The Face of Steeplechase

You're invited to preview the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center season on Coney Island's Opening Day. 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project! Ten years ago our oral history project began with a portable recording booth and proved to be so popular that we later expanded to a permanent location. Stop by our exhibit center to view historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past and preview selections from upcoming exhibits.

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project will be open on Palm Sunday, April 13th, and again on Easter Sunday, April 20th, from 1:00PM till 6:00PM. Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, from 12 noon. Admission is free of charge.

Palm Sunday is the official season opener for Coney Island's rides and attractions. The Opening Day celebration starts at 11AM with the annual tradition of the Blessing of the Rides at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park by Pastor Debbe Santiago of Coney Island's Salt and Sea Mission, and is followed by the Egg Cream Christening of the Cyclone's front car at 12 noon. Our special guest at the Coney Island History Project will be the legendary Cyclops from Deno's Spook-A-Rama dark ride. Visitors are invited to take a FREE souvenir photo with the Cyclops or an original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Hope to see you at the festivities!

Under the Wonder Wheel on West 12th Street

THE FACE OF STEEPLECHASE

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be "The Face of Steeplechase: The Evolution of an Icon," in honor of the 50th anniversary of the closing of Steeplechase Park (1897-1964) and the 100th anniversary of the death of Steeplechase creator George C. Tilyou (1862-1914).

Tilyou's "Funny Face" dates back to the early days of Steeplechase, where the famous visage appeared on signs, murals and ride tickets. Today in Coney Island, you can see variations of the Funny Face - on signs, beer labels, t-shirts, etc. "Tillie" is the New Jersey variation of Coney Island's Funny Face and was painted in the '50s at Asbury Park in homage to the Coney original! Coney Island West End 1974

CONEY ISLAND'S WEST END: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHARLES DENSON

By popular demand, one of the slide shows we'll have in our exhibit center this season will feature never-before-seen images of the West End from Charles Denson's archive and photos that he took in the 1970s. "The West End of Coney Island is a vibrant and resilient community that's survived many challenges over the last few decades," said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. "I grew up there and documented the wave of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s that transformed our community and changed the lives of its residents. This slide show tells the story of the area going back to 1600s."

Titled "The History of Coney Island's West End and the Presence and Contributions of African Americans in Coney Island from the 1600s to the Present," the photos were shown for the first time in February at a Black History Month celebration and panel co-hosted by Mathylde Frontus of Urban Neighborhood Services and sponsored by U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, City Councilman Mark Treyger, State Senator Diane Savino, State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, Emblem Health and the Alliance for Coney Island.

Mangles Kiddie Whip Car Coney Island History Project

WILLIAM F. MANGELS: THE WIZARD OF 8TH STREET

An exhibit on the work of Coney Island-based ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F Mangels (1867-1958) will open in August. Mangels invented rides such as the Tickler and the Whip and built the mechanisms for countless roller coasters and carousels, including the B&B Carousell, which was brought back to Coney Island last year. Among the classic rides in Deno's Kiddie Park are a Mangels Pony Cart and Fire Engine. Mangels' former shop building on West Eighth Street is now an office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

(read more)
(Posted on Apr 02, 2014)
Coney Island History Project at Archives Field Day

Archivists came together at the 92nd St Y for the first-ever Archives Field Day on March 22nd. The event was sponsored by the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York. Visitors were invited to solve a series of questions using primary sources from the National Archives, NY-Historical Society, Girl Scouts USA, Coney Island History Project and other organizations. This year's theme was Sports and Leisure.

Each puzzle solved earned visitors a stamp in their Archives Field Day Passport and a chance to win prizes, including ride passes for Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. For more photos, visit our flickr set. In 2008, the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York honored the Coney Island History Project with the ARTS Award for Innovative Use of Archives.

(Posted on Apr 02, 2014)
There was much to be thankful for in Coney Island during 2013: The B&B Carousell returned, Steeplechase Plaza opened, the storm-damaged pier was rebuilt, and the Parachute Jump was given a new lighting scheme. But the year also saw the demise of several historic structures. The Astrotower demolition received the most publicity as the tower was cut to pieces amid a cloud of mass hysteria. Nearly the entire amusement zone was closed down on the Fourth of July as the swaying tower met its demise. The demolition was unnecessary and left a huge hole in Coney’s skyline. The other structures we lost received little attention. West Eighth Street bore the brunt of the demolition. Until the 1960s West Eighth was a center of an amusement manufacturing, and until recently you could still see remnants of its industrial past. Now those remnants are being slowly erased.  

