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Archive for May, 2009

Cha-Chas Schedule of Events, photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

Cha-Cha's Schedule of Events, photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

We heard all about the East Coast-West Coast rivalry between Dick Zigun’s Coney Island Circus Sideshow and John Strong’s Circus Sideshow. Almost everyone, including the sideshow operators, agrees the publicity is good for Coney Island. But we’d heard nothing at all about the Squidling Brothers Circus Sideshow coming to Coney to challenge Ringling until we saw this note scrawled on Cha-Cha’s schedule: “Every Saturday Beginning May 30, Squidling Brothers Sideshow Karnival of Kuriosities.” Since Squidling rhymes with Ringling, and Ringling Brothers Coney Island Boom a Ring Circus will be just down the Boardwalk, ATZ wondered if the name was a product of JT Thomas’s wry humor.

Turns out the Squidlings are a real, live sideshow troupe from Philadelphia who performed at Cha-Cha’s Rockabilly Fest last summer.
Their MySpace page ballyhoos a sword swallower who performs upside down on a trapeze, a human see-saw on a bed of 1,500 nails, and a clown with a homemade flame thrower built into his sword. Ringling clowns take note!

Squidling Bros Circus Sideshow & Burlesque at Cha-Chas

Squidling Bros Circus Sideshow & Burlesque at Cha-Cha's

Also on this summer’s schedule at Cha-Cha’s: Live Jazz (Mondays), Live Rock, Blues and Classic Rock (Fridays), Latin Jazz and Classic Rock (Sundays) and a Rockabilly Fest on Labor Day Weekend.

Cha-Cha’s of Coney Island, Boardwalk just east of Stillwell Ave

Cha Chas Bar & Cafe on the Boardwalk next to Shoot the Freak in Coney Island, photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

Cha Cha's Bar & Cafe on the Boardwalk next to Shoot the Freak in Coney Island, photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

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Astrolands Bright and Shining Gate On Surf Avenue, September 7, 2008. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

Astroland's Bright and Shining Gate On Surf Avenue, September 7, 2008. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

After Astroland closed last year, the iconic front gate with its two spinning stars was dismantled and put in storage along with the park’s rides. Next week one lucky star will travel to its new home, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The museum announced today that Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert, owners of the former Astroland Park and current operators of Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster, have donated an eight-foot-high lighted star from the Astroland entrance gate to the Smithsonian Institution.

The Star will be displayed along with other science fiction icons such as the Star Trek Starship Enterprise in the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center after construction of Phase Two of the Center is completed in 2011 2013. According to Margaret A. Weitekamp, curator in the Museum’s Division of Space History, “The National Air and Space Museum is delighted to receive this important popular culture artifact into the national collection. Astroland embodied the widespread excitement about early human spaceflight in the early 1960s. Having a Star from the Astroland gateway, where thousands of people passed to enjoy this entertaining vision of the space age, is a wonderful example of that space craze.”

The Star, one of two from Astroland Park’s entrance on Surf Avenue in Coney Island, served as an iconic representation of Astroland’s space-age theme. The spinning stars were installed in 1963, at the height of the space race, and welcomed visitors for nearly half a century to the world renowned Astroland amusement park founded by Jerome Albert’s father, Dewey Albert.

Astroland Star on the Park's Surf Avenue Gate. Photo © Charles Denson/Courtesy of the Coney Island History Project

Astroland Star on the Park's Surf Avenue Gate. Photo © Charles Denson/Courtesy of the Coney Island History Project

photo via Coney Island History Project, flickr

Carol Hill Albert said, “The Astroland Star was chosen by my late father in law Dewey Albert as part of his new ‘space age’ themed amusement park because of its sense, quite literally of a bright and shining future ahead. Also, the star emitted light, and so much of the amusement business’ magic depends on the design and impact of its lighting, which he was of course, very familiar with. I see it as a tribute to my father in law’s astonishing sense of magic and mystery, and his visionary approach to the amusement business and its future. My husband and I are thrilled to know that this original star will become part of the Smithsonian’s distinguished collection.”

