Coney Island Blog - News

Immigrant Heritage Walking Tour of Coney Island

Join us on Sunday, May 21st, to learn about the contributions of immigrants to the history and development of "The Playground of the World" on our Immigrant Heritage Walking Tour of Coney Island. The Coney Island History Project is once again offering this free tour which was "sold out" and waitlisted in April during Immigrant Heritage Week 2023.

Among the stops on the 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 Park, where the landmark 1920 Wonder Wheel was purchased by Greek immigrant Denos D. Vourderis as a wedding ring for his wife Lula; 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 highlight businesses operated by immigrants who have recorded their stories for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive.

Coordinated by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, Immigrant Heritage Week (IHW) is an annual citywide program of events celebrating the history, traditions and contributions of New York City's diverse immigrant communities. IHW 2023 was held April 17-23 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 May 21st tour starts at 1:00 PM. Please reserve free tickets in advance on our Eventbrite page. Ticket reservations are limited to 2 per person as capacity is limited. Meet at the Coney Island History Project, 3059 West 12th St (at 12th Street entrance to Wonder Wheel), Brooklyn NY 11224.

The tour takes 1 hour and 30 minutes. Walking tours are held rain or shine. We reserve the right to cancel tours in the event of potentially dangerous weather.

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 Ari Kagan.

posted May 10th, 2023 in News and tagged with Coney Island History Project, Coney Island, Walking Tour,...

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive
Nearly 450 oral histories are available for listening in the Coney Island History Project’s multilingual online archive. Among the additions in March and April are the following interviews recorded for us by Mary Conlon, Daniel Gomez, Julia Kanin, and Tricia Vita.

Erum Hanif talks about her work as a Community Board #13 Member and CEO of Apna Brooklyn Community Center, a not-for-profit that serves immigrants in Southern Brooklyn. She pays tribute to her mother, who was a pioneer in expanding education for girls and women in Pakistan. "I strongly believe that whatever I am today capable of doing in my life, personal and professional, is because of her spirit," says Hanif.

Sofya Lobova was born in Kyiv in 1935 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. Lobova recalls her memories of World War II and her community activism in Coney Island, where she is a longtime resident of NYCHA's Haber Houses. This interview was conducted and recorded in Russian and includes transcripts in Russian and English.

Sam Person shares family memories of Nat Faber's Fascination arcade, which operated on Surf Avenue from 1926 through the 1970s. Person worked in Coney Island as a manager at his father-in-law's Faber’s Fascination in 1953 and 1954 when he was in college. Fascination is a group game often described as combining the luck of bingo with the skill of Skee-Ball.

Sonia Solano reflects on raising a family in Coney Island and working in local schools in the 1990s and 2000s. She also describes the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. "Coney Island means everything to me," says Solano. "I've been here thirty years."

Liz Unger shares memories of 1950's Coney Island and working in Lillian Candy Company, her family's candy factory on Mermaid Avenue. "I have a very, very soft spot in my heart for Coney Island, cause all my memories are there."

Stuart Waldman remembers summer jobs as a teen in Coney Island in the 1950s, including operating rides at Ward's Kiddie Park and working "The Dancing Dolls" game on Surf Avenue. At 19, he says he got his hack license and "aged out" of working in Coney Island.

Karen Wilcox recalls living in Luna Park Houses and going to Coney Island bathhouses with her grandmother in the 1960s. In 1962, Wilcox and her family were among the original tenants of Luna Park Houses, the apartment complex built on the site of the original Luna Park.

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.

posted Apr 17th, 2023 in News and tagged with oral history, Archive, Coney Island History Project,...

Coney Island History Project International Womens Day

On International Womens Day we celebrate the women whose diverse voices are part of the Coney Island History Project's multilingual Oral History Archive. Share and preserve your Coney Island memories by recording an interview via phone or Zoom. We are recording interviews, both in English and other languages, with people who grew up, live or work in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods in Southern Brooklyn, or have a special connection to these places. Sign up here.

