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Wilensky Hardware

Wilensky Hardware at 2126 Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, a third-generation family business founded in 1920. October 18, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

This year in Coney Island, Friscia Pharmacy and Wilensky Hardware on Mermaid Avenue and the landmark Wonder Wheel are marking their 95th anniversaries. All three first opened for business in 1920. That’s a remarkable feat of longevity in a City where every day we hear about another small business being pushed out by skyrocketing rent, the influx of chains or rampant redevelopment. According to blogger Jeremiah Moss of Vanishing New York, who recently launched the #SaveNYC campaign to help Mom & Pops, if you add up all the years in business represented, New York City lost 6,926 years of its history in the dozen years from 2001 to 2013.

What do Coney Island’s 95-year-old Mom & Pops have in common? One is still owned by its founding family while the other two were sold to new owners decades ago. All “own the premises,” as Carnegie Deli founder Milton Parker famously recommended in his 2005 memoir. Nowadays, that advice has almost become a prerequisite for survival in New York City.

Wilensky Hardware at 2126 Mermaid Avenue has been owned and operated by three generations of the Wilensky family. “It was started by my wife’s grandfather Samuel Wilensky in 1920,” says Steve Feinstein. Asked if he had any unusual and obsolete pieces of hardware that he could show us, he said the store used to supply Steeplechase Park with bolts up to 1″ x 36″. Unfortunately, everything in the store, including the old stock, was ruined by Hurricane Sandy.

Friscia Pharmacy

Friscia Pharmacy, at 1505 Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Down the block at 1505 Mermaid Avenue is Friscia Pharmacy, “The Oldest in Coney Island,” as a sign at its entrance proudly proclaims. The banner on the side of the building celebrating the store’s 94th anniversary caught our eye last year and inspired this story. Pharmacist Anthony Morano tells us he has been there 42 years. His partner Frank Giordano retired in 2014 after five decades of service to the community.

It was Giordano who bought the pharmacy from Anthony Friscia in 1960. While we were in the store, business was brisk and an old-timer told ATZ that there had been another owner before Friscia. A druggists directory from 1921 reveals that his name was S. Gentile. Giordano says the apothecary jars they once used to make ointments, as well as measuring scales and other antique items were destroyed when the pharmacy was flooded by Sandy and had to be rebuilt.

Friscia Pharmacy

Friscia Pharmacy, “The Oldest in Coney Island.” March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The Wonder Wheel was built by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company in 1920 and designated an official New York City landmark in 1989. Today it is owned and operated by the second and third generations of the Vourderis family. The family patriarch, for whom “Denos D. Vourderis Place” (West 12th Street between the Boardwalk and the Bowery) is named, bought the Wheel 32 years ago this June.

A popular spot for engagement photos, the Wheel has a very romantic history: When Denos D. Vourderis was a hot dog vendor in the 1940s, he promised his sweetheart Lula that he would buy the Wonder Wheel for her as a wedding present if she would marry him. She said yes and he was able to buy the Wheel in 1983 when it was offered for sale by Fred Garms, whose father Herman was its first owner-operator. The Vourderis family restored the Wheel and made it the centerpiece of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.

“It takes a lifetime of devotion, hard work, and dedication to preserve this wonderful landmark attraction,” co-owner Steve Vourderis told Amusement Today on the 90th anniversary of the Wheel. “We have a responsibility to ourselves, our family and most of all to dad to make sure its legacy lives on. It also helps to love what you do.”

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. August 9, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

Turning 95 is a milestone but this trio of businesses have neighbors who have been around even longer. The original Nathan’s Famous, which will celebrate its centennial in 2016, is the City’s oldest hot dog stand and holds the City’s oldest beer license. Across Surf Avenue on West 15th Street is the 108-year-old Gargiulo’s Restaurant. Founded by Gus Gargiulo and owned by the Russo brothers since 1965, it serves classic Neapolitan cuisine and hosts special events from dinner dances and weddings to the annual Alliance for Coney Ialand Gala.

Two slightly younger neighbors are in their 80’s: The famed Totonno’s Pizzeria on Neptune Avenue since 1924 is on every list of The Ten Best Pizzas in New York City. The world-famous Cyclone Roller Coaster was built in 1927 by the Rosenthal brothers, saved from demolition by Astroland Park’s Dewey Albert in 1975 and is now operated by Luna Park.

For more info on Vanishing New York’s #SaveNYC, a crowd-sourcing campaign that aims to protect small businesses by passing long-stalled legislation in the City Council and starting a Cultural Landmarks Program, visit the website or join the Facebook group.

