One of Coney Island's bungalow fires, 1974. Photo by Charles Denson

Coney Island underwent a dramatic and tragic transformation during the 1960s and 1970s, a destructive era that left the West End resembling a war zone. Anyone who lived in the neighborhood during that era has mixed memories of the best and worst that Coney had to offer. New York City went bankrupt, a misguided urban renewal program destroyed homes and businesses, and arson fires gutted block after block. At the same time, people still flocked to the beach, amusements struggled along as popular as ever, and somehow Coney Island survived. New oral history interviews by David Louie and Theresa Veldez provide a vivid portrait of what life was like during that time. David Louie's family owned the popular Wah Mee Restaurant on Mermaid Avenue, and Theresa Veldez grew up in the bungalows of Coney Island. Their stories prove that tragedy and loss cannot erase the memories of good times had.

Coney Island Stories Episode 6 Bathhouses

Our new episode 'A Century of Bathhouses' has dropped! Listen and subscribe to Coney Island Stories on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 6 features stories of Washington Baths, Ravenhall, and Silver's Baths, among others, told by bathhouse owners, workers and patrons recorded for the Coney Island History Project’s oral history archive between 2000 and 2020. Bathhouses were the first businesses in Coney Island. Even before Coney’s first hotel was built in 1829, crude bathhouse shacks were set among the dunes. Before the city built the boardwalk in the 1920s, most of the Coney Island beach was private and bathhouses provided the only access to the beach and provided patrons a summer home away from home. Many had overnight accommodations, restaurants, and swimming pools, and some offered massages and the ever popular nude sunbathing.  They were very sociable places and generations of family and friends from the same neighborhoods patronized the same bath houses for years until the last one, Brighton Beach Baths, was demolished in the early 1990s. Now hardly anyone knows what a bathhouse is. 

posted Mar 15th, 2021 in News and tagged with podcast, oral history, history,...

Alliance for Coney Island Mural project

The Alliance for Coney Island is seeking local and regional artists to paint large-scale murals on storefront gates in Coney! We're excited that the Coney Island History Project's gates are among the 15 locations for the NYC Department of Small Business Services' funded project. Other locations include the games next door to us, Nathan's and Brooklyn Beach Shop on the Boardwalk, the Eldorado Bumper Cars and the Cyclone, and several stores on Mermaid Avenue. For information on submitting a proposal, please visit Deadline: March 31, 2021.

Alliance for Coney island Mural Project




posted Mar 9th, 2021 in News and tagged with Murals, mural project, storefronts,...

Mermaid Ave Then and Now

You're invited to join us on Zoom for "Mermaid Avenue, Then and Now," a virtual tour with historian Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, on February 23rd.

We'll look at how Coney Island's Mermaid Avenue shopping district, where most of the storefronts were in three-story brick buildings constructed in the 1920s, was transformed by a destructive urban renewal project launched in 1949. Today the "Avenue," as residents called it, is recovering but remains a shadow of its former self. Denson grew up a block from Mermaid Avenue and will show his photo documentation of the street as it changed during the 1960s and 1970s, and as it appears today. 

The Coney Island History Project also invites anyone with Mermaid Avenue stories to sign up to record an oral history about their experiences on Coney’s famous Avenue. Some of the oral histories in our archive about Mermaid Avenue’s mom and pop businesses founded by immigrants past and present are featured in Episode 4 of our Coney Island Stories podcast.

Charles Denson grew up in Coney Island and began documenting his neighborhood as a boy, a passion that continues to this day. He is the author of four books: Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park; Wild Ride: A Coney Island Roller Coaster Family; Coney Island and Astroland; and Coney Island: Lost and Found, named 2002 New York Book of the Year by the New York Society Library. 

Tuesday, February 23 at 7:00 PM. FREE.
Advance registration is required. You will be sent the Zoom link two days before the event.

Register Here



This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.

posted Feb 11th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Mermaid Avenue, Then and Now, Virtual Tour,...

Neter Antoine

We’re excited to introduce Neter Antoine, a 2020-2021 CUNY Cultural Corps intern who is our new production assistant. Neter is a visual artist and dancer who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Therapeutic Recreation at the City University of New York’s Lehman College.

"I am a creative thinker and an active learner from Bed-Stuy (Bedford Stuyvesant), Brooklyn," writes Neter. "My fondest memories of Coney Island involve people; sharing in the fervor of Coney Island's many parts with others is what I cherish most about it. The concept of storytelling from the perspective of a wide variety of people - a sharing of memories - is what drew me to the Coney Island History Project."

