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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.

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Feltman's c. 1955. The kitchen is highlighted in blue.

posted Feb 19th, 2010 in News and tagged with
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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.

posted Feb 14th, 2010 in News and tagged with
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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.”

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“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.”

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posted Jan 12th, 2010 in News and tagged with

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."

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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."

Luna Park at Night

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.

posted Nov 19th, 2009 in Events and tagged with

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.

posted Oct 11th, 2009 in News and tagged with
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Opening Night of The Coney Island Film Festival October 2, Friday, 7:30 pm at Coney Island USA

Jimmy Prince was the last link to what Mermaid Avenue meant to Coney Island in the "good old days." The Avenue was once a bustling street of family-run mom-and-pop stores. Each block had bakeries, luncheonettes, five-and-dimes, clothing and shoe stores, furniture stores, delis, and butchers. It was a tight-knit community.

The city's urban renewal plan of the 1960s called for the demolition of the entire West End, including Mermaid Avenue, and few businesses survived the development onslaught. Jimmy Prince transformed his Major Meat Market into the soul of an earlier era, a cordial oasis of tradition and hope, a throwback to what Coney Island was and what many dreamed it could be again one day. Prince worked at Major's for sixty years, seven days a week, twelve hours a day, and formed a unique relationship with a community that hungered for respect.

When Jimmy Prince finally faced retirement, it became a painful process that dragged on for over a year, just as the city was heralding another master plan. He dreaded making a formal announcement about the store's closing, but his friends could sense it was coming. His loyal customers expressed their love for him and their fear for a future without him. This film documents Jimmy's decision to retire and the painful process of leaving the Coney Island community that he loved and supported for so many years.

Event Info: Tickets for the "The Prince of Coney Island" screening only, $6 October 2, Friday, 7:30 pm

Opening Night Party tickets $25 (includes screening and party at 9:30pm with open bar and burlesque show, 21 and over to drink).
Advance ticket purchase & info@coneyislandfilmfestival.com (web site: www.coneyislandfilmfestival.com)

Screening venue for the "The Prince Of Coney Island":
Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Ave. 2nd Floor, Coney Island
(please note: this venue is not wheelchair accessible)

posted Sep 30th, 2009 in Events and tagged with

Free Event at the Aquarium's Jellyfish Tank & Coney Island Public Library

The Coney Island History Project is pleased to be one of the sponsors of Parachute, Coney's Island's first annual literary and performance festival set to debut next weekend. Described as "two days of poetry, prose, spoken word, performance and jellyfish in Coney Island," the free event takes place at the New York Aquarium's Alien Stingers exhibit in Coney Island (Surf Ave at West 8th Street) at 6:30 pm on September 12 and 13. Reservations are recommended. for the free event. Email parachutefestival@gmail.com or RSVP via the Parachute Festival's Facebook fan page.

 

"The goal is to create something new and create a bridge over the whole neighborhood — east and west. Festival-goers can come, spend the day, walk around Coney Island, eat lunch at a local restaurant, ride the Cyclone and enjoy a poetry reading," says festival director and poet Amanda Deutch. The History Project's exhibition center will be open next weekend from 2-6 p.m. in conjunction with festival. Stop by to view the Dreamland Bell and Coney Island Icons exhibit, pick up a festival program, and sample Stumptown Coffee. Festival-goers are also invited to download the History's Project's free audio tour of Coney Island to their iPods or listen to it live on their iPhones.

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Featured readers include an array of established and up-and-coming Brooklyn based poets and writers. Saturday evening's program will be hosted by the legendary local artist and performer Africasso. Saturday's readers are Cara Benson, Charles Denson (Coney Island: Lost and Found), Jibade Khalil Huffman (19 Names for our Band), Dennis Nurkse (former Brooklyn Poet Laureate), Akilah Oliver, Patricia Spear Jones and Edwin Torres.

Sunday evening's program will be hosted by the illustrious burlesque dancer Angie Pontani (Miss Cyclone). Readers include Edmund Berrigan,poet and member of the band, I Feel Tractor; Michael Cirelli, poet and founder of Urban Word NYC; post-punk poet Eileen Myles and John Ventimiglia ("Artie Bucco" from The Sopranos) reading Henry Miller's words on Coney Island.

