Photo: © Charles Denson
"Astroland Park, created at the dawn of the space age, mirrored the wide-eyed optimism of the early 1960s and helped Coney Island survive the closure of Steeplechase Park," writes Charles Denson in Coney Island and Astroland.
On Saturday, September 8, the Coney Island History Project will open special hours to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the closing of Astroland Park, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park will have a free movie screening in the Astroland Rocket, and former Astroland employees are hosting an Astroland Reunion in Coney Island.
From now through September 29, the public is invited to enter the Coney Island History Project's Astroland Remembered Photo Contest on our websiteEnter the Astroland Remembered Photo Contest! and Facebook page. Share your favorite photos of yourself, family and friends at Astroland taken anytime from 1962 through 2008. Winners will receive an autographed copy of Coney Island and Astroland and a Coney Island History Project Walking Tour for you and three of your friends. Winning photos will be exhibited at the Coney Island History project next season on Coney Island's Opening Day!
Photos: © Coney Island History Project/ Astroland Archives
Astroland fans, friends and former employees are invited to visit the Coney Island History Project's exhibit center on September 8 from 1-5 PM to view historic artifacts, banners, signage and photos of Astroland's unique attractions including the Astrotower, Diving Bell, Rocket and Sky Ride. Admission is free of charge. Visitors may record their memories of Astroland for our oral history archive and bring photos to reminisce over and scan for our collection. The Coney Island History Project was founded in 2004 by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park.
Ten years after the legendary park's closing, the heritage continues at the Coney Island History Project and Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. In 2014, the History Project teamed up with the Vourderis family, owners of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, to bring back the iconic Astroland Rocket, which has a new home adjacent to the Wonder Wheel. Originally built as the "Star Flyer," the Rocket was the first ride at Astroland and defined the park's space age theme when it opened in 1962. As one of the first of the "imaginary" space voyage simulators constructed during the Space Race, the attraction showed simulator films of "rocket rides" while the chassis "rocked" its viewers to outer space.
On September 8, from 12-6 PM, visitors are invited to sit in one of the Rocket's 26 seats and watch the movie The Rocket Has Landed. The 18-minute film by Charles Denson 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. Admission to the Rocket and movie screenings will be free of charge. The giant gorilla from Astroland's Dante's Inferno has also found a new home, outside Deno's Spook-A-Rama, and stands ready to pose for souvenir photos.
Photo: © Jim McDonnell
When Astroland closed, its rides went to parks around the world and one of the stars from its Surf Avenue gate joined the collection of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Deno's Wonder Wheel Park's Barbieri bumper cars, the largest bumper car ride in New York City, is the only Astroland ride currently in operation in Coney Island. Go for a nostalgic spin under its magical rainbow-hued pavilion located adjacent to the Wonder Wheel. For ticket info, visit Deno's website. Deno's Wonder Wheel Park is open daily through Labor Day, and on weekends and school holidays through the end of October.
A group of former Astroland employees has organized a September 8th reunion with a BBQ and music from 2-7 PM at the Unknown Bikers Club on Coney Island's Bowery, next to the Nets store. All former Astroland employees and friends as well as the public are welcome to attend. Donation is $10 at the door. For information, visit the Facebook event page.
Photo: © Coney Island History Project/ Astroland Archives
[POSTPONED] We're sorry, due to the rainy forecast on Saturday, August 11, and on Sunday, we are postponing our 8th annual History Day event for this weekend. We plan to reschedule it with the same programming for a date in September or October and hope you will join us then. Sign up for our e-news (link at bottom of page) or follow us on social media for updates!
Eighth Annual History Day
Saturday, August 11th, 2pm-6pm
Rain Date: Sunday August 12th
Celebrating Coney Island's Immigrant Heritage!
At Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and
The Coney Island History Project
Free Live Music, Entertainment and History!
Hosted by Deno John Vourderis, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and
Charles Denson, Coney Island History Project
In the early 20th century Coney Island's most popular souvenir photo-stand props consisted of small boats named The Mayflower. Recent immigrants could pose as Mayflower passengers, freedom-seekers celebrating liberty on the shores of the World's Playground.