The Star section of the gate is made of steel, weighs approximately 200 pounds, and measures 6.5 feet in diameter. Each star is illuminated by 300 flashing lightbulbs (that includes both sides of the star). Astroland’s two stars were installed on a steel riser post that had a motor, which enabled the Stars to revolve.

Historian Charles Denson, the author of Coney Island: Lost and Found said, “The stars were an exciting and historic piece of Coney’s glimmering skyline and could be seen by millions of visitors arriving by subway. The sparkling star defined Astroland’s image, much as the crescent moon theme did at Luna Park, or the funny face logo did at Steeplechase Park.”

”In late 1961 Dewey Albert and his son Jerry Albert began transforming the Feltmans property into a space age theme park they called Feltmans Astro Park,” Denson says. “By the time it opened to the public in the summer of 1962 it had become ‘Astroland Park.’ After the closure of Steeplechase Park in 1964, the Albert family’s Astroland provided the anchor that held Coney Island together during the next four turbulent decades.”

A Time Magazine article from July 1963 described Coney Island’s then-new Astroland Park as “a $3,000,000 fun-and-games nexus devoted to space exploration. It has the Cape Canaveral Satellite Jet—passengers enter the rocket, fasten seat belts, then blast off with engines roaring as filmed special-effects from actual space shots conjure up a journey to the moon. The Colonel Glenn Sky Ride has 16 plastic bubbles orbiting 80 feet above the boardwalk. For downward exploration the Neptune Diving Bell encloses 30 people, drops them 35 feet down to an ‘ocean floor’ where live porpoises play.”

After Astroland Park closed in September 2008, the Astroland Rocket was donated to the City of New York to become part of the “new” Coney Island. The rest of “Astroland,” including the gate and the second Star, remains in storage, says owner Carol Hill Albert, “in suspended animation,” pending Coney Island’s future.

Astroland Star Being Removed from the Parks Iconic Front Gate. Photo © Charles Denson/Courtesy Coney Island History Project

Astroland Star Being Removed from the Park's Iconic Front Gate. Photo © Charles Denson/Courtesy Coney Island History Project

photo via Coney Island History Project, flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

December 30, 2009: Looking Back & Forward: Astroland Shrine on New Year’s Day 2009

November 23, 2009: The Contenders from A to Z: Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP

September 2, 2009: The Sad Anniversary of Coney Island’s Astroland Going Dark

May 21, 2009: Astroland Closed But Your Kid Can Still Ride the USS Astroland This Summer!

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New sideshow banners by Marie Roberts on Coney Island USA’s Building advertise this summer’s special guest freaks. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

New sideshow banners by Marie Roberts on Coney Island USA’s Building advertise this summer’s special guest freaks. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

This season at Coney Island USA’s ten-in-one circus sideshow, “Special Guest Freaks” will join the resident sword swallower, fire eater, snake charmer, escape artist and human blockhead. The new banner advertisements painted by artist-in-residence Marie Roberts are already decorating CIUSA’s building on 12th Street and Surf Avenue. The guest freaks include The Lizard Man, Jackie the Human Tripod, and England’s Mat Fraser

Coney Island Circus Sideshow, 1208 Surf Avenue at 12th Street, Coney Island

Related posts on ATZ…

January 25, 2010: March 14-17: Coney Island Sideshow Banner Painting School with Marie Roberts

December 2, 2009: Dec 12-13: Open Studio with Coney Island Artist & Banner Painter Marie Roberts

December 1, 2009: TLC’s Cake Boss Sweet on Marie Roberts’ Coney Island Sideshow Banners

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Opening day at Thor Equities huge tentless structure on west side of Stillwell behind Nathans. An equally huge and empty structure stands on the east side of the street. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Opening day at Thor Equities huge tentless structure on west side of Stillwell behind Nathan's. An equally huge and empty structure stands on the east side of the street. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

Before I start my tirade against Joe Sitt’s Memorial Day desecration of Coney Island’s C-7 amusement district, if you’re wondering “Are the rides and games open at Coney?” the answer is YES! The REST of Coney Island–Boardwalk and beach, rides, games, sideshows, food, drinks– is alive and kickin’! Thor Equities does NOT own the entirety of Coney Island, though you’d never guess it from the Sitt-centric Festival by the Sea posters in the subway.

