Snow Swim

Coney Island Polar Bears Snow Swim, March 1, 2015. Photo © Bruce Handy

After weeks of balmy winter weather, members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club are ready for their first snow swim of the season on Sunday at 1:00pm. Several Bears plan to meet for an unofficial blizzard dip at Stillwell Avenue on Saturday at 12 noon during the storm.

Snow swims during or just after a storm are a Polar Bear tradition. These photos were taken by Coney Island photographer and Polar Bear Bruce Handy last year and in 2010.

Snow Swim, Blizzard of 2010

Snow Swim, Blizzard of 2010. December 26, 2010. Photo © Bruce Handy

The National Weather Service has forecast 12 to 18 inches of snow and winds of 30 to 35 mph with gusts up to 45 mph for Southern Brooklyn on Saturday. Photographer and Periscope user dutchmazz announced that he’ll be on Coney Island Beach at 11:50: “Watch the Bears swim in whiteout conditions from the comfort of your warm home! Tune in!”

Morning Update from Bruce Handy. It’s a go: “10 AM Polar Bear Report. Not too cold. Heavy numerous waves, gusting north wind, mild at times. Snow is 8″, drifts to 1.5, deep drifts beween the bathhouse and berm at Stillwell. All stores, Toms, Nathans, are closed. DD is open. Streets are getting unpassable. Sidewalks are unwalkable. Bathrooms are closed. Seagulls are serene. Few potential bears. No mermaid tracks although the grok is strong.”

UPDATE: Photos from Saturday’s swim and more in “Photo Album: Blizzard 2016 in Coney Island by Bruce Handy,” (ATZ, January 24, 2016)

Snow Swim

Snow Swim, Blizzard of 2010. December 26, 2010. Photo © Bruce Handy

Related posts on ATZ…

January 8, 2016: Photo of the Day: Santa at Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge by Barry Yanowitz

January 5, 2016: Coney Island New Year’s by the Numbers: 28K Visitors, Nearly $90K Raised for Charity

January 27, 2015: Photo Album: Coney Island’s First Hours of the Blizzard of 2015 by John Huntington

December 26, 2010: Video: Today’s Snow Swim with Coney Island Polar Bears

February 26, 2010: Photo of the Day: Snow Mermaid on Coney Island Beach

Hazel Hankin Coney Island

Poster for Coney Island exhibit at Valentine Museum of Art. Photo of Coney Island’s Bowery in 1977 © Hazel Hankin

Coney Island has come to Flatbush Avenue -specifically, the Coney-themed work of seven photographers and two painters is on view at the Valentine Museum of Art through March 11. Photographer Larry Racioppo curated the exhibit, which grew out of a meeting with Michael Valentine, publisher of Breuckelen Magazine, to propose a special Coney Island issue. The upcoming edition of the magazine will feature interviews with each of the artists in the show.

In addition to Racioppo, the photographers are Norman Borden, Dan Burmeister, Hazel Hankin, Ron Meisel, John Rossi and Jamel Shabazz. The painters are Greg Frux and Marc Kehoe. The work spans Coney Island’s past and present, and is supplemented by archival images from the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection.

March Kehoe Coney Island

One of a series of paintings by Marc Kehoe depicting riders on Coney Island’s Spookhouse dark ride. Oil on canvas, 1987.

As a member of the Coney Island Hysterical Society in the mid-1980s, Marc Kehoe painted his “It’s Spooky” mural on the exterior wall of the group’s Spookhouse, a dark ride renovated as an art project. Both are long gone. What remains are Kehoe’s 20 canvases portraying the lurid faces of Spookhouse riders whose expressions mirror the macabre stunts that made them scream.

“Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” a concurrent exhibit at City Lore in Manhattan, which we wrote about in “Art of the Day: Remembering Spookhouse – A Ride Through Gallery in the Dark” (ATZ, November 16, 2015), showcases some of the work of CIHS artists, including Kehoe and Hazel Hankin.

Larry Racioppo

Ruins of Coney Island’s Spookhouse just before its demolition in 1997. Photo © Larry Racioppo

At VMoA, Hankin documents the Spookhouse in operation while Larry Racioppo captures it after it had closed and fallen into ruin. Racioppo, whose subjects range from revelers at the Mermaid Parade to the derelict beauty of the abandoned Thunderbolt roller coaster, took up photography in 1970. Hazel Hankin also began photographing what was left of the Coney Island of her childhood in the 1970s. Her forte is beautifully framed shots of old school concessionaires and snoozing ticket takers who have all but disappeared from the new Coney Island.

