Lobbying for casinos in the 1970s. Photograph by John Rea


Joe Sitt's Casino Island? Casinos are once again being considered for Coney Island. We thought this scheme died in the 1970s. Developer Thor Equities and the firm's lobbyist, Patricia Lynch, are making the rounds, speaking with local NYCHA leaders, Community Board 13, and others, lobbying to build a Casino on Thor property. Thor owns a good chunk of land (rezoned in 2009 for hotels and high rises) on the Bowery and on Stillwell Avenue. The meetings have taken place in secret with little publicity. Luckily, this plan is a long shot, and one has to remember that Atlantic City casino developers broke all the promises made in the '70s to the local community. Jobs and community benefits are always the hook, but are rarely delivered. Coney Island does not have the infrastructure to support a casino. Good luck with this one. 


For anyone who still thinks the ferry in Kaiser Park is a good idea, please be aware that on April 6, 2022, the NYC Economic Development Corporation and its contractors were fined $70,000 by the State of New York for violating numerous environmental laws during construction of the Coney Island Creek ferry landing. Some of the fines were for illegal dredging and dumping in Coney Island Creek and Gravesend Bay, and for not reporting an oil slick. The EDC managed to violate nearly every aspect of its permits. This does not bode well for the future operation of the ferry, which is situated in a precarious location that negatively impacts the environment, impedes recreation for the community, and endangers educational programs at Kaiser Park.

Improper dredging for the Coney Island ferry violated New York State enviromental laws.


It's nice to see that the little food stand, Boardwalk Bistro, is open again on the Boardwalk below the Ocean Drive high rises at West 35th Street. Food stands have been lacking at the West End beach since Larry and Vinny's Pizzeria closed in 1996. I enjoyed a nice hot potato knish with mustard there last week. It's not Shatzkins, but we welcome a food concession at this popular beach location. Anyone remember Sam's Knishes on the Boardwalk at 32nd?

Leaving the boardwalk I noticed that the Miami Beach-style glass towers built by John Catsimatidis are apparently an environmental nightmare. The Ocean Drive buildings were given a giant "F" Energy Efficiency Rating, something rarely seen in New York. The large "F," posted at the building's entrance, means that: "the owner of such building has not complied, and the owner has had an opportunity to be heard with respect to such non-compliance." Happy Earth Day!

"Ocean Dreams" gets a big "F."

posted Apr 24th, 2022 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Coney Island History Project
You're invited to visit the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center on Coney's traditional opening day, Palm Sunday, April 10, and on Easter Sunday, April 17. We'll be open special hours--1:00PM-6:00PM. Admission is free of charge. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past as well as banners previewing our special exhibitions for the 2022 season.

Barbara Rosenberg’s Coney Island Photos (May 28 – September 5, 2022)
Street photographer Barbara Rosenberg documented Coney Island for 50 years. When Barbara died in 2016 she left her photographic work to the Coney Island History Project. We remember her with a selection of her work covering Steeplechase Park, the Polar Bear Club, and Boardwalk attractions from the 1970s. "I am always an observer,” she said, "the small gesture, the quiet mostly unobserved moments became my subject matter."

Remembering Astroland: 60th Anniversary (Mid-July – September 5, 2022)
Space-age-themed Astroland Park opened in the summer of 1962 on the site of Feltman’s Restaurant. After the closure of Steeplechase in 1964, Astroland became an anchor that helped keep Coney vibrant until its closure nearly half a century later. We celebrate this anniversary with a selection of historic images from our archive.

Our exhibition center season begins Saturday, May 28. We’ll be open 1:00PM-7:00PM, weekends and holidays, from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. This year marks the 18th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project and our 12th season at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Since our inception in 2004 with a portable booth on the Boardwalk for recording oral history interviews, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!" at our exhibits and special events. Our history banners will also be on display starting April 10 at Deno’s Wonder Wheel in the plaza below the Phoenix Roller Coaster.

On Palm Sunday, the Coney Island History Project will have an information booth on the Boardwalk in front of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Deno’s opening day festivities start at 10:00AM on the Boardwalk with the 37th Annual Blessing of the Rides ceremony with Pastor Toyin Facus of Coney Island's Salt and Sea Mission. Pastor Debbe Santiago originated the event with Denos and Lula Vourderis, who invited children from the Mission to enjoy free rides, a tradition that continues today. After the Blessing, the first 102 guests at the park will receive a free ride on the 102-year-old Deno's Wonder Wheel.

