Coney Island’s history has been shaped by fire. Nearly every block of the amusement zone burned to the ground or was destroyed by fire during the first century of development. Many of the fires spread into massive conflagrations due to low water pressure in the community’s fire hydrants, a defect that allowed fires to spread unchecked. After the disastrous 1932 fire that destroyed four square blocks of amusements and residential buildings, the city finally built a new pumping station to serve the needs of the fire department.

The beautiful new pumping station designed by famed architect Irwin Chanin opened in 1938 on Coney Island Creek. The Art Deco structure was unusual for Coney Island and much different than most municipal structures which were commonly utilitarian and devoid of ornamentation. Chanin commissioned a pair of winged horse sculptures for the entrance to the elliptical limestone and granite Moderne structure, creating a magnificent monument amidst Coney’s ephemeral landscape. 

Decades later the building was decommissioned and sealed up, leaving it vulnerable to vandalism. The sculptures were saved and relocated to the Brooklyn Museum, where they are stabled next to the rear entrance. Nowadays, the Pumping Station survives in a state of arrested decay, surrounded by a community garden. The rear of the property bordering Coney Island Creek, is used as a popular fishing spot.

Numerous proposals have surfaced recently to repurpose the building for community usage including as a Coney Island ferry terminal, ecology center, or museum. The structure was proposed for a landmark designation in 1980 and languished since then until it was included in a “mass de-calendering” proposed last year by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Now its future is in doubt.

Coney Island Pumping Station

On October 8 there will be a public hearing to decide the future landmark status of this important building. Coney Island has lost many historic structures during the last few years so it is imperative that this important community asset be saved for future generations. – Charles Denson

Please sign the Art Deco Society of New York's petition:

For more information about the public hearing or to submit written comments to save the Pumping Station, visit the Landmarks Preservation Commission site at:



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,...

When Frank Newlands contacted me last year we began an animated conversation that led to a long time mystery being solved. As a child I was impressed by the dazzling lights of Steeplechase Park, the whirling rides and great steel-and-glass pavilion were a sight to behold. The fourteen-acre park was covered with glittering necklaces of bright bare bulbs. The glowing interior steel latticework of the pavilion was particularly impressive, each beam and girder lined with bright diamonds. But I always wondered: how do they change all those bulbs? And who keeps them all lit? Frank was able to provide the answer, as it was his job to climb everything from the parachute jump, to the dizzying heights of the pavilion, to the top of the Steeplechase tower, and change the old-fashioned light bulbs. And he operated without a net! Frank Newlands' interview tells the inside story of what it was like to work at the magnificent Steeplechase Park in its last days.  – Charles Denson


posted Sep 16th, 2015 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

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,...

Coney Island History Project

We were excited to see write-ups about the Coney Island History Project in Sing Tao, the world's largest Chinese newspaper! The articles are about the Coney history slide talk we gave on September 2nd at the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn in Gravesend. Archivist Jen Garland presented the talk, which was interpreted into Cantonese for us by Rodney Lau, former senior translator at the United Nations. Thank you to Paul Chan, Senior Center Director, for inviting us, and to Terri Jeu, Program Manager, for facilitating our visit.

The program is part of our outreach efforts in Southern Brooklyn where we are recording oral history interviews  with immigrants and foreign-born New Yorkers in English as well as languages such as Chinese, Russian and Turkish. 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 Mark Treyger.

Sing Tao Daily

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.

History Day 2015

Enjoy live music, dancing and history at the 5th Annual History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island's oldest amusement park, and the Coney Island History Project. This year's festivities are a celebration of the 95th anniversary of the 1920 landmark Deno's Wonder Wheel and the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Spook-A-Rama, Coney's last classic dark ride. The free event will be held from 1-6pm on Saturday, August 8. The rain date is August 9.

Pick up a schedule and souvenir map of the historic attractions in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park at locations throughout the park and at the Coney Island History Project. PLUS see our Stilt Walker for a 95th Anniversary Balloon!

