mangels shop on West 8th Street in Coney Island. The building is now the Department of Motor Vehicles. Photo © Coney Island History Project Collection.

The Coney Island Hall of Fame will also pay tribute to a group of historical figures who were an important and creative part of Coney Island that has completely disappeared. We call them “The Wizards of 8th Street.”

"Few people realize that for nearly a century Coney Island’s West 8th Street, between Surf Avenue and Neptune Avenue, served as the amusement manufacturing capital of the world,” said historian and Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson.

“This small stretch of West 8th Street was the home to the Illions Carousel factory, the Mangels amusement factory, and Pinto Brothers amusement factory as well as the Bonomo candy factory. Supporting roles were played by an assortment of independent tinsmiths, wood carvers, sign painters and banner painters, blacksmiths, electricians, welders, carpenters, machine shops, restaurant supply stores, and a lumberyard. Behind the establishments was a railroad freight yard to deliver raw materials and warehouses to store them. West 8th is where visionaries invented, perfected and manufactured some of the world’s most famous amusements. It was also a training ground for amusement designers who apprenticed there and went on to build their own amusement companies.”

Peluso Machine and Iron Works

Business card for West 8th Street's Peluso Machine and Iron Works, which made replacement parts for rides until 1966. Photo © Coney Island History Project Collection.

Joining the Coney Island Hall of Fame ceremony will be descendants of some of the prominent families who worked or lived on West 8th Street.

The Pinto Brothers, amusement ride manufacturers and one-time owners of the Cyclone Roller Coaster, are represented by the Kathryn Squitieri family.

The Kargman brothers Alex and Morris were talented old-world craftsman who could repair anything in Coney Island. They are represented by grandson Steve Kargman and granddaughter Calli Eve Kargman Bellitti.

Ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels emigrated from Germany in 1883 at age sixteen and by 1886 had a small machine shop in Coney Island where he made cast-iron targets for shooting galleries. A trio of rides manufactured by Mangels --the B&B Carousell and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Fire Engine and Pony Cart rides- are still in operation in Coney Island. He is represented by great-granddaughter Lisa Mangels-Schaefer.

Machinist John Rea left Italy and began working at Peluso Machine and Iron Works in 1947. The shop was responsible for creating replacement parts for countless rides in Coney Island. He bought the business, and operated it until 1966. His son, John Rea Jr., who was a Coney Island sign painter as a teenager and is now an advertising professional and adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts, will represent the Rea family.

Joe Bonsignore

Joe Bonsignore sitting in his go kart car ride on Surf Ave. at West 8th Street. Photo © Coney Island History Project Collection.

Sicilian immigrant Joe Bonsignore came to Coney Island in 1907 as a young man and wound up owning or being a partner in Coney’s largest businesses. He bought the L.A. Thompson Scenic railway and Stauch’s Baths. Joe also brought the Bobsled ride from the 1939-40 World’s Fair and moved it to Coney Island. His headquarters was on West 8th Street below the Thompson coaster. Joe’s son John raised his family in a home below the coaster and later bought and operated Silver’s Baths. Joe owned much of the property around West 8th Street but lost it to urban renewal in the 1950s. Charles Denson tells the Bonsignore family story in his book Wild Ride! A Coney Island Roller Coaster Family. The Bonsignore family will accept the plaque

The following activities are FREE throughout the day on History Day, from 1:00 PM – 6:00 PM:

On West 12th Street from the Coney Island History Project to the Boardwalk

A display of kiosks emblazoned with colorful banners of past Coney Island Hall of Fame honorees including George C. Tilyou, founder of Steeplechase Park; Dr. Martin Couney, inventor of the baby incubator; Marcus C. Illions, developer of the Coney Island style of carousel carving; and Lady Deborah Moody, who founded the town of Gravesend in 1645, becoming the first female landowner in the new world.

David Head Coney Island Hall of Fame Granville T Woods

David Head accepting plaque honoring Granville T. Woods at 2008 Coney Island Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Photo © Coney Island History Project Collection.

David Head will sign copies of his book on African-American inventor Granville T. Woods (1856-1910), who was inducted into the Coney Island Hall of Fame in 2008. Among Woods' patents was one for the world's first electric roller coaster, which was located in Coney Island more than a century ago. Mr. Head, a retired New York City transit worker and former chairman of the Black History Committee for TWU Local 100, was instrumental in having a Coney Island street across from Stillwell Avenue Terminal renamed "Granville T. Woods Way."

Parachute Literary Arts Poetry Making Station

Parachute Literary Arts Poetry Making Station at 2015 It's My Estuary Day at Coney Island Creek. Photo © Amanda Deutch

Amanda Deutch, poet and founder of Parachute Literary Arts, will have a Poetry Making Station featuring vintage typewriters. Letterpress posters with Walt Whitman and Muriel Rukeyser's Coney Island poems will be for sale. Parachute is a community-based literary organization in Coney Island that creates site specific readings, writing workshops and poetry libraries.

Commendatore Aldo Mancusi, founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America, will play his hand-cranked band organ. Mr. Mancusi is a member of the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) and Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA). Crank a tune and receive a certificate commemorating History Day!

Aldo Mancusi History Day

Commendatore Aldo Mancusi performing at History Day. Photo © Coney Island History Project 

DJ Dan Kingman will play retro tunes and lead singalongs throughout the day.

Keep an eye out for our stiltwalker for free balloons and salt water taffy while supplies last.

At Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project

Dress in 1920s garb and get one Free Ride on the Wonder Wheel! The Wonder Wheel opens at 12:00 PM.

Walk inside the iconic 1960s Astroland Rocket, which returned to Coney Island in 2014 and has a new home beside the Wonder Wheel. Adjacent to the Rocket, see a special display of historic figures and signage from the park’s classic 1955 Spook-A-Rama dark ride.

Spook-A-Rama Deno's Wonder Wheel Park          

At the Coney Island History Project, share and preserve your Coney Island memories by recording an interview for our Oral History Archive. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and film, and the special exhibit “The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump’s Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion.”

Take free souvenir photos with old-timey cutouts at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and with the Coney Island History Project's “Skully” from Coney’s Spookhouse and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name.

History Day Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

posted Jul 25th, 2016 in Events and tagged with History Day, Coney Island, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park,...

CreekWalk Designed and Created by Charles Denson

CreekWalk, A Walking Tour of Coney Island Creek, with Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project

Saturday, July 16, 12:00 PM, Free. Meet at Coney Island History Project Table, City of Water Day at Kaiser Park

Explore the history of Coney Island Creek on a walking tour with historian Charles Denson, who has documented the Creek for over 40 years and is working on a book and film about the waterway.

In 2012, Denson designed and created CreekWalk, a series of informational plaques installed along the Creek and a self-guided walking tour brochure, with the support of the Catalyst Program of the Partnership for Parks. Ten additional markers will be unveiled on July 16 in a display at the Coney Island History Project Table. You may also pick up a free tour brochure.

This special walking tour is part of City of Water Day, a free day-long celebration of the world-class potential of the water that surrounds us and brings us together. A regional initiative of Waterfront Alliance, the neighborhood event at Kaiser Park on Coney Island Creek was organized by the Coney Island Beautification Project and features exhibits and activities of participating schools and organizations. 

More info:

CreekWalk Charles Denson

posted Jul 13th, 2016 in News and tagged with Coney Island, Walking Tour, CreekWalk,...