Coney Island Blog - News

Wonder Wheel Banner Exhibit

The Coney Island History Project exhibition center closed for the season after Labor Day, but you can still see “Celebrating 100 Years! The Wonder Wheel and the Immigrant Dream,” our free outdoor exhibition of banners at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park through October 31.

The exhibit tells the remarkable story of the Wonder Wheel and the Vourderis family who operate Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. The colorful history banners are located on the Wheel's walkway adjacent to the History Project, as well as below Deno's new Phoenix Roller Coaster on West 12th Street. “It's a riveting story about families, immigrant initiative, love, and hard work,” says History Project director Charles Denson. Admission to the park is free. Visit Deno's website for park hours.

Coney Island’s 2021 season was the History Project’s tenth year at Deno’s Wonder Wheel after moving from our original location beneath the Cyclone roller coaster in 2011. Since the Coney Island History Project was founded in 2004 by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, founder of Astroland Park, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!" at our exhibits and events. We are grateful to the Vourderis family for hosting our history exhibits in locations around their park, and to the Albert family for their ongoing support as the Coney Island History Project continues its mission of recording oral histories with people who lived, worked, and played in Coney Island.

After being closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, we are grateful that Coney Island was able to open this year and that the History Project’s combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits brought us through this challenging season successfully. During the “off season,” History Project staff are busy recording oral histories and producing a new season of our Coney Island Stories podcast. You’re invited to browse our website, which in addition to our Oral History Archive includes our Podcast, the blog Ask Mr. Coney Island, selections from our Collection, and Coney News and Events. Follow us on social media for news of upcoming events like our popular Coney Island History Show & Tell via Zoom.

Photo Credit: Coney Island History Project 

posted Oct 12th, 2021 in News and tagged with Wonder Wheel, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island,...

Coney Island Stories Podcast

Happy International Podcast Day! “Schools of Their Own,” the new episode of Coney Island Stories, our podcast produced from oral histories in the Coney Island History Project's archive, has dropped. Listen and subscribe via Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 11 shares the stories of four dedicated and innovative teachers who founded schools of their own in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods in Southern Brooklyn.

April Leong in the award-winning founder and principal of Liberation Diploma Plus High School, a small alternative high school in Coney Island. Dr. Tim Law established a program of free Chinese language classes for children at I.S. 96 Seth Low School in Bensonhurst. Irina Roizin realized her childhood dream of founding a ballet school, Brighton Ballet Theater School of Russian Ballet, on the campus of Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach.  Misha Mokretsov is head coach and owner of Coney Island's New York Fencing Academy, located just down the block from the History Project. 

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

This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. Chinese translation by Keenan Yutai Chen. Voice overs by River Kanoff and Ali Lemer. The oral histories were conducted by Mark Markov, Samira Tazari, and Yolanda Zhang between 2015 and 2019. You can listen online to the full interviews featured in this podcast in the History Project's oral history archive

 

posted Sep 30th, 2021 in News and tagged with Coney Island Stories, podcast, schools,...

Visitors from Chile

A group of very enthusiastic visitors from Chile visited the Coney Island History Project exhibition center on Labor Day. We typically ask people "where are you visiting from," and this year almost everyone said "here" or named a Brooklyn neighborhood or New York City borough. We love our fellow New Yorkers, but unlike past seasons, we met very few tourists from out-of-state and only a handful from other countries due to travel restrictions. It was exciting to welcome a group all the way from Chile on the last day of our 2021 season.

Visit us in Coney Island in 2022!

Photo Credit: Coney Island History Project

Coney Island History Project

We're excited to share the news that the Alliance for Coney Island’s 2021 mural project is completed and our stretch of West 12th Street has been brightened and beautified. The Coney Island History Project's gates are among the 15 locations of the NYC Department of Small Business Services' funded project. 

Artist Danielle Mastrion’s amazing mural for the History Project features the legendary Elephant Hotel, which was on West 12th Street from 1885-1896, and the Wonder Wheel’s Thrills sign. Next door, artist Erin Mathewson emblazoned the gates of the Miss Coney Island, Skin the Wire and Feed the Clown attractions with murals of games and rides, including Deno’s Carousel and Phoenix Roller Coaster.

Visit allianceforconeyisland.org/murals to see all of the project's murals from 2020 and 2021 in Coney Island’s amusement district and on Mermaid Avenue. 

Photo Credit: Norman Blake

Murals West 12th Street Coney Island

posted Aug 26th, 2021 in News and tagged with mural, Murals, art,...