The May 15 grand opening of Joe Sitt’s flea market was postponed due to threat of bad weather on a sunny day, but on Memorial Day Weekend the rescheduled less than grand opening took place under the open sky. Last weekend’s “Closed due to threat of bad weather” sign was replaced by one that read “Pardon our Appearance while we adjust our tents.” Translation: The City’s DOB is requiring that the tents and structures be able to withstand hurricane force winds before issuing a C of O.

Pardon us until we get our C of O from the DOB. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Pardon us until we get our C of O from the DOB. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Despite Thor Equities much vaunted $250K advertising campaign with full-page ads in the New York Post, Time Out New York, AM New York, plus subway advertising and Google ads, vendors were sparse over the Memorial Day Weekend. On Friday, a couple dozen vendors set up in preassigned spaces and were scattered throughout the huge tentless structures on both sides of Stillwell. Most of the booths were selling clothes, new and used. Vendors specializing in auto supplies, housewares, Arbonne cosmetics, a water filtration system, Hawaiian noni juice and credit counseling also made an appearance over the three-day weekend. Here is my set of flickr pix of Thor’s attempted flea in-fest-ation of Coney Island.

Vendors at Thor Equities Flopped Flea Market, Coney Island. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Vendors at Thor Equities Flopped Flea Market, Coney Island. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

Stands selling clothing and shoes were a reminder that Thor Equities pitch book unsuccessfullly used to lobby BP Markowitz for 10,000 square feet retail touted flagship retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap/Banana Republic, and DSW (“Thousands of shoes…prices you love”).

Shoes galore at Thor Equities flea market. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Shoes galore at Thor Equities flea market. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

One vendor told me she was given a free space on Friday to compensate for the time and trouble of having showed up last week for nothing. Several others said rent had been temporarily reduced from $100 a day to $20. Despite the bargain basement prices, many said they wouldn’t be back next weekend. On Saturday the flea management moved all of the vendors to the east side of Stillwell, leaving the tentless framework behind Nathan’s completely empty. On Surf Ave. I ran into a man and his son carrying a display rack with repros of his Coney themed artwork. Five dollars apiece. The man said he decided NOT to rent space at Thor’s festival after seeing the miserable setup. He also didn’t like the dirt ground of Sitt’s space. Instead he walked around Coney Island all day and was pleased to have exercised his first amendment rights by selling about $100 worth of his artwork without paying any rent.

Thor Equities idea of entertainment at the flea market was a band playing two sets.  Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Thor Equities idea of entertainment at the flea market was a band playing two sets. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

The entertainment at Thor Equities self-described “uniquely entertaining and amusing marketplace in Coney Island” consisted of a band playing two sets. So I guess this makes the flea legal in the C-7 amusement district? Loophole in the law or flagrant violation? In March Joe Sitt’s newly registered to do biz in NY state Delaware LLC “Chart Development Company” successfully applied for a DOB permit for a “temporary fair” after an earlier app for a “flea market” was disapproved.

Tent-less structure on East side of Stillwell Avenue

Thor Equities Flea Fest on Opening Day. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

Thor Equities Flea Fest on Opening Day. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

What used to be here? The Tornado Roller coaster (1927-1977), the Bobsled (1941-1974), and Stauch’s Baths and Dance Hall (1930-1998). An aerial view of the amusement district looking west from the Astro Tower in the 1970s shows Stauch’s Baths, the Wonder Wheel, the Tornado and Thunderbolt roller coasters and the Bobsled ride. In recent years, popular amusements such as the Bumper Boats, Go Karts, Climbing Wall, Batting Cages and Mini-Golf thrived here. Visitors to Coney still ask what happened to them: Bulldozed in February 2007 by Joe Sitt who was eager to get an early start on “site prep work” though nothing could be built there until the rezoning was done. Site prep work = Deliberately created empty lots.

