tourFunnyFace

Take a stroll through Coney Island's amusement district--past, present and future--with the Coney Island History Project. Our unique walking tours are based on History Project Director Charles Denson's award-winning book "Coney Island: Lost and Found," the interviews from CIHP's Oral History Archive, and other primary sources.

Tours are led by historian Charles Denson or poet/teaching artist Amanda Deutch, who have over 100 years of family history in Coney Island! The 1-1/2 hour tour includes a private visit to the History Project's exhibit center and a talk on the exhibits and objects on display.

Sunday Walking Tours are scheduled during Coney Island's season, which runs from April through October. Tours are approximately one mile in length and wheelchair accessible. Tickets for Sunday tours are $20 and available by advance reservation. Throughout the year, individuals and groups may schedule a private walking tour and visit to our exhibition center on a weekday or weekend. For info and reservations, email events@coneyislandhistory.org.

posted Mar 22nd, 2012 in News and tagged with
In 2004 Carol Hill Albert and Jerry Albert founded the Coney Island History Project in memory of Dewey Albert.

In 2004 Carol Hill Albert and Jerry Albert founded
the Coney Island History Project in memory of Dewey Albert.
 

Jerry Albert was a passionate believer in Coney Island. You had to be a believer to accomplish what he did. It began when Jerry’s father, Dewey, bought the derelict Feltmans Restaurant property as a favor for Nathan Handwerker, who wanted to move his Nathans Famous restaurant to the 3-acre Feltmans site. When the deal to move Nathans fell through, Dewey turned to his son for help.

Jerry Albert grew up on the beachfront in Sea Gate at Coney Island’s West End, enjoying a childhood of building boats and exploring the waters of Gravesend Bay and Coney Island Creek. His sense of adventure would inspire him to create something unique in Coney Island.

Jerry accepted the challenge and began creating the space-age-themed amusement park called Astroland. His optimistic motto was "A Journey to the 21st Century." Jerry proved to be a visionary and he transformed Coney’s oldest attraction into its newest.

Coney Island was fading in the early 1960s, and was in desperate need of a lift. While many were giving up and closing their businesses, Jerry Albert was an ambitious young man who understood the potential in the amusement zone and wanted only the best. Resurrecting Coney Island became his quest. He traveled across Europe seeking the newest, most exciting rides for the park he envisioned. After returning, he headed west and teamed up with Disney ride builder Arrow Development to create unique rides for the park. The old Feltmans property soon began a radical transformation. In 1964, after a $3-million-dollar investment, Astroland Park opened with an exciting assortment of unique rides: the Water Flume, a The Mercury Capsule Sky Ride, Deep Sea Diving Bells, and a Moon Rocket, all new attractions never before seen on the east coast.

All amusement parks need a tower and Jerry made sure that Coney had one. The futuristic Astrotower with its circular observation car became the park’s centerpiece. The newspapers dubbed it “The Big Bagel in the Sky” and one declared that: “There’s only one place where anyone would dare to put up such a thing, and that’s Coney Island, that land of the frivolous, where gaiety and fun have reigned for years. We’re glad to see the old place hasn’t lost its zest for the bizarre.” Jerry embraced the tower’s “bagel” theme and served a spread of bagels and lox at the tower’s dedication. The space-age theme caught the public imagination as Variety declared in a front-page story “Nowhere is this fierce concern with rocket propulsion, satellite launchings and lunar landings more evident than at the new Astroland...”

Astroland would continue to sponsor popular events, from Coney’s first film festival, in 1963, to the dramatic air shows of the 1980s. Albert had a love of antique cars and classic wooden yachts. Among his lovingly restored antique cars was a pearl green 1960 Cadillac, a regular entrant in the Mermaid Parade, which he kept on display below the Cyclone Roller Coaster.

Jerry’s enthusiasm and investment in Coney Island proved to be pivotal, a turning point for Coney Island that helped keep it afloat for nearly half a century. He oversaw the restoration of the landmark Cyclone Roller Coaster, saving it from destruction. He was an admired civic leader and a faithful booster. As long as Jerry had a say, Coney would survive the turmoil that forced so many others to give up. Under Jerry’s leadership Astroland thrived as he continued journeying across the country on a quest to find the most exciting rides and attractions for Coney Island. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Albert considered selling his beloved Astroland Park but instead retired and turned over park operations to his wife, Carol Hill Albert, who ran it successfully through its last decade.

