Coney Island Blog - News

Coney Island Council Member Mark Treyger and Brighton Council Member Chaim Deutsch have introduced a resolution to designate Coney Island's iconic Riegelmann Boardwalk a scenic landmark. The resolution calls on the City's Landmarks Preservation Commission to recognize the structure as one of the City's historic landmarks. Co-sponsors included 49 other council members and the City's Public Advocate, giving the resolution nearly unanimous support. In recent years the Boardwalk has been allowed to deteriorate and some of it has been replaced with a concrete surface turning the famed Boardwalk into an ugly sidewalk. 

Treyger, with the help of Coney Island History Project Director Charles Denson, originally filed an application with the LPC to landmark the Boardwalk on December 2nd, 2014. Treyger, Denson, and neighboring Council Member Deutsch met with Landmarks Preservation Commission officials last year urging them to consider the historical context under which the Boardwalk was built.

"The Boardwalk is one of our community’s most precious assets," said Council Member Treyger. "For nearly a century, the Boardwalk’s 2.7 mile span has welcomed millions of people, locals and tourists alike. Whether it is parents pushing strollers, seniors socializing, joggers exercising, sightseers photographing, or even couples taking romantic walks along its classic wooden planks, the Boardwalk is and has been a cultural and social touchstone for all residents of Southern Brooklyn, as well as its global audience.

"This beloved local treasure deserves official status so that its defining structural and aesthetic characteristics are preserved and protected. The landmarking process in the city must take into account all the city’s neighborhoods. Landmarking across the city needs to be an equitable process, because Southern Brooklyn has a cultural and historic tradition, too. We have already lost notable historic structures in our community to development because of our city’s sluggish landmarking system. We must ensure that what remains of our area’s past stays intact."

The resolution was also supported by Borough President Eric L. Adams, Assembly Member Pamela Harris, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, Senator Diane Savino, and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries who added: "The Riegelmann Boardwalk is an indelible part of New York City’s history and of the Coney Island community. Those classic wooden planks have witnessed New York legends ranging from Fiorello La Guardia and John Lindsay to David Dinkins – as well as millions from around the world who came to visit the greatest city in the world. Replacing them now would be akin to knocking down the Empire State or Chrysler Building. We cannot allow this treasured part of New York to be wiped away. Council Member Treyger and all involved should be commended for their leadership in this effort."

There are two other scenic landmarks in Brooklyn: Ocean Parkway and Eastern Parkway. The Riegelmann Boardwalk meets the same criteria for landmark status as these parkways and the time has come to recognize and protect the Boardwalk and its legacy before it is too late.

posted Feb 6th, 2016 in News and tagged with

Orla History Coney Island Polar Bear

On January 1st, the Coney Island Polar Bears will kick off their 113th year of winter swimming with the New Year's Day Plunge into the Atlantic. Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive is an interview with Polar Bear Club member Abiodun "Abi" Bello, which you can listen to on our website.

Interviewer Samira Tazari mixed audio recorded on November 1st at the first swim of the season and at the Coney Island History Project's recording studio. "What most people don't know is the Polar Bears swim every Sunday from November," says Bello. "Trust me, try it one day, you're going to like it." The native of Lagos, Nigeria, has been swimming with the Bears since 2010. 

After moving to New York City in 1988, Abi Bello lived in Coney Island for two years, but did not swim here until a running injury sent him in search of "the best therapy." He speaks enthusiastically about the health benefits of cold water swimming, the camaraderie of the club, being the last one out of the water, and how you can join and support the January 1st Polar Bear Plunge. The Club's New Year's Day swim is a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, which provides recreational programs for children with cancer and their families.

posted Dec 25th, 2015 in News and tagged with oral history, Interview, Polar Bear,...

The grand finale of Coney's 2015 season also kicks off the 2016 season with a New Year's extravaganza that includes an illuminated Parachute ball drop, fireworks, a morning swim, a ride on the Winter Wonder Wheel, and much, much more! Coney Island is no longer just a summer attraction; it's the best place to be for New Year's celebrations!

This was a banner year for the Coney Island History Project. We continue our mission by recording interviews with visitors to the Wonder Wheel on New Year's Day. The recordings will be posted in the oral history archive of our newly redesigned web site. Visitors who took our walking tours also enjoyed the History Project's main exhibit, "Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore." This exhibit of historical vintage photo technology was extremely popular, opening at a time when virtual reality is becoming an everyday reality.

In August we teamed up with Deno's Wonder Wheel Park for our 5th Annual History Day. The event celebrated two historic milestones: the 95th anniversary of the landmark Wonder Wheel and the 60th anniversary of the classic Spook-A-Rama dark ride. Included in the day's events were free music, dancing, and historical exhibits.

