Coney Island Blog - News

Coney Island History Project Podcast Coney Island Stories

"Growing Up in the 1970s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, has dropped. Listen and subscribe via your 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 Five, Coney Islanders who grew up in the 1970s share memories of being the original tenants of Carey Gardens and O’Dwyer Gardens, newly built high-rise developments overseen by the New York City Housing Authority. They remember the razing of entire blocks in the West End during urban renewal, pervasive crime affecting their lives, and gangs like the Homicides and the Seven Immortals inspiring the movie The Warriors. By mid-decade, New York City went broke and abandoned Coney Island. The one bright spot in the 1970s was Astroland amusement park’s two million dollar investment in new rides, including the Enterprise, named after the USS Enterprise in the TV series Star Trek, and sponsorship of air shows with the Army Golden Knights and the Air Force Thunderbirds.

The oral histories in Episode Five are with Karen Dawn Blondel, Mindy Gress, Orlando Mendez, Gene Ritter, Keith Suber, and Eliot Wofse. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, Katya Kumkova, Mark Markov, and Tricia Vita between 2016 and 2022. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.

©2022 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved. This program is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Jokes with Josue by Emmanuel Elpenord

On June 3rd, the Coney Island History Project presented Jokes with Josue: A Haitian Puppet Show created and performed by Emmanuel Elpenord. The free performance was at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park in the plaza below the park's Phoenix roller coaster. In the audience were first, second, and third graders from Coney Island’s P.S. 90, the Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness down the block.

Emmanuel Elpenord is a first-generation Haitian-American actor, puppeteer, improviser and voice artist. "Jokes with Josue is a series of Haitian riddles featuring a marionette and cut-aways to toy theater scenes, all set under Haitian music," said Elpenord. “It includes a longer-form Haitian folktale or fable performed in a traditional style with some call and response games, pantomime, character voices and improvisation."

Born and raised in Coney Island, Elpenord recorded an oral history for the History Project’s archive in 2020 in which he shares memories of growing up in Sea Rise apartments and a souvenir of the Wonder Wheel. We'll be posting a video of the puppet show in the coming weeks. Additional photos by Norman Blake may be viewed here.

This program was supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. 

Jokes with Josue by Emmanuel Elpenord

Carlos Quinones Coney Island History Project

Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's oral history archive are interviews with Carlos Quinones, a longtime resident of Coney Island who drove the Mermaid Avenue bus for many years; Sharon Tera, whose parents owned a popular Boardwalk restaurant; and Alan Kirschenbaum, one of the original tenants of Coney Island Houses.

Carlos Quinones, 72, is a Coney Island resident who lived in Gravesend Houses as a boy. He is well known in the neighborhood for his collection of classic cars. Quinones is a Vietnam War veteran and a retired MTA employee. In this oral history he shares memories of working games from age 14, placing the Puerto Rican flag atop the Parachute Jump in the 1970s, and driving the Mermaid Avenue bus. 

Sharon Tera Coney Island History Project

Born in 1947, Sharon Tera lived in Coney Island for the first 14 years of her life. Her parents, Ethel and Ise Tera, owned Ethel's Restaurant on the Boardwalk at West 19th Street. "Between my mother being Jewish and my father Japanese, we had a combination of that kind of food," Tera says. "So we had chicken noodle soup, we had clam chowder. Or you could just get fried shrimp in a hot dog bun." Tera shares childhood memories of mastering Skee-Ball at neighboring arcades, learning to develop photos at the photo studio next door, and having free run of Washington Baths and Steeplechase Park. 

Coney Island Houses Rendering 1954

Alan Kirschenbaum grew up in Coney Island Houses, where his family was among the original tenants of Coney’s first superblock high-rise housing project. They lived there from 1956 until 1966. He vividly describes the architecture and amenities of the buildings, where the windows were designed to bring in the ocean breezes, the kids played sports on the "Little Grass," and the summers seemed endless. Among his amusement park memories are Steeplechase Park's giant slide and Astroland's diving bells, rocket and trout fishing pool.

More than 400 oral histories are available for listening in the Coney Island History Project’s multilingual online archive. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story via phone or Zoom, sign up here. We record oral histories in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and nearby neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places.

Photo Credits: Charles Denson, Sharon Tera

posted Jun 22nd, 2022 in News and tagged with Coney Island, oral history, Oral History Archive,...

Coney Island Brewery Beer Can Art

A group of Coney Island artists and their friends created beer can art pieces and exhibited their work at Coney Island Brewery in the spring. Funny Face, Moveable Mermaid Can, Coney Island Is For Lovers, and See Me, Hear Me, Touch Me, Beer Me were among the titles of these ingenious 12-ounce size artworks.

