City of Water Day Kaiser Park

Join us on Saturday, July 10, at Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park to celebrate City of Water Day! The Coney Island Beautification Project is hosting the event from 9AM - 2PM. Stop by the Coney Island History Project's table and say hello. This year's City of Water Day joins the Waterfront Alliance in highlighting a regionwide message of climate change, resiliency, sustainability, sea level rise and green jobs.

On Sunday, July 11, help beautify and preserve the environment by volunteering for the Coney Island Clean-up sponsored by Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus and the Coney Island Advisory Committee, Assembly District 46. The location of the clean-up is Coney Island Creek. For more info visit the event’s Eventbrite page.

posted Jul 1st, 2021 in Events and tagged with City of Water Day, Kaiser Park, Coney Island,...

Coney Island Stories Podcast

"Love and Marriage," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, has dropped! Listen and subscribe via Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 9 shares stories of couples who met, got engaged or married in Coney Island, all taken from the History Project’s Oral History Archive. Visitors to our exhibition center often tell us that they or their parents or grandparents met or had their first date in Coney Island. Over the years, we’ve witnessed marriage proposals on Deno’s Wonder Wheel and weddings and wedding party rides on the Cyclone roller coaster.  

Many a Coney Island courtship of the 20th century began on the beach and continued with a stroll on the boardwalk and ride on the Steeplechase horses. Steeplechase Park founder George C. Tilyou famously observed of his mechanical horse race ride that “the young men like it because it gives them a chance to hug the girls; the girls like it, because it gives them a chance to get hugged.” 

The oral histories in the podcast are with Ellen Abrams, Michael Liff, Max and Stef, Tara Altebrando, Gina Femia, and The Reverend Cliff Herring. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Katya Kumkova, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita between 2014 and 2021. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. 

Listen to previous episodes about Coney Island's legendary roller coasters, beach, bathhouses, and restaurants and other businesses on Mermaid Avenue and in the amusement area via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on the Coney Island History Project's website.

Photo credits: Top right, Engagement photo of Gina and Freddy by Jody Christopherson. Courtesy of Gina Femia. Bottom left and right, Coney Island History Project Collection. 

posted Jun 30th, 2021 in Events and tagged with podcast, oral history, history,...

PS 90 Coney Island History Project

For July 4th Weekend, the Coney Island History Project exhibition center will be open Saturday through Monday, July 3, 4 and 5, from 1-7PM. Visitors can watch movies about Coney Island history and take souvenir photos with the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, our original Steeplechase Horse, and other wonders. Admission is free of charge. The exhibition center is located on West 12th Street next to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the new Phoenix roller coaster.

This season, the Coney Island History Project is also presenting a series of outdoor exhibits. The first is a collaboration with PS 90, The Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness, which is located up the block from the History Project on West 12th Street, half a block from Coney Island Creek.

"The student artists were asked to illustrate the natural world vs. the built world surrounding Coney Island Creek,” said Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project. “We decided to use the traditional Coney Island banner medium to display the incredible artwork that the students produced for this project. The banners will be used to initiate a dialogue about the ecology of Coney Island. We’ve enjoyed a years-long partnership with PS 90, and enjoy lending support to our neighbor’s program of environmental studies and community wellness. These young students are the environmental stewards of the future."

A selection of banners will be displayed on July 10 at City of Water Day in Kaiser Park (see news item below) before being installed at PS 90, Maimonides Park, and other locations. The art pictured on the seven colorful 14 foot by 3 foot banners was created by PS 90 students under the guidance of Ms. Luz Morales.

“The Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness is committed to learning about climate change and the role our community can play to combat it,” said Greta Hawkins, the school’s principal. “Expressing our appreciation of the natural wonders of our oceans through art is part and parcel of our studies at the school. We have a partnership with Mr. Denson and are grateful to the important work of the Coney Island History Project. The banner is representative of our longstanding collaboration with CIHP, and it is our students' way of connecting the natural environment with their Coney Island community. Aren't they amazing?" 

In April, PS 90 was one of 27 schools across the country designated a Green Ribbon School by the US Department of Education. The school was honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.