The Coney Island History Project has a history of working with interns but due to the pandemic we're working from home and this is our first experience working remotely with an intern. Neter is helping to develop and create new virtual content for 2021, including Zoom events such as reminiscence activities for seniors and virtual tours, online exhibitions, and audio and video promos for social media.

Established by CUNY with New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and The Rockefeller Foundation in 2016, CUNY Cultural Corps partners with the City’s arts and cultural organizations to provide paid internships for CUNY students as a pipeline to careers in the arts. Thanks to a gift from the Mellon Foundation, CUNY Cultural Corps has been able to expand the number of opportunities for students to gain professional experience in the arts and culture sector.

Legendary Roller Coasters Coney Island History Project

Our new episode on legendary roller coasters has dropped! Listen and subscribe to Coney Island Stories on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 5 of our Coney Island Stories podcast features the stories of a trio of roller coasters built in the Roaring 20’s and named after violent storms: the Thunderbolt, the Tornado and the Cyclone.

While the Cyclone is the only survivor from Coney's golden age, the Coney Island History Project has recorded and preserved memories of people who rode or worked at some of these legendary coasters. A few narrators had the unusual fortune to live beneath one of these thrill rides. The stories of Harold Kramer, Mae Timpano, Don Ferris, Andy Badalamenti, Mindy Gress, and John Hunt, among others, were recorded for the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive between 2000 and 2020.

posted Feb 9th, 2021 in News and tagged with Coney Island Stories, podcast, roller coasters,...

Black History Month

In celebration of Black History Month, tell us your Coney Island stories! During these days of social distancing, you're invited to share and preserve your memories by recording an oral history via phone, Zoom or Skype.

We record audio interviews with people who live or work - past or present - in Coney Island and adjacent Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods or have a special connection to the place. 

Sign up for an appointment or listen to some of the more than 375 interviews in our online archive. Among the oral histories we will be sharing during Black History Month are David Head, former chairman of the Black History Committee for TWU Local 100, who tells the story of African-American inventor Granville T. Woods, and historian Eric K. Washington, who rediscovered African American artist E.J. Perry, a renowned silhouette cutter at Coney Island's Luna Park.

posted Feb 1st, 2021 in News and tagged with Black History Month, oral history, Coney Island,...

Coney Island Stories Podcast

Our new podcast produced from oral histories in the Coney Island History Project's archive, which previewed on our website, has been retitled Coney Island Stories and is now available wherever you get your podcasts. Download and subscribe on your favorite podcast app:

Apple Podcasts:
Google Podcasts:

Here are reviews from some of our first listeners!

"I loved the optimism, ambition and grit that comes through in their voices and stories."
"You get a real sense of the incredible history of Coney Island through stories and memories shared by a variety of guests. I was lucky enough to be born and raised in Brooklyn. The podcasts bring back great memories and introduce me to history in the making."
"You can peek into a part of Coney Island not visible by just visiting. Coney was (is) such a unique place - and the podcast shares and saves memories that would be otherwise lost."
"It’s a true slice of Coney life that is quickly disappearing. It helps to remind those of us who were around then that it was a glorious place to visit and imagine what could be!"

Six new episodes will debut in the coming months. Here's the trailer for the first four episodes...

posted Dec 28th, 2020 in Events and tagged with podcast, Coney Island, Coney Island Stories,...

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Among the new additions to the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive are the following interviews recorded by Kaara Baptiste, Keenan Chen, Charles Denson, Leila Goldstein, Julia Kanin, Ali Lemer, Shavon Meyers,  Mónica Cordero Sancho, and Tricia Vita. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story remotely via phone, Skype or Zoom, sign up here. We record interviews in English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places.

Coney Island resident Stanislav Baev is the founder of American Alliance for Protection of Animals, a not-for-profit that promotes animal welfare. In addition to rescuing animals from the streets and finding foster and forever homes for them, AAPA manages two feral cat colonies in Southern Brooklyn. Recorded in Russian with Russian transcript and English translation.

Jeffrey Berman, 77, is a Coney Island native who has lived in Sea Gate since establishing his first artist's studio here when he was in his 30s. On teaching drawing from life at the Seaside Innovative Senior Center, he says: "For older artists, this is a good thing.  You have to develop a memory for what you're looking at, so a lot of things go into working from life. You get eye hand coordination. Your mind gets new pathways."