The Bumper Boats and other amusements thrived on this very location until Joe Sitt evicted them in 2007 to create his empty lots. Hooray for redevelopment!  Photo by the hanner via flickr

The Bumper Boats and other amusements thrived on this very location until Joe Sitt evicted them in 2007 to create his empty lots. Hooray for redevelopment! Photo by the hanner via flickr

photo via the hanner, flickr

Joe Sitt’s Memorial Day Weekend flea in-fest-ation is a desecration of Coney Island’s C-7 amusement zone! The rash of press releases from Thor Equities touting their so-called “Festival by the Sea” fails to mention that Joe Sitt created the empty lots where he put his flea market. That area was NOT rundown until Sitt emptied it out to blight the property in hope of getting it rezoned for big box retail and high rises. There were thriving amusements here when Joe Sitt bought this property from Hy Singer. He evicted the amusement operators and made empty lots. Sitt wants to erase those rides and attractions from our collective memory to make way for a tented shopping mall followed by a permanent shopping mall. Want your Bumper Boats, Go-Karts, and Batting Cages back? Here’s what you can do to Save Coney Island’s amusement zoning now!

Somebody please tell the city what is wrong with this picture.  Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Somebody please tell the City what is wrong with this picture. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

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Related posts on ATZ...

March 29, 2011: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Close to Deal in Coney Island

December 20,2010: Displaced Queens Flea Vendors Eye Coney Island’s Vacant Lots
January 8, 2010: Coney Island 2010: Good Riddance to Thor Equities Flopped Flea Market, Hello Rides?

June 7, 2009: Sundown at Thor’s Unamusing Festival by the Sea Flea

May 17, 2009: No C of O for Thor Equities Tents, Coney Flea Fest Postponed!

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“What rides are open in Coney Island?” This question is one of the search terms being used to arrive at ATZ. Since Astroland closed last year, people continue to be uncertain about what rides have remained here and are open. Last weekend’s postponement of Thor Equities much advertised “Festival by the Sea” due to “threat of bad weather”on a sunny day and no show rides was a slap in the face to the “Coney Island is Really Fun. Really Open” campaign. Here’s the Memorial Day Weekend ride count…

Kiddie helicopter ride at Denos Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island. Deno’s has 22 rides including the world famous Wonder Wheel. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Kiddie helicopter ride at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island. Deno’s has 22 rides including the world famous Wonder Wheel. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

More than 35 40 rides owned and operated by Coney Island’s veteran ride operators have been open since April 5th. Come out and enjoy the Cyclone Roller Coaster, Wonder Wheel, Eldorado Skooters, the Polar Express, Saturn 6 and kiddie rides such as the Bumblebeez and the Sea Serpent Coaster.

Coney Island Cyclone, Second Ride of the Season. Photo by Pablo57 via flickr

Coney Island Cyclone, Second Ride of the Season. Photo by Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

At Thor Equities “Dreamland Amusement Park” (on the former Astroland site aka Sittland East) the Georgia-based Geren carnival’s Ring of Fire, Himalaya and Scrambler were set up and open for business for the first time on Saturday. You may remember these rides from Thor’s “Summer of Hope” carnival on Stillwell last season. Geren’s rides left in mid July to play the carnival’s Southern fair route. Will they stay till Labor Day this year or be switched out with other rides? Geren’s Spin-Out was also open for biz on Saturday.

Georgia-based Geren Rides Spin-Out at Thor Equities Dreamland Park in Coney Island. Photo by me-myself-i

Georgia-based Geren Rides Spin-Out at Thor Equities "Dreamland Park" in Coney Island. Photo by me-myself-i

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

Five additional carnival rides–one thrill ride, a merry-go-round, three other kiddie rides– were being set up at Joe Sitt’s park-in-progress on Saturday but were not yet ready to open.  ATZ will be posting updates and analysis of the Memorial Day Weekend and will have more to say about Joey Coney Island’s shortcomings as an amusement park tycoon. I mean what kind of a 21st century amusement park developer fails to have his “upwards of 25 rides” in place and ready for action on the first big weekend of summer?

The title of my post “Memorial Day Weekend Mania” is dedicated to Bob Guskind of Gowanus Lounge, whose coverage of all things Coney inspired me to launch ATZ. If Bob were still here, he would undoubtedly be covering this story and I would be at the beach.

