Antonio Zamperla and Valerio Ferrari, Coney Island, March 2010. Photo by Charles Denson
The new Luna Park site, February 2010. Photo by Charles Denson
Coney Island History Project Provides Research, Ride Plans to Zamperla USA
Central Amusement International president & CEO Valerio Ferrari, who is overseeing his company's ride development for the new Luna Park, recently consulted the Coney Island History Project. Mr. Ferrari requested historical information about the Astrotower to help with a possible resurrection of the iconic Coney attraction. We researched the tower's history and provided the original plans and archival photographs.
The images show the 1964 installation of the ride once known as the "Bagel-in-the-Sky" for its rotating glass-enclosed car that rides to the top of the tower. We hope someday to see the 270-foot remnant of Astroland become the centerpiece of Coney Island's new Luna Park.
The $1.7 million Astrotower was manufactured by the Swiss company Von Roll. It required a foundation of 1,100 tons of concrete and 13 tons of steel reinforcing bars. Like Astroland's other space-age themed rides, the tower was built specifically for the park. It did not come from the New York World's Fair. Von Roll was purchased by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group in 1996.
Installation of the Astrotower, 1964
Available 365 Days a Year via the Coney Island History Project's Website
Throughout the year, visitors are invited to download the History Project's FREE audio/video walking tour of "Coney Island's Amusement Area — Past & Present" and explore the neighborhood. Narrated by historian Charles Denson, the Coney Island History Project's audio tours make the People's Playground accessible to visitors and armchair travelers 365 days a year.
Archival and contemporary photos, historical facts, anecdotes, and guided observation are used to explore Coney Island's past and present as well as its future possibilities. Highlighting historic landmarks and sites endangered by redevelopment, the tours provide valuable perspective on the historic and cultural importance of a world-famous neighborhood on the cusp of redevelopment.
The tour is downloadable to iPods and other portable players and may be listened to live via iPhone. The FREE download and a map are available on the Coney Island History Project website's Tours page.
The Coney Island History Project's Audio Tour Program is funded in part by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; NYC Councilman Domenic Recchia; Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz; New York State Office of Parks; Recreation and Historic Preservation; State Assemblyman Alec Brook Krasny; and the Johanna Favrot Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Charles Denson, executive director of the Coney Island History Project is pleased to announce that on Monday, February 22nd, at 1:30 pm, a group of CIHP members will retrieve artifacts, including floor tiles and bricks, from the historic Feltman’s kitchen on the former Astroland site and the future home of Central Amusements International’s New Luna Park.
The Feltman’s building is the last remnant of the restaurant complex owned by Charles Feltman, the inventor of the hot dog. Nathan Handwerker worked in Feltman’s kitchen before he went on to found Nathan’s Famous.
The site visit was arranged with the cooperation of Lynn Kelly, President of the Coney Island Development Corporation, whose idea it was to offer these artifacts to the Coney Island History Project. We are grateful for this opportunity to gather these mementos and put them on display in Summer 2010 at our exhibition center under the Cyclone. Since the property is currently under construction and a site visit may present risks and hazards, the History Project received special permission from the City to access the site.
The Feltman’s building underwent asbestos abatement and is set to be demolished due to structural instability according to the NYCEDC. Other structures on the property, including the Astrotower and the two Sky Ride stations, will be repurposed by the NYCEDC for the new amusement park set to open this summer.
Feltman's c. 1955. The kitchen is highlighted in blue.
The Wonder Wheel is going green! Solar panels are being added to power a re-creation of the original 1920s lighting scheme on the swinging cars. Charles Denson interviews D.J. Vourderis, grandson of Wonder Wheel Park founder Denos Vourderis and the man behind the restoration. Listen to the entire interview in our Oral History Archive.
CIHP director, Charles Denson with Joe Rollino, 2008.