Eye Candy

First to disappear were the beautiful mosaic murals on the façade of the old Bonomo candy factory at the Neptune Avenue end of the street. The colorful triptych dated to the 1940s, and each stylized panel illustrated the story of candy manufacturing: raw materials, processing, and delicious finished products. When scaffolding went up around the building, I asked the workers what was happening. They claimed they were “cleaning the front.” A week later, the enormous murals were gone. The murals were located next door to the old William F. Mangels amusement factory, which now houses the Department of Motor Vehicles. We had tried for years without success to document the history of the murals, but the building’s owners were not helpful, and the artist was never identified.

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The Bonomo Murals
 

The Castle

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The KeySpan Building
Farther up the block, on Coney Island Creek, the sprawling brick headquarters of the old Brooklyn Union Gas Company was unceremoniously reduced to rubble this past fall as the site was cleared for a public storage facility. The 85-year-old Tudor revival building was an architectural gem, and there was nothing else like it in Coney Island. We will miss the decorative Flemish brickwork, copper-lined gable dormers, multicolored slate roof, buttresses, huge bay windows, tall chimneys, and massive wood front doors. The building’s fixtures and decorative elements were scavenged and carted off to a Manhattan antique store.  

Coney’s High Line

At the Surf Avenue end of West Eighth Street, the half-century-old steel arch pedestrian overpass known as the “Shark Bridge” was demolished after years of civic neglect. The bridge, spanning Surf Avenue, was built in 1956 to connect the West Eighth Street elevated station to the Aquarium and Boardwalk. Beach-goers, especially the elderly and families with children, used it to avoid the dangerous traffic on Surf Avenue. The bridge was controversial when Robert Moses erected it as an entrance to the Aquarium because some felt that its purpose was to bypass Coney’s attractions. There are no plans to replace the bridge, and visitors will now have to fight traffic to get to the beach.

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The Shark Bridge: Coney's High Line No more easy access
 

The Carolina Building

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Last fall, the 19th-century building on Mermaid Avenue that once housed Carolina Restaurant was bulldozed, to be replaced an apartment house. The Carolina closed a decade ago, and the building recently housed a Chinese restaurant that never reopened after suffering damage from Hurricane Sandy. The surrounding area was once the center of an Italian-American community that boasted numerous Italian restaurants. Gargiulo's is the last one standing. Coincidentally, an old billboard advertising the Carolina, located behind a gas station on Neptune Avenue and West 17th Street, was removed earlier in the year, also to make way for an apartment building. (read more)
(Posted on Feb 14, 2014)
On the Beach, Coney Island. 1934

Coney Island residents and friends are cordially invited to celebrate Black History Month with us in Coney Island on February 17th. The Coney Island History Project and Urban Neighborhood Services are hosting a slideshow presentation by Charles Denson followed by a panel discussion with long-time community members. Titled "The History of Coney Island's West End and the Presence and Contributions of African Americans in Coney Island from the 1600s to the Present," the slideshow will feature never-before-seen images from Charles Denson's archive and photos that he took in the 1970s.

U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Coney Island's first African American Congressman, will be a special guest. The event is sponsored by City Councilman Mark Treyger, State Senator Diane Savino, State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, Emblem Health and the Alliance for Coney Island.

Dinner will be served after the presentation.

WHEN: Monday, February 17, 4-6PM

WHERE: PS 329, 2929 West 30th Street, Coney Island

Coney Island, West End 1974

"I am personally excited to work with Charles Denson to bring this very important event to the residents of Coney Island," said Mathylde Frontus, founder of Urban Neighborhood Services, a community-based non-profit founded in 2004 that offers supportive programming on topics such as health and wellness, academic achievement, and other relevant subjects. "African Americans have a long and rich history of contributing to the vibrancy and well-being of this peninsula and I believe that Charlie's slideshow combined with the first-hand accounts of long-time Coney Island residents will really elucidate this all the more."