For more than a century, Coney Island served as the true historic "melting pot" for New York City's immigrant population. It remains a place of great diversity, where people of small means enjoy an affordable day of free recreation on the beach and Boardwalk. Coney Island continues to be a destination for immigrants, the place to assimilate with people of all nationalities. It's where they finally find true freedom and become Americans.
Enjoy History Day performances by musicians and dancers representing the traditional culture of countries from which people have emigrated to Coney Island:
Mariachi Real de Mexico de Ramon Ponce - New York's premier mariachi - 3:00PM
Paolo Buffagni - Modena-born tenor moved to New York to take up a career in opera and lives in Sunset Park - 4:00PM
New York Music and Dance Organization - Bensonhurst-based Chinese dance troupe founded by Julia Liu - 4:30PM
Gaston "Bonga" Jean-Baptiste - Master Haitian drummer - 5:00PM
-Plus DJ Joe Gonzalez, special guests and table top displays representing New York City's immigrant diversity including the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, Center for Traditional Music and Dance, Brighton Ballet Theater School of Russian Ballet and New York Music and Dance Organization. Desert Island, a store in Brooklyn featuring illustration and comic art from around the world, will distribute free copies of their Coney Island-themed issue of Smoke Signal.
-Record the names and memories of your family's first visit to the World's Playground and scan their photos for the Oral History Archive at the Coney Island History Project
- On History Day, Father Eugene Pappas, Coney Island native and pastor of Southern Brooklyn's Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox Church for the past 35 years, will broadcast a live radio show from Deno's Wonder Wheel Park about Coney Island's immigrant heritage. The radio show will be from just after 1pm until 2pm on WNYE COSMOS FM Hellenic Public Radio and will be followed by his opening remarks at 2pm on the Dreamland Plaza Stage. Guests on the radio show will include Dennis Vourderis of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project. Tune in at 91.5 or listen live at cosmosfm.org/podcast.
The opening ceremony at 2pm will be followed by Free Live Entertainment from 3-6pm on the Dreamland Plaza Stage located at 3059 West 12th St next to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park (between Bowery Street and Boardwalk).
About Deno's Wonder Wheel Park
Built in 1920, Deno's Wonder Wheel is the iconic centerpiece of the Coney Island skyline and the heart and soul of the amusement and entertainment district. Deno's Wonder Wheel Park founder Denos D. Vourderis, the 8th of 22 children, immigrated to the United States at age 14 to pursue the American Dream. He was born in Greece in 1920, the same year as the Wonder Wheel that he would buy in 1983 as a wedding ring for his wife, restore to its original state and build his park around. Deno's Wonder Wheel Park has the best selection of rides for kids and over 21 thrilling attractions including the classic haunted house dark ride, Spook-A-Rama, and Stop the Zombies, a state-of-the-art virtual reality interactive ride, game and movie in one air-conditioned theater. The park is owned and operated by Dennis and Steve Vourderis and their sons, the second and third generations of the Vourderis family. Deno's Wonder Wheel was designated an official New York City landmark in 1989 and West 12th Street, between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk, was co-named Denos D. Vourderis Place in 2001. Deno's Wonder Wheel will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2020.
About the Coney Island History Project
The Coney Island History Project is a not-for-profit organization that aims to increase awareness of Coney Island's legendary past and to encourage appreciation of the Coney Island neighborhood of today. Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, our exhibition center is open free of charge on weekends during the summer season. Emphasizing community involvement, the History Project records and shares oral history interviews; provides access to historical artifacts and documentary material through educational exhibits, events and a website; and teaches young people about local history and develops programs in conjunction with local schools, museums, and other organizations. Our multilingual offerings include a brochure in 10 languages, English and Chinese language walking tours, and oral history interviews recorded in several languages. The Coney Island History Project was founded in 2004 by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park. Executive director Charles Denson is a Coney Island native, a noted historian, and the author of the award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found.
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)
The Coney Island History Project's programs are supported in part by public funds from the NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the NYC City Council, New York City Councilman Mark Treyger, and our members and contributors.