Coney Island History Show and Tell

You're invited to join us for “Coney Island History Show & Tell,” an interactive reminiscence event presented by the Coney Island History Project via Zoom on Thursday, March 16. Do you have historical or personal objects or stories related to Coney Island that you would like to share? Sign up to “show and tell” your story by emailing events@coneyislandhistory.org

This month's theme is Vanished Attractions. Among the attractions we’ll revisit are Steeplechase Park and Astroland, fun houses and dark rides, Fascination parlors, bungalow colonies, and the mechanical Laughing Lady. What made these vanished attractions so beloved, and why did they vanish? Can they be found outside of Coney Island? We’ll explore these and other questions.

Tickets for "Coney Island History Show & Tell" are free of charge. Advance registration is required and capacity is limited. Registrants will be sent the Zoom link two days before the event.

👉 Register via Eventbrite for Thursday, March 16 at 7:00PM - 8:00PM.

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 Ari Kagan.

Granville T Woods

Coney Island has always had a reputation as a place where people could make their dreams come true, where people outside the mainstream could prove themselves. For Granville T. Woods (1856-1910), it became the place where he demonstrated two of his famous inventions: an electric railway and an electric roller coaster called the Figure Eight. In celebration of Black History Month, listen to David Head tell the story of Black inventor Granville T. Woods (1856-1910) in our oral history archive. Head, the former chairman of TWU Local 100's Black History Committee, wrote a book about Woods and championed a Coney Island street naming in 2008. Granville T. Woods Way is at the corner of Stillwell and Mermaid Avenues. In the same year, the Coney Island History Project inducted Woods into the Coney Island Hall of Fame.

 

posted Feb 23rd, 2023 in News and tagged with Granville T. Woods, inventor, Black History Month,...

Oral History Coney Island History Project

More than 440 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 additions to our archive in January and February are the following interviews recorded for us by Daniel Gomez, Sage Howard, Xiao Yu Li, Lauren Vespoli, and Tricia Vita.

As a teenager in the 2000s, Alicia Angello lived in Marlboro Houses in Gravesend, which was walking distance to Coney Island. She shares memories of coming here with her friends every Friday night and sometimes every day in the summer. The Polar Express, the Eldorado Bumper Cars, and the Breakdance ride at Astroland were their favorite hangouts to listen to the music and to ride.

"The" Jerry Farley is a record producer and audio engineer who has produced shows in Coney Island at Peggy O'Neill's and now at Coney Island Brewery, where he stages a monthly punk/metal night and other live events. Farley shares memories of Don Fury's Cyclone Studios on Surf Avenue and The Temple, a live music venue for all ages in the basement of a Bensonhurst synagogue.

From the late 1940s to the mid-60s, Jerry Omanoff lived in Coney Island, where his first job was shining shoes on the Boardwalk at age ten. Omanoff shares memories of living in a bungalow, all the blocks being like little towns, and going to the movies at the Surf Theater.

Carol Polcovar is a writer and playwright who grew up on West 30th Street in Coney Island in the 1940s and ‘50s.  "The personalities and the environment of Coney Island was really like no other place," says Polcovar, who reads "Fireworks Night," an excerpt from her memoir in progress.

Samantha Robles, a tattoo artist who is known as "Cake," shares childhood memories of growing up in Coney Island's West End and describes her artistic influences. Three generations of Robles' extended family have lived in Coney's "Coconuts Building" since it was built. Both sides of her family moved to Coney Island from Puerto Rico and continue to live here today.

Ansen Tang is Executive Director of the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn (UCAOB) with branches located in Bensonhurt, Dyker Heights, and Sheepshead Bay. His family emigrated from Hong Kong when he was eleven. Tang shares stories of growing up in Bensonhurst, UCAOB's Lion Dance Team and the organization's efforts during the pandemic.

 


Above: Raised concrete surge barrier on the Boardwalk. Army Corps disclaimers stress that renderings are "initial concepts use for illustrative purposes only and are subject to change." The final plan may be influenced by public comments from community members.

Last September the Army Corps of Engineers released a draft of the New York Harbor Coastal Resiliency Plan (USACE HATS), a complex $52 billion flood control project designed to battle sea level rise and flooding. This plan will have extreme consequences for the shorelines of Coney Island, including the beach, Boardwalk, and Coney Island Creek.

The Army Corps has tentatively chosen "plan 3B" from the NY-NJ Harbor Tributaries study released last September. This proposal recommends flood control "hardscape" such as sea walls, flood walls, and levees to protect Coney Island as well as a massive mechanical tide gate storm surge barrier that would close off Coney Island Creek to prevent flooding.