On Monday, we were saddened to read in the Daily News that 104-year-young Coney Island strongman and boxer Joe Rollino (aka 'Kid Dundee') had been hit by a van and killed while out for his morning walk. He was the oldest person interviewed for the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive and what a talker he was! You can listen to the audio interview with CIHP Director Charles Denson here.
Born on March 19, 1905 in Brooklyn, Mr. Rollino knew Houdini and Jimmy Durante, who also got their start in Coney Island. He recorded this rare interview after Charles Denson attended his 103rd birthday party and gave him a copy of his book “Coney Island Lost and Found.” The former Coney Island strongman, Olympic athlete and professional boxer tells stories about Charles Atlas (aka Angelo Siciliano), Charles Bronson, Marlon Brando, and his mentor, strongman Warren Lincoln Travis, among others. He says the doctors told him his heart had the rhythms of a 30 year old. As a member of the Icebergs winter swimming club, he prided himself on being able to remain in the cold water for 45 minutes.
Today’s New York Times paid tribute to Mr. Rollino’s remarkable health and longevity with a story titled “At a Mighty 104, Gone While Still Going Strong.”“He was one of the last links to the old strongman days of Coney Island,” Mr. Denson says in the Times. “Coney Island was the training ground for strongmen. He was one of the best.”
This morning at the Kickoff event of the IAAPA (The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) Attractions Expo 2009 in Las Vegas, Fred Thompson and Skip Dundy, the team who created Coney Island's legendary Luna Park (1903-1946), were inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame. Attending the ceremony and accepting the award on behalf of Coney Island's amusement pioneers were historian Charles Denson, Executive Director of the Coney Island History Project and Carol Hill Albert, co-founder of the Coney Island History Project and operator of Coney Island's Cyclone roller coaster. Photos and a video of this morning's ceremony will be available later this afternoon.
"I'm thrilled for the Coney Island History Project to be accepting this award on behalf of Fred Thompson," said Carol Hill Albert, who founded the History Project with her husband Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park. "The Coney Island History Project is located under the world famous Coney Island Cyclone, built in l927, and inspired by the powerful imagination of Fred Thompson. Coney Island's fabulous history was always an answer to 'Can You Top This' and Fred Thompson placed the bar so high that even today amusement parks all over the world are reaping its benefit."
We'd like to see Coney Island rebuilt with the same sense of creativity and wonder that Thompson and Dundy showed 100 years ago," said Charles Denson, Executive Director of the Coney Island History Project and author of Coney Island Lost and Found. "Thompson and Dundy were risk takers who used new technology to create a sense of wonder. They were competitors who joined forces. Their creativity came out of competition. Coney Island needs multiple operators to succeed."
Thompson and Dundy came to Coney Island in 1902 with "A Trip to the Moon," which had been a sensation at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. After a season at George C. Tilyou's Steeplechase Park, they leased the former Sea Lion Park from Paul Boyton and built Luna Park, named after Dundy's sister Luna. According to Dundy's obituary in the New York Times, "Mr. Thompson supplied the inventive faculty for the concern, and Mr. Dundy attended to the no less complicated matter of obtaining three-quarters of a million required to start the enterprise. When the gates were thrust open to the public, the partners had just $11 between them."
In 2005, on the occasion of Fred Thompson's induction into the History Project's Coney Island Hall of Fame, historian Charles Denson wrote: "Fred Thompson and his business partner, Skip Dundy, unveiled their greatest creation on the night of May 16, 1903. Luna Park, a fantasyland of exotic towers, minarets, and domes, strung with half a million electric lights, opened for business to an enthralled crowd who had never experienced anything like it... The park, an instant success, featured the Electric Tower, the Dragon's Gorge, a wild animal show and circus, a helter-skelter slide, the Old Mill, and hundreds of other rides and attractions. Elephants and camels strolled the grounds. But it was the park's fantasy architecture that was the main draw. Thompson boasted how he "eliminated all classic conventional forms" and for his model drew on "a sort of free Renaissance and Oriental type."