Greg Birbil recalls 'Pop's store' - the Paradise Luncheonette - a fixture on Surf Avenue across from Steeplechase Park from 1928 through the 1950s. He also shares stories of working at Steeplechase as a teen and the community of Greeks from Asia Minor in Coney Island in the 1940s-'50s.

Nancy Gabriel, 94, talks about visiting her great uncle, Peter Lazaris, who ran a food concession at Steeplechase Pool from the 1930s through the 1950s, and riding the Steeplechase horses and the Chanticleer carousel.

Lifelong Brighton Beach resident Amparo Garcia shares stories of Brighton then and now. While many of her Lincoln High School classmates have relocated to the Carolinas and Florida, Amparo has no plans to leave Brighton Beach. "I'm not ready. It's not for me," she says. "I have everything right here."

Roller coaster enthusiast John Hunt has been building scale models of coasters and amusement park attractions since he was a boy. Among his most popular models are Coney Island's world-famous landmarks -- the Cyclone Roller Coaster, Deno’s Wonder Wheel and the Parachute Jump.

Barbara Unterman Jones shares memories of being one of the first families to move into Coney Island's NYCHA Gravesend Houses when it was built in 1954. She recalls a sense of community with residents sitting on a bench in front of the building, seltzer delivery to her door, and having free run of the neighborhood, including the beach and boardwalk, as a child.

Sheldon Krimsky lived at 2995 West 29th Street until he graduated from college. "When I went back to my street, there is almost nothing that is the same," he says. "Everything was razed to the ground." His memories of growing up in the 1940s and '50s include playing stickball and street games and publishing a newspaper with his classmates at Mark Twain.

Robert Levrini shares memories of growing up on West 5th Street, where he was allowed to roam as far as Coney Island Creek and the amusement area. His grandfather’s shoe repair shop on Ocean Parkway left an indelible impression. He says that to this day when he shines a pair of shoes, he can feel his Grandfather Levrini's presence.

Michael Liff recalls growing up in Coney Island across the street from the amusement area where he worked as a teen in the 1970s. His favorite job was running the Tornado, where he got to know the coaster's every dip and turn, and did everything from greasing the tracks, loading riders, and pulling the breaks to collecting money for re-rides by saying "Fifty cents to do it again!"

Carole Scheer tells the story of her father, Anthony Cosmo Pomaro, who owned and operated Cosmo Topper's Beauty Parlor on Mermaid Avenue. Open from 1950-1973, the store was originally located near West 36th Street and later moved to a larger space between 32nd and 33rd. 

Coney Island resident Gabriel Valencia has worked at Gregory & Paul's Boardwalk eatery, now called Paul's Daughter, for 25 years. He recounts his first impressions of Brooklyn, the captivating ocean view from Paul's store, and how the menu items and Coney Island's amusement area have changed over the years. Recorded in Spanish with Spanish transcript and English translation.

Juanhua Zhao, Tai chi teacher at Coney Island Seaside Innovative Senior Center, shares her life story. Born in 1938 in Guangdong Province, China, she and her husband first came to the US in 1998. They settled in Coney Island to be near their son, who lives in Bensonhurst. Recorded in Cantonese with Chinese transcript and English translation.

posted Dec 26th, 2020 in News and tagged with oral history, Interviews, Coney Island History Project,...

Happy New Year


As the terrible days of 2020 fade into history, we look forward to a season of recovery in 2021 that enables us to be reunited with our Coney Island friends. We're grateful to all of our members, funders, and friends for your continued enthusiasm and support, and proud of all that we've accomplished this year and during the past 16 years. Special thanks go 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.

We can’t wait to celebrate the Wonder Wheel’s 100th anniversary in 2021 - its 101st year. The Coney Island History Project’s special exhibition on the 100th anniversary of the Wheel was also delayed, but will appear next season to document one of Coney Island's most remarkable survival stories. We also extend an invitation to anyone with a Coney Island story to contact us and sign up for an oral history interview. It's more important than ever to keep Coney Island's heritage alive!

In 2021, you can also explore Coney Island history through new episodes of our Coney Island Stories podcast; oral histories, videos and virtual exhibitions on the History Project website; and free Zoom activities and outdoor events. Your donation or membership today will help support our 501(c)(3) nonprofit's community programming. Through December 31, 2020, the CARES Act lets donors deduct up to $300 in qualified charitable contribution whether or not you itemize your 2020 return.

We’re counting the days until we meet again in Coney Island for the 2021 season!

Charles Denson
Executive Director

posted Dec 24th, 2020 in News and tagged with Coney Island, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year,...