Coney Island Stories Podcast
"Growing Up in the 1940s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, is being released today. Listen and subscribe via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on our website.

The 1940s started out with the Parachute Jump moving to Steeplechase Park from the New York World’s Fair. Aerial photos of packed beaches became emblematic of the era. When the U.S. entered World War 2, dim-out regulations darkened Coney’s skyline to prevent its lights from silhouetting ships offshore and making them a target for German U-boats. In the 1942 and ’43 Mardi Gras parades, servicemen were showered with confetti and lions from Luna Park riding by in their cage were advertised as ready to meet Hitler.

In Episode 2, Coney Islanders who grew up during the war years recall seeing gun emplacements on the boardwalk and soldiers camped in Kaiser Park. Their households had blackout curtains, ration coupons and victory gardens. Some had summer jobs in the amusement area despite being underage. After the war, their families took in relatives and boarders who were refugees and survivors of the concentration camps.

The oral histories in this episode are with Steve Burke, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Phil Einhorn, Deena Metzger, and Gloria Nicholson. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch and Samira Tazari between 2009 and 2018.  The podcast is produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita from oral histories in the Coney Island History Project's online archive. Season Two of the podcast series is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Coney Island History Project

Stutman family photo on the beach at Bay 5, father, mother, younger sister, and Rena, 1954. Photo Courtesy of Rena Stutman Rice.

Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's oral history archive are interviews with Rena Stutman Rice, who grew up in Brighton Beach, and Esther Delgado and her daughter Maria Schwab, who are lifelong residents of Gravesend.

Rena Stutman Rice shares stories of growing up in Brighton Beach, where she lived on Brightwater Court and later on Ocean Parkway. A clip from her father's home movie of her as a baby appears in the documentary The Boys of 2nd Street Park. Among her memories of the 1950s and '60s are playing in the park and going to Brighton's Bay 3 and Bay 5 beaches. She also recalls her mother's stories from the 1930s and stores and delis patronized by her family such as Mrs. Stahl's Knishes and Zei-Mar Delicatessen.

Coney Island History Project

Maria Schwab (left) and Esther Delgado (right). Photos courtesy of Maria Schwab.

Both Esther Delgado and her daughter Maria Schwab grew up in Gravesend in Delgado’s mother’s home where they still live today. Delgado (née Scarlino), 88, recalls the bungalow her maternal grandparents first rented in 1929 for $33 a month because they thought it was close enough to walk to Coney Island beach. Schwab shares stories of growing up in Gravesend in the 1960s when the neighborhood was predominantly Italian and the tradition of having dinner with the extended family kept the streets deserted and the stores closed on Sunday afternoons.

More than 400 oral histories are available for listening in the Coney Island History Project’s online archive. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story via phone or Zoom, sign up here. We record oral histories in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and nearby neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places.

Coney Island History Project

O'Dwyer Gardens and ruins of the demolished bungalow colony on Surf Avenue and West 35th Street. Photo © Charles Denson, 1970. The property was a vacant lot until two years ago when John Catsimatidis' Ocean Drive apartments were constructed on the site.

Were you and your family original tenants of Surfside Houses, O’Dwyer Gardens, Carey Gardens, or Unity Towers in the 1970s? We'd like to record your memories for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive and the "Growing Up in the 1970s" episode of our Coney Island Stories podcast. These NYCHA apartment complexes opened in 1969 (O’Dwyer and Surfside), 1970 (Carey Gardens), and 1973 (Unity Towers).

We are working on scripts for future episodes about growing up in the 1980s, 1990s, and the first decade of the 2000s. If you were a child or teenager growing up in Coney Island during those years, we’re also interested in recording your memories.

Audio interviews are currently being recorded via phone or Zoom. Please contact us at events@coneyislandhistory.org or https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/schedule-interview or send a message via Facebook, twitter or Instagram.

The Coney Island History Project launches Season Two of our oral history podcast Coney Island Stories on Tuesday, March 8th.

This season’s theme is “Growing Up in Coney Island” through the decades, from the 1930s to the 21st century. In Episode One, Coney Islanders who grew up in the ‘30s, including George Ancona, Charles Berkman, Edith Storch, and Ralph Perfetto, recall hardships as well as simple pleasures. During the Depression, families from other New York City neighborhoods flocked to Coney Island. The rent was cheaper and the beach was down the block.