History Day activities will be at the following locations:

Boardwalk Stage

History Day Opening Ceremony with the Vouderis family of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, historian Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project, and Special Guests 1pm

DJ George Marchelos playing retro music 1-6pm

Brooklyn Swings performing and showing us the steps to popular dances of the 1920s and 1950s. Dance the Charleston and the Bop in a public salute to the Wonder Wheel and Spook-A-Rama! 1:30-3:30pm

Magician Bob Yorburg, performing "Professor Phineas Feelgood's World of Magic" and presenting a band organ tribute to the Wonder Wheel with friends from the Carousel Organ Association of America 4-5pm

West 12th St in front of Coney Island History Project & Walkway to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

Special exhibit of historic Spook-A-Rama figures and signs 1-6pm

Aldo Mancusi, founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum, will bring his hand-cranked band organ and battery-operated monkey to History Day. Mr Mancusi is a member of the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) and Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA). Crank a tune and receive a certificate commemorating History Day! 1-6pm

Be part of living history! Tell your story! The History Project will record visitors who have Coney Island stories for its Oral History Archive. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past at the History Project's exhibit center. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with a 'Skully' from Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase park its name. 1-7pm

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

Walk inside the iconic 1960s Astroland Rocket, which was brought home to Coney Island last summer and has a new home in Wonder Wheel Park! 1-6pm

Plus: The first 100 people who ride the Wonder Wheel will receive a Limited Edition Commemorative Button as a gift. Dress in 1920s garb and get one Free Ride on the Wheel! The Wonder Wheel opens at 12pm

Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, 1025 Boardwalk at Denos D. Vourderis Place (West 12th St)

The Coney Island History Project, 3059 West 12th St off the Boardwalk

Coney Island History Project

On July 4th, visitors came from as far as Australia and as near as New York City's five boroughs dressed in patriotic attire. They wore liberty-themed T-shirts; the Stars and Stripes; and red, white and blue from head to toe. Here are just a few of the souvenir photos that we snapped at the Coney Island History Project on Independence Day. Visit our flickr page to see the complete set.

Coney Island History Project

The History Project’s exhibition center is open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays through Labor Day. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with "Skully," a veteran of the Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama, and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Coney Island History Project

Photo Showing Restoration of 1823 Toll House Sign, Coney Island’s Oldest Artifact, Now on View at Coney Island History Project

Among the treasures on display at the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center this season is Coney Island’s oldest surviving artifact from the dawn of the “World’s Playground.” The 1823 Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to “the Island” was 5 cents!

The earliest settlers of Coney Island knew better than to build at the ocean’s edge. In the early days, development began along Coney Island Creek, where violent winter storms were less likely to wash away structures. Coney Island remained isolated until March 1823, when the Coney Island Road and Bridge Company constructed a bridge and toll house on Coney Island Creek at what is now Shell Road. The Coney Island Causeway toll road opened for business in early 1824 and horse-drawn carriages were soon speeding south to the beach.

James Cropsey and Daniel Morell operated the toll house until 1839. John Lefferts took over as toll-taker until 1876, when Andrew Culver bought the property for his Prospect Park and Coney Island Railroad, the predecessor of today’s Culver Line. Coney’s first hotel, the Coney Island House, opened on a sand dune a short distance away on the current site of McDonalds’s restaurant on Neptune Avenue. This small triangle of land witnessed the beginning of Coney Island as a resort.

The Toll House stood at the corner of Shell Road and Coney Island Creek for over a century before the City demolished it in 1929 during a street-widening project. The sign was rescued by Coney Island ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels, who put it on display in his American Museum of Public Recreation on West 8th Street and Neptune Avenue. Mangels collection was sold in 1955 and the sign was purchased and restored by the Coney Island History Project in 2007.

1823 Toll House Sign on View at Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center, on West 12th Street under the Wonder Wheel

Today, the 192-year-old sign, often described as Coney Island’s “first admission ticket,” is on view for the first time since 2010 at the History Project’s exhibit center. It complements this season’s special exhibit “Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920.” Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island including Coney Island Creek itself.

The History Project’s exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with “Skully,” a veteran of the Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama, and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

posted Jun 24th, 2015 in Events and tagged with