Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Among the new additions to the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive are the following interviews recorded by Kaara Baptiste, Keenan Chen, Charles Denson, Leila Goldstein, Julia Kanin, Ali Lemer, Shavon Meyers,  Mónica Cordero Sancho, and Tricia Vita. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story remotely via phone, Skype or Zoom, sign up here. We record interviews in English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places.

Coney Island resident Stanislav Baev is the founder of American Alliance for Protection of Animals, a not-for-profit that promotes animal welfare. In addition to rescuing animals from the streets and finding foster and forever homes for them, AAPA manages two feral cat colonies in Southern Brooklyn. Recorded in Russian with Russian transcript and English translation.

Jeffrey Berman, 77, is a Coney Island native who has lived in Sea Gate since establishing his first artist's studio here when he was in his 30s. On teaching drawing from life at the Seaside Innovative Senior Center, he says: "For older artists, this is a good thing.  You have to develop a memory for what you're looking at, so a lot of things go into working from life. You get eye hand coordination. Your mind gets new pathways."

Greg Birbil recalls 'Pop's store' - the Paradise Luncheonette - a fixture on Surf Avenue across from Steeplechase Park from 1928 through the 1950s. He also shares stories of working at Steeplechase as a teen and the community of Greeks from Asia Minor in Coney Island in the 1940s-'50s.

Nancy Gabriel, 94, talks about visiting her great uncle, Peter Lazaris, who ran a food concession at Steeplechase Pool from the 1930s through the 1950s, and riding the Steeplechase horses and the Chanticleer carousel.

Lifelong Brighton Beach resident Amparo Garcia shares stories of Brighton then and now. While many of her Lincoln High School classmates have relocated to the Carolinas and Florida, Amparo has no plans to leave Brighton Beach. "I'm not ready. It's not for me," she says. "I have everything right here."

Roller coaster enthusiast John Hunt has been building scale models of coasters and amusement park attractions since he was a boy. Among his most popular models are Coney Island's world-famous landmarks -- the Cyclone Roller Coaster, Deno’s Wonder Wheel and the Parachute Jump.

Barbara Unterman Jones shares memories of being one of the first families to move into Coney Island's NYCHA Gravesend Houses when it was built in 1954. She recalls a sense of community with residents sitting on a bench in front of the building, seltzer delivery to her door, and having free run of the neighborhood, including the beach and boardwalk, as a child.

Sheldon Krimsky lived at 2995 West 29th Street until he graduated from college. "When I went back to my street, there is almost nothing that is the same," he says. "Everything was razed to the ground." His memories of growing up in the 1940s and '50s include playing stickball and street games and publishing a newspaper with his classmates at Mark Twain.

Robert Levrini shares memories of growing up on West 5th Street, where he was allowed to roam as far as Coney Island Creek and the amusement area. His grandfather’s shoe repair shop on Ocean Parkway left an indelible impression. He says that to this day when he shines a pair of shoes, he can feel his Grandfather Levrini's presence.

Michael Liff recalls growing up in Coney Island across the street from the amusement area where he worked as a teen in the 1970s. His favorite job was running the Tornado, where he got to know the coaster's every dip and turn, and did everything from greasing the tracks, loading riders, and pulling the breaks to collecting money for re-rides by saying "Fifty cents to do it again!"

Carole Scheer tells the story of her father, Anthony Cosmo Pomaro, who owned and operated Cosmo Topper's Beauty Parlor on Mermaid Avenue. Open from 1950-1973, the store was originally located near West 36th Street and later moved to a larger space between 32nd and 33rd. 

Coney Island resident Gabriel Valencia has worked at Gregory & Paul's Boardwalk eatery, now called Paul's Daughter, for 25 years. He recounts his first impressions of Brooklyn, the captivating ocean view from Paul's store, and how the menu items and Coney Island's amusement area have changed over the years. Recorded in Spanish with Spanish transcript and English translation.

Juanhua Zhao, Tai chi teacher at Coney Island Seaside Innovative Senior Center, shares her life story. Born in 1938 in Guangdong Province, China, she and her husband first came to the US in 1998. They settled in Coney Island to be near their son, who lives in Bensonhurst. Recorded in Cantonese with Chinese transcript and English translation.

posted Dec 26th, 2020 in News and tagged with oral history, Interviews, Coney Island History Project,...

Happy New Year

 

As the terrible days of 2020 fade into history, we look forward to a season of recovery in 2021 that enables us to be reunited with our Coney Island friends. We're grateful to all of our members, funders, and friends for your continued enthusiasm and support, and proud of all that we've accomplished this year and during the past 16 years. Special thanks go to Carol Albert for her ongoing support of our mission. Carol co-founded the Coney Island History Project with Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, the creator of Astroland Park. We also thank the Vourderis family, operators of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, for providing us a home, and for their interest in preserving Coney Island's history.

We can’t wait to celebrate the Wonder Wheel’s 100th anniversary in 2021 - its 101st year. The Coney Island History Project’s special exhibition on the 100th anniversary of the Wheel was also delayed, but will appear next season to document one of Coney Island's most remarkable survival stories. We also extend an invitation to anyone with a Coney Island story to contact us and sign up for an oral history interview. It's more important than ever to keep Coney Island's heritage alive!

In 2021, you can also explore Coney Island history through new episodes of our Coney Island Stories podcast; oral histories, videos and virtual exhibitions on the History Project website; and free Zoom activities and outdoor events. Your donation or membership today will help support our 501(c)(3) nonprofit's community programming. Through December 31, 2020, the CARES Act lets donors deduct up to $300 in qualified charitable contribution whether or not you itemize your 2020 return.