There are two main projects for Coney Island. On the south side of the island, the Boardwalk would be raised five feet by adding what appears to be a wide concrete walkway. This would act as a barrier to prevent flooding from storm surge. The renderings shown at a January 25th meeting were very sketchy. The concrete barrier would block ocean views for Boardwalk businesses as well as taking up about a third of the Boardwalk.  

On the north side, on Coney Island Creek, the plan calls for a mechanical tide gate in Coney Island Creek stretching from Neptune Avenue to Calvert Vaux Park. The tide gate would tie into "sea walls" and into "flood walls" extending along Kaiser Park and Coney Island Creek Park before curving around Sea Gate to connect with the raised concrete Boardwalk at West 37th Street. Detailed renderings of these walls have not been provided.

When this project is completed, Coney Island will undergo an enormous transformation that will impact the neighborhood and local environment for generations to come. Unlike mega-projects of the past, where the public had little input, this time the community might have a voice. The powers that be appear to be listening. A March 31, 2023 deadline to submit public comments about the plan is fast approaching. The Army Corps has promised that all comments will be addressed and added to the public record in June.

Obvious problems with these proposals need to be addressed. The proposed flood walls and sea walls that will run along the parks adjacent to Coney Island Creek will degrade the parks. The barriers should be constructed as living shorelines with raised landscaped levees topped by walkways and bike paths and a restored wetland in the creek. In other words: public amenities. The walls should not be concrete or steel barriers that destroy quality of life in the community. A previous resiliency plan by the City showed beautiful renderings of a raised shoreline project along the creek. The community should advocate for this. The new barriers are to be constructed on public parkland so no private land would need to be appropriated.

The tide gate on the creek is another concern. Tide gates need constant maintenance and can fail in a catastrophic way if not maintained. The City is notorious for not maintaining infrastructure. "Backdoor" flooding caused by overflowing  storm sewers on Coney Island Creek can be severe if the gates are closed. The storm sewers drain thousands of acres of upland in Southern Brooklyn during rain events. Passive methods would seem to be more dependable. Another suggestion would be installation of pumps that can drain the creek while the flood gates are closed.  

Public input is extremely important. Manhattan seems to be getting more amenities and green space in its part of the plan because of community involvement. In the few weeks we'll be adding more information about what sort of issues need to be commented on.

 The Army Corps does not decide what to build. It submits the plan to Congress and then the funding is appropriated to complete the project. Input to federal elected officials might go a long way to getting the proper design.  

Low point: Coney Island Creek at Neptune Avenue and West 21st Street. Erosion caused by Superstorm Sandy has not been repaired in 10 years. During a king tide the water level in the Creek is higher than the street. Photo by Charles Denson

Public comments are important for the community. The Army Corps HATS plan can be accessed at
https://www.nan.usace.army.mil/Portals/37/NYNJHATS%20Draft%20Integrated%...

The plan is searchable and Coney Island map appears on page 202.

The public is invited to submit comments by mail to:

NYNJHAT Study Team, Planning Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
26 Federal Plaza, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10279-0090 

or by e-mail to: NYNJHarbor.TribStudy@usace.army.mil

Please include the project title and the commenter's contact information with submitted comments. Comments are always welcome and will be considered in the study as it continues.

 

New Years Day Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

The place to be on New Year’s Day is Coney Island and the best way to welcome 2023 is with a splash in the Atlantic. Join the Coney Island Polar Club for their 120th Annual New Year’s Day Plunge on January 1st from 11 AM until 2 PM. The party starts on the Boardwalk at 10 AM.

Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas talks about the New Year's Day Plunge over the decades in an oral history he recorded for the Coney Island History Project in 2019: "It's been going on as long as anybody knows and it used to be just kind of an informal gathering of the Polar Bear Club itself. Then more people from the public," says Dennis, who began swimming with the Bears in the 1970s. "When I first started, if there were a hundred people there, we'd say, wow, this was huge. It's a bucket list thing. People want to do it once in their life and New Year's Day is a great day to do that."

There is no fee to participate but all funds raised help support local non-profits offering environmental, educational, and cultural programming including the New York Aquarium, the Coney Island History Project, Coney Island USA, Coney Island YMCA, and more.

Visit polarbearclub.org to register in advance for the New Year's Day Plunge or make a donation.