---Charles Denson

Dewey and Jerry Albert

Dewey and Jerry Albert
posted Mar 16th, 2012 in News and tagged with Jerome Albert, Jerry Albert, Astroland Park,...

Charles Denson
A message from the director:
As the Coney Island History Project enters its ninth successful year of operation I'd like to thank the contributors, members, and volunteers who've helped us achieve success in documenting Coney Island's history and culture. We look forward to another season of working within the community and greeting visitors from all over the world!

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New Location
One year ago we moved the History Project exhibit center from one Coney landmark to another, leaving the Cyclone and settling into our new location at Deno's Wonder Wheel. We are now expanding our exhibit space and doubling it for the 2012 season. We need your support more than ever to continue our policy of "free admission for one and all." The History Project would like to give a special thanks to CIHP co-founder Carol Albert for her continued support and encouragement and the Vourderis family of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park for providing us a space to continue our mission.

In 2011 we had our share of excitement, beginning with months of roller coaster construction in our "front yard," and ending as we remained open during a freak October snowstorm. As hurricane Irene approached in August, everything in our exhibit center had to be moved to higher ground in anticipation of flooding that, luckily, never occurred. Our Dreamland Fire exhibit was a huge success that resulted in the History Project being featured on the Travel Channel's series "Mysteries at the Museum."

coney island creek
Education
In 2011 our ecology program focused on Coney Island Creek. My creek presentations included slide shows at Kingsborough College for the New York State Marine Education Association. I gave another presentation at the New York Aquarium for the staff and scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society. The Aquarium event drew the largest turnout ever for their monthly staff meeting. The History Project also provided a historical perspective for the Travel Channel's show "Off Limits," where I guided host Don Wildman to the wreck of the Yellow Submarine on Coney Island Creek.

The History Project has been awarded a grant from the Partnership for Parks to create signage and a brochure for a "CreekWalk" tour along Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park. The first phase was a photo exhibit at the Coney Island Library showing forty years of my documentation of the creek. The show opened last September and runs through February. We will have an event at the new park house in Kaiser Park. I'll lead a winter tour along the creek and give a slideshow. The date will be announced soon.

theLastImmortal
Documentary Films
What began as a project of our oral history program ended up as a feature length documentary about reformed gang members helping at-risk youth in Coney Island. "The Last Immortal" premiered at the Coney Island Film Festival and won the award for best documentary. A free screening of the film was held at Liberation High School in November, and several more screenings will be announced for the upcoming season, including more showings of our award-winning 2009 documentary about Jimmy Prince and his customers, "The Prince of Mermaid Avenue."

Oral History
The History Project's new space will include a sound studio for recording the oral histories of anyone who has a Coney Island story to tell. Among the 2011 interviews to be soon posted include Leni Schwendinger, lighting designer of the Parachute Jump, and Joe Lazzaro, 84-year-old member of the original Coney Island Iceberg Club.

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Walking Tours
Last year, the History Project introduced our Coney Island walking tours with Amanda Deutch and me as guides. Between us we have over a century of family history in Coney Island. Our "authentic unexpurgated illustrated tour" tells the real story of Coney Island and is based on my book, "Coney Island: Lost and Found." The History Project Walking Tours drew visitors from New York and all over the world. We had diverse groups of tourists, architects, school groups, amusement enthusiasts, and former Coney Island residents.

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Hall of Fame
This season we plan an expansion of the Coney Island Hall of Fame exhibit at our annex space on Jones Walk at the Bowery. The inductees last year were Gravesend founder Lady Deborah Moody, the Spookarama Cyclops, and the landmarked Shore Theater Building.

Plans for the Future
Coney Island is in transition and the History Project will document the changes and will play an important role by providing insight into Coney's past and future. Upcoming exhibits include the 50th anniversary of Astroland, artifacts from Wonder Wheel Park, point-of-view before-and-after photographs of Coney Island, "Made in Coney Island," and the work of Coney's famous arcade muralist, Larry Millard.