Coney Island continues its transition with exciting new attractions rising along the Boardwalk. The Aquarium's $127 million expansion, "Ocean Wonders," will finally connect the Aquarium to the ocean with an overlook and restaurant cantilevered above the Boardwalk. A mile to the east, the long-awaited restoration of the Childs Restaurant Building has begun. The landmark structure has been gutted to the bones, soon to be combined into an adjacent 5,000-seat amphitheater, slated to open by summer, 2016.

City Council members Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch teamed up with Charles Denson to advocate for landmarking the Boardwalk

The fight to landmark the Boardwalk continues. Last May I accompanied Council members Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch to a private meeting with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to advocate for the landmarking of the Boardwalk. I gave an illustrated historical presentation to LPC staff showing that the beloved structure is indeed eligible for landmark designation. We are still awaiting the LPC's decision.

Last spring, "Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland," opened at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. This extensive show, which traveled to San Diego before coming to the Brooklyn Museum, spawned four other Coney Island shows in Brooklyn, providing a variety of off-season excitement for Coney lovers. The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, lent by the Vourderis family, and formerly the centerpiece of the Coney Island History Project, has proved to be a highlight of the show. I was honored to serve as a consultant and contributor to this extensive exhibition and its hardcover catalog.

Coney Island Creek may have received a temporary reprieve after the city's proposed flood control dam was moved (on paper) from the mouth of the creek to a site farther east on 21st Street. Many issues still need to be resolved before the feasibility study concerning this dubious creek project is released in early 2016. On a positive note, Estuary Day at Kaiser Park was a great success, and the creek's art deco pumping station received a hearing for landmark status and hopefully will be restored and repurposed sometime in the future.

Coney Island Creek: Still endangered. © Charles Denson

This summer we mourned the loss of Cindy Jacobs Allman, daughter of Ruby's Bar founder Ruby Jacobs, who passed away suddenly last May. Cindy was an educator with sand in her shoes, a personable mother who somehow found the time to work long hours at the family's Boardwalk business all summer long. She will be missed. Another loss was Cha Cha Ciarcia, proprietor of the Club Atlantis Bar on the Boardwalk who passed away this fall. His Atlantis partner, J.T., died several years ago. The Atlantis closed in 2011 after a 75-year run under many owners. The space is now occupied by Tom's Restaurant. 

On an unfortunate note, the Shore Theater, subject of endless revival rumors, was taken over by homeless vandals who've been ransacking the landmark building for months, camping inside and out, and turning the corner of Stillwell Avenue into a garbage dump. Maybe 2016 will be the year that something positive finally happens. We can only hope.

This was a year of transition and intrigue: The specter of eminent domain once again reared its ugly head as the city sought ownership of rezoned Coney properties. Developer Thor Equities grabbed more land in the heart of the amusement zone, new chain restaurants opened along Surf and Stillwell Avenues, a trendy art and food attraction opened on Thor's vacant Stillwell Avenue properties, and streets are being torn up to provide new utilities for the NYCEDC's massive residential project on what was formerly amusement-zoned Surf Avenue lots. And the late Lou Powsner, a long time Coney advocate, was honored with a street named for him. Change is in the air and all we need in 2016 is a warm and sunny summer.

The Coney Island History Project invites you to support our continuing mission of education and advocacy for a better Coney Island. Please become a member, take one of our walking tours, add your voice to our oral history project, browse our web site, or come visit our exhibit center below the Wonder Wheel in the heart of Coney Island.




posted Dec 23rd, 2015 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

New Year's Day Wonder Wheel

On January 1st, weather permitting, Deno's Wonder Wheel will be open for the first-time ever on New Year's Day and begin a countdown to the Wheel's 100th anniversary in 2020! The Coney Island History Project will be on hand to record New Year's greetings at the Wonder Wheel for our Oral History Archive

Our interviewers will be stationed at the entrance and exit of the Wheel. Stop by and record your New Year's message free of charge from 11am-2pm at this special Oral History Event. The audio greetings will be preserved in our Oral History Archive with a selection available for listening online. 

On New Year's Day, the Wheel will open from 11am-2pm for only $5 per ride with 50% of the proceeds being donated to the Coney Island Polar Bears' charity Camp Sunshine. The Wheel will also open New Year's Eve for the first time ever, weather permitting, with FREE Rides from 9pm to 11pm. Borough President Eric Adams has announced that Coney Island's countdown to 2016 will include an array of family-friendly events in addition to the Parachute Jump's digital "ball drop" and fireworks. 