New on Charles Denson's Coneyologist channel on YouTube: "Immigrant Heritage and Coney Island" brings together archival and contemporary photos of immigrants, including images of Coney Island Creek, where immigrants come to fish and pray. This is a diverse, multicultural and spiritual envrionment. Unfortunately, the City's planned ferry dock will soon destroy this refuge on Coney Island Creek that provides peace and subsistence for the surrounding community.

posted Jun 29th, 2021 in Video Posts and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island Creek, immigrants,...

Coney Island History Project Interactive Map

The Coney Island History Project's new interactive digital map of Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods features links to our immigrant-themed oral history interviews, podcasts, films and photos, as well as to selected content on the web. The map is a work in progress focused on the cultural heritage of Southern Brooklyn's diverse immigrant community and stories of struggle, success and achievement. Coney Island, Coney Island Creek, Gravesend, Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach are among the location markers. 

Originally planned to debut in conjunction with the Fall 2021 release of data from the 2020 Census, we are offering a preview of the map this June. Additional media and census data will be added on a regular basis in the coming months. This program is part of the Cultural Immigrant Initiative 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.


What's in a name? 

Two beloved Coney Island icons have magically reappeared, albeit in name only. The eponymous labels recently showed up in signage on two new high-rise residential developments in the heart of Coney Island: Raven Hall  and the Carolina. Although it's nice to have these iconic names immortalized it's just a reminder of how ephemeral Coney Island really is. Will anyone remember that Ravenhall Baths and Carolina Restaurant once operated at these locations? Sadly, there will not be a swimming pool or Italian food to be found at these sites.

The original Ravenhall was one of the oldest attractions in Coney Island. Richard Ravenhall opened a small hotel in the 1860s that later expanded into a sprawling bathhouse resort that covered an entire block at West 19th street between the ocean and Surf Avenue. Ravenhall Baths had Coney Island's largest saltwater pool and dozens of other attractions. After a century of operation the Ravenhall complex was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1963. The Abe Stark Ice Rink and parking lot replaced it in 1969.

Carolina Restaurant on Mermaid Avenue at Stillwell was a popular neighborhood destination for more than 60 years. The restaurant closed 20 years ago and the wood frame building that housed the business was recently demolished to make way for new residential development.

Both of the high-rises that now bear the names of these icons have no relation to the historic Coney Island businesses that once stood nearby. The "Carolina" is a six-story luxury apartment building on Mermaid avenue and West 15th Street that includes the lot where Carolina Restaurant once stood.

The "Raven Hall" high-rise tower, is located on the former site of Washington Baths, not at the site of the Ravenhall resort . The developers must have decided that the name" Washington Baths" didn't sound classy enough. 

Will anyone rent apartments in these buildings for nostalgia's sake, or will the origins of the names be lost to the sands of time? You can listen to oral history interviews that tell the stories of Ravenhall and Carolina in the History Project's archive:

– Charles Denson

posted Jun 16th, 2021 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Coney Island History Project Photo by Norman Blake

Coney Island History Project banner being raised while muralist Danielle Mastrion paints our gates in preparation for this weekend's reopening. Photo By Norman Blake.

We’re thrilled to announce the Coney Island History Project is reopening Memorial Day Weekend for the 2021 season after 18 months of virtual programming. In accordance with NY State and City Covid-19 health and safety guidelines, the part of our exhibition center with an open-air front has been reconfigured for socially distanced viewing. Visitors will be able to view movies about Coney Island history, and see and take souvenir photos with Cy, the mesmerizing Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, our original Steeplechase Horse, and other wonders.

In addition, starting in June, we’re presenting a series of outdoor exhibits at Deno’s Wonder Wheel, P.S. 90, and other locations in Coney Island. All exhibitions are offered free of charge. Located on West 12th Street adjacent to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the new, under-construction Phoenix roller coaster, our exhibition center is open Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, from 1:00PM -7:00PM.

Visitors may purchase books, souvenirs, T-shirts and memberships at the History Project's exhibition center. They can also schedule appointments to record an oral history interview for our archive via phone, Zoom or Skype. For the safety of guests and staff, in-person oral history interviews and weekend walking tours remain postponed until further notice. We thank everyone for their understanding and continued support of the Coney Island History Project during these challenging times.