You're invited to the 4th annual It's My Estuary Day on Saturday, May 5, from 8:00AM-3:00PM, a day of service, learning and celebration along Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park! The free event will include underwater robotics, oyster monitoring, diving demonstrations, water chemistry techniques, seining, microscope viewing of plankton, displays by environmental organizations, host talks, coastal clean up, lunch and networking.
Featuring over 40 partner organizations, this annual community event is organized by the Cultural Research Divers, BMSEA (Brooklyn Marine STEM Education Alliance), and NYSMEA (NY State Marine Education Association), and hosted by Making Waves, a coalition of stewards caring for Coney Island Creek and Kaiser Park, of which the Coney Island History Project is a member.
Stop by the Coney Island History Project's table to learn about our free programs, including the new exhibit "Coney Island Creek and the Natural World," opening Memorial Day Weekend. Pick up a copy of the Coney Island CreekWalk at Calvert Vaux Park booklet produced by the History Project for Partnerships for Parks. We'll have bilingual interviewers in attendance to record your stories in English, Russian and Chinese about the neighborhood and the Creek for our Oral History Archive. Visitors may also take a self-guided walking tour by following the markers created by the Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project for CreekWalk at Kaiser Park.
The Coney Island History Project's special exhibition for the 2018 season, opening Memorial Day Weekend and on view through Labor Day, is "Coney Island Creek and the Natural World." Coney Island is best known for its magnificent artifice, a manufactured reality and fantasy world that replaced the vibrant natural environment of sand dunes and salt marshes that existed before development began 200 years ago.
Very little of that environment has survived. The towering sand dunes were flattened, and the wetlands were filled in for development leaving the island vulnerable to storms. Even the island's world-famous beach is artificial, created with sand hydraulically pumped from offshore shoals. 19th century painters and photographers were able to capture images of a beautiful landscape that was about to be transformed forever as an isolated sandbar was transformed into the "World's Playground."
Ironically, the much-maligned estuary known as Coney Island Creek has become a key to understanding what was lost to development and what can be restored for future generations. The creek and its parks represent the true essence of Coney Island. Once a pristine salt marsh consisting of more than 3,000 acres of wetland habitat, Coney Island Creek was the original attraction at Coney Island, attracting anglers, hunters, writers, and artists to hotels along the creek's shoreline.
For the 2018 season we are planning a multi-media exhibit, curated by Charles Denson, called "Coney Island Creek and the Natural World" consisting of maps, photographs, posters, art, artifacts, oral history, and video. Among the rare treasures on display is Coney's "first admission ticket," the wooden 1823 sign from the Creek's Shell Road toll house advertising the rates for horse and rider and coaches. It is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact and part of our permanent collection.
The exhibit describes the flora and fauna of the island's environment as well as recent environmental projects that are restoring habitat once lost to development and pollution. Through the lens of history, art, and ecology, we will explore Coney Island's transformation and why it's important not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
The Coney Island History Project exhibition center is open free of charge on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day from 1:00PM-7:00PM. We're located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with the iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. The History Project is open year-round for our weekend walking tours and group visits, and for oral history interviews.
There's lots to do from spring through the beginning of summer in CONEY ISLAND!
Here's the Coney Island History Project's selected list of FREE upcoming events in the community:
April 12 - "Rise above the Tide" Community Imagination Workshop, Coney Island YWCA
April 16 - Chess Workshop, Coney Island Library (Mondays thru May 21)
April 21 - Family Day Block Party, Coney Island YWCA
April 21 - Immigrant Heritage Walking Tour in English and Mandarin, Coney Island History Project
April 23 - Senior Education Day, Coney Island Anti Violence Collaborative
May 5 - 4th Annual It's My Estuary Day, Kaiser Park
May 13 - Mother's Day Karaoke, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park
May 13 - Horseshoe Crab Monitoring, Kaiser Park (May 13-June 30)
May 26 - Coney Island Beach Re-opens for Swimming
May 26-28 - Exhibit Center Season Opener, Coney Island History Project
June 3 - Coney Island Reggae on the Boardwalk
June 9 - 8th Annual Pet Day & Costume Contest, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park
June 16 - 36th Annual Mermaid Parade, Coney Island USA
June 17 - Father's Day Karaoke, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park
June 22 - Coney Island's First Fireworks Show of 2018 (Fridays thru August 31)
June 22 - Fireworks Friday Karaoke, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park (Fridays thru August 31)
For Coney news, events, conversation, photos and special features like "On This Day in History,"
On Saturday, April 21, learn about the contributions of immigrants to the history and development of "The Playground of the World" on our Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island (康尼岛移民遗产之旅) conducted in English (12:00 PM) and (Mandarin 3:00 PM). The Coney Island History Project is offering this special walking tour as part of Immigrant Heritage Week 2018. Tickets are free of charge for the 1-1/2 hour, wheelchair accessible tour but must be reserved online as each tour is limited to 40 participants. Advance ticketing is available via our online reservation page on Eventbrite. If you have a question, please email email@example.com.
