Bump and dance! Coney Island’s amusement parks closed for the season at the end of October, but this weekend–November 2nd and 3rd– you can still go for a ride at the Eldorado Bumper Cars, play games in the arcade, bust balloons at the stands on the Bowery, and dance with Miss Coney Island.
Gordon Lee, who operates the independently owned disco palace of bumper cars on Surf Avenue, says he will keep it open Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon till whenever–usually 8 or 9pm.
On West 12th Street near the Boardwalk, the windows featuring the dancing doll “Miss Coney Island” and the miniature animated rides of “Coney Island Always” will be open from 2pm, along with Skin the Wire, Roll-A-Coaster and other whimsical games. “Don’t Postpone Joy,” says a sign on the door. It’s still costs only 25 cents a dance or to set the mechanical rides awhirl.
You can start your Christmas shopping too. The stand next door to Miss Coney Island has been transformed into a gift shop with glass pendants ($5.00 each) and “Limoge inspired” treasure boxes galore ($8.00 each). ATZ bought a mermaid-shaped treasure box but there are plenty more. Each box holds tiny secret treasures like the three little ducklings seen below.
FAST BUMPER by Richard Eagan and Philomena Marano, Coney Island Hysterical Society. Wood construction, paint, hand cut paper and printed paper, 2012
Coney Island currently has three bumper car rides–The Eldorado, the refurbished Astroland ride at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and one at 12th Street Amusements– and once had many more, but artist Richard Eagan says Fast Bumper is not a literal portrait of a particular ride. “It is intended to recall the way rides were retro-fit into buildings re-purposed from the turn of the 20th century,” says Eagan, who has a background in cabinetmaking and architectural sculpture, while his collaborator Philomena Marano brought her expertise in cut paper collage and printmaking to the mixed media piece.
Fast Bumper is among the individual and collaborative Coney Island-inspired works in the exhibition “Art of the Coney Island Hysterical Society” opening on October 18 at 440 Gallery in Park Slope. No, we don’t mean Historical Society. Brooklyn-born artists Eagan and Marano have been collaborating since 1981 when they founded the Coney Island Hysterical Society because they were “Hysterical” at the rate that Coney’s amusement rides and attractions were shutting down. Joined by friends and fellow artists, the group took on such projects as the restoration and operation of a dark ride on the Bowery, an homage to souvenir cut out photo boards, and a 2,500 foot mural celebrating the lost glory of Steeplechase Park.
“In Fast Bumper, Richard and I poured in the rowdy and the elegant of Coney Island,” says Philomena, who describes the piece as “a fast and fun colliding joy ride housed inside an elegant Victorian building from Coney’s former life. It reflects our shared sensibilities in so many ways- one in particular is a childhood memory we both recalled of peering into the windows or back door of a closed ride and observing it in quiet darkness, a razor sharp contrast to the ride in motion; like seeing it’s ‘other side,’ the ‘hidden nature of it’s soul. I think this piece also makes reference to a Coney Island truth, sometimes it gleams from the inside and other times from the outside.”
“Art of the Coney Island Hysterical Society” runs through November 25 and will also feature special events at 4:40pm on Sundays in November. On November 4, Richard Eagan, who worked as the manager and outside talker for a shark show as well as a game and ride operator, will perform “Alive in the Inside,” his one-man play about his surreal journey through Coney Island. On November 18, Eagan and Marano will present an illustrated talk about the history of their work as the Coney Island Hysterical Society.
“Art of the Coney Island Hysterical Society,” October 18 – November 25, 2012 at 440 Gallery, 440 Sixth Avenue, Park Slope, 11215. Gallery hours are Thursday and Friday, 4-7pm, Saturday and Sunday, 11am-7pm or by appointment. Phone 718-499-3844.
In lieu of one of the presidential debates, let the candidates come to Coney Island and ride the world-renowned Eldorado Bumper Cars! There’d be no equivocating, no need for fact-checking. The slogan here is “Bump Your Ass Off.” We have to thank conservative columnist Derek Hunter for inspiring this wacky idea with his snarky tweet:
Mitt Romney will be on Meet the Press this Sunday, Joe Biden will be on the bumper cars at Coney Island trying to figure out how they work.
Of course, Joe Biden did not come to Coney Island on Sunday. As everyone knows by now, he was photographed at Cruisers Diner in Ohio, winning the biker chick vote while two dudes looked on disapprovingly. The photo cracked us up. Perhaps Coney Island USA should invite Biden and the biker gang to the upcoming Tattoo and Motorcycle Festival? Obama also had an amazing photo op in a Florida pizza parlor on Sunday, where the owner lifted him off his feet in a bear hug. We prefer the pic of him riding the bumper cars with Sasha at the Iowa State Fair in 2007.
Coney Island could use this kind of publicity, especially after Labor Day. When we took these photos last Wednesday, Surf Avenue was a ghost town thanks to rain earlier in the day. Only the Eldorado, Game World and Nathan’s were open. (See comments below for clarification.) As far as we know, the last time a presidential candidate campaigned in Coney Island was on Labor Day 1960, when the GOP candidate for Vice President Henry Cabot Lodge was filmed chomping on hot dogs at Nathan’s. Fifty years is too long between campaign stops.
Coney Island photographer Eric Kowalsky captured the dazzling theater-style “Eldorado Auto Skooter” marquee on the first night that it was illuminated this season. The beloved disco bumper car ride and sassy “BUMP YOUR ASS OFF!” signs are here for your enjoyment for one more year.
