Coney Island History Project

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 remotely via phone or Zoom, sign up here. We record interviews in English, Russian, Chinese, and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places. Among the 2021 additions to our archive are the following interviews recorded by Mary Conlon, Charles Denson, Julia Kanin, Shavon Meyers, and Tricia Vita.

Nasim Almuntaser is a 2021 Brooklyn College graduate who grew up working in his Yemeni-American family's bodega in Brighton Beach. The history and education major plans to become a history teacher. He describes the special relationship and sense of community that a bodega owner has with store patrons and shares his experiences during the pandemic and the Bodega Strike of 2017.

Tara Altebrando shares memories of getting engaged on the Wonder Wheel in 2004. She talks about how iconic places in Coney Island inspired and provided a backdrop for her 2011 novel Dreamland Social Club. During the pandemic, Tara and her husband Nick began adapting the novel into a stage musical with her 13-year old daughter singing the part of the main character.

Filmmaker Joyce Chopra grew up in Coney Island and Sea Gate in the 1930s and ‘40s. Her grandparents owned Kalina's Baths. Chopra describes how she got the acting bug at Lincoln High School while performing in a play with Lou Gossett Jr. She went on to direct groundbreaking documentaries and feature films including Joyce at 34 (1972) and Smooth Talk (1985, Grand Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival).

Lolita Divilova lives in Coney Island, where she is active in the community as a member of Community Board 13 and the board of Brightwater Towers Condominium. A native of Baku, Azerbaijan and a former Moscow resident, Lolita and her family immigrated to New York in 1993, settling on Ocean Parkway, where many people from Baku then lived. They bought an apartment at Brightwater Towers in 2012.

Flatbush native Alan Fine shares memories of summers spent at Washington Baths Annex with his family as a boy in the 1950s. "I knew everybody," he says of the popular bathhouse, which was on the boardwalk next to the Childs Restaurant . It was there he first met his wife of 53 years, Helene, when they were children.  When the Annex was demolished in 1973, Alan went back looking for the slab of concrete on which he’d carved their initials in a heart.                 

Sea Gate resident Ellina Graypel is a singer-songwriter who grew up in Belarus. Performing and composing in both English and Russian, she also translates American songs into Russian, and Russian and Belarusian songs into English for American audiences. In 2021, Ellina was honored with the Women of Distinction Award by the New York State Assembly and Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus.

When Reverend Cliff Herring married a couple on Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster in 2007, the NY Daily News called him “the Roller Coaster Reverend” and “a card carrying member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts.” He talks about the essentials of a roller coaster wedding, why the Cyclone is the epitome of a roller coaster, and a mock wedding on the Cyclone in 2002 for the ride's 75th anniversary.

Raised in Bay Ridge, Natalie Johnson has memories of going to Ravenhall Baths in the 1950's and '60s until it closed after a 1963 fire. She recalls her family’s roomy walk-in locker, which was equipped with a mirror, seating, shelves and hooks where they left their swimsuits overnight. On the way home, they went on the rides at Steeplechase Park. "It was a wonderful way of life," she says.

Jen Kepler is an educator at New York Aquarium and a passionate observer of Brooklyn wildlife. The Brooklyn native recalls aspiring to work at the Aquarium ever since her childhood visits to see the beluga whales and the Aquatheater Show.  Jen says she found her calling "teaching people about what I love” and vividly describes species of ducks, gulls, and birds one can see on Coney Island Beach and at Steeplechase Pier.

David Louie tells what it was like to grow up and live in Coney Island in the 1950s through the '70s. His family owned Wah Mee, a popular Chinese restaurant on Mermaid Avenue. David's father emigrated from China in the 1920s and owned and operated several restaurants in New York. The family lost the Mermaid Avenue home and restaurant they owned during the city's urban ronslaught of the 1970s.

Zohra Saed is a poet, editor, and translator who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Brooklyn with her family as a child in the 1980s. She grew up in the Uzbek-Turkestani community on Ocean Avenue in Sheepshead Bay and roamed Neptune Avenue in Brighton Beach. Zohra reads two of her poems, "Brooklyn" and "Neptune Avenue," which vividly evoke scenes of her childhood.

Cuzzo Sosay is a musician and producer of gangster hip hop, soul music, inspirational music, and R & B who visited the Coney Island History Project this past summer. As a boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1980s, his parents took him to Coney Island and he recalls the Hell Hole and Himalaya rides. He talks about Coney Island as musical inspiration, meditating on the beach and winter swimming.

Tony Williams and his family moved from Harlem to Coney Island when he was 13 and lived here from 1966 until the late '70s. He describes working at various rides in the amusement area as well as playing the harmonica on the Boardwalk for tips and with Bread and Puppet Theater. Tony reflects on the white flight that began in the late 1960s and the Coney Island of today.

posted Dec 23rd, 2021 in News and tagged with oral history, Oral History Archive, Oral History Project,...

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.

Giving Tuesday

Become a member of the Coney Island History Project on Giving Tuesday! Your tax-deductible contributions support our free programming including our exhibit center, podcast and oral history archive. 

To join online, choose a category and receive a thank you gift visit our Membership and Support page. We're grateful to all of our members, funders, and friends for your continued enthusiasm and support, and proud of all that the Coney Island History Project has accomplished this year and during the past 17 years.

posted Nov 30th, 2021 in News and tagged with Giving Tuesday, Coney Island History Project, Membership,...


Happy Hanukkah from the Coney Island History Project! The Star of David illuminated Astroland's Astrotower during Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, until the park closed in 2008. Next year, 2022 will be the 60th anniversary of the 1962 opening of Astroland! If you worked at the park or were a visitor and have Astro stories to share, we'd love to record your oral history for our archive. Audio interviews are conducted via phone or Zoom. You may schedule and interview here

posted Nov 28th, 2021 in News and tagged with Star of David, Astrotower, Astroland,...

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from good old and new Coney Island and the Coney Island History Project! 

posted Nov 25th, 2021 in News and tagged with Thanksgiving, Happy Thanksgiving, Coney Island,...

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,...

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

Dredge in Creek

In November, Charles Denson will be presenting a short video about his 50-year documentation of Coney Island Creek at the Annual Conference of the NY-NJ Harbor and Estuary Program. He will also be a member of a panel discussion about “Vulnerable Waterways” that includes the New York Aquarium, Coney Island Beautification Project, SWIM Coalition, Coney Island History Project, and Billion Oyster Project. 

The New York - New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program (HEP) "brings the benefits of the Clean Water Act to the people who live, work, and recreate on our shared waterways. Created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the request of the governors of New York and New Jersey, HEP is an ongoing effort to develop and implement a consensus driven plan to protect, conserve and restore the estuary."

The conference schedule will be announced shortly at

Photo Credit: Charles Denson. Swimmers next to the poisonous dredging for the ill-conceived ferry dock at Coney Island Creek. 

posted Oct 11th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Coney Island Creek, Conference, Waterways,...

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,...