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.
Coordinated by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, Immigrant Heritage Week is an annual citywide program of events celebrating the history, traditions and contributions of New York City's diverse immigrant communities. This year's IHW is scheduled for April 16-22 in recognition of April 17, 1907, the date when more immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island than any other date in history. The theme for Immigrant Heritage Week 2018 is "A City of Immigrants: United in Action." Click here to download a pdf brochure of events from the city's website.
"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."
The walking tour will also highlight businesses operated by immigrants from Hong Kong, Jamaica, Mexico, Turkey and Ukraine who have recorded their stories for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive. The Immigrant Heritage Tour will be led by Tricia Vita and Sylvia Ching Man Wong, who facilitate and record oral histories for the Coney Island History Project.
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.
The Coney Island History Project is located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Photo: Jim McDonnell
You're invited to visit the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center on Coney's traditional Opening Day, Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Take a free souvenir photo with the iconic Cyclops head from Deno's Spook-A-Rama dark ride and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Among the treasures on display 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 go over Coney Island Creek to "the island" was 5 cents!
This Sunday only, as a special added attraction, visitors are invited to look through an antique arcade machine called a Cail-O-Scope and experience stereoview 3-D images of early 1900's Coney Island. The machine is set for 25 cents. Special thanks to arcade restorer Bob Yorburg, who is bringing this treasure filled with rare, unusual Coney Island images from his collection to the History Project for opening day festivities. The Coney Island History Project will be open 1:00PM-6:00PM. Admission is free of charge.
2018 marks the 14th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project and our seventh season at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Since our inception in 2004 with a portable recording booth on the Boardwalk, followed by the opening of the Coney Island Hall of Fame in 2005, and the inaugural season of our exhibition center under the Cyclone at Astroland Park in 2007 and moving to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park in 2011, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!" at our exhibits and special events.
Opening Day festivities start at 10:45AM on the Boardwalk with the 34th Annual Blessing of the Rides at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. The late Pastor Debbe Santiago of Coney Island's Salt and Sea Mission originated the event with Denos D. Vourderis, who invited children from the Mission to enjoy free rides and Easter baskets, a tradition that continues today.
Deacon Toyin Fakumoju of the Mission will lead the Blessing this year and the NYC Fire Department Ceremonial Unit will present the colors and sing the National Anthem. A ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by park owners Dennis and Steve Vourderis will be followed by free rides on the Wonder Wheel for the first 98 guests in celebration of the Wheel's 98th year.
At Luna Park, the first 100 on line at the Cyclone roller coaster will ride the roller coaster for free and egg cream samples will be given out. Coney Island's 1920 Wonder Wheel and the 1927 Cyclone are official New York City landmarks.
The Palm Sunday opener was conceived in 1956 by Milton Berger as a publicity campaign for his newest client, the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce, to establish “an early-season and official opening consciousness in the public’s mind.”
Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel, 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 1:00-7:00PM. We will also be open on Easter Sunday, April 1st, from 1:00-6:00PM. The Coney Island History Project is open year round for private group visits and our weekend walking tours as well as by appointment to record interviews with people who have memories of Coney Island for our Oral History Archive.
Among the additions to the Coney Island History Project's online Oral History Archive are the following interviews recorded by Amanda Deutch, Charles Denson, Kaara Baptiste, Mark Markov, Samira Tazari, and Xiaoyan Li. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story, sign up here. Interviews may be recorded in English, as well as Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and other languages.