Don't forget to bring your quarters: The animated windows on West 12th Street which house our neighbors Miss Coney Island ("25 cents to Fall in Love") and "Coney Island Always" ("25 cents to Smile") will also be open on New Year's Day.

Coney Island History Project Oral History Program

Visit the Coney Island History Project's redesigned Oral History Archive to listen online to audio interviews with Coney island residents, business owners, and visitors - both past and present - as well as our new Immigrant Narratives of Southern Brooklyn series. Among the recent additions to our online archive are the following interviews. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story, message us via this page to schedule an interview.

Eldorado ticket taker Mary Hood came to Coney Island as a child and worked on the Bowery well into her 90s. During the 1930s to 1950s, she worked all the sideshows in Coney Island and would also substitute for Madam Tirza at the Wine Baths when Tirza was missing in action. Charles Denson recorded several interviews a few years before she died in 2013. She was one of a kind.

Steve Arniotes and his family operated the Lido Restaurant and Bar on the Coney Island Boardwalk from 1927 until 1960. Steve and his brother were lawyers and both became judges. Arniotes describes his family roots and what it was like to operate a popular attraction at the "World's Playground."

Hector George Wallace tells the story of his immigration from Jamaica to England to Coney Island, where he has been an itinerant sign painter for the past four decades. Wallace's painting style is ubiquitous, and can be seen on the facades of Ruby's, Paul's Daughter, and Pete's Clam Bar. Although Wallace has formal art training, his signs are Coney Island primitive and have become collectibles. His style of art work is rapidly disappearing and being replaced by plastic corporate signage. 

For the Coney Island History Project's first-ever "on-ride" oral history, interviewer Samira Tazari mixed recordings of her ride on the Bowery's popular 5D Cinema and an interview with the indie attraction's owner Terry Zheng. Known as "Tommy" to his fellow Coney Island business owners, he was born Cai Feng Zheng in China, and started his business in Coney Island while still in his 20s.

A native of Kiev, Mermaid Spa founder Boris Kotlyar talks about bringing the Russian banya tradition to Coney Island. In the mid-1990s, together with Ukrainian-American friends who felt the lack of an authentic Russian bathhouse in Southern Brooklyn, he set about researching how to build a banya as close as possible to that which they remembered. The interview was recorded in Russian, and includes Russian and English transcripts.

Eva Zucker recounts memories of growing up in a Yiddish literary household in 1940s and 1950s Coney Island and Sea Gate. Her father was the Yiddish poet A. Lutzky, who made a living writing Saturday poems for the newspaper Der Tog and organizing concerts by cantors and poets. He loved to write on trolley cars and buses going from Sea Gate to Manhattan, accompanied at times by his daughter. A. Lutzky was the pseudonym of Aaron Zucker (1894-1957).

Among the more than 800,000 refugees who fled Vietnam in the years after the fall of Hanoi and safely arrived in another country are the Luong family, who were resettled in New York City and have been homeowners in Coney Island for more than 25 years. Now in his 70s and retired, Mr. Luong looks back on the hazardous journey, his first years as an immigrant, and the "sheer good luck" that brought him his first job. The interview was recorded in Cantonese, and includes Chinese and English transcripts.

One Saturday in May when we arrived to open up the Coney Island History Project exhibit center, a group of people holding signs that spelled out WILL YOU MARRY ME??????? caught our eye. A couple was getting engaged on the Wonder Wheel! After Max from Brooklyn proposed to Stef from Montreal and she said yes, they shared their story with Charles Denson in our recording studio beneath the Wonder Wheel. 

Levent Demirgil is the owner of Coney Island Gourmet in Stillwell Terminal which was shuttered for nearly three years since being devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The interview was recorded when renovations were underway and the store recently reopened as a restaurant called Magic Gyro. He talks about the history of Coney Island, and, because "it became lively once more," his hopefulness for its future. The interview was recorded in Turkish, and includes Turkish and English transcripts.

A New Look and A New Project

Eleven years ago Astroland owner Carol Albert and author Charles Denson founded the Coney Island History Project as an oral history program whose mission was to record Coney Island in living memory. Little did we know that we would be capturing the last days of an important era in Coney history.

Since our founding, Coney Island has undergone a dramatic revival and been transformed. During the last tumultuous decade we were able to record important oral histories, including those of the last members of Coney's pioneer families as well as an extensive cast of characters who contributed to Coney's illustrious past. Some of the subjects, such as Matt Kennedy and Joe Rollino, were centenarians who vividly recalled and shared a hundred years of memories. Many other subjects passed away during the last decade but not before sharing their fascinating stories with us. 