MEMORIAL DAY UPDATE…On Monday, eight of the nine rides at Sitt’s Dreamland were operational and open for business. The carousel was under construction.

JUNE 4, 2009 UPDATE> ..“What rides are open at Coney Island?”
Coney Island Ride Count

AUGUST 5, 2009 UPDATE…“Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!”

Merry Go Round Set up at Thor’s amusement park-in-progress on Memorial day Weekend. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Merry Go Round Set up at Thor’s amusement park-in-progress on Memorial day Weekend. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

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Related posts on ATZ...

April 22, 2011: Coney Island Has 64 Rides and 30 Weekends of Summer!

November 18, 2010: Good News from Coney Island! Eldorado “Bump Your Ass Off” Bumper Cars To Reopen

August 28, 2010: Video: Grand Prize Winner of Luna Park Coney Island’s Film Contest!

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Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink in the landmark Childs Building on Coney Island’s Boardwalk. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink in the landmark Childs Building on Coney Island’s Boardwalk. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

Scoot over to Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink tonight for a first-of-the-season skating party. Tonight’s theme is Flashdance. Lola’s new neighbor, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Coney Island Boom-A-Ring!” Circus is sending some performers to join in the fun. I wonder if the Ringling clowns, who usually wear those funny, bubble-toed clown shoes, will sport specially designed skates?

Lola’s new cafe opens May 30 with scrumptious pastries from Brooklyn Treats and sandwiches from Luscious. Lola Staar aka Dianna Carlin writes:

What could possibly be better that chillin’ on the Coney Island boardwalk with an Iced Astro-Mocha and delicious Cotton-Candy-Butterscotch Muffin??

Dreamland Roller Rink is expanding our fabulous Concession Area to include coffee drinks, yummy baked goods, ice cream and delicious sandwiches!! Dreamland Cafe will be open to the public as well as patrons of the rink!! Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays!!

Dreamland Roller Rink, Childs Building, 3052 West 21st St at the Boardwalk

This business closed at the end of the 2009 season and is seeking a new location.

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USS Astroland, Herschell Boat Ride at Deno's Kiddie Park in Coney Island. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

USS Astroland, Herschell Boat Ride at Deno's Kiddie Park in Coney Island. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

Astroland closed in September 2008, but your kid can still ride the USS Astroland in 2009, and 2010, and far into the future. Wish I could ride too–but grownups aren’t allowed. This classic Allan Herschell kiddie boat ride is in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, which according to a new sign is “open this year, & next, & next, & next, & next…” Deno’s owns the Wonder Wheel and the land beneath it and has a lease on the kiddie park property through 2020. Last October, the City entered into a purchase agreement to acquire the 1-acre kiddie park parcel for $11 million from the Ward family after Thor Equities dropped out of the deal. The Coney Island Rumor Mill is sayin’ the closing is imminent. Will city officials break a bottle of Brooklyn egg cream against the hull of one of the kiddie boats to celebrate the land acquisition? Of course, the rides belong to Deno’s and are not part of the deal.

Each little boat is named after a different Coney Island park, all defunct now except for Deno’s, whose namesake is the ocean blue USS Deno’s Wonder Wheel. When the rides were repainted a few years ago, former arcade owner and history buff Stan Fox had the idea it would be a neat way to pay tribute to Coney’s amusement heritage. The other boats are named after Boyton’s Sea Lion Park (1895-1902), Luna Park (1903-1946), Dreamland (1904-1911) and Steeplechase (1897-1964).

Although Astroland closed in 2008, Coney Island has 50 54 amusement rides up and running in 2009!

Denos Wonder Wheel Parks new banner proudly proclaims We ARE Coney Island! Photo by Pablo57 via flickr

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park's new banner proudly proclaims "We ARE Coney Island!" Photo by Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

December 30, 2009: Looking Back & Forward: Astroland Shrine on New Year’s Day 2009

November 23, 2009: The Contenders from A to Z: Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP

June 8, 2009: Coney Island Rides: Tug Boat and Carousel in McCullough’s Kiddie Park

May 29, 2009: Astroland Star from Coney Island’s Space-Age Theme Park Donated to the Smithsonian

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