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Pretty the Coney Island Cat

Pretty the Coney Island Cat © Stanley Fox. December 3, 2014

Pretty the Cat is frequently mistaken for a stray by tourists but this Coney Island cat has long made her home on the Bowery where she is fed year-round by concessionaires. This morning, Coney raconteur and retired arcade owner Stanley Fox photographed Pretty when she jumped on the hood of his car, which he’d parked on the Bowery. Just after he snapped this photo, Pretty ran off to eat breakfast. Ray, who runs the basketball game on the Bowery, had come to feed her, as he does every day. “He stands guard while she eats,” Stan told ATZ, as Ray chased away a big seagull trying to snatch the can of food.

The feline queen of the Bowery is at least 10 or 11 years old by our estimation and is spayed. As we reported last year, after Manny of Coney Island Arcade and Target the Cat left the Bowery for Las Vegas, Pretty came into her own. This feral cat whom only a handful of people could pet in the past became the mascot of the independent game operators. In the summer, you’ll find her grooming herself in the middle of the Bowery unperturbed by passersby and taking a nap in Jimmy Balloons game under the Wonder Wheel sign.

Related Posts on ATZ…

February 12, 2013: Coney Island Cat & Arcade Business Moving to Las Vegas

January 14, 2013: Landlord Evicting Famous Coney Island Cat and His Humans

February 21, 2011: Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat & His Friend Pretty

January 26, 2011: Photo of the Day: Henderson Music Hall Cats Now Homeless

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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.”

Ward Hall BiographyThe official biography Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow! was published with great fanfare earlier this year in celebration of Hall’s 70th anniversary in show business. More than a dozen years ago, while traveling with S & S Amusements as the High Striker Girl, ATZ had the honor of being on the same midway as Hall & Christ’s legendary World of Wonders. At the Great Allentown Fair, where the patrons love shows, the throng in front of the banner line and the torchlit bally stage conjured up the long ago golden age of the midway. Hearing Ward deliver his classic pitches against this backdrop was one of the unforgettable moments of the season.

In 1946, Ward Hall left his Colorado home at age 15 to join Dailey Bros. Circus after answering an ad in Billboard for a magician and fire eater. Though the teen did not yet know how to eat fire, a friendly canvasman taught him the skill and before long he was also working as an outside talker on the sideshow’s bally stage.

“I didn’t know what to say, so I looked over at Norma, who was selling tickets, and she hollered at me, ‘Tell ‘em about the painted-face mandrill.’ Well, I did that and then I looked back at Norma and then she would tell me what to say next,” Ward recalls. By the 1960s, burlesque dancer Sally Rand had crowned Hall “The Silver Throated King of the Carnival Talkers” in an NBC documentary Carny. Sideshow historian James Taylor gave Hall the title “The King of the Sideshow” in the 1995 volume of Shocked and Amazed–On & Off the Midway.

Author Tim O’Brien, who first wrote about Ward as a reporter for Amusement Business, has masterfully researched and organized material spanning the showman’s career in sideshows, circuses, theater, movies and television, and his partnerships with Harry Leonard and Chris Christ. Photos, clippings and anecdotes from their life on the road are interspersed with chapters about the art of the bally, the value of the banner line, carny lingo, and Gibsonton, the Florida town fondly known as “Showtown USA,” which Hall and Christ call home.

Ward Hall Pete Terhune

Ward Hall and Pete Terhune. Photo © Paul Gutheil via Casa Flamingo

Among the subjects covered in the book are why there are so few sideshows and freak shows today compared to 30 years ago. Hall says it has to do with economics, not political correctness–spectacular rides have replaced shows on carnival and fair midways.

Also of interest are details of legal cases which were fought and won by Ward, such as a three-year court battle that successfully overturned the 1921 Florida law banning the exhibition of human oddities. The plaintiffs included Pete “Poobah” Terhune, a dwarf who worked with Ward and his partners for 55 years as a fire-eater, snake handler, circus clown and king of the pygmies. In the 1971 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional because the plaintiffs “must be allowed to earn a livelihood.” The chapter “Ward Meets Pete: How a Dwarf Won the Heart of a King” is a loving tribute to Pete, who passed away at age 82 in 2012.

Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow! The Official Biography by Tim O’Brien. Casa Flamingo Literary Arts, Nashville, TN, 2014. 262 pages, 100+ photos & illustrations, $24.99

Related posts on ATZ…

November 22, 2014: Autumn Reading: The Brooklyn Theatre Index of Coney Island, Brighton Beach & Manhattan Beach

November 10, 2014: Autumn Reading: The Lost Tribe of Coney Island

November 23, 2013: More Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner

November 7, 2013: Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner

Eldorado Bumper Cars

Bump Your Ass Off at Eldorado Bumper Cars. Photo © Tricia Vita

Pray for sun on Small Business Saturday because Eldorado Bumper Cars on Surf Avenue will be open if the sun’s out and you’ll be able to “Bump, Bump, Bump Your Ass Off” once again. Though Coney Island’s amusement parks are closed until Palm Sunday, the indoor bumper cars are currently open most weekends from 12 noon till 6 or 7pm, sunny skies permitting. Along with Coney Island USA, Brooklyn Beach Shop, Williams Candy and neighboring restaurants, the indie ride is ready to welcome visitors looking to shop local and shop small tomorrow. (Update Nov. 29, 1pm: It’s not sunny but Eldorado is open anyway. YAY!)

Banner Art Marie Roberts

Sketch for Coney Island USA Sideshow Banner © Marie Roberts at Coney Island USA’s Holiday Gift Fair.

From 1 til 6pm on Saturday, November 29th, Coney Island USA, which is open year-round, is having a Holiday Gift Fair featuring 20-plus vendors selling arts, crafts and vintage items. Santa Claus is also scheduled to make an appearance. CIUSA artist-in-residence Marie Roberts will have a selection of pen, ink and marker sketches. “All are from when I first started,” says the artist, who has painted the banners for the freak show since 1997. The drawing shown above was the preparatory sketch for the banner that graces the sideshow stage. Prices are very reasonable, ranging from $25-$100 for 9″ x 12″ up to 16″ x 56″ drawings.

Photo by John Huntington

Photo of Motordrome at Bloomsburg Fair © John Huntington at Coney Island USA’s Holiday Gift Fair.

Brooklyn photographer and CUNY professor of entertainment technology John Huntington will have prints of some of the photos on his website at Coney Island USA’s gift fair. Among the subjects he photographs are Coney Island, the Rockaways, severe weather, and a variety of shows. One of our faves, because it’s a show so rarely seen nowadays, is his shot of a motordrome at Pennsylvania’s Bloomsberg Fair. Prices range from $10-50 for 8″ x 10″ and 11″ x 14″ prints. Framed prints will also be available and will cost more.

Brooklyn Beach Shop Philomena Marano

Philomena Marano’s silkscreen prints of the Wonder Wheel at Brooklyn Beach Shop. Photo © Tricia Vita

Brooklyn artist Philomena Marano‘s silkscreen prints of the Wonder Wheel, Charles Denson’s books about Coney Island, and a custom line of T-shirts and hoodies are among the gift items at Brooklyn Beach Shop. “Saturday will be the last day we’re open till January 1st,” says Maya Haddad Miller of her store on the Coney Island Boardwalk, which will open for the 2015 season in March. Coney Island Beach Shop, her father’s store on Stillwell Avenue is open year-round. The family-owned business has been in Coney Island since 1996 and carries their own line of Coney T-shirts, as well as official Nathan’s and Coney Island Polar Bear merchandise.

With the exception of Tom’s Restaurant, the stores on the Boardwalk do not have heat and the water is turned off to prevent the pipes from freezing, so staying open weekends after mid-November is iffy. “My general rule is 50 degrees plus we open, under that we don’t.” says Dianna Carlin of Lola Star Boutique. Her brand-new shop on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg and pop-up in Rockaway will be open for Small Business Saturday.

Brooklyn Rock

Hand-printed shirt at Brooklyn Rock on Stillwell Avenue, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

Another small business in Coney Island’s amusement area that has ventured beyond Coney to make ends meet during the off-season is Brooklyn Rock. “This time of year we’re scrambling to vend where there’s foot traffic,” says Seth Braunstein, whose shop sells hand-printed shirts, tote bags and other items designed by Chris Smith. Their Stillwell Avenue shop, which is heated, is open daily, 11am-7pm, through the winter with the exception of weekends when they’re doing markets elsewhere. For Small Business Saturday, Brooklyn Rock will be at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Williamsburg, and then Friends School (December 6), PS 29 Eat Pie & Shop (December 7) and Downtown Brooklyn Grove Alley Nite Market (December 13).