The two posters for the exhibit feature Hankin’s stunning photo of the Skydiver ride and other vanished attractions on Coney’s Bowery and Racioppo’s heartbreaking shot of the half-demolished Thunderbolt with its ramshackle cars in the foreground. The posters are available for sale via the museum’s online store.

Hazel Hankin Photography

One In Wins, 1977. Photo © Hazel Hankin

Also striking at VMoA is Jamel Shabazz‘s sympathetic documentation of the Tribute to the Ancestors of the Middle Passage, which has been held annually on Coney Island beach for more than 25 years. Attendees are encouraged to wear white and bring offerings to place in the ocean to honor the spirit of African ancestors who died during the voyage across the Atlantic where they were being taken as slaves.

Two public programs are planned at VMOA in February:

FROM BROOKLYN COLLEGE to CONEY ISLAND – Saturday, February 20th, 2pm -6 pm. Brooklyn College graduates Hazel Hankin, Larry Racioppo and John Rossi discuss/illustrate their photography careers.

TRIBUTE TO THE ANCESTORS – Saturday, February 27th, 6pm. Artist talk with Jamel Shabbaz about the history and significance of this annual event.

The Valentine Museum of Art is located in the Philip Howard Apartments, where art collector and longtime resident Michael Valentine has teamed up with the co-op’s board to activate a 5,000 square foot art gallery space. The next exhibit, in May, will feature work by BFA students from nearby Brooklyn College.

“Coney Island,” Valentine Museum of Art at Philip Howard, 1655 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11210. Exhibit runs through March 11, 2016. Gallery open Wednesday – Sunday, 12pm – 6pm. Free admission.

Jamel Shabazz

Annual Tribute to the Ancestors of the Middle Passage in Coney Island. Photo © Jamel Shabazz.

Related posts on ATZ…

November 18, 2015: Art of the Day: Remembering Spookhouse – A Ride Through Gallery in the Dark

April 20, 2015: Art of the Day: “Greetings from Coney Island” Blends Past & Present

January 28, 2015: Art of the Day: Takahiro Iwasaki’s Miniature Coney Island at Asia Society

December 13, 2014: Art of the Day: David Levine’s Watercolors of Coney Island

Clown Shoes

Collection of Clown Shoes at Darrell Dean
Antiques & Decorative Arts, 1stdibs Gallery

You may have heard that laughter is therapeutic but did you know that trying on clown shoes is too? “I can’t tell you how much trying on a pair relieves stress and blood pressure. People really love it,” says Darrell Dean, a dealer of antiques and decorative arts in Kensington, Maryland, who collects clown shoes. “I have had probably 50 to 60 pair, but have regrettably had to sell some as this is my business. But there are always more to come,” he adds. A selection is on display online and at 1stdibs Gallery at the New York Design Center (200 Lexington Avenue, 10th floor), where you can try them on.

Dean says the most common question he gets is “Where did you get all these clown shoes?” His answer: “A clown goes out of business everyday and I get their shoes.” He started about six years ago and generally collects one pair at a time but has occasionally gotten three to four pair from the same retiring clown. There is a wonderful diversity to the shoes, from colorfully decorated ones with bulbous toe caps to long, narrow flap shoes that comically slap the floor to a jester’s curly toed pair bedizened with bells.

“I was never really interested in the remaining clown outfit or even the history of the clown or previous owner,” Dean tells ATZ. “To me the worn and weathered clown shoes speak for themselves and tell an interesting story and as a large group or collection are impressive. Most people are very happy to see and touch clown shoes, and trying on a pair will change your life for sure.”

