Coney Island Blog - Events

Waterfront Conference. Photo by Ian Douglas courtesy Waterfront Alliance

Waterfront Conference. Photo by Ian Douglas courtesy Waterfront Alliance

May 12 is the Waterfront Alliance's 2016 Waterfront Conference aboard the Hornblower Infinity in Hudson River Park. Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson will participate in the panel Forgotten Waterfronts: Activating and Engaging the Shoreline. Panelists also include Melissa Garcia, Senior Director of Operations and Finance, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (facilitator); Marcy DePina, Program Director, Newark Riverfront Revival; Eric Fang, Principal, Perkins Eastman; Randy Ng, Member, Guardians of Flushing Bay; and Eric Wilson, Assistant Commissioner of Planning & Predevelopment, NYC Housing Preservation & Development.

The theme of the all-day conference is how we define and deliver equity at the waterfront from jobs to education, transportation, and recreation. It will feature several panels and a keynote conversation with Maria Torres­ Springer, President of the NYCEDC and Michael Sorkin, Director of the Graduate Urban Design Program at City College. For tickets and additional information please visit the Waterfront Conference website

posted May 2nd, 2016 in Events and tagged with Waterfront Conference, Waterfront Alliance,...

Boardwalk scene, 1925. Photo: Coney Island History Project Collection

On May 4th, the City Council's Land Use Committee will be hearing testimony on Councilman Mark Treyger's resolution calling for Coney Island's Riegelmann Boardwalk to be designated an official scenic landmark. 

"The landmarking process in this city needs to be an equitable process, because the history and tradition of all of our city's neighborhoods must be preserved," says Councilman Treyger. "Too much has been lost already. The Boardwalk is a quintessential part of Southern Brooklyn's history, and I am encouraging all residents of Southern Brooklyn, as well as any New Yorker that remembers walking down the Boardwalk, feeling the cool ocean breeze embracing them, to join me on May 4th at City Hall. Let your voice be heard! Testify at this hearing and make sure the city administration and the Landmarks Preservation Commission know how much the Boardwalk means to you and to our city."

In February, Treyger introduced the resolution to the City Council where it received the support of all but one of the City's Council Members, as well as Public Advocate Letitia James. The resolution  will be one of several pieces of legislation discussed at the Committee's May 4th 11:00 AM hearing in the Council Committee Room at City Hall. 

Last May, Charles Denson accompanied Council Members Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch to a private meeting with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to advocate for the landmarking of the Boardwalk. He gave an illustrated historical presentation to LPC staff showing that the beloved structure is indeed eligible for landmark designation. We are still awaiting the LPC's decision.

posted May 2nd, 2016 in Events and tagged with Boardwalk, Scenic Landmark, Landmark the Boardwalk,...

Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island
On Saturday, April 23, the Coney Island History Project is offering a new walking tour free of charge as part of Immigrant Heritage Week. Coordinated by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, the annual citywide program of events celebrates the history, traditions and contributions of NYC's diverse immigrant communities. IHW begins on April 17th in recognition of the date in 1907 when more immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island than any other date in history. The theme for Immigrant Heritage Week 2016 is "From Many, Making NYC One."

The Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island is the newest in the Coney Island History Project's walking tour program. The 1-1/2 hour, wheelchair accessible tour explores the contributions of immigrants to the history and development of "The Playground of the World." 

"Coney Island has traditionally been a place where immigrants who wanted to start a business could start small and work their way up," says Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project. "A person of small means with no experience or capital could lease a stall on the Bowery and open a game concession with nothing more than a few baseballs and milk bottles. Coney was also the place where immigrant families could escape steaming tenements, get fresh air, bathe in the ocean and assimilate with people of all nationalities. It's where they finally found true freedom and became Americans."

Among the stops on the walking tour and the stories of struggle, success and achievement are Nathan's Famous, founded in 1916 by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker; Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, where the landmark 1920 Wonder Wheel was purchased by Greek immigrant Denos D. Vourderis as a wedding ring for his wife; and the B&B Carousell, created in 1919 by German and Russian immigrants and now Coney's last hand-carved wooden carousel.

