"Boardwalk Renaissance," a new art show based on a chapter in Charles Denson's book, Coney Island Lost and Found, is opening at City Lore Gallery on November 5th. "When I wrote the chapter about the "Artists' Renaissance of the 1980s" I wanted to pay homage to the arts groups that kept Coney in the public eye during a low point in the 1980s," Charles Denson said. " I was especially drawn to what Philomena Marano and Richard Eagan were creating with the Coney Island Hysterical Society and their Spookhouse exhibit in the old Dragon's Cave on the Bowery. I felt that their creative efforts should be recognized as an important part of Coney 's history."

Steve Zeitlin, Executive Director of City Lore and an early participant in Coney Island USA events in the 1980s, met with Marano, Eagan and Denson last summer and they planned an exhibit that would illuminate the artistic and preservationist activities of the artists who found a home in Coney Island during a tumultuous decade. "Some of the artwork displayed in my book can be seen in this exhibit," Denson said, "As Coney Island becomes more corporate it's important to remember what was accomplished in the past by committed and talented individuals working on a small scale. They made a huge difference."

"Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island," City Lore Gallery, 56 East 1st Street, NYC 10003. Opening November 5, 7-9pm. Exhibit extended through May 8, 2016.  Gallery open Wed - Fri. 2pm - 6pm and Sat - Sun. 12pm - 6pm.  Free admission.

Photo Copyright Hazel Hankin
Coney Island Hysterical Society's Richard Eagan and Philomena Marano with the World of Wax Musee's Lillie Santangelo in 1982. Photo ©  Hazel Hankin.

On the eve of the third anniversary of Hurricane Sandy: "10/29: Sandy and Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrows, No. 3," a film by Charles Denson shot in Sea Gate during and after the storm. Some of this footage appeared in his Sandy documentary, "The Storm." 

The Coney Island History Project's director rode out out Sandy in Sea Gate, where his apartment and car were destroyed by the storm surge. "I thought, 'nobody's filming this. I've got to record this,'" Denson said in an interview in the Brooklyn Paper in 2013/. "I realized, it's very different when you actually experience something and put your life on the line to record something," Denson said. 

posted Oct 28th, 2015 in Video Posts and tagged with anniversary, Sandy, 3 years,...

A New Look and A New Project

Eleven years ago Astroland owner Carol Albert and author Charles Denson founded the Coney Island History Project as an oral history program whose mission was to record Coney Island in living memory. Little did we know that we would be capturing the last days of an important era in Coney history.

Since our founding, Coney Island has undergone a dramatic revival and been transformed. During the last tumultuous decade we were able to record important oral histories, including those of the last members of Coney's pioneer families as well as an extensive cast of characters who contributed to Coney's illustrious past. Some of the subjects, such as Matt Kennedy and Joe Rollino, were centenarians who vividly recalled and shared a hundred years of memories. Many other subjects passed away during the last decade but not before sharing their fascinating stories with us. 

With the launch of our new website we strengthen our mission of recording and archiving oral histories. The improved format and mobile-friendly web design provide a quicker and easier way to navigate and access our extensive library of archival materials and important information regarding Coney Island and our public programs. The expanded architecture allows us to add to the archive hundreds of interviews and unseen photographs, maps, and ephemera. New technology enables us to clean and restore older recordings, including two decades of recordings made by Charles Denson for his book Coney Island: Lost and Found. We can now begin sharing our vast archive of materials.

Also highlighted is our latest project: Immigrant Narratives of Southern Brooklyn. This project is an oral history initiative that records interviews with immigrants in both English and other languages in the Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods of Coney Island, Gravesend, and Bensonhurst. You can listen to the first oral histories from the series with New Yorkers who emigrated from Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Poland and Mexico. The first interviews were conducted in English, Russian, Cantonese and Turkish. This program is part of the Cultural Immigrant Initiative 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 Oct 11th, 2015 in News and tagged with Coney Island History Project, website, oral history,...

On October 14, Charles Denson will give a talk and video/slide presentation about Coney Island Creek and the three NYC Parks that encompass its western end. The talk, sponsored by Partnerships for Parks and the Catalyst Program for Community Building, will be held at the Parks Department headquarters at the Arsenal in Central Park. Denson has documented Coney Island Creek for more than 40 years and is completing a book and documentary about this historic and endangered estuary.

The Coney Island History Project has partnered with Partnerships for Parks to create a self-guided walking tour brochure and markers for the Coney Island CreekWalk at Kaiser Park, installed in 2012. Charles Denson has also led walking tours and workshops for students at the City Parks Foundation's Coastal Classroom. Our newest Catalyst-funded project is signage for Calvert Vaux Park and an educational booklet. 

The Oct 14th program "Catalyst Dialogue: Parks as Space for Community Change" will highlight how community members have transformed park spaces into outdoor classrooms, active waterfronts and community spaces. In addition to the Coney Island History Project, presenting groups include GreenShores NYC, Bronx River Alliance, and City Life is Moving Bodies. The event is from 6:30-8:30 pm and is free of charge. The Arsenal Building is located at 830 Fifth Avenue.

Photo: CreekWalk Markers installed at Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park in July 2012 were designed and created by Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project with a grant from the Catalyst Program. Photo © Coney Island History Project.

Coney Island’s history has been shaped by fire. Nearly every block of the amusement zone burned to the ground or was destroyed by fire during the first century of development. Many of the fires spread into massive conflagrations due to low water pressure in the community’s fire hydrants, a defect that allowed fires to spread unchecked. After the disastrous 1932 fire that destroyed four square blocks of amusements and residential buildings, the city finally built a new pumping station to serve the needs of the fire department.