The oral history narrators in Season Two describe growing up during the Depression and World War II, urban renewal (a narrator whose family was evicted calls it “urban removal”), the residential development of middle-income co-ops and public housing, and the decline of the amusement area and its eventual revival. Across the generations, their commonalities include the beach, the boardwalk, and jobs in the neighborhood, including the amusement area.

Season Two of the podcast series is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. "We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received enabling us to record, preserve, and make available so many voices and narratives that tell the fascinating story of Coney Island,” said Charles Denson, executive director of the Coney Island History Project. "Coney Island has an incredibly complex history, and diverse first person accounts provide an irreplaceable resource for the future.”

The podcast is produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita from oral histories in the Coney Island History Project's archive, which has over 400 interviews.  Among the eleven episodes in Season One of Coney Island Stories are “Schools of Their Own,” “A Century of Bathhouses,” “Beach Days,” “Legendary Roller Coasters,” and “Mermaid Avenue.” Listen and subscribe via your favorite podcast app or at https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/podcast

posted Mar 6th, 2022 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, oral history,...

Dennis Corines, Paul Georgoulakos, Gerry Menditto, and Charles Denson, 2010.

Gerry Menditto, "Mr. Cyclone," never rode on the coaster that he operated for nearly 35 years. "I don't like drops," he said.  He diagnosed problems by sound, listening to the vibrations made by motors, belts, lift chains, bearings, and wooden supports, and he and his crew repaired or replaced anything that didn't sound right. Gerry became operations manager of the Cyclone roller coaster in 1975 after Astroland Park acquired the lease and he worked there until the park closed in 2008. The coaster was in poor shape when he took over and he began a complete restoration of the ride. His Cyclone crew was made up of Coney Island folks, more than a few being Gerry's childhood friends, people he could trust to keep the landmark ride operating safely. His calm, soft-spoken manner was at odds with the commotion and deafening screams encountered during 14-hour shifts on the Cyclone's platform. He earned the love and respect of those who worked for him.

The Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center and recording studio were located underneath the Cyclone for a number of years, and the sounds of the coaster can be heard in the background of many oral histories. Our office window looked out onto the main hill and loading platform where we could see Gerry at his wooden booth keeping an eye on the crowds lined up in the maze, waiting their turn to board the cars. We had a ringside seat at one of the best shows in Coney Island. 

Gerry retired soon after Astroland closed, but could not stand to be away from Coney Island. A few years ago he took a job managing the Gargiulo's parking lot, which gave him an opportunity to be back among his old friends and colleagues. It was always a joy to stop and a visit with him before work on summer mornings. He was back where it all began.

After a short hospital stay, Gerry Menditto passed away from COVID complications on January 5th 2022. His family is planning a memorial later this spring.

- Charles Denson

Gerry and the Cyclone crew in 1998.

Gerry and Astroland owner Carol Albert at Gargiulo's Restaurant, 2008.


Gerry keeping an eye on things at the Cyclone.


Gerry and the Cyclone crew, 2007.


At work in the Cyclone shop.


Gerry greeting admirers at the Cyclone on opening day.

Gerry working the tracks on the Cyclone, circa 1976.

posted Jan 8th, 2022 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Abiodun Bello copyright AJ Bernstein Photos 2021

Wash away 2021 and dive into the New Year at the Coney Island Polar Bear Club's 119th Annual New Year's Day Plunge! "You are reborn when you come here," says Abiodun "Abi" Bello of the health benefits of cold water swimming in his oral history recorded by the Coney Island History Project in 2015.

Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas talks about the New Year's Day Plunge over the decades in his 2019 oral history. "It's been going on as long as anybody knows and it used to be just kind of an informal gathering of the Polar Bear Club itself. Then more people from the public," says Dennis, who began swimming with the Bears in the 1970s. "When I first started, if there were a hundred people there, we'd say, wow, this was huge. It's a bucket list thing. People want to do it once in their life and New Year's Day is a great day to do that."

There is no fee to participate but all funds raised help support local non-profits offering environmental, educational, and cultural programming including the New York Aquarium, the Coney Island History Project, Coney Island USA, Coney Island YMCA, and more.