Photo Credit: Jim McDonnell
 

posted Dec 22nd, 2022 in Events and tagged with Coney Island Polar Bear Club, New Year's Day, Coney Island,...

Coney Island History Project

Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's oral history archive is an interview with Rachel Rosenberg Simon, whose grandparents owned and operated Rosenberg's Kosher Deli Restaurant on Mermaid Avenue from 1917 to 1975. 

“The store was everything!" says Simon, who grew up on West 29th Street in Coney Island around the corner from her family's business. Rosenberg’s was considered the finest deli on Mermaid Avenue as all the food in the restaurant including the mayonnaise was homemade. In her oral history, Simon describes the entire family including herself working at the restaurant, which was open fourteen hours a day, six days a week.

Simon recalls the downfall of Mermaid Avenue and Coney Island and the loss of the store due to urban renewal. In 1975, Rosenberg's went out of business when the tenants in the upstairs apartment set fire to the building. The interview was recorded by Charles Denson, who also grew up in Coney Island and remembers rescuing one of the Art Deco mirrors from Rosenberg's as the building was about to be torn down. "Those mirrors were gorgeous," says Simon. "The store was great. It was beautiful. We didn't take pictures. Who knew the store was ever gonna close, you know?"

John Philip Capello Photos By Bruce Handy

John Philip Capello is a painter and sculptor who grew up in Bensonhurst in the 1940s and '50s and moved from Brooklyn to Sag Harbor in 1989. Our newly published oral history with him is the culmination of the interviewer's twelve-year search for the mystery artist who carved faces into rocks on the shoreline at Brighton Beach.

"In 2010, I saw a photo of one of these carved faces on Twitter, but I didn't know where it was on the Coney Island peninsula," says Tricia Vita, who records oral histories for the Coney Island History Project. "So I asked my friend, photographer Bruce Handy, if he could find them. He spent the whole summer looking and at the end of the summer he actually found the rock faces in Brighton." When Vita shared the photos on her blog, some commenters remembered seeing the rocks being carved in the 1970s while others were sure the carvings were ancient. The artist remained unknown.

It wasn't until this year that Vita was able to learn the identity of the artist and record his oral history. In his interview, Capello describes carving the rocks in Brighton Beach around 1975 with his brother Luciano, who worked as a church restorer, and one or two friends. "We looked into the stones and saw what we wanted to see," he says. "A nose, an eye socket, a place to put a mouth or chin, you know, that's already there, but just take away the stone that didn't belong."

John Philip Capello Carving Photo by Bruce Handy

Capello says that he and his brother had studios in Brighton Beach and on Kings Highway in the 1970s, and once they started carving the rocks, it became an obsession. “We would call each other, ‘Hey, you're gonna go down to Brighton. Okay, I'll meet you there,’ so we packed lunches and a bottle of wine and sometimes beer.”

The stone carvings have remained out of the public eye for so long because they’re usually buried in the sand. The rock faces are visible only at low tide and after a storm.

In 2022, Jim McDonnell, another photographer friend of the interviewer, came across photos of Capello’s sculpture from a past show at Nabi Gallery. “He has a good eye and he could see it was from the same hand,” said Vita. “The gallery’s website mentioned that the artist grew up in Brooklyn. That was a big clue.” In the NY Times review of the artist’s 1999 show at Nabi, Phyllis Braff writes: “Very traditional in feeling, John Philip Capello's figurative marble sculpture combines an archaic appearance with evidence of the image being taken from the stone.”

John Philip Capello is a self-taught sculptor and painter who was mentored by his brother Luciano. “He was the only teacher I had,” Capello says in his oral history. “I never took any formal classes.” In this 2017 video recorded at the Parrish Art Museum, Capello gives a slide talk about his work.  The artist has exhibited at many galleries, including Summa Gallery in New York City and Romany Kramoris Gallery in Sag Harbor. He is a member of the National Society of Mural Painters, Artist Alliance of East Hampton, and Southampton Artists Association. His paintings and sculpture are represented in over 100 private collections.

“One of the things I enjoyed about being a stone carver,” says Capello, “is I'm a painter, but the paintings will perish. The stone will last, so they leave a legacy.”

John Philip Capello

posted Dec 18th, 2022 in News and tagged with John Philip Capello, artist, sculptor,...