The artists in the show included Angeline DelValle, Carlos Cordero, Dana Danger, Daniel Fischer, End of the Line, Erin Mathewson, Jennie Jones, Joey Bones, Obsidian and Benjamin Bard, Sam Nahra, Tom Kane, and Victoria Pitula.

We were impressed by the creativity of the artists and thank them for their generosity. Sales of the work were donated to the Coney Island History Project.

posted Jun 17th, 2022 in News and tagged with art, Artists, Coney Island,...

It's My Estuary Day at Coney Island Creek and Coney Island Ferry Update

Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, tabled at It's My Estuary Day on Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park, held on June 4th. The annual event is organized by the New York State Marine Education Association in partnership with the NYC Parks Department and participating organizations. Activities included a beach clean-up, underwater oyster reef observation via a remote operated vehicle, seining, and kayaking. More than 150 students from three boroughs plus Yonkers were in attendance.

It is currently horseshoe crab monitoring season at Kaiser Park and Calvert Vaux Park. The crabs are counted and tagged at the beach at high tide to assess the health and well being of this important species. If you wish to volunteer, please choose the site and date via this link and contact the site coordinator to schedule.

In late May, the City’s Economic Development Corporation met with Coney Island residents to provide updates on the Coney Island ferry project. Officials announced that plans to bring a ferry to Kaiser Park were delayed indefinitely, citing “significant sand shift" where the dock is proposed, according to an article in The City. The narrow channel approach for the ferry is dangerous and prone to shoaling and sand buildup that can cause ferries to run aground at low tide. This serious problem and others were pointed out many times at public meetings and in written comments over the last two years, but the warnings were ignored by City officials who wanted to push the project through. New locations for the ferry dock are now being considered.

Photo Credit: Charles Denson

posted Jun 9th, 2022 in News and tagged with Coney Island Creek, It's My Estuary Day, Kaiser Park,...

Coney Island Stories Podcast Growing Up in the 1960s

"Growing Up in the 1960s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, is being released today. Listen and subscribe via your 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 Four, Coney Islanders who grew up in the 1960s share memories of being the original tenants at Luna Park Houses and Trump Village, high rise co-ops that opened in the 1960s. They remember the last years of Steeplechase Park, a rising crime rate and urban renewal. In 1967, Mayor Lindsay declared the entire West End of Coney Island a poverty zone. More than 40 blocks were slated for condemnation. The one bright spot during the 1960s was the space age-themed Astroland Park. The park became the anchor for Coney Island, the glue that held it together while many businesses gave up and many property owners sold and moved away.

The oral histories in Episode Four are with Alison Cintorrino, Alan Kirschenbaum, Jim Lucarelli, the Salvia sisters, Lucille DaCosta and Gladys Sandman, and Tony Williams. The interviews were conducted by Amanda Deutch, Ali Lemer, Shavon Meyers, and Tricia Vita between 2016 and 2022. 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. 

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,...

Tymell Murphy

Tymell Murphy is a professional basketball player and the author of a new book, Poetry in Motion: Poems and Stories.  Photo courtesy of Tymell Murphy.

Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's oral history archive are interviews with basketball player and author Tymell Murphy, who grew up in Coney Island, and Australian circus historian and author Mark St Leon whose family performed at the original Luna Park.

Tymell Murphy and his family moved to Coney Island's Surfside Gardens in 2003. He shares boyhood memories of always having a basketball court nearby being a lifesaver and reminder of what he wanted to do. After playing basketball in high school and junior college, Murphy went to FIU in Miami and played for the Florida International Panthers in the NCAA. He went on to play overseas for professional teams in Egypt, Dubai, Mexico, Japan and China. When the pandemic brought sports to a halt in 2020, Murphy returned to the U.S. and used the pause to devote time to creative writing, a passion of his when he was younger. "I never really had a plan to create a book out of it," he says of Poetry in Motion: Poems and Stories, "It just all came together at the right time."

Elsie St Leon Luna Park

Elsie St. Leon performing at open air circus in Luna Park, circa 1910. Photo courtesy of Mark St. Leon.

Mark St Leon is descended from Australia's earliest circus family and has written numerous books and articles including Circus: The Australian Story.  Research at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts led to his discovery of photos and news clippings about the St Leon family's performances in Coney Island at Thompson and Dundy's Luna Park in the early 1900s. He shares stories of the St. Leon troupe of bareback riders, acrobats and tightwire artists who came to the U.S. led by his great-uncle Alfred and starring Alfred's children Elsie, Ida and George. Elsie and Ida also performed the lead role in the hit play Polly of the Circus produced by Luna Park founder Frederick Thompson. Mark St. Leon’s website is The Pennygaff.

More than 400 oral histories are available for listening in the Coney Island History Project’s online archive. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story via phone or Zoom, sign up here. We record oral histories in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and nearby neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places.

posted May 6th, 2022 in News and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, oral history,...

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.