Stephen Gaffney is an artist who restored the beloved vintage signs and painted new ones for Paul's Daughter, the oldest operator on the Coney Island Boardwalk. He talks about how he "memorializes the goings on of the store" with some of his signage, such as Paul's call to customers "Hey! Get It, Get It!"
Naum Barash recounts his 50 years of winter swimming in Ukraine and Brooklyn. A native of Chernovtsy in Ukraine, he is a member of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. This interview was conducted and recorded in Russian, and includes a Russian transcript and an English translation.
Gladys Sandman and Lucille daCosta, née Salvia, share girlhood memories of growing up on Coney Island's West 5th Street in the 1950s and early '60s before their home was demolished to make way for Warbasse Houses.
Sam Moses, 66, tells stories of his boyhood apprenticeship at a Brooklyn sign shop and his dreams of painting in Coney Island. In 1998, he moved to Sea Gate and started working out of a sign shop in a trailer behind Nathan's. The front of Denny's Ice Cream on Surf Avenue was one of his masterpieces.
Anthony Wang, a resident of senior housing in Coney Island, was born in Shanghai, survived the Cultural Revolution, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1992. This interview was conducted and recorded in Mandarin, and includes a Chinese transcript and an English translation.
Gloria Nicholson was born in Coney Island in 1940 and grew up in a rooming house that her mother managed on the Bowery. She reminisces about the unusual attractions and cast of characters who populated her childhood including Ned Tilyou, Tirza's Wine Baths, Shatzkins Knishes, the Shark Lady, and fortune-telling myna birds.
Jeffrey L. Wilson shares memories of growing up in Coney Island, where his family moved to O'Dwyer Gardens from Flatbush in 1986. Now an editor at PC Magazine, he writes about video games and other tech subjects, and talks about his formative years as a regular at Faber's Fascination arcade.
Deena Metzger is a writer, poet and healer who was born in Brighton Beach in 1936, moved to Sea Gate when she was three, and went to school in Coney Island. "The land, the water, the sea were formative characters in my life," she says. "When I was young I believed that one learned to write by walking."
Michael Cooper and Hyeyoung Kim are a lyricist and composer who began working collaboratively in 2005. They talk about researching and writing Luna Park, a musical which chronicles the partnership of Fred Thompson and Skip Dundy, creators of Coney Island's first Luna Park.
Ida Rosenblum Gambrell, 94, recalls her childhood summers in Coney Island at her aunt's home on Surf Avenue and West 24th Street, where one of the rooms was rented to summer boarders, and getting separated from her family during the chaos of the Luna Park fire of 1932.
There was hopeful news from a Valentine's Day meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding Coney Island's Riegelmann Boardwalk. In an apparent reversal of their past refusal to grant Scenic Landmark status for the iconic boardwalk, the agency is now offering to protect and honor the nearly century-old structure. The designation is a positive and welcome first step toward recognizing the historical and cultural significance of the Boardwalk, something that advocates have been hoping and fighting for.
The landmarking effort was spearheaded by Councilmen Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch, who began meeting with the LPC back in 2014. Councilman Treyger pointed out that landmark status will preserve the Boardwalk in perpetuity and require oversight, review, and public scrutiny when major changes are proposed by the NYC Department of Parks, which oversees the beach and Boardwalk.
The unusual public outreach meeting, hosted by Treyger and Deutsch and attended by LPC Commissioner Srinivasan and four staff members, was held at the YMCA in the West End of Coney Island. As we've noted before, landmark designation is advisory and has no regulatory input on requiring a wooden surface for the structure, as it is city owned. That will be a different battle. But it does change the legal status and regulatory oversight that will bring the issue into the public domain. Many thanks to Councilmen Treyger and Deutsch for their tireless efforts in protecting the Boardwalk. When landmarking is approved, the Boardwalk will join Ocean Parkway as Coney Island's only other Scenic Landmark. Now on to the public hearings at the City Planning Commission and a vote to make this a reality!
— Charles Denson