The bad news was the loss of two Coney landmarks: the Coney Island Bank building and Henderson's Music Hall. The good news is the return of two evicted iconic businesses Ruby's Bar and Paul's Daughter. This season we'll continue to be the leader in education and history and community projects.

posted Jan 19th, 2012 in News and tagged with


Tour group looking up at Wonder Wheel
The 2011 season was pretty spectacular, from the opening of our new exhibition center below Deno's Wonder Wheel in April to the Hall of Fame and History Day Celebration in September. Thanks to all who visited us in Coney Island and online this year. The exhibition center will reopen on April 1st, Coney Island's Opening Day of 2012. "We're grateful to the Vourderis family, operators of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, for providing us a space and for their interest in preserving Coney Island's heritage," said historian and History Project director Charles Denson. "We'd like to thank History Project founders Carol and Jerry Albert for their continued support of our efforts to record and preserve Coney Island's History and culture."

Special thanks go out to everyone who joined the History Project's first season of Coney Island Walking Tours. "We had a team of architects on their annual trip, school children from Bensonhurst, visitors from Virginia, Ohio, California and of course Brooklyn," said Amanda Deutch, History Project tour guide and teaching artist and poet. "It was great fun to share Coney Island with people who had never been to Coney Island or were returning for their first time in 20 years." Here's a slide show featuring highlights from some of our tours and school visits.

Sunday Walking Tours are scheduled during Coney Island's season, which runs from April through October. Throughout the year, individuals and groups interested in scheduling a private tour and visit to our exhibition center may email events@coneyislandhistory.org.

posted Nov 4th, 2011 in News and tagged with


Charles Denson and Keith Suber at 2011 Coney Island Film Festival. Photo © Norman Blake

The Coney Island History Project presents a free screening of Charles Denson's documentary starring Keith Suber on Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm. "The Last Immortal" premiered at the 2011 Coney Island Film Festival in September and was awarded Best Documentary Feature. After the movie, which runs 90 minutes, there will be a Q & A with Mr. Denson and Mr. Suber.

Location of Free Movie Screening: Liberation High School Auditorium 2865 West 19th Street at Mermaid Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11224 D, F, N or Q train to Stillwell Avenue, Coney Island

Keith Suber is a forty-five year old reformed Coney Island gang leader, an original Rollin' 60's Crip who's been shot four times and served ten years in a federal penitentiary. He's returned to his Coney Island roots and founded an organization whose mission is to stop the gun violence that is plaguing the community.

Keith's brothers "Blue" and the "Colonel" ran one of the 1970's Coney gangs that the movie "The Warriors" was based on. This film, shot on the streets of Coney Island, shows the reality of gang violence, its influence on the Coney Island community, and Suber's efforts at saving lives through youth mentorship, job training, and intervention.

Charles Denson, a Coney Island native, grew up in Coney Island Houses in the neighborhood's west end where part of the documentary was filmed. Mr. Denson is executive director of the Coney Island History Project and author of the award-winning book "Coney Island: Lost and Found" His previous films include "The Prince of Mermaid Avenue" about Major Market's Jimmy Prince (Best Documentary Feature, Coney Island Film Festival, 2009) and the short "Coney Island: Secrets of the Universe" (2010).

This program is part of the History Project's ongoing series of free movie screenings in the Coney Island Community. It is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

posted Nov 2nd, 2011 in News and tagged with

Secrets of Coney Island Creek

An exhibit of Charles Denson's photos of Coney Island Creek is currently on view in vitrines in the lobby and on the 2nd floor of the Coney Island branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Click here for hours and directions.

The exhibit is in conjunction with Partnerships for Parks, Catalyst Program at Kaiser Park. A slide talk and on-site project TBA. For info sign up for our mailing list.

creekCharlie

Charles 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.

posted Oct 6th, 2011 in News and tagged with

lastimmortal

The Last Immortal
A Documentary Feature by Charles Denson

Coney Island Film Festival Opening Night Film
September 23rd, Friday, 7:30 pm

Keith Suber is a forty-five year old reformed Coney Island gang leader, an original Rollin' 60's Crip who's been shot six times and served ten years in a federal penitentiary. He's returned to his Coney Island roots and founded an organization whose mission is to stop the gun violence that is plaguing the community.