Collection of Clown Shoes

Collection of Clown Shoes at Darrell Dean
Antiques & Decorative Arts

Related posts on ATZ…

January 11, 2016: NYU Heralds Circus Now 2016 with Window Exhibit of Ringling Costumes

October 25, 2015: Autumn Reading: Novels Starring Circus Mermaids, Coney Island Sideshows, Traveling Shows

January 28, 2013: Rare & Vintage: 1906 “La Boule Mysterieuse” Circus Toy

December 19, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Original Coney Island Motordrome Bike

franchise restaurant row

Franchise Restaurant Row in progress on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue: Checkers, Pizza Hut, Red Mango, Johnny Rockets, Applebee’s, IHOP , and more to come. Photo © Tricia Vita

The year is young but ATZ already has exclusive news of the first lease of 2016 on Coney Island’s franchise restaurant row, the north side of Surf Avenue. Broker Joe Vitacco says, “On Friday we signed a lease, for the 1,900 square foot space at 1223 Surf Avenue, with franchisee Nafees Bukhara. Nafees owns the Popeye’s on Surf Avenue and will be opening a Pizza Hut Express.”

Bukhara will also open a Red Mango franchise, for which he bought the rights from Rahman Hashimi, the Johnny Rockets franchisee, as well as a pretzel franchise. The Pizza Hut Express will be on the ground floor to the right of the 6,000 square foot Johnny Rockets, in a building that has been under stop-and-go construction since a lease deal was signed three years ago.

“You ask why we don’t do Mom and Pops,” Vitacco said last year, in an ongoing conversation that began with ATZ’s 2012 post “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” He says that Mom and Pops wouldn’t be able to afford this, referring to the extraordinary delays and ballooning costs due to city and MTA red tape.

Unlike Manhattan, where Mom and Pops are being forced out by landlords who triple the rent and then turn around and lease to chains or upscale businesses, the new franchises on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue are replacing vacant lots or illegal furniture stores which have existed for years in defiance of the zoning.

Until the early 1980’s the north side of Surf was home to individually-owned penny arcades and a variety of rides including bumper cars, carousels and even a Jumbo Jet-style coaster. By the time the last ride– Coney Island’s B & B Carousell — closed in 2005, the north side was known as the wrong side of Surf Avenue to locate a business because of the lack of foot traffic. Now it is a mix of franchises and a few Mom & Pops like the Red Doors Bar & Grill and Luna Park Cafe.

Under construction

Construction in progress on Surf Avenue building for Johnny Rockets and Pizza Hut Express. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

October 2, 2015: Coney Eats: Magic Gyro & Checkers to Open, Kosher Pizza Signs Lease, Johnny Rockets & IHOP Underway

May 14, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Red Doors Bar & Grill Opens on North Side of Surf Ave

February 13, 2015: Coney Island 2015: IHOP Franchisee Signs Lease for 5,400-Square-Foot Surf Ave Store

September 11, 2013: Subway Cafe to Replace Furniture Store on Coney Island’s Surf Ave

Ringling Circus Costumes

Window Exhibit Featuring Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Costumes at NYU Skirball. January 9, 2016. Photo © Tricia Vita

Thirteen windows at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts are resplendent with costumes designed for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The work of three acclaimed costume designers and NYU graduates is featured: Gregg Barnes (Tony Award, Follies, The Drowsy Chaperone), Susan Hilferty (Tony Award, Wicked), and Eduardo Sicangco (Broadway Bares, The Harlem Nutcracker). The displays also feature circus memorabilia, photographs, and historical info. Located at 566 LaGuardia Place and around the corner on West 3rd Street, the window exhibit debuted during the holidays and is on view through January 18.

The costume exhibit heralds this week’s performances at NYU Skirball by six international circus companies. Circus Now 2016 will feature Acrobatic Conundrum (Seattle), Oktobre (France), Barely Methodical Troupe (U.K), Andréane Leclerc (Canada), Water on Mars (Sweden), and Aloft Circus Arts (Chicago). Performances are January 14, 15 and 16 at 8 pm. Tickets range from $39 – $50. Visit www.nyuskirball.org for additional info.

circus costumes

Window Exhibit Featuring Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Costumes at NYU Skirball. January 9, 2016. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

October 25, 2015: Autumn Reading: Novels Starring Circus Mermaids, Coney Island Sideshows, Traveling Shows

May 25, 2013: Saturday Matinee: The Wheel House by Acrojou Circus

January 28, 2013: Rare & Vintage: 1906 “La Boule Mysterieuse” Circus Toy

July 13, 2011: Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs

New Years Day Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

New Years Day Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, January 1, 2016. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

Brooklyn photographer Barry Yanowitz grew up in Coney Island and comes home every January 1st to photograph the colorful characters at the Polar Bear Plunge. “It’s the perfect way to begin the year,” he says. You can see more of Barry’s photos from his New Year’s Day set on his website.