Gargiulo's Restaurant

Gargiulo’s Restaurant on West 15th Street in Coney Island. March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

UPDATE March 11, 2015:

Thanks to photographer Lisanne Anderson for sending us her lovely photos of Friscia Pharmacy’s storefront taken five years ago, when they were celebrating their 90th anniversary. Note the neon signs!

Friscia Pharmacy

Friscia Pharmacy, on their 90th anniversary. Photo © Lisanne Anderson

Friscia Pharmacy

Prescriptions Sign at Friscia Pharmacy, on their 90th anniversary in 2010. Photo © Lisanne Anderson

Related posts on ATZ…

January 20, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park Adds Scrambler, ‘Twist & Shout’ Drop Tower

November 18, 2014: ATZ’s Guide to Coney Island’s Honorary Walks and Places

March 5, 2013: Coney Island’s Mermaid Avenue Four Months After Sandy

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

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Schweikerts Walk

The sign for Schweikerts Walk, an alley adjacent to Nathan’s, had vanished from its bracket. November 16, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

What’s missing from the above photo of Nathan’s taken last November? The street sign for Schweikerts Walk, the alley where Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest was originally held. In the late ’90s, either 1997 or 1998, the contest moved to Stillwell Avenue, Nathan’s spokesman George Shea tells ATZ. Happily, a brand-new street sign was spotted at this historic site on Saturday, as you can see in the photo below by Magicalthemeparks.

ATZ noted the missing sign while researching ATZ’s Guide to Coney Island’s Honorary Walks and Places (November 18, 2014), which includes stops at Milton Berger Place, Jones Walk and Granville T Woods Way. We reported it the next day via the City’s Street Sign Defect Complaint page for dangling, damaged or missing signs. The response time is said to be 30 days. On January 29, we finally received an email saying “the Department of Transportation has inspected the condition you reported and a repair order has been issued for the signs to be manufactured and replaced.” And here we are at Schweikerts Walk, which was named after Philip Schweikert, a local bottler whose mineral water bottles are highly collectible today.

Schweikerts Walk

Schweikerts Walk Sign Replaced by DOT. February 7, 2015. Photo © Magicalthemeparks

No word yet from D.O.T. on two other signs missing from Coney Island for which we also filed reports: Henderson Walk and the Dewey Albert Place sign at the Boardwalk. In June 1997, 10th Street between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk was named Dewey Albert Place in recognition of the work and life of the founder of Astroland and in celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Cyclone Roller Coaster. The sign on Surf Avenue is intact but construction underway at 10th Street and the Boardwalk may impede the replacement of the second sign.

Henderson Walk seems to be out of luck because there’s no longer a street pole for the sign. When Thor Equities put in a new sidewalk on Surf Avenue in 2012, the street pole was removed as well as two 119-year-old trolley utility poles. The former Henderson Walk is fenced off by Thor and used as a parking lot. As far as the City is concerned, has Henderson Walk ceased to officially exist? The Kensington Walk sign remains on Surf Avenue, though the Walk itself is no more.

Related posts on ATZ…

November 18, 2014: ATZ’s Guide to Coney Island’s Honorary Walks and Places

April 4, 2012: Photo of the Day: Granville T. Woods Memorial Trolley Pole

February 21, 2012: Thor Destroys 119-Year-Old Relics of Coney Trolley History

January 19, 2010: Nathan Slept Here! Coney Island’s Feltman’s Kitchen Set for Demolition

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Coney Island Boardwalk Under Reconstruction. April 23, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

Today’s 1pm rally moved to Boardwalk pavilion at Brighton 4th St, few blocks west of Coney Island Ave, if still raining. Please spread the word!

After Bill de Blasio’s campaign rhetoric as the choice for voters who wanted to reject Bloomberg’s policies, we’re disappointed with the Mayor for not only continuing the Bloomberg-approved Concretewalk but failing to listen to local council members and the community. All year, letters and requests for an environmental study and a meeting to discuss the Coney Island-Brighton Beach Boardwalk with Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver were rebuffed. Finally a charade of a stakeholders’ meeting was hastily arranged on the day before New Year’s Eve.

On Monday evening, Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island, and Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who represents Brighton Beach, put out a call for a rally and press conference on Sunday, January 18th.

Rally to Save Our Boardwalk!

COMMUNITY ALERT

Join Council Member Mark Treyger and Council Member Chaim Deutsch in the fight to preserve and protect the historic Brighton Beach and Coney Island Boardwalk.

YOUR help is needed to halt the plans to turn the Boardwalk into a concrete sidewalk with a center roadway for trucks.

