Antonio Zamperla and Valerio Ferrari, Coney Island, March 2010. Photo by Charles Denson
The Coney Island History Project is eagerly anticipating the grand opening of our new next-door neighbor, Zamperla’s Luna Park. History Project Director Charles Denson documented the beginning of the park’s construction and is creating an exhibit of the site’s 140-year transformation from sand dunes to Sea Beach Railroad land grant, to Feltmans Restaurant, to Astroland, and finally to the resurrected Luna Park. “The arrival of ride manufacturer Zamperla continues the tradition of Coney Island as a laboratory and testing ground for new amusements,” Denson said. “Less than a block away, on West 8th Street, were the amusement factories and workshops of William Mangels, Marcus Illions, the Pinto Brothers, L.A. Thompson, and numerous other foundries, blacksmiths, electricians, and machinists.

The new Luna Park site, February 2010. Photo by Charles Denson
Although Zamperla will not be manufacturing rides in Coney Island, their presence means that Coney will have the best and newest attractions and will also be a showroom for new technology. It will be the best of both worlds, —Coney’s classic landmark Cyclone Roller Coaster right next to a modern resurrected Luna Park.”

posted Apr 15th, 2010 in News and tagged with

Join us to Celebrate Coney Island's & the Cyclone's Opening Day!

Exhibition Center

Palm Sunday is the traditional season opener for Coney Island's rides and attractions. The Coney Island History Project's public exhibition center under the Cyclone roller coaster will host an Open House on Sunday, March 28th from 12-3 pm to celebrate Coney Island's and the Cyclone's opening day of the 2010 season.

You're invited to view historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past and preview selections from our 2010 exhibition season. Among the treasures on display is Coney Island's oldest existing artifact, an 1823 Toll House sign from the days when the toll for a horse and rider to "the Island" was 9 cents. Admission to the exhibition center is free of charge.

Jimmy Prince, CIHP Distinguished Historian and Retired Proprietor of Coney Island's Major Market, Talking with Visitors from Tennessee. August 1, 2009. Photo © Coney Island History Project

Please stop by on March 28th and say hello to Charles Denson, CIHP Executive Director and author of Coney Island Lost and Found; Jimmy Prince, CIHP Distinguished Historian and longtime proprietor of Coney Island's Major Market; Stan Fox, Coney Island raconteur and veteran penny arcade operator; and staffers Tricia Vita, Amanda Deutch and Jeff Wilday.

The CIHP exhibition center will open for the 2010 season on Saturday, May 29th, Memorial Day Weekend with an exciting new exhibition about archaeology and historic sites in the neighborhood. The exhibition will tie in with our audio/video walking tours, which are downloadable for free via our website's Tours page. The "West End Boardwalk Tour" will make its debut, joining the currently available "Amusement Area: Past and Present" walking tour. This season's display will feature never-before-exhibited artifacts from Steeplechase Park, Feltman's, Astroland and more. We're pleased to announce that the Dreamland Bell, which was raised from the ocean floor by Gene Ritter's dive team in September after nearly 100 years under water will be back at CIHP to ring in the summer season!

Evelyn Lillias & family with souvenir photo taken at History Project's Memory Booth. The Queens resident grew up in the Marlboro Houses in Coney Island. May 25, 2009. Photo © Coney Island History Project

Located on Surf Avenue just east of West 10th Street, the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center is open free of charge on weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The centerpiece is an authentic Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Visitors are invited to record a video interview and take a free souvenir photo of their visit. For additional info, contact the History Project at or 718-265-2100.

posted Mar 21st, 2010 in Events and tagged with

Coney Island History Project Provides Research, Ride Plans to Zamperla USA

Central Amusement International president & CEO Valerio Ferrari, who is overseeing his company's ride development for the new Luna Park, recently consulted the Coney Island History Project. Mr. Ferrari requested historical information about the Astrotower to help with a possible resurrection of the iconic Coney attraction. We researched the tower's history and provided the original plans and archival photographs.

The images show the 1964 installation of the ride once known as the "Bagel-in-the-Sky" for its rotating glass-enclosed car that rides to the top of the tower. We hope someday to see the 270-foot remnant of Astroland become the centerpiece of Coney Island's new Luna Park.

The $1.7 million Astrotower was manufactured by the Swiss company Von Roll. It required a foundation of 1,100 tons of concrete and 13 tons of steel reinforcing bars. Like Astroland's other space-age themed rides, the tower was built specifically for the park. It did not come from the New York World's Fair. Von Roll was purchased by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group in 1996.

astrotower 1 medium
Installation of the Astrotower, 1964

posted Mar 6th, 2010 in News and tagged with

Available 365 Days a Year via the Coney Island History Project's Website

Throughout the year, visitors are invited to download the History Project's FREE audio/video walking tour of "Coney Island's Amusement Area — Past & Present" and explore the neighborhood. Narrated by historian Charles Denson, the Coney Island History Project's audio tours make the People's Playground accessible to visitors and armchair travelers 365 days a year.

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. Highlighting historic landmarks and sites endangered by redevelopment, the tours provide valuable perspective on the historic and cultural importance of a world-famous neighborhood on the cusp of redevelopment.

The tour is downloadable to iPods and other portable players and may be listened to live via iPhone. The FREE download and a map are available on the Coney Island History Project website's Tours page.

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.

audio tour screengrab

posted Mar 6th, 2010 in News and tagged with
feltman.7817-1 text

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

posted Feb 19th, 2010 in News and tagged with

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
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.”“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.”


posted Jan 12th, 2010 in News and tagged with Joe Rollino, strongman, centenarian,...

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."


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

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 & (web site:

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