Jimmy Prince, Coney Island Photo ©  by Charles Denson 2009

Jimmy Prince was the kindest man in the world and the brightest light in Coney Island, a man who personified compassion, love and respect. There was no one else like him. He was born in 1932, the same year that Major Market opened on Mermaid Avenue and he began working at the market in June 1949 at the age of 18. Eventually he owned the store, and kept it open seven days a week, twelve hours a day until 2009. Jimmy became "Mr. Major," and his store became the heart of Coney Island, a refuge during hard times, where people came to find warmth and solace and nourishment. He was always positive and believed that Coney Island would survive.

Major Market became an anchor for Coney Island and an oasis for the community. Many generations grew up visiting “Mr. Major,” and would later bring their children to meet him and continue the tradition through the decades. Jimmy provided the same quality prime meat and produce found in New York’s finest restaurants. He wanted his Coney Island customers to have the best, even if it meant sacrificing and operating at a loss in the later years. He gave respect and received love in return.

In 2007, Jimmy confided that he was contemplating retirement and we began a two-year project to document his last days on Mermaid Avenue. The project became the 2009 feature documentary, "The Prince of Mermaid Avenue."  After closing the store that he’d operated for 60 years, Jimmy volunteered on weekends at the Coney Island History Project. Our Exhibit Center provided a transition for him as he could spend time with old friends and customers who stopped by to see him. His smile and delightful personality enchanted visitors to Coney Island who met him for the first time at the History Project."Mr. Major's" delightful, upbeat personality always made you feel at home. His passions included collecting baseball cards and postage stamps, and a visit to his home always included a trip to his basement “museum of baseball” where he showed photos of the Brooklyn Dodgers he'd taken at Ebbets Field. He always hoped that the Postal Service would issue a Coney Island stamp and we began lobbying for it. 

 Jimmy's bright light has not gone out, it will shine brightly forever in the hearts of all who knew him. He was a wonderful friend.

– Charles Denson

Jimmy Prince, Coney Island Photo © by Charles Denson 2009

Jimmy Prince and Charles Denson at Major Market, 2003

posted May 25th, 2021 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Coney Island Stories Coney Island History Project

On Memorial Day Weekend, lifeguards will once again be perched in their towers and New York City will celebrate the reopening of Coney Island's beach for swimming. Our new podcast episode "Beach Days" has dropped! Listen and subscribe to Coney Island Stories on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 8 shares stories of days at the beach from the 1920s through the 1990s taken from the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive.

The stories include childhood memories of family outings, a hidden playground under the boardwalk, a lava hot spot on the sand, the knish man, teenage memories of daring swimsuits, summer jobs renting beach chairs and umbrellas, and working as a lifeguard. Memories span the 1920s, when beach goers were fined as much $5 each - the equivalent of $75 today - for walking on the boardwalk in bathing suits, to the 1990s, when “under the boardwalk” was filled in with sand and a way of life changed forever.

The oral histories in the podcast are with Joseph Albanese, Connie Scacciaferro, Richard Termini, Ron Vernon, Steve Larkin, and Crystal Isley. The interviews were conducted from 2009 to 2019 by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, Samira Tazari, and Tricia Vita. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita.

Listen to previous episodes about Coney Island's legendary roller coasters and bathhouses, Mermaid Avenue, and family-owned restaurants and other businesses via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on the Coney Island History Project's website.

Photo credits: Top right, bottom left: Courtesy of Connie Scacciaferro. Bottom right: Coney Island History Project Collection.

posted May 24th, 2021 in Events and tagged with podcast, oral history, history,...

Coney Island Creek

Last Saturday the Coney Island History project joined sponsors City Parks Foundation, NYSMEA and Partnerships for Parks for the sixth annual It’s My Estuary Day on the Kaiser Park shoreline. We tabled with our partners to present the history and ecology of Coney Island natural ecosystems. Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse and the Kayak Foundation brought two dozen kayaks and invited local children and adults to learn to kayak and then paddle over to visit the yellow submarine on Coney Island Creek. It was an amazing day but was bittersweet because it could be the final time they can launch at Kaiser Park, where the city plans to build a massive ferry dock at Coney Island's only public access point on Coney Island Creek.

posted May 24th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Coney Island Creek, kayaking, It's My Estuary Day