About IAAPA and the IAAPA HALL of Fame
IAAPA (The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) is the largest international trade association for permanently situated amusement facilities worldwide and is dedicated to the preservation and prosperity of the amusement industry.
The IAAPA Hall of Fame was established in 1990 and is considered the amusement industry's highest honor. According to IAAPA, the awards "celebrate outstanding achievement and contributions to the growth and development of the amusement park and attractions industry; an industry that, like few others, depends on the imaginations, talents, and vision of its dream builders." Honorees include Walt Disney, and George Ferris, inventor of the Ferris Wheel. Coney Island amusement industry pioneers who have been honored in past years include Paul Boyton, George C. Tilyou, William F Mangels, and Harry C Baker. LaMarcus A Thompson, whose Switchback Railway, the world's very first roller coaster, was on the site now graced by the Cyclone, was in the very first class of honorees in 1990. Short videos highlighting the work of the IAAPA Hall of Fame honorees, including Thompson and Dundy, can be viewed on IAAPA's website.
The IAAPA Attractions Expo in Las Vegas (November 16-20) will showcase the hottest new products and services and host networking and education opportunities available only at the premier annual conference and trade show for the attractions industry. Organizers estimate more than 28,000 attendees from 90 countries will benefit from IAAPA Attractions Expo. More than 1,000 exhibitors are expected to display on the trade show floor-the centerpiece of the Expo.
About the Coney Island History Project and the Coney Island Hall of Fame
The Coney Island Hall of Fame honors pioneers and visionaries whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape and define Coney Island over the past century. Past honorees include Paul Boyton (built Coney's first amusement park) Charles Feltman (inventor of the hot dog), Dr Martin Couney (Inventor of the Baby Incubator, an exhibit at Luna Park) George C. Tilyou (creator of Steeplechase Park) and ride inventor William F Mangels.
The Coney Island History Project, founded in 2004, is a 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. The History Project was founded 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. Our mission is to record, archive and share oral history interviews; provide access to historical artifacts and documentary material through educational exhibits, events, tours and a website. In 2009, the History Project debuted the first ever audio/video walking tour of Coney Island. Available as a free download from the CIHP website, the tours provide valuable perspective on the historic and cultural importance of a world-famous neighborhood on the cusp of redevelopment.
Charles Denson's film "The Prince of Mermaid Avenue" was awarded Best Documentary Feature at the 9th Annual Coney Island Film Festival.
The film is about Jimmy Prince owner of Major Meats on Mermaid Avenue, who retired in February after 60 years at Major Market, Coney's oldest Butcher shop. The film project began with Denson's daily visits to Major Market and his audio recordings for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive. The film premiered on opening night of the film festival.
The historic Coney Island Bell from the old Dreamland Park was raised from the ocean floor yesterday after nearly 100 years underwater. Charles Denson, Executive Director of the Coney Island History Project is pleased to announce that the Bell will be on special exhibition this weekend at the History Project under the Cyclone roller coaster. Also on view will be period photos of Dreamland and the Bell.
The Coney Island History Project’s free public exhibition center is located under the Cyclone at 824 Surf Avenue just east of W 10th Street. FREE ADMISSION for One and ALL! The center is open for Labor Day weekend on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Sept. 5-7). Hours are 1 to 6 p.m. Next weekend, Sept 12 and 13, the exhibition center will be open from 2 to 6 p.m. in conjunction with Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival
Also on view will be period photos of Dreamland and the Bell along with Charles Denson's photos documenting the raising of the Bell.
The 500-pound bronze bell once welcomed visitors arriving at the pier of Coney Island’s old Dreamland Park, which was on the site of the New York Aquarium. This Channel 7 News video shows the bell arriving at the dock yesterday after a successful rescue mission by the team from “Cultural Research Divers.” The historic bell survived the Dreamland fire of 1911 and was discovered after a 20-year quest by Coney Island diver Gene Ritter.