If you missed Santa and the New Year’s Day Plunge, you can join the Coney Island Polar Bear Club as a guest at their Sunday swims between November and April. This Sunday, the forecast is a balmy 58 degrees! Just show up at the Bears “Clubhouse” at the Aquarium’s Education Hall on the Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30 pm with your bathing suit, a towel, surf boots or an extra pair of sneakers, and some warm clothing.

Related posts on ATZ…

January 5, 2016: Coney Island New Year’s by the Numbers: 28K Visitors, Nearly $90K Raised for Charity

November 16, 2015: Photos of the Day: Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower Lit at Sunset in France’s Tricolor

March 1, 2015: Photo of the Day: Jones Walk, Off-Season

January 2, 2014: Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge’s Best Dressed of 2014

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

The Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge drew 3,000 swimmers and 10,000 spectators, and raised nearly $90K for Camp Sunshine. January 1, 2016. Photo © Norman Blake

Coney Island drew an astounding total of more than 28,000 visitors to its new New Year’s Eve Celebration and long-established New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. The district’s City Councilman Mark Treyger tweeted the official tally that “Over 15,000 people turned out to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Coney Island!” Temps in the 40s and the promise of free rides, sideshow performances and fireworks helped triple attendance for the New Year’s Eve Party at the Parachute Jump, which was started by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and is in its second year. The free, family friendly celebration was sponsored by the Borough President along with Councilman Treyger and the Alliance for Coney Island.

On New Year’s Day, the Parks Department estimated there were 10,000 spectators at the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. “We had almost 3,000 swimmers participate in the plunge this year,” Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas tells ATZ. “I am sure it is a record. The past few years we have been averaging a little over 2,000 swimmers.” What’s more, the funds raised by the Polar Bears for Camp Sunshine have far exceeded their goal of last year’s total of $70K. Nearly $90K has been received so far, with donations still being accepted here. If the trend continues, next year the Bears could break $100K for the camp, which hosts children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

The novelty of major rides –the Wonder Wheel, B&B Carousell and Thunderbolt roller coaster– being open on New Year’s Eve and offering a free spin was a big draw. When we got here around 8:30pm, the atmosphere was festive but the crowd was still sparse, evoking memories of the first years of the Mermaid Parade, before it grew into the world’s largest art parade. Around 11:15, the vast majority of revelers began to arrive and gather around the dazzlingly lit Parachute Jump, Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, for Coney’s countdown to 2016.

Deno’s Wonder Wheel’s white cars rode approximately 2,000 people for free on New Year’s Eve, with the line snaking towards the boardwalk. On New Year’s Day, just over 500 tickets at $5 per ride were sold, with 50% of the proceeds — $1262.50 — donated to the Polar Bears’ charity Camp Sunshine. Over 400 cups of hot chocolate were handed out to guests. Will winter rides become an annual tradition? That depends: Coney’s outdoor rides operate “weather permitting,” and luckily this year’s weather permitted the first-ever New Year’s spin.

As for the Polar Bear Plunge, Thomas says the event has been growing every year. “Part of the increase in funds may be due to increasing number of plungers, but, again, all donations are voluntary and no one has to pay to participate, and some don’t,” he notes. “Participation by teams from Coney Island Brewery, Peggy O’Neill’s and Reyka Vodka helped with the fundraising. Generally, Coney Island is back on the map as a NYC destination like it hasn’t been in decades. People are not fearful about coming anymore, and the summers have been so popular, maybe some of that is rubbing off on the winter plunge there as well.”

Happy New Year to and from Coney Island! Stay tuned for a photo album of some of the best pix of this year’s plunge.

Thunderbolt Luna Park NYC

Crowds line up to ride Luna Park’s Thunderbolt for free on New Year’s Eve. December 31, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

December 29, 2015: Coney Island to Ring in 2016 with Parties, Free Rides, Light Shows, Fireworks, Polar Bear Plunge

December 11, 2015: Dance with Miss Coney Island on New Year’s Day

January 2, 2014: Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge’s Best Dressed of 2014

January 2, 2010: Photo Album: Coney Island Boardwalk, New Year’s Day 2010


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