PRESS CONFERENCE
WHEN: Sunday, January 18, 2015 at 1 PM
WHERE: On the Boardwalk at Coney Island Avenue

This project will destroy the character of our neighborhood, create dangerous conditions for children, seniors, joggers and everyone else who enjoys the Boardwalk.

The Boardwalk has been badly neglected and allowed to deteriorate. Yet the Parks Department refuses to repair it. Turning it into a concrete sidewalk with a center roadway is not the solution!

We have evidence that concrete will increase storm surge damage to our homes and businesses, yet the City and the Parks Department refuse to consider our safety. They just began ripping up a large section in Brighton Beach. This is only the beginning!

The Parks Department is refusing to listen to what the community wants.

OUR LIVES MATTER!

OUR NEIGHBORHOOD MATTERS!

Come to the rally and preserve the Boardwalk!

For more information, contact:
Council Member Mark Treyger 718-373-9673

save the boardwalk

Related posts on ATZ…

December 20, 2014: Save the Boardwalk for Future Gens! Sign Brooklyn Pols Petition to Make it ‘Scenic Landmark’

March 22, 2012: The Coney Island-Brighton Beach Concretewalk Blues

March 9, 2012: The 10 People Who Will Decide the Fate of Coney Island Boardwalk

December 27, 2010: Photo of the Day: First Snow on Coney Island Boardwalk

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Coney Island Pumping Station

Coney Island Pumping Station designed by architect I.S. Chanin and completed in 1938

The Coney Island Pumping Station, a long vacant and neglected 1938 art moderne gem built by Chanin Building architect I.S. Chanin on Coney Island Creek is among nearly 100 proposed landmarks set to be dropped en masse from the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s calendar on December 9th. The city-owned building would be the only landmark outside of Coney’s amusement area, which has six landmarks. Gravesend’s privately owned Van Sicklen House, often referred to as Lady Deborah Moody’s House, is also in the group of buildings, all of which were first calendared prior to 2010.

In this morning’s email an Urgent Preservation Alert from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) confirmed the news first posted on Friday by Landmarks West and posted a link to the official notice on the LPC’s website.

Pegasus

Pegasus statues from the Coney Island Pumping Station were removed to the Brooklyn Museum’s Sculpture Garden for safekeeping in 1980. Photo © Charles Denson

Decommissioned as a fire pumping station in 1976, the long vacant structure on Neptune Avenue is listed as a “non-residential structure with no use” in the database of City-owned property. Nothing ever came of a plan reported by the NY Times in 1990 to spend $23 million to revive the structure to connect two wings of transitional housing for homeless families.

Today, Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, says the facade can be restored and the building reused. As part of the City’s “How Would You Spend One Million” participatory budgeting program, Denson has already proposed using the property for a “constructed wetland” bio-filter demonstration project on Coney Island Creek. “This project would demonstrate the benefits of natural filtration as a way to clean Coney Island Creek’s storm sewers using natural methods of wastewater treatment.”

“The demonstration project would consist of tanks of Spartina filtering waste water that now flows untreated into Coney Island Creek,” writes Denson, who grew up in the neighborhood and recently released a film on the uncertain future on the Creek. “The project, located on city-owned land behind the old Neptune Avenue pumping station, would be educational, create habitat for wildlife, and help clean a recreational environment that is heavily used by the surrounding Coney Island community. Local schools could work with teachers and scientists to build and operate this small facility.” Machinery for the project would be located inside the building, Denson says.

Coney Island Pumping Station

Coney Island Pumping Station, Neptune Avenue. July 18, 2014. Photo © Charles Denson

After being proposed for landmark designation in 1980, the building was to be mothballed and protected for future use, according to a 1981 article in The Society for Commercial Archaeology News Journal. However, the city proved unable to protect the building from vandals who removed the nickel silver, steel, aluminum and granite trim, and chiseled away at the facade and the winged horses at the building’s entrance. “In an attempt to protect the sculpture from further vandalism, Charles Savage, director of the Commission’s salvage program, managed to have them removed to the Brooklyn Museum for safekeeping. Local press applauded the preservation of this portion of the so-called ‘off-beat Coney Island landmark.'”