Williams Candy

Williams Candy on Surf Ave next to Nathan’s in Coney Island Photo © Tricia Vita

The window of Williams Candy is hard to resist and it’s one of our favorite places to photograph in Coney Island. The 75-plus year old candy shop owned by Peter Agrapides is open daily year round and does special orders for parties and gift boxes. Hours are 9 am till 7 pm during the off season. Choose from 10 different kinds of candy apples and half-dozen marshmallow treats. A gift box of candy apples is 12 for $18.00. A dozen marshmallow treats are $12.00. Special orders require 3-4 days advance notice.

See ATZ’s post “Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round” for more info on visiting Coney Island during the off-season.

Turkey Whirl

Turkey Whirl. Photo via Holiday World Theme Park

Happy Thanksgiving! You can celebrate again this spring at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana, by going for a spin on their turkey-themed Tilt-A-Whirl ride. The world’s first and only Turkey Whirl was custom-made in 2007 for the holiday-themed park.

“Do you watch carefully for the first robin of spring each year?” says their blog. “Here at Holiday World, it’s the first turkey of spring that makes our hearts leap with joy!” The park opened as Santa Claus Land in 1946 and later added sections with rides and entertainment inspired by Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July, as well as roller coasters and a water park. Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari opens April 25.

Related posts on ATZ…

December 22, 2013: Traveler: Christmas Holidays at Parks in Northern Climes

October 21, 2013: Traveler: Osteria Ai Pioppi’s Homemade Amusement Rides

August 9, 2012: Traveler: Skywheel at the Wisconsin State Fair 2012

October 6, 2010: Traveler: Where You Can Play Fascination Year Round

Monkey Speedway Banner

Monkey Speedway Banner “The Race” by Sigler Studios, circa 1950s. 248″ x 96″. Mosby & Co Auctions, November 29, 2014.

Vintage monkey speedway banners by Sigler Studios, sideshow banners by Fred Johnson, and shrunken head and mummy gaffs by Homer Tate are among the midway artifacts up for auction at Mosby & Co. Auctions’ November 29th live and online sale. A selection of carnival games that have disappeared from the midway will also be in the sale. The catalogue is online and one can bid now or in real time during the auction.

“The Monkey Speedway ‘The Start’ and ‘The Race’ are the two best Sigler banners we have ever handled,” said Mosby’s owner Keith Spurgeon, who noted that it was probably painted by Jack Sigler Sr. The banners drew people over to a midway attraction that was popular on carnivals through the 1950s and 60s. Trained monkeys in little metal cars raced around a wooden track while customers Continue Reading »

Brooklyn Theatre Index Vol III“Henderson’s and Inman’s still offer the cream of the vaudeville acts to be seen at Coney Island…” according to a story in The New York Dramatic Mirror back in the summer of 1898. Both music halls are long gone from Coney Island’s Henderson’s Walk and the Walk itself is now a private parking lot thanks to property owner Joe Sitt’s demolition of the Shore Hotel and the Henderson Building. Henderson’s and Inman’s are among dozens of entertainment venues in old Coney Island catalogued in the newly published The Brooklyn Theatre Index Vol III. The third volume of theater historian Cezar Del Valle’s borough-wide opus covers Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.

Del Valle’s area of expertise is New York City popular entertainment between 1850 and the 1950s, including special emphasis on actual theater buildings. The book project began with listings compiled over a 25-year-period by Dario Marotta, whose interest in theater history was inspired by a photo of his late uncle standing in front of his nickelodeon in Williamsburgh circa 1912. Marotta never discovered the location of his uncle’s theater, proving the ephemeral nature of many of these venues. In 2002, he gave his research to Del Valle, who kept the information on file for use in articles, talks, and walking tours. Eventually he began adding to the listings with library and internet research of his own at the Theatre Historical Society of America’s Michael Miller Collection.

Del Valle also pored over newspaper clipping files in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle “morgue,” which is housed in over 150 filing cabinets at the Brooklyn Public Library. “Both Marotta and Miller had problems researching Coney Island. I was fortunate because more and more publications became available online, between 2010-2014, and these were searchable,” Del Valle told ATZ. “Trade publications like Variety and The New York Clipper are now available along with a staggering number of newspapers.”

Henderson's Music Hall

Henderson’s Music Hall. Staley’s Views of Coney Island by Frank W. Staley, 1907. Cezar Del Valle Collection

The 250-page book is organized alphabetically by street name with the Bowery and Surf Avenue having the lion’s share of performing venues. Among the quaintly named places are Perry’s Glass Pavilion, a music hall and Continue Reading »

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