We’re counting the days until we meet again in Coney Island for the 2021 season!

Charles Denson
Executive Director
 

posted Dec 24th, 2020 in News and tagged with Coney Island, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year,...

Michael Goldstein

We're sad to learn that our friend Michael Goldstein, known as "Looch," passed away on December 16 at the age of 78 in North Carolina after heart surgery. A longtime game operator on Coney Island's Bowery, he started out in 1954 as a 12-year-old, earning 75 cents an hour, and by his fourth year was a partner in the game. "It was a different era, a different culture," he says in this oral history recorded in 2017 by Charles Denson for the Coney Island History Project. 

Looch grew up at 2907 Mermaid Avenue in an apartment above Rosenberg's Deli and recalls all the stores and attractions in the neighborhood. His voice and memories are featured in Mermaid Avenue in the 1950's, a film by Charles Denson.

posted Dec 17th, 2020 in News and tagged with In Memoriam, oral history, Michael Goldstein,...

Richard Glazer Danay

As Native American Heritage Month comes to a close,  listen to our oral history interview with Richard Glazer Danay, an artist who grew up in Coney Island and whose artwork celebrates his Mohawk iron worker ancestry. His extended family lived on West 16th Street and split their time between the Kahnawake (Caughnawaga) Mohawk reservation in Quebec and New York, where his father, uncles and cousins, as well as himself as a young man, were employed as iron workers. He was the first member of his family to be born in Coney Island.  

Photo Credit: Bingo War Bonnet from "Modern Mohawk Headdresses" series, 1995. Peabody Essex Museum Collection.

Small Business Saturday Coney Island

On Small Business Saturday take a moment and listen to the Coney Island History Project's oral histories of small business owners on Mermaid Avenue and #ShopSmall. Pictured here are Ho Cheung Li of J & R Pharmacy, Sabino Eugenio and Magda Perez of Mermaid Prime Meats, Steven Feinstein of the 100-year-old Wilensky Hardware, and Derrick Batts of Coney Island Hook & Bait Shop on West 24th St off Mermaid.  J & R Pharmacy and Wilensky Hardware are also featured in Episode 4 of our new podcast, which tells the stories of Mermaid Avenue’s mom and pop businesses founded by immigrants, past and present.

posted Nov 28th, 2020 in News and tagged with Small Business Saturday, Shop Small, Shop Local,...

Happy Thanksgiving Coney Island History Project

Happy Thanksgiving  from All of Us at the Coney Island History Project!

posted Nov 25th, 2020 in News and tagged with Thanksgiving, Happy Thanksgiving, postcard,...

Thunderbolt Roller Coaster

Twenty years ago today, Coney Island's original Thunderbolt roller coaster was demolished. "Giuliani Razed Roller Coaster, And the Law" wrote Dan Barry in the NY Times in 2003, when "a federal jury in Manhattan ruled that the city had no justification for tearing down the Thunderbolt, and in doing so had trespassed on Mr. Bullard's property. It also determined that one city official, who was integral in the decision to demolish, had acted with 'deliberate indifference.' '' Photos of the Thunderbolt demolition in the Coney Island History Project Collection may be viewed here.

The Thunderbolt roller coaster was built in 1925 and operated until 1982. Famous as the inspiration for "The House Under the Roller Coaster" in Woody Allen's film Annie Hall, the coaster steadily decayed after its closing. In 2000, with Keyspan Park under construction next door, the city condemned the coaster as structurally unsound. Despite protests from preservationists and coaster enthusiasts, on November 17th, 2000, the Thunderbolt was demolished. 

posted Nov 17th, 2020 in History and tagged with Thunderbolt, Roller Coaster, demolition,...

Stauch's Movie Theater Coney Island

Today's #ThrowbackThursday photo shows the original Stauch’s building on Coney Island's Bowery at Stillwell being demolished in 1940 to make way for the Bobsled. It was a movie theater called Stauch's Old Time Movies in its last days. Photo from the Coney Island History Project Collection.

posted Nov 5th, 2020 in History and tagged with Stauch's, movie theater, Bowery,...

Alfie Davis

We were deeply saddened to hear that long time Coney Island resident and advocate Alfie Davis had passed away. She was a stylish, determined woman who cared deeply about her community and the environment, especially Coney Island Creek. Her passing is a heavy loss for Coney Island. We're honored to have recorded the story of three generations of her family for the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. You can listen to her oral history interview here.

posted Nov 2nd, 2020 in News and tagged with In Memoriam, oral history, Alfie Davis

Tornado Roller Coaster

The Tornado -- Whirlwind Scenic Ride --Coney Island, NY. Postcard from the Coney Island History Project Collection.

Listen online to the Coney Island History Project's new oral history with Michael Liff. He shares stories of growing up in Coney Island and working in the amusement area as a teen in the 1970's. Working at the Tornado was his favorite job. He got to know the coaster's every dip and turn, and did everything from greasing the tracks, loading riders, and pulling the breaks to collecting money for re-rides by saying "Fifty cents to do it again!" Liff says "my love was for the Tornado" when asked to compare it to Coney Island's other legendary wooden coasters built in the 1920s, the Thunderbolt and the Cyclone. He also worked at Astroland's Diving Bell, kiddie rides, and haunted attractions, as well as the Bowery's water race games, where he learned to call people in. "I'm glad I have these memories," he says of Coney Island, which besides being a fun place to work is where he met his wife of nearly 40 years. "It gave me the opportunity to have a beautiful family. So it's something very close to my heart."

posted Oct 30th, 2020 in History and tagged with Tornado, Roller Coaster, 1970s,...