"The West End of Coney Island is a vibrant and resilient community that's survived many challenges over the last few decades," said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. "I grew up there and documented the wave of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s that transformed our community and changed the lives of its residents. This slide show will tell the story of the area going back to 1600s."

Black History Month, Coney Island

Please share this event flyer with your friends and neighbors. All are welcome to celebrate Black History Month with us in Coney Island on February 17th.

Black History Month, Coney Island
(Posted on Feb 12, 2014)
Coney Island History Project

2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project! Ten years ago our oral history project began with a portable recording booth located on the boardwalk. The colorful booth-on-wheels, dubbed the "Memory Booth," had an air-conditioned recording studio illuminated by a skylight. Wooden "wings" opened from the booth to display our mission statement and historic photographs. We parked our booth in front of the Aquarium's education center during the day and in front of Astroland at night. Our program proved to be so popular that we later expanded to a permanent location.

Memory Booth

Coney Island History Project Memory Booth, 2005

The History Project was founded by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park, and opened its exhibit center below the Cyclone in 2007. In 2011 we moved to our current home beside the Wonder Wheel at the invitation of the Vourderis family, owners of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. During the last decade we've recorded the oral histories of many departed Coney luminaries whose stories would have been lost forever. The voices of Jack Ward, Jimmy McCullough, Matt Kennedy, and Joe Rollino and others can be found in our archive.

Charles Denson and Carol Hill Albert

Carol Hill Albert and Charles Denson in the Memory Booth, 2005

The Coney Island Hall of Fame pays tribute to pioneers and visionaries whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape and define Coney Island over the past century and was inaugurated on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone roller coaster in 2005. Our exhibits have included "Land Grab: A History of Coney Island Development," "Woody Guthrie's Coney Island Years," "The Astroland Archives Photography Exhibit," "Coney Island Icons," "Luna Park Revisited," "The Dreamland Fire Centennial," and "Coney Island Bathhouses: A Lost Culture." In 2012, we presented the first solo show by local photographer Abe Feinstein, who has been documenting his neighborhood for more than 50 years.

2013 saw our recovery from Hurricane Sandy and the opening of two new exhibits: "The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard" displayed several salvaged Millard murals as well as a full photo documentation of his work from the walls of the Playland building, which was demolished in February. We also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Vourderis family's operation of the Wonder Wheel with a photographic history of the famous landmark.

The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard

"The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard" Exhibit, 2013

In August, the 3rd Annual History Day presented by Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project was the inaugural event at the new Dreamland Plaza on West 12th Street. The free event included a Coney Island history trivia contest, an interactive magic show, and performances by organ grinders from the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) and the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) as well as the opportunity for visitors to hand crank the organs.

History Day, Coney Island History Project

Prof. Phineas Feelgood's World of Magic at History Day, Dreamland Plaza, August 2013

History Project director Charles Denson's Sandy documentary "The Storm" premiered at the Coney Island Film Festival in September and was screened at the Brooklyn Art Council's Scene: Brooklyn Film Series commemorating the 1st anniversary of Sandy. In October, the New York State Marine Education Association (NYSMEA) presented the Herman Melville Literary Award to Charles Denson for his contributions to marine education through the Coney Island History Project, his books and his preservation efforts for Coney Island Creek.

CreekWalk Coney Island Creek

A series of informational plaques designed and created by Charles Denson were installed on the creek side of Kaiser Park, 2012

The 2014 season promises to be our most exciting yet. In late December our proposal for the return of the Astroland Rocket was approved by the City and we're now planning an extensive exhibit about the rocket and space-themed Coney attractions of the past. Ownership of the historic Rocket will be transferred to the History Project and the Vourderis family will provide a permanent home for it in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park.

Astroland Rocket

Coney Island: The "Star Flyer" Rocket debuted in Astroland in 1962

From the balloons, blimps and biplanes of the early days of aviation to the Astroland-sponsored airshows by the Thunderbirds, Golden Knights and Blue Angels, flight demonstrations have drawn crowds to Coney Island.The Rocket exhibit will...

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(Posted on Jan 06, 2014)
Happy Holidays from the Coney Island History Project
(Posted on Dec 23, 2013)