Keith's brothers, "Blue," "Molock," and the "Colonel" ran the 1970's Coney gangs that the movie The Warriors was based on. This film, shot on the streets of Coney Island and at juvenile detention centers, shows the reality of gang violence, its influence on the Coney Island community, and Suber's efforts at saving lives through youth mentorship, job training, and intervention.

Charles Denson, a Coney Island native, grew up in Coney Island Houses in the neighborhood's west end where part of the documentary was filmed. Mr. Denson is executive director of the Coney Island History Project and author of the award-winning book "Coney Island: Lost and Found" His previous films include "The Prince of Mermaid Avenue" about Major Market's Jimmy Prince (Best Documentary Feature, Coney Island Film Festival, 2009) and the short "Coney Island: Secrets of the Universe" (2010).

Event Info: Coney Island Film Festival, September 23, Friday, 7:30 pm
Tickets for the "The Last Immortal" screening only, $6.

Screening venue is the Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Ave, 2nd floor.
Please note this venue is not wheelchair accessible.

Opening Night Party 9:30pm - 12:30am at The Freak Bar and Sideshows By The Seashore, 1208 Surf Ave. 1st Floor. Tickets are $25. Party with open bar and burlesque show, 21 and over to drink.
Advance ticket purchase and info at www.coneyislandfilmfestival.com

posted Sep 16th, 2011 in News and tagged with

HOF1
Charles Denson with Cyclops from Wonder Wheel Park

Spook-A-Rama's Cyclops, a Coney Island legend that hasn't been seen in decades, came out of retirement on September 3rd to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Coney Island History Project. Lula Vourderis accepted the plaque on behalf of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Vourderis Family.

The two previously announced honorees were Lady Deborah Moody (1586-1659?), the first woman to found a colony in North America, and the recently landmarked Shore Theater. Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, presented the 2011 Coney Island Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at CIHP's exhibit center on West 12th Street.

HOF2
Carol Hill Albert

"Deborah Moody recognized the importance of Coney Island back in the 1600s when she founded the colony of Gravesend in 1645," said Denson. "Moody proved to be a visionary when she declared Coney Island to be the Common Lands of Gravesend, public land available for the use of all villagers."

Accepting the plaque for Lady Deborah Moody was Carol Hill Albert, owner and operator of the former Astroland Park and co-founder of the Coney Island History Project with husband Jerry Albert.

HOF3
John Badalamenti

John Badalamenti accepted the award for the Shore Theater, formerly the Loews, on behalf of his late brother Andy Badalamenti, the longtime caretaker of the theater. "He had a new roof installed and stopped the leaks. He sealed up the building to stop looting and scavenging," Denson said of his friend, who always dreamed of restoring the Shore to its former glory.

Said Denson, "This 2,500 seat theater is key to Coney Island's future as a year round destination. It's been sealed up like a time capsule for several decades and recently received landmark status."

HOF4
Lula Vourderis with sons Steve and Dennis Vourderis

In his speech honoring the Cyclops, Denson said: "Last year I was hired as a consultant for an upcoming university art exhibition about Coney Island. While researching artwork for the exhibit we realized that the Cyclops head was an iconic and recurring image in dozens of modern artworks. The curator and I wondered if it still existed and if it could be included in the exhibition. I asked Steve Vourderis if the Cyclops had survived. He had a surprise for me. It was in storage right behind the History Project.

HOF5
Spook-A-Rama's Cyclops at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

"After being excavated and stabilized it became the centerpiece of our induction ceremony. The Cyclops represents the creativity of Coney Island's artisans and visionaries. In the past, anyone with a vision could create a fantasy, and you didn't need formal artistic training to create a work of art. And you didn't need an engineering degree to build a ride. Spook-A-Rama opened in the 1950s at a time when monster movies and Cinerama were popular. It's a one of kind work of art, a cultural artifact handmade from ordinary bandages and plaster of Paris. When Denos Vourderis bought Wonder Wheel Park in the 1980s, the Cyclops had deteriorated and was removed for a future restoration. Next year it will once again be on exhibit at the ride for an admiring public."

posted Sep 16th, 2011 in News and tagged with

Hall of Fame banner

Note that this event has been RESCHEDULED due to the hurricane forecast. The original date was Sunday, August 28th.