The beautiful new pumping station designed by famed architect Irwin Chanin opened in 1938 on Coney Island Creek. The Art Deco structure was unusual for Coney Island and much different than most municipal structures which were commonly utilitarian and devoid of ornamentation. Chanin commissioned a pair of winged horse sculptures for the entrance to the elliptical limestone and granite Moderne structure, creating a magnificent monument amidst Coney’s ephemeral landscape. 

Decades later the building was decommissioned and sealed up, leaving it vulnerable to vandalism. The sculptures were saved and relocated to the Brooklyn Museum, where they are stabled next to the rear entrance. Nowadays, the Pumping Station survives in a state of arrested decay, surrounded by a community garden. The rear of the property bordering Coney Island Creek, is used as a popular fishing spot.

Numerous proposals have surfaced recently to repurpose the building for community usage including as a Coney Island ferry terminal, ecology center, or museum. The structure was proposed for a landmark designation in 1980 and languished since then until it was included in a “mass de-calendering” proposed last year by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Now its future is in doubt.

Coney Island Pumping Station

On October 8 there will be a public hearing to decide the future landmark status of this important building. Coney Island has lost many historic structures during the last few years so it is imperative that this important community asset be saved for future generations. – Charles Denson

Please sign the Art Deco Society of New York's petition:


For more information about the public hearing or to submit written comments to save the Pumping Station, visit the Landmarks Preservation Commission site at:




Eddie Mark

Congratulations to Eddie Mark, the new District Manager of Community Board 13, from all of us at the Coney Island History Project!

Photo taken at the Coney Island History Project on August 15, 2015, the 25th Anniversary of the Sand Sculpting Contest. Eddie is sporting one of the vintage tees from his collection.

posted Sep 19th, 2015 in News and tagged with Eddie Mark, Community Board 13, District Manager,...

When Frank Newlands contacted me last year we began an animated conversation that led to a long time mystery being solved. As a child I was impressed by the dazzling lights of Steeplechase Park, the whirling rides and great steel-and-glass pavilion were a sight to behold. The fourteen-acre park was covered with glittering necklaces of bright bare bulbs. The glowing interior steel latticework of the pavilion was particularly impressive, each beam and girder lined with bright diamonds. But I always wondered: how do they change all those bulbs? And who keeps them all lit? Frank was able to provide the answer, as it was his job to climb everything from the parachute jump, to the dizzying heights of the pavilion, to the top of the Steeplechase tower, and change the old-fashioned light bulbs. And he operated without a net! Frank Newlands' interview tells the inside story of what it was like to work at the magnificent Steeplechase Park in its last days.  – Charles Denson


posted Sep 16th, 2015 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

The Coney Island History Project is seeking freelance bilingual interviewers to be part of a team conducting audio interviews for our oral history program. We are recording interviews with immigrants and foreign-born New Yorkers in both English and other languages in the Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods of Coney Island, Gravesend, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst.

Interviewers must be fully bilingual in English and at least one other language and have professional training and experience in oral history or radio reporting. We are also looking for interviewers with an interest/expertise in Caribbean, Latin American, Italian American, and African American culture and studies. Please see our updated ad at idealist.org for details and share it with your bilingual friends and colleagues.

Our first set of oral history interviews for the new project includes New Yorkers who emigrated from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan, Pakistan, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Poland and Mexico. Interviews were conducted in English, Russian, Cantonese and Turkish.

Photo: Samira Tazari interviewing Cornel Chan for the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Program.  ©  Coney Island History Project

posted Sep 11th, 2015 in News and tagged with Coney Island History Project, oral history, bilingual,...

Coney Island History Project

We were excited to see write-ups about the Coney Island History Project in Sing Tao, the world's largest Chinese newspaper! The articles are about the Coney history slide talk we gave on September 2nd at the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn in Gravesend. Archivist Jen Garland presented the talk, which was interpreted into Cantonese for us by Rodney Lau, former senior translator at the United Nations. Thank you to Paul Chan, Senior Center Director, for inviting us, and to Terri Jeu, Program Manager, for facilitating our visit.

The program is part of our outreach efforts in Southern Brooklyn where we are recording oral history interviews  with immigrants and foreign-born New Yorkers in English as well as languages such as Chinese, Russian and Turkish. 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.

Sing Tao Daily

Paul Boyton

Doesn't Craig Dudley, great grandson of Paul Boyton, look like his famous ancestor? Boyton built Coney Island's first enclosed amusement park - Sea Lion Park- in 1895. Erected on what would later become Luna Park, Sea Lion Park was a small collection of rides featuring the Shoot-the-Chutes water ride and the Flip-Flap looping coaster. Live sea lions also entertained visitors. Craig visited last weekend and posed for a souvenir photo with Charles Denson in front of the Coney Island History Project's History Wall honoring his great grandfather. The History Walls are at Surf Pavilion on Stillwell Avenue.

History Walls Coney Island History Project

The five kiosk exhibit is an offshoot of the Wall of Fame that the History Project opened in 2005 on West 10th Street next to Astroland. Our goal was to honor the unsung visionaries, impresarios, inventors, craftsmen, and artisans whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape Coney Island. The project was later expanded to include landmarks and architectural history. Among the 15 honorees first inducted a decade ago and featured on the History Walls are Dr. Martin Couney, whose Coney Island incubator exhibit saved over 5,000 young lives; Lt. Commander James Strong, who built the Parachute Jump; Granville T. Woods, the African-American inventor of electric roller coasters; and Lady Deborah Moody, who founded the town of Gravesend. Visit our album on flickr to see more photos of the Walls.

posted Aug 26th, 2015 in News and tagged with Paul Boyton, History Walls, Coney Island History Project,...