The tour will also go by stores and attractions operated by immigrants from countries such as China, Mexico and Jamaica who have recorded their stories for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive. The Immigrant Heritage Tour will be led by Amanda Deutch and Tricia Vita, who facilitate and record oral histories for the Coney Island History Project. 

The April 23rd tour is offered at 12pm and 3pm. Tickets are free but must be reserved online as capacity is limited. If you can't make it to Immigrant Heritage Week, starting in June, the Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island will be added to the schedule of our weekend walking tours, which cost $20. Advance ticketing is available via our online reservation page. If you have a question or would like to schedule a group visit, email events@coneyislandhistory.org.

Our unique tours are based on History Project Director Charles Denson's award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from our Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. 

On Thursday, May 26, Mr. Denson will give a slide talk at the Coney Island Library, 1901 Mermaid Avenue at West 19th Street. The talk begins at 6:30pm and is free to the public.

"My talk tells the story of several immigrant families who started small in Coney Island and then went on to become enormously successful due to hard work and perseverance," says Charles Denson. "Immigrants like Nathan Handwerker of Nathan's Famous and Denos Vourderis of the Wonder Wheel started with nothing, built successful businesses, and helped to shape Coney Island. Immigrant artisans Marcus Illions and William Mangels brought craftsmanship and artistic experience from their native countries and built factories in Coney Island that produced great works of folk art in the form of carousels and other amusements. Recent immigrants continue to play an important role in the community."

The Coney Island History Project, founded in 2004, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that aims to increase awareness of Coney Island's legendary and colorful past and to encourage appreciation of the Coney Island neighborhood of today. Our mission is to record, archive and share oral history interviews; provide access to historical artifacts and documentary material through educational exhibits, events and a website; and honor community leaders and amusement pioneers through our Coney Island Hall of Fame.

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, and our members and contributors.

Youre Invited to Coney Island's Opening Day

Due to the weather forecast for Palm Sunday, March 20, Coney Island's Opening Day has been postponed to Saturday, March 26. The Coney Island History Project will not be open on March 20. Instead we will be open on March 26 and 27 from 1:00pm-6:00pm. 

March 26 will be the official opening day for Coney Island's rides and attractions. The celebration starts at 11:00AM on the Boardwalk with the annual tradition of the Blessing of the Rides at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. This year's ceremony is dedicated to Pastor Debbe Santiago of Coney Island's Salt and Sea Mission, who originated the event with Denos D. Vourderis 31 years ago and passed away last month. Deno's Wonder Wheel is marking its 96th season with a free ride for the first 96 riders. At the Cyclone, where the first 100 on line ride for free, the annual Egg Cream Christening of the roller coaster's front car is at 11:45AM. The 1920 Wonder Wheel and the 1927 Cyclone are official New York City landmarks.

You're invited to visit the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center from 1:00-6:00PM on March 26th. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Admission is FREE.

Our first special exhibit of the 2016 season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be "The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump's Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion." A half century ago Coney's most beautiful and imposing structure was demolished by developer Fred Trump, Donald Trump's father. This exhibit examines in photos, ephemera, and oral history, the importance of the pavilion and the memories of local personalities who dealt with Trump before and after the tragic demolition of a Coney Island landmark. During the last decade History Project director Charles Denson interviewed many of the players involved in the loss of Steeplechase and the exhibit reveals many little known facts.

The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump's Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion.

On Easter Weekend at the Coney Island History Project, visitors may take free souvenir photos with an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name and "Skully," a figure from Coney Island's classic Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama dark rides. Among the treasures on display at the Coney Island History Project's exhibit center this season is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact. The 1823 wooden Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to "the Island" was 5 cents! The current special exhibit on view is "Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920." 

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk, the Coney Island History Project is open free of charge on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day from 1-7pm, We will also be open on March 27, Easter Sunday, from 1-6pm. The Coney Island History Project is open year round for private group visits and our weekend walking tours

1823 Toll House Sign at Coney Island History Project

New Year's Day Wonder Wheel

On January 1st, weather permitting, Deno's Wonder Wheel will be open for the first-time ever on New Year's Day and begin a countdown to the Wheel's 100th anniversary in 2020! The Coney Island History Project will be on hand to record New Year's greetings at the Wonder Wheel for our Oral History Archive

Our interviewers will be stationed at the entrance and exit of the Wheel. Stop by and record your New Year's message free of charge from 11am-2pm at this special Oral History Event. The audio greetings will be preserved in our Oral History Archive with a selection available for listening online. 

