On Saturday, June 26, the Coney Island History Project will celebrate the Cyclone Roller Coaster's 83nd birthday with a surprise birthday get-together. SSHHH! Don't tell the Cyclone, but we've invited friends and fans of the legendary roller coaster to join us from 1- 6pm at the Coney Island History Project's free public exhibition center under the Cyclone on Surf Avenue.

At 2 pm, we'll sing Happy Birthday to the Cyclone, blow out the candles, and cut the cake. Throughout the day, visitors are invited to share their Cyclone memories and photos with historian Charles Densonfor the CIHP's History Archive. The Cyclone was "born" on June 26, 1927 and is an official New York City landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

posted Jun 23rd, 2010 in Events and tagged with
Join us on Memorial Day Weekend at the Coney Island History Project for the opening of our 2010 season and our featured exhibit "Luna Park Revisited." The History Project's FREE public exhibition center under the Cyclone Roller Coaster will be open from 1-6 pm on Saturday, May 29 through Monday, May 31, and subsequent weekends through Labor Day.
According to History Project Director Charles Denson, "The original Luna Park was a visual delight, a 'grotesquely delightful' storybook fantasyland filled with hundreds of towers, domes, spires, and minarets, all decorated with thousands of electric lights. It was known as the 'Electric Eden,' a city 'sketched in flame.' Our exhibit details the park's history, from opening day in 1903 to the dramatic fire that destroyed it forty years later." Rare archival photos, family snapshots, souvenir postcards and fun ephemera from Luna Park will be on display. A touch screen monitor will provide access to dozens more images.
The Coney Island History Project's exhibition center is located under the Cyclone Roller Coaster at 824 Surf Avenue just east of West 10th Street. We're open weekends from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. Hours are 1 to 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays. Also open on Memorial Day and Labor Day, FREE ADMISSION for One and ALL!
posted May 19th, 2010 in News and tagged with
The Coney Island History Project will host an Open House on Saturday, May 22nd from 10 am to 5 pm to welcome Brooklyn Half Marathon participants and their family and friends to Coney Island. Everyone is invited to stop by to view historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Among the treasures on display are a Steeplechase horse and 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. Free Admission for One and All!
On May 22nd only! Visitors are invited to try out the "Cyclone Lounger," a chair inspired by the Cyclone Roller Coaster and made from recycled Boardwalk ipe wood by Uhuru furniture designers of Brooklyn. After reading about the Cyclone chair in New York Magazine, NY Post and Daily News last week, we arranged to have the award-winning chaise lounge on display for Brooklyn Half Marathon Day in our exhibition center under the Cyclone. Designers Jason Horvath and Bill Hilgendorf will be on hand to talk about their "Coney Island Line" of furniture, sustainability and local craftsmanship. Charles Denson, Director of the Coney Island History Project, told the Brooklyn Paper: "This wood is not only part of the historic Boardwalk, but it's really good, straight-grain hardwood that should be repurposed. It's important that anything that can be recycled should be recycled."
posted May 17th, 2010 in News and tagged with
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 info@coneyislandhistory.org 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.

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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
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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

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,...