On Saturday, September 3rd at 1 pm, Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, will present the 2011 Coney Island Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at CIHP's exhibit center on West 12th Street.

This year, the Coney Island Hall of Fame pays tribute to Lady Deborah Moody (1586-1659?), the first woman to found a colony in North America. Moody fled her native England because of religious persecution and first arrived in Massachusetts, where an aide to the governor advised barring her "for she is a dangerous woeman."

"In choosing to honor Lady Deborah Moody, we are returning to Coney Island's centuries-old roots," said historian and History Project director Charles Denson. "Moody has been described as 'the woman who wrote [America's] Declaration of Independence 150 years before the men got around to it.' Lady Moody, who founded the town of Gravesend in 1645, was not just the only woman to start a colony in the new world, but was also the first to recognize the value and importance of Coney Island."

Coney Island was part of Gravesend, which Moody settled when the Dutch governor granted her a charter insuring religious freedom and self-government. Gravesend was one of the original towns of Kings County in colonial New York. Coney Island was the town's common lands on the Atlantic Ocean. At the Hall of Fame ceremony, Lady Deborah Moody's contributions will be highlighted in a colorful banner accompanied by illustrated text panels detailing her fascinating life.

shore

The second 2011 Hall of Fame honoree is in the architectural category: The Shore Theater, formerly known as the Loew's Coney Island, is a seven-story neo-Renaissance style theater and vaudeville house built in 1925 at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. On History Day, never before seen photos of the theater's ornate interior will be on view at the History Project's exhibit center, providing a rare glimpse inside a building that has been closed since the 1970s.

"The Shore Theater represents not just Coney's golden past, but also its bright future," said Charles Denson."Now that it's been granted landmark status, the Shore awaits a renovation that will make it the year-round entertainment center of a new Coney Island." When the long vacant building won New York City landmark designation in December 2010, Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert B Tierney said, "The theater shepherded Coney Island's transformation into New York City's playground. Its elegant style and substantial size were decidely more Broadway than Boardwalk."

Past inductees of the Coney Island Hall of Fame include such architectural wonders as the Elephant Hotel and the Parachute Jump. Pioneers and visionaries whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape and define Coney Island include George C Tilyou, founder of Steeplechase Park; Dr Martin Couney, inventor of the baby incubator; Marcus Illions, developer of the Coney Island style of carousel carving; and Granville T Woods, inventor of the figure eight roller coaster and the third rail. Coney Island Hall of Fame banners celebrating their accomplishments are among those on view at the History Project's exhibition center in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and on our website.

posted Aug 19th, 2011 in News and tagged with

Note that this event has been RESCHEDULED to Saturday September 3.

Celebrate historic Coney Island and enjoy live music, entertainment and history on Sunday, August 28, from 1pm-5pm at the 1st Annual History Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project.

The Coney Island History Project will present the 2011 Coney Island Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at 1pm. The Hall of Fame pays tribute to architectural wonders as well as to pioneers and visionaries whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape and define Coney Island. The names of this year's honorees will be announced in the coming days.

Have a “Romantic Coney Island" story? Did you meet your true love in Coney Island, go on your first date or fall in love here? Come and record your memories for CIHP's Oral History Project and make history! You may also schedule an in-person or telephone interview by emailing info@coneyislandhistory.org.

On History Day, visitors are invited to test their Coney Island smarts at the Coney Island Trivia Contest with historian and author Charles Denson. Prizes include ride passes for Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and souvenir postcards from the Coney Island History Project.

Enjoy live music by New York City's legendary Hungry March Band, straight-up, foot-stomping jazz by the Hot Sardines, and Ragtime and Dixieland by The Banjo Rascals. Additional entertainment provided by Kae Burke of Lady Circus.

The performances are free to the public and will be held at the Wonder Wheel, at the Coney Island History Project (on W. 12th Street off the Boardwalk) and throughout Deno’s Amusement Park from 1pm -5pm. Visitors who ride the Wonder Wheel will receive a nostalgic Coney Island commemorative gift and are invited to take their photo for free with old timey cutouts. Visitors to the History Project are invited to take their photo with our original Steeplechase horse.

Celebrate Coney Island’s History and make some of your own—don’t miss it!

posted Aug 12th, 2011 in News and tagged with