On New Year's Day, the Wheel will open from 11am-2pm for only $5 per ride with 50% of the proceeds being donated to the Coney Island Polar Bears' charity Camp Sunshine. The Wheel will also open New Year's Eve for the first time ever, weather permitting, with FREE Rides from 9pm to 11pm. Borough President Eric Adams has announced that Coney Island's countdown to 2016 will include an array of family-friendly events in addition to the Parachute Jump's digital "ball drop" and fireworks. 

Don't forget to bring your quarters: The animated windows on West 12th Street which house our neighbors Miss Coney Island ("25 cents to Fall in Love") and "Coney Island Always" ("25 cents to Smile") will also be open on New Year's Day.

Last fall the Coney Island History Project was delighted to welcome a group of tourists from Miami for whom the highlight of their visit was meeting Grandma's Predictions at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Each guest came with an envelope with two quarters for a prediction and took a photo with the park's legendary 1920's fortune-telling machine. The park is now closed for the season, but we're looking forward to New Year's Day 2016, when the Wonder Wheel is set to open for the first time in its history, to kick off the countdown to the Wheel's 100th anniversary in 2020!

Meet us at the Coney Island History Project on West 12th Street under the Wonder Wheel for year-round walking tours and group visits. Our unique tours are based on History Project Director Charles Denson's award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from our Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Through the fall and winter, Coney Island History Project Walking Tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 pm by advance reservation only. Tickets are $20. The 1-1/2 hour tour is wheelchair accessible. Group tours may be booked any day of the week.

All Coney Island History Project Walking Tours are weather permitting. If a tour is cancelled due to the weather forecast, ticket orders will be refunded. Advance purchase of tickets via our online reservation site is required for the fall and winter series. If you have a question or you would like to schedule a private tour or group visit, please email coneyislandhistory@gmail.com. Both during the holidays and year-round, you may also purchase gift certificates for Coney Island History Project Walking Tours.

posted Nov 30th, 2015 in Events and tagged with Walking Tour, Group Tour, Group Visit,...

"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 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 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


Photo Showing Restoration of 1823 Toll House Sign, Coney Island’s Oldest Artifact, Now on View at Coney Island History Project

Among the treasures on display at the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center this season is Coney Island’s oldest surviving artifact from the dawn of the “World’s Playground.” The 1823 Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to “the Island” was 5 cents!

The earliest settlers of Coney Island knew better than to build at the ocean’s edge. In the early days, development began along Coney Island Creek, where violent winter storms were less likely to wash away structures. Coney Island remained isolated until March 1823, when the Coney Island Road and Bridge Company constructed a bridge and toll house on Coney Island Creek at what is now Shell Road. The Coney Island Causeway toll road opened for business in early 1824 and horse-drawn carriages were soon speeding south to the beach.

James Cropsey and Daniel Morell operated the toll house until 1839. John Lefferts took over as toll-taker until 1876, when Andrew Culver bought the property for his Prospect Park and Coney Island Railroad, the predecessor of today’s Culver Line. Coney’s first hotel, the Coney Island House, opened on a sand dune a short distance away on the current site of McDonalds’s restaurant on Neptune Avenue. This small triangle of land witnessed the beginning of Coney Island as a resort.

The Toll House stood at the corner of Shell Road and Coney Island Creek for over a century before the City demolished it in 1929 during a street-widening project. The sign was rescued by Coney Island ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels, who put it on display in his American Museum of Public Recreation on West 8th Street and Neptune Avenue. Mangels collection was sold in 1955 and the sign was purchased and restored by the Coney Island History Project in 2007.


1823 Toll House Sign on View at Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center, on West 12th Street under the Wonder Wheel

Today, the 192-year-old sign, often described as Coney Island’s “first admission ticket,” is on view for the first time since 2010 at the History Project’s exhibit center. It complements this season’s special exhibit “Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920.” Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island including Coney Island Creek itself.

The History Project’s exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with “Skully,” a veteran of the Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama, and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

posted Jun 24th, 2015 in Events and tagged with