According to today’s alert from GVSHP’s Andrew Berman:

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has just scheduled a vote for next Tuesday, December 9th on a mass ‘de-calendaring’ of nearly one hundred buildings and structures throughout the five boroughs. With no testimony from the public allowed and without even consideration of the individual merits of each site, the Commission will vote to ‘de-calendar’ or remove scores of buildings from its calendar for official consideration as individual landmarks

When a site has been “calendared” by the LPC, it is officially under consideration for landmark status, and the Commission can hold a public hearing and/or vote to designate the structure. Perhaps more importantly, calendaring means that no demolition, construction, or alteration permits can be granted for a site without first notifying the LPC and allowing them up to forty days to designate the structure or negotiate a change or withdrawal of the permit applications. Once de-calendared, the Commission gets no notification of such permit applications and has no power to delay their issuance, allowing these buildings to be altered or demolished at will.

GVSHP has called upon the LPC to drop the proposed mass de-calendaring, and to instead consider the individual merits of each of the structures in question through an open public hearing and review process (read letter HERE).

HOW TO HELP:

Write to the Mayor and the Chair of the LPC right away and urge them to drop the proposed de-calendaring>>

Hold Tuesday, December 9th on your calendar — if the City does not drop the proposed de-calendaring, we will need you to join us and other preservationists on the day of the vote to protest this egregious action.

A map of the nearly 100 structures throughout the city set to be de-calendered is HERE.

LPC decalendering

UPDATE December 5, 2014:

An email this morning from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation with the good news! BREAKING: Facing Mass Opposition City Drops Plan For De-Calendaring of Nearly 100 Potential Landmarks! Thanks to Andrew Berman of GVSHP and other advocacy groups for their leadership on this issue. We hope there is a silver lining to this and the buildings that were calendered long ago and forgotten, like the Coney Island Pumping Station, finally get the consideration they deserve.

On the website of the Landmarks Preservation Commission the following notice was posted: STATEMENT FROM CHAIR MEENAKSHI SRINIVASAN RE: PROPOSAL TO ADDRESS AGENCY BACKLOG… Agency will take additional time to consider its proposal to issue “no action” letters to items that have been on LPC’s calendar for five years or more with no action taken by the Commission. “In response to community requests for more time, the Commission has decided not to proceed on December 9th and take a pause to continue to consider feedback on aspects of the proposal. We remain committed to making the Landmarks Commission more effective and responsive in its work, and to clearing a backlog of items that have sat idle for decades so that we can focus on today’s preservation opportunities.”

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Chance Turbo

Ad for a Chance Turbo ride in Zhejiang, China, which recently sold to an amusement park in Canada via usedrides.com. November 7, 2014

A surreal-looking amusement ride from the 1970’s called the Turbo has hundreds of devoted fans ready to schedule their vacations and travel to distant places for its comeback. Though only 23 Turbos were manufactured by Chance Rides from 1970 through 1976, and none are currently in operation, two are being lovingly restored in California and Australia. The 635 members of the Turbo Amusement Ride Fan Club, a private group on Facebook, are eagerly awaiting the chance to go for a retro spin.

A few days ago, when an ad for a Turbo for sale in Zhejiang, China appeared on usedrides.com, excitement ensued. The price: $49,000. No sooner were the pros and cons of a crowdfunding campaign to buy it being discussed than ATZ learned from the seller that the ride, which had been brought from Australia a decade ago, had sold to a park in Canada. “Playland in Vancouver,” seller Jack Su told ATZ via email. A call to the park seeking comment has yet to be returned.

UPDATE, November 14: ATZ just received confirmation from PNE Maintenance Supervisor Peter Tremblay that Playland Vancouver has indeed purchased the Turbo from China and expects it to debut in 2016. Will the PNE modify their plan to replace the iconic buckets as the overhaul of the ride moves forward? It is always controversial when a park (more…)

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Muffler Man Restoration Project in Mortons Gap

Muffler Man Restoration Project in Mortons Gap, Kentucky. Photo by Joel Baker/US Giants

Thanks to girlie motorcycle blogger and Roadside Americana fan Fuzzy Galore, ATZ learned about the website “American Giants: A journal of my muffler men travels and findings.” Videographer Joel Baker and his crew have been traveling the country documenting the roadside giants known as “Muffler Men.” In Episode #4, our favorite, they visit Peoria’s UniRoyal Girl, the female version of the Muffler Man, and the Launching Pad Restaurant’s Gemini Giant, a twin to the long lost Astroman of Coney Island’s Astroland.

Now Baker is asking for help via Kickstarter to restore a headless, armless Paul Bunyan in rural Kentucky. We have a soft spot in our hearts for the fiberglass figures which date back to the 1960s and ’70s and were a common sight during our travels with the carnival but currently number less than 200. There’s something poignant about a collective effort to make this roadside character whole again.

In addition to cowboys, Indians, pirates, astronauts, and other variations, International Fiberglass also produced a 14 foot tall Paul Bunyan statue. It is not known how many of these were made but there are only about 15 of them known to still exist. This statue in Mortons Gap is an example of this model. However, it is in very poor condition.