“Sign Painters and Artists,” the new episode of Coney Island Stories, has dropped! Listen and subscribe via Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 10 shares the stories of Coney Island sign painters as well as artists and designers who’ve been inspired by Coney’s celebrated signage, all taken from the History Project’s Oral History Archive.

The Coney Island style of hand-painted signs was perfected more than a century ago by Wildman and Sons, a shop in the heart of the amusement manufacturing district just off Surf Avenue. Amusement signs were meant to stand out and be instantly readable from a distance on the chaotic streets of Coney Island. Some lettering was illustrative and comical, flowing along slanted or arching baselines that created motion. The wording could be expressionistic, but still adhered to the rule of being readable. And then there are the pictorial signs, the traditional Coney classics, like iconic images of hot buttered corn or mustard-covered hot dogs, signs that don't need text or explanation.

The oral histories in the podcast are with Coney Island sign painter Sam Moses; advertising professional and former sign painter John Rea; artist and School of Visual Arts instructor Stephen Gaffney; and watercolor artist Frederick Brosen. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Samira Tazari, and Tricia Vita between 2010 and 2019. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. 

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

Photo credits: Top right, Watercolor painting by Frederick Brosen, “Surf Avenue,” 2007.  Bottom right, Photo of Sam Moses painting at Deno's Wonder Wheel by Charles Denson, 2017. Bottom left, Photo of Paul’s Daughter by Stephen Gaffney, 2016.

posted Aug 25th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island Stories, podcast,...

Coney Island Stories Podcast

"Love and Marriage," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, has dropped! Listen and subscribe via Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 9 shares stories of couples who met, got engaged or married in Coney Island, all taken from the History Project’s Oral History Archive. Visitors to our exhibition center often tell us that they or their parents or grandparents met or had their first date in Coney Island. Over the years, we’ve witnessed marriage proposals on Deno’s Wonder Wheel and weddings and wedding party rides on the Cyclone roller coaster.  

Many a Coney Island courtship of the 20th century began on the beach and continued with a stroll on the boardwalk and ride on the Steeplechase horses. Steeplechase Park founder George C. Tilyou famously observed of his mechanical horse race ride that “the young men like it because it gives them a chance to hug the girls; the girls like it, because it gives them a chance to get hugged.” 

The oral histories in the podcast are with Ellen Abrams, Michael Liff, Max and Stef, Tara Altebrando, Gina Femia, and The Reverend Cliff Herring. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Katya Kumkova, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita between 2014 and 2021. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. 

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

Photo credits: Top right, Engagement photo of Gina and Freddy by Jody Christopherson. Courtesy of Gina Femia. Bottom left and right, Coney Island History Project Collection. 

posted Jun 30th, 2021 in Events and tagged with podcast, oral history, history,...

PS 90 Coney Island History Project

For July 4th Weekend, the Coney Island History Project exhibition center will be open Saturday through Monday, July 3, 4 and 5, from 1-7PM. Visitors can watch movies about Coney Island history and take souvenir photos with the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, our original Steeplechase Horse, and other wonders. Admission is free of charge. The exhibition center is located on West 12th Street next to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the new Phoenix roller coaster.

This season, the Coney Island History Project is also presenting a series of outdoor exhibits. The first is 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, half a block from Coney Island Creek.

"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."

A selection of banners will be displayed on July 10 at City of Water Day in Kaiser Park (see news item below) before being installed at PS 90, Maimonides Park, and other locations. The art pictured on the seven colorful 14 foot by 3 foot banners was created by PS 90 students under the guidance of Ms. Luz Morales.

“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?" 

In April, PS 90 was one of 27 schools across the country designated a Green Ribbon School by the US Department of Education. The school was honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.

Coney Island History Project Interactive Map

The Coney Island History Project's new interactive digital map of Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods features links to our immigrant-themed oral history interviews, podcasts, films and photos, as well as to selected content on the web. The map is a work in progress focused on the cultural heritage of Southern Brooklyn's diverse immigrant community and stories of struggle, success and achievement. Coney Island, Coney Island Creek, Gravesend, Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach are among the location markers. 

Originally planned to debut in conjunction with the Fall 2021 release of data from the 2020 Census, we are offering a preview of the map this June. Additional media and census data will be added on a regular basis in the coming months. 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.

 

What's in a name? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Charles Denson

posted Jun 16th, 2021 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Coney Island History Project Photo by Norman Blake

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

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

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

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