Coney Island Blog - Events

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,...

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. 

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. 

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

Abiodun Bello copyright AJ Bernstein Photos 2021

Wash away 2021 and dive into the New Year at the Coney Island Polar Bear Club's 119th Annual New Year's Day Plunge! "You are reborn when you come here," says Abiodun "Abi" Bello of the health benefits of cold water swimming in his oral history recorded by the Coney Island History Project in 2015.

Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas talks about the New Year's Day Plunge over the decades in his 2019 oral history. "It's been going on as long as anybody knows and it used to be just kind of an informal gathering of the Polar Bear Club itself. Then more people from the public," says Dennis, who began swimming with the Bears in the 1970s. "When I first started, if there were a hundred people there, we'd say, wow, this was huge. It's a bucket list thing. People want to do it once in their life and New Year's Day is a great day to do that."

There is no fee to participate but all funds raised help support local non-profits offering environmental, educational, and cultural programming including the New York Aquarium, the Coney Island History Project, Coney Island USA, Coney Island YMCA, and more.

This week the Polar Bear Club released updated safety guidelines for the event: "Our registration will open at 10am. From 11am until 2pm, we will open one large area of the beach with lifeguards. Once you pick up your wristband, you are welcome to plunge at your leisure between 11am and 2pm. We ask that all participants and spectators please practice social distancing guidelines and to wear masks (except when plunging)."

"Please do not plunge without signing a waiver and getting a wristband – parks enforcement can issue you a $150 ticket for not doing so. Spectators will be allowed in the plunge area. It is our hope that we will be able to return to our normal giant party in 2023 but in the meanwhile, let’s have the best time washing away 2021."

Visit http://polarbearclub.org to register in advance for the New Year's Day Plunge or make a donation.

Photo Credit: Abiodun Bello by AJ Bernstein Photos, 2021
 

posted Dec 27th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Coney Island Polar Bear Club, New Year's Day, Coney Island,...

Shore Theater


The Coney Island History Project is pleased to continue our series of outdoor exhibits with a display of banner art on the gates of the Shore Theater. Formerly known as the Loew's Coney Island, the building is located at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues across from Stillwell Terminal and Nathan’s Famous.

The banners on display include a collaboration with PS 90, The Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness, which is located up the block from the History Project on West 12th Street. Our Hall of Fame banner honoring the Shore Theater and a banner celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Wonder Wheel are also on display. In the summer of 2021, the PS 90 banners were on view at City of Water Day in Kaiser Park and installed at PS 90 and Maimonides Park. The art pictured on the colorful 14 foot by 3 foot banner and the smaller banners was created by the school’s students under the guidance of Ms. Luz Morales.

"The student artists were asked to illustrate the natural world vs. the built world surrounding Coney Island Creek,” said Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project. “We decided to use the traditional Coney Island banner medium to display the incredible artwork that the students produced for this project. The banners will be used to initiate a dialogue about the ecology of Coney Island. We’ve enjoyed a years-long partnership with PS 90, and enjoy lending support to our neighbor’s program of environmental studies and community wellness. These young students are the environmental stewards of the future."

Shore Theater

“The Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness is committed to learning about climate change and the role our community can play to combat it,” said Greta Hawkins, the school’s principal. “Expressing our appreciation of the natural wonders of our oceans through art is part and parcel of our studies at the school. We have a partnership with Mr. Denson and are grateful to the important work of the Coney Island History Project. The banner is representative of our longstanding collaboration with CIHP, and it is our students' way of connecting the natural environment with their Coney Island community. Aren't they amazing?"

Thank you to Edouard Yadgarov of Pye Properties for his interest in the school project and permission to display the banners at the Shore. Pye Properties purchased the long vacant building and received approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission for their plan to restore and develop it into a hotel and spa. The seven-story, neo-Renaissance style theater and vaudeville house and adjacent 14-story office building opened in 1925 and operated for half a century. Both structures had been closed and sealed up for decades. The theater's facade was granted landmark status in 2010 and inducted into the History Project's Coney Island Hall of Fame in the architecture category.

Shore Theater
 

posted Dec 13th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Outdoor Exhibition, Banner Art, Shore Theater,...

Oral History Archive

Hello! Share and preserve your Coney Island memories by recording an oral history interview over the phone or via Zoom. We are also recording interviews, both in English and other languages, with people who live, work, or grew up in adjacent neighborhoods of Southern Brooklyn. Sign up or listen to some of the more than 400 interviews in the Coney Island History Project online archive.

Oscar Bluemner Coney Island

Last June, Wendy Ikemoto, Curator of American Art at the New-York Historical Society, asked me to write a short descriptive label for a painting in a new exhibition at the Society. When I saw the image she sent me, I was shocked. The painting was beautiful, but also one of the saddest images I’d ever seen. The timing of the request was amazingly serendipitous. In 1904 the painter Oscar Bluemner captured the natural world of Coney Island Creek shortly before it was destroyed by development of the "World’s Playground." Exhibiting this painting could not be more timely, as history is now repeating itself.

Right now, Coney Island Creek’s most vulnerable, recovering shoreline, a tiny cove located at Kaiser Park, is being callously destroyed and degraded by a dubious ferry project. It’s as if the painting appeared as a cry for help, shouting from the past, asking us to save a last remnant of Coney Island’s natural world.

The city’s ferry dock, currently under construction, will end a half century of environmental improvements at Kaiser Park. Future operation of the ferry at this site will eliminate public access, degrade water quality, destroy natural habitat, and end educational and recreational use of the shoreline. City officials have pushed this project through by using a flawed and false narrative. It did not have to be this way.

Bluemner’s painting provides us with a warning. It depicts the "nursery of the sea,” thousands of acres of vibrant salt marsh environment shortly before it was filled and lost forever. The caption I wrote cannot adequately describe the sense of loss I felt when I first saw the painting:

This sublime view of Coney Island Creek’s lost marshland is poignant. Shortly after this scene was painted, the gaudy “magnificent artifice” rising in the background would overwhelm and replace the natural world. The true essence of Coney Island has been captured here beautifully but sadly. I still spend time on Coney Island Creek searching for hidden remnants of this scene that can be resurrected and appreciated. -- Charles Denson

Scenes of New York City: The Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection. New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, October 22, 2021 - February 27, 2022.

Photo Credit: New-York Historical Society