Free poetry workshops will be led by Urban Word NYC, Patricia Spears Jones and Cara Benson at the Coney Island Public Library on Mermaid Avenue and 19th Street. Email parachutefestival@gmail.com for reservations or more information.

Festival sponsors are Poets & Writers, Bowery Arts & Sciences, Astella Development Corporation, Coney Island History Project. Stumptown Coffee Roasters, The Farm on Adderley, JoMart Chocolates, Coney Island Public Library and New York Aquarium.

posted Sep 8th, 2009 in Events and tagged with

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.

posted Sep 4th, 2009 in Events and tagged with

NEW! "The Amusement Area: Past & Present," the first-ever Audio Walking Tour of Coney Island! 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.

Boardwalk walking tour

Highlighting historic landmarks and sites endangered by redevelopment, the Coney Island History Project's free audio tours make the People's Playground accessible to visitors and armchair travelers 365 days a year. The tours provide valuable perspective on the historic and cultural importance of a world-famous neighborhood on the cusp of redevelopment.

Currently in beta test version, the History Project's free tours are downloadable as -- Audio + pictures/video on desktop/laptops -- Audio-only MP3 file for download to portable players (older iPods + non-iPod players) -- Audio + pictures/video for download to iPods and iPhones. There is also a version for playback on the iPhone via the AT&T mobile network.

The tour script is written and narrated by Charles Denson, CIHP Executive Director, Coney Island native and author of the award-winning book Coney Island Lost & Found.The first tour covers the Amusement Area: Past & Present. Highlights include Coney Island's four New York City landmarks: the 1920 Wonder Wheel and 1927 Cyclone Roller Coaster, which are operating rides; the 1939 Parachute Jump, refurbished by the city and celebrated as "Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower"; and the 1924 Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk, which is currently Lola Staar's Dreamland Roller Rink.

Sites endangered by change of ownership and redevelopment plans are another component of the tour. These sites include the Grasshorn Building (Coney's oldest, circa 1888); the 1925 Shore Theatre; Ruby's Bar and other vernacular architecture and signage along the Boardwalk, Bowery and Jones Walk. The tours contribute to preservation of an authentic sense of place by telling the stories of Coney's landmarks as well as its endangered sites. For example, the former Grasshorn Hardware Store (Coney's oldest building) and Henderson Vaudeville Theatre (where Harpo Marx made his stage debut in 1908) are considered ineligible for landmarking because they have been altered too significantly. The process of landmarking the Shore Theater is expected to begin soon. The History Project's Audio Walking Tour will help keep these endangered sites in the public eye while there is still hope to save them.

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.

posted Aug 19th, 2009 in News and tagged with

On Sunday, Charles Denson, Executive Director of the Coney Island History Project, will give a slide presentation and talk about the fragile and endangered beauty of Coney Island Creek.

Denson, a Coney Island native, began photographing Coney Island Creek in the 1960s and 1970s when the waterway was at a low point, surrounded by industry and suffering from neglect and pollution. Since then, portions of the creek have been reclaimed, drawing both wildlife and residents to its shores. The photographs in Secrets of Coney Island Creek document those early decades and offer a fascinating and comprehensive portrait of the creek today and its relationship to the Coney Island community, from the people of diverse cultures who visit the creek and its new parks to the environmental challenges that lie ahead.

In his lecture, Charles Denson will delve into the history of Coney Island Creek, which was originally an estuarine wetland that in the 1600s supported a colonial salt works. The creek's verdant salt marshes were among the most significant in the New York City area until development began in the 1820s. He will also discuss the creek's comeback, its value as a community resource, and the pressing and future environmental issues.

This program is part of the "Ask the Experts" Sunday afternoon lecture series at the Coney Island Museum. Please note the Denson slide talk replaces a previously scheduled lecture by Reverend Billy and Savitri D which was cancelled.

When: Sunday, July 26, 4:00 pm
Where: Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Ave between Stillwell Ave and West 12th St, Coney Island
Cost: $5.00, Free to CIUSA members

posted Jul 24th, 2009 in Events and tagged with