With the launch of our new website we strengthen our mission of recording and archiving oral histories. The improved format and mobile-friendly web design provide a quicker and easier way to navigate and access our extensive library of archival materials and important information regarding Coney Island and our public programs. The expanded architecture allows us to add to the archive hundreds of interviews and unseen photographs, maps, and ephemera. New technology enables us to clean and restore older recordings, including two decades of recordings made by Charles Denson for his book Coney Island: Lost and Found. We can now begin sharing our vast archive of materials.

Also highlighted is our latest project: Immigrant Narratives of Southern Brooklyn. This project is an oral history initiative that records interviews with immigrants in both English and other languages in the Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods of Coney Island, Gravesend, and Bensonhurst. You can listen to the first oral histories from the series with New Yorkers who emigrated from Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Poland and Mexico. The first interviews were conducted in English, Russian, Cantonese and Turkish. This program is part of the Cultural Immigrant Initiative 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. 


posted Oct 11th, 2015 in News and tagged with Coney Island History Project, website, oral history,...

Eddie Mark

Congratulations to Eddie Mark, the new District Manager of Community Board 13, from all of us at the Coney Island History Project!

Photo taken at the Coney Island History Project on August 15, 2015, the 25th Anniversary of the Sand Sculpting Contest. Eddie is sporting one of the vintage tees from his collection.

posted Sep 19th, 2015 in News and tagged with Eddie Mark, Community Board 13, District Manager,...

The Coney Island History Project is seeking freelance bilingual interviewers to be part of a team conducting audio interviews for our oral history program. We are recording interviews with immigrants and foreign-born New Yorkers in both English and other languages in the Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods of Coney Island, Gravesend, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst.

Interviewers must be fully bilingual in English and at least one other language and have professional training and experience in oral history or radio reporting. We are also looking for interviewers with an interest/expertise in Caribbean, Latin American, Italian American, and African American culture and studies. Please see our updated ad at for details and share it with your bilingual friends and colleagues.

Our first set of oral history interviews for the new project includes New Yorkers who emigrated from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan, Pakistan, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Poland and Mexico. Interviews were conducted in English, Russian, Cantonese and Turkish.

Photo: Samira Tazari interviewing Cornel Chan for the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Program.  ©  Coney Island History Project

posted Sep 11th, 2015 in News and tagged with Coney Island History Project, oral history, bilingual,...

Paul Boyton

Doesn't Craig Dudley, great grandson of Paul Boyton, look like his famous ancestor? Boyton built Coney Island's first enclosed amusement park - Sea Lion Park- in 1895. Erected on what would later become Luna Park, Sea Lion Park was a small collection of rides featuring the Shoot-the-Chutes water ride and the Flip-Flap looping coaster. Live sea lions also entertained visitors. Craig visited last weekend and posed for a souvenir photo with Charles Denson in front of the Coney Island History Project's History Wall honoring his great grandfather. The History Walls are at Surf Pavilion on Stillwell Avenue.

History Walls Coney Island History Project

The five kiosk exhibit is an offshoot of the Wall of Fame that the History Project opened in 2005 on West 10th Street next to Astroland. Our goal was to honor the unsung visionaries, impresarios, inventors, craftsmen, and artisans whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape Coney Island. The project was later expanded to include landmarks and architectural history. Among the 15 honorees first inducted a decade ago and featured on the History Walls are Dr. Martin Couney, whose Coney Island incubator exhibit saved over 5,000 young lives; Lt. Commander James Strong, who built the Parachute Jump; Granville T. Woods, the African-American inventor of electric roller coasters; and Lady Deborah Moody, who founded the town of Gravesend. Visit our album on flickr to see more photos of the Walls.

posted Aug 26th, 2015 in News and tagged with Paul Boyton, History Walls, Coney Island History Project,...

Coney Island City Councilman and former history teacher Mark Treyger spoke fervently about the history of America's First Playground at the 5th Annual History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and State Senator Diane Savino also spoke about Coney Island's history and its future at the opening ceremony.

Dancers from Brooklyn Swings danced the Charleston in honor of the Wonder Wheel, which is celebrating its 95th anniversary this season, and the Bop, in tribute to the 1955 spook-A-Rama dark ride.

We were honored to have Commendatore Aldo Mancusi, founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum, and his wife Lisa join us for History Day. Visitors who hand-cranked a tune on this Hofbauer street organ from the museum received a souvenir certificate commemorating the 95th anniversary of the Wonder Wheel.