This week the Polar Bear Club released updated safety guidelines for the event: "Our registration will open at 10am. From 11am until 2pm, we will open one large area of the beach with lifeguards. Once you pick up your wristband, you are welcome to plunge at your leisure between 11am and 2pm. We ask that all participants and spectators please practice social distancing guidelines and to wear masks (except when plunging)."

"Please do not plunge without signing a waiver and getting a wristband – parks enforcement can issue you a $150 ticket for not doing so. Spectators will be allowed in the plunge area. It is our hope that we will be able to return to our normal giant party in 2023 but in the meanwhile, let’s have the best time washing away 2021."

Visit http://polarbearclub.org to register in advance for the New Year's Day Plunge or make a donation.

Photo Credit: Abiodun Bello by AJ Bernstein Photos, 2021

posted Dec 27th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Coney Island Polar Bear Club, New Year's Day, Coney Island,...

Coney Island Stories

We’re thrilled to announce the Coney Island History Project has been awarded funding of $8,915 from Humanities New York to produce a second season of our popular podcast, Coney Island Stories.

HNY “SHARP” (Sustaining the Humanities Through the American Rescue Plan) Grants provide funds for humanities projects that serve audiences throughout New York and are made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities via the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Season Two of our podcast will feature sequential episodes about growing up in Coney Island with oral history clips from our archive. The first episode, "Growing Up in the 1930s," is scheduled to debut in March 2022 and will be followed by monthly episodes for each decade through the 2000s.

The oral history narrators in this podcast series describe growing up during the Depression and World War II, urban renewal (a narrator whose family was evicted calls it “urban removal”), the residential development of middle-income co-ops and public housing, and the decline of the amusement area and its eventual revival. Across the generations, their commonalities include the beach, the boardwalk, and jobs in the amusement area.

"We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received enabling us to record, preserve, and make available so many voices and narratives that tell the fascinating story of Coney Island,” said Executive Director Charles Denson. "Coney Island has an incredibly complex history, and diverse first person accounts provide an irreplaceable resource for the future.”

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer applauded the HNY Sharp Action Grants, which were awarded to 43 New York cultural nonprofits. “As Majority Leader, I was proud to champion and pass the American Rescue Plan, which provides this funding for New York’s cultural nonprofits affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic did not extinguish our thirst for cultural education and this critical funding will strengthen New York’s rich cultural and local history for some time to come.”

The first season of Coney Island Stories launched in December 2020 as the History Project pivoted from in-person activities to virtual programming during the pandemic. Among the 11 episodes in Season One are “A Century of Bathhouses,” “Beach Days,” “Legendary Roller Coasters,” and “Mermaid Avenue.” Listen and subscribe via your favorite podcast app or the podcast page on the Coney Island History Project's website. 

posted Dec 27th, 2021 and tagged with podcast, oral history, Humanities New York,...

Happy Holidays

Happy New Year from the Coney Island History Project! Stay safe and well this holiday season. Many thanks for your support in 2021, whether you became a member or contributor, shared your story for our archives, visited our exhibition center or outdoor exhibits, attended a Zoom event, listened to our podcast or oral histories, or engaged with us on social media. We’re all in this together!

During the pandemic we initiated new programs and presentations including Mermaid Avenue, Then and Now and Coney History Show and Tell via Zoom (soon to be released in video form). New recording technology developed during the last two years enabled us to improve the quality of virtual recording after we temporarily suspended in-person interviews at our exhibit center. I was once again able to teach environmental history at the City Parks Foundation’s Coastal Classroom on Coney Island Creek at Kaiser Park. The last class was held in July, shortly before construction of the ferry dock began. Our down time has been productive as we plan and curate next season’s exciting indoor and outdoor exhibits.

We're especially grateful to the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York City Council, Council Member Mark Treyger, and Humanities New York for funding our programs during this second challenging year of the pandemic.

Special thanks to Carol Albert for her ongoing support of our mission. Carol co-founded the Coney Island History Project with Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, the creator of Astroland Park. We also thank the Vourderis family, operators of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, for providing us a home, and for their interest in preserving Coney Island's history.

Your donation or membership today will help support our 501(c)(3) nonprofit's free exhibits, oral history archive, and community programming as we enter our 18th year. Through December 31, 2021, donors may deduct up to $300 in charitable contributions whether or not you itemize your 2021 tax return.
We’re counting the days until we meet again in Coney Island for the 2022 season! 

Charles Denson 
Executive Director