You can help preserve this unique piece of Americana by supporting this Kickstarter campaign. Your contributions will raise the money needed to reproduce the statue’s original head, arms and axe. The statue will also be refurbished and repainted. This restoration project will be documented in an American Giants’ video episode.

The campaign has raised $976 of a $4,500 goal, but Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing funding model. The project must be fully funded by April 20th for the Muffler Man to be restored. Why not contribute in memory of Astroland’s Astroman? Thank you gifts include a time capsule message ($10 or more), American Giants T-shirt ($35 or more), and a reproduction of a 1970 International Fiberglass Catalogue featuring all the Muffler Men and other statues ($100 or more).

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Related posts on ATZ…

October 31, 2013: Missing in Storm: Have You Seen Coney’s Mama Burger?

July 22, 2013: The World’s Largest Traveling Bonanza Shooting Gallery

July 17, 2012: 50 Years on Coney Island Boardwalk for Paul & His Daughter

July 4, 2012: Photo of the Day: Mangels Pony Cart Ride

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NY State Pavilion

Ruins of the New York State Pavilion from the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Flushing Meadows Park, Queens. Photo by Matthew Silva via Kickstarter

You cannot think of Coney Island without the Parachute Jump, especially now that it is illuminated nightly. Last night, it was bathed in sea green and blue light to celebrate the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl win. But the iconic tower, which was moved to Coney after first thrilling visitors at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair in Queens, stopped operating as a ride after Steeplechase Park closed in 1964. The Jump endured nearly 40 years of neglect and threats of demolition before being rehabbed and lit with LEDs at a cost of $8.5 million during the Bloomberg administration.

Beginning in 2002, the City’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz championed the landmark’s costly revamp as part of their plan to revitalize Coney Island. Will the ruins of the New York State Pavilion, an iconic structure from the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Queens’ Flushing Meadows Park, which the Parks Department says would cost $14 million to demolish and $52 million to restore, find a plan and a champion to underwrite the cost of saving it?

“World’s Fair buildings are not designed to be permanent. They’re meant to be taken down again,” says a voice at the beginning of the trailer for Matthew Silva’s documentary Modern Ruin about the Pavilion. “Somehow there’s always something nobody wants to tear down, and in this case the New York State Pavilion was one.”

The voice is that of Frank Sanchis, director of the World Monuments Fund, which included architect Philip Johnson’s pavilion on their 2008 Watch List. The Tent of Tomorrow is in imminent danger of collapse due to the deterioration of the exposed steel structure and the decay of the wood piles that serve as the building’s foundation, according to WMF, which successfully nominated the Pavilion for inclusion in the State Register of Historic Places in 2009.

NY State Pavilion

The interior of the New York State Pavilion, designed by Philip Johnson, at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. Photo: © Ezra Stoller/Esto/Yossi Milo Gallery

Now as the building approaches its 50th anniversary, it’s in the spotlight again after years of neglect. People for the Pavilion, a grassroots group dedicated to the preservation and reuse of the structure, hosted a kickoff event last month which drew over 200 people. Silva, who is one of the organization’s co-founders, launched a Kickstarter for his documentary about the pavilion, and raised more than $11,000 towards his goal of $30,000 in the first week. The Parks Department held two “listening sessions,” where people were invited to share their vision for the future of the Pavilion after listening to a presentation on recent structural studies that were completed on the Tent of Tomorrow and Towers.

“The reasons for its neglect are open to interpretation and kind of complicated,” said Silva, in an interview with ATZ. “But one could argue that it simply came down to money, poor post-fair planning, and the fact that the City almost went into default in the ’70s. When the city was in such bad financial shape, how could anyone justify pumping money into an old building from the World’s Fair? But here we are 50 years later and maybe now we can make the case for its rehabilitation and reuse.”

UPDATE February 4, 2014:

The Parks Department has posted links to their PowerPoint presentation, which was shown at the listening sessions, and a survey “in order to understand your vision for the future of the New York State Pavilion.” The survey will be posted on the webpage of Flushing Meadows Corona Park through March 15.

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Related posts on ATZ…

January 20, 2014: Amusement Park Operators Eye Return to Staten Island Beachfront

November 28, 2013: Photo Album: Parachute Jump Lights Way to Year-Round Coney Island

January 18, 2012: Video of the Day: Climbing Coney Island’s Parachute Jump

December 14, 2011: Another Go Round for RFP to Run Carousels in Flushing Meadows & Forest Parks

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