In March, the Buxbaum and Fitlin families, who have operated businesses in Coney Island for more than six decades, sold the building that houses the Eldorado to Thor Equities. Arcade operator Gordon Lee, a longtime provider of arcade machines to Coney Island, is operating the Surf Avenue ride and adjoining arcade for the 2012 season. Hours at the Eldorado are “12 noon till closing.”
On Coney Island’s Opening Day, while others were lining up for the first ride of 2012 on the landmark Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, we went for our first spin in a long time on Astroland’s Bumper Cars! Last time we drove one of these sparkly cars was on September 7, 2008 when Astroland closed forever. Astro fans will be happy to know that the ride, along with its psychedelic artwork and rainbow-trimmed pavilion, has come back to Coney Island. The refurbished Barbieri bumper cars have found a new home next to the Wonder Wheel in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.
We happened to be walking by the ride on Coney Island’s Opening Day as it was about to go for its inaugural spin in Wonder Wheel Park and jumped aboard. With 24 cars and a huge floor, it’s the largest bumper car ride in Coney. Totally appreciated how big it was when a bunch of kids who didn’t know how to steer immediately created a major traffic jam. Since there’s no central island, we were able to spin around and drive at full speed until the bumping and thumping resumed.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Astroland, Coney’s Space-Age theme park. The iconic Astrotower remains a part of Coney Island’s skyline, but is no longer operable. The Astroland Rocket, the very first ride to arrive at the park, was donated to the City of New York in 2009 and is in storage. The Bumper Cars at Wonder Wheel Park are the sole survivors of Astroland that you can ride today at Coney Island. Here’s a video from 2008…
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the Eldorado Auto Skooter and yearn to go for the first ride of the year, this HD video will intensify those feelings. Please be patient and send positive vibes to 1218 Surf Avenue in Coney Island.
On Tuesday we talked again with Gordon Lee, who operated the bumper cars and arcade for the Fitlin family last year. He affirmed that he is preparing to open up within the next couple of weeks. We have faith that Lee can make everything come together so that the famed marquee will light up again for one glorious last season of “Bump, Bump, Bump Your Ass Off” rides before it closes forever.
As ATZ reported last week, Sheila Buxbaum Fitlin and Sandy Fitlin, whose families have operated businesses in Coney Island for more than six decades, sold the building that houses the Eldorado to Thor Equities. Their son Scott Fitlin was the DJ extraordinaire of Surf Avenue’s legendary disco palace of bumper cars and his untimely death at the age of 48 left the attraction’s future in question.
“It is with deep regret that I sold Eldorado,” Sheila Fitlin told ATZ. “Due to my advancing age, the fact that I live in Texas, and, of course, Scott’s death, I could no longer continue.” It was a gift to Coney Island and a tribute to his memory that the Eldorado reopened in 2011. We’re hoping for a second gift to Coney Island in 2012.
UPDATE April 12, 2012:
Good news! Gordon Lee of Coney’s Eldorado Bumper Cars phoned to say he’s operating the ride today & open for business! The arcade will also open this weekend for the season. Hours at the Eldorado are “12 noon till closing.”
Last week, Sheila Buxbaum Fitlin and Sandy Fitlin, whose families have operated businesses in Coney Island for more than six decades, sold the building that houses the Eldorado Auto Skooters and Arcade at 1216-1218 Surf Avenue to Thor Equities. For months Coney Island insiders knew of the pending sale as well as the possibility that the bumper cars and arcade will open for one more season, in the same way that Astroland remained open the year after it was sold.
“We’re actively working on negotiations,” arcade operator Gordon Lee told ATZ on Monday. Lee’s company Sun Star is a longtime provider of arcade machines to Coney Island, including the Eldorado as well as the now-closed Astroland Arcade and Faber’s Fascination. Last season Lee managed both the bumper cars and the arcade for the Fitlins after the death of their son Scott in October 2010. The bumper cars have undergone pre-season maintenance and passed inspection and are ready to open on Coney Island’s opening day if an agreement can be reached with Thor Equities.
Scott Fitlin was the DJ extraordinaire of Surf Avenue’s legendary disco palace of “Bump, Bump, Bump Your Ass Off” bumper cars and his untimely death at the age of 48 left the attraction’s future in question. His parents had retired to Texas and left the bumper cars in his care. It was a gift to Coney Island and a tribute to his memory that the Eldorado reopened last season. ATZ asked the Fitlins for a statement about the sale of the Eldorado and their years in Coney. Sheila Buxbaum Fitlin sent us the following note via email:
It is with deep regret that I sold Eldorado. Due to my advancing age, the fact that I live in Texas, and, of course, Scott’s death, I could no longer continue.
As one of the last of the “old timers,” I view a legacy in Coney Island that spanned three generations and lasted almost 60 years. I pay homage to those of us who shaped Coney Island–
The Buxbaum & Fitlin Family, Jerome & Carol Albert, Denos Vourderis, Freddy Garms, Norman Kaufman, Ronnie Guerrero, Jeff Persily and any I may have forgotten.
Eldorado established an entity that became a standard of the industry. The Bumping Disco was known worldwide, reproduced somewhat once in Japan, but never really successfully duplicated anywhere. Eldorado was one of the very first of the FECs. Today the concept is everywhere and much embellished upon. Many years ago we had plans to extend to other areas, but it never came to fruition. Unfortunately, we were never really recognized or acknowledged by “the new Coney Island.” Oh, what things the “old timers” could have taught the “johnny come latelys.”
I only wish that Scott had not died and the next generation could have persevered.
GOODBYE CONEY ISLAND, and most of all, goodbye to those I love.
Our friend Scott Fitlin told us about the history of the Eldorado in a March 2010 interview. It begins: “Eldorado was hand built by my grandfather Joseph Buxbaum, my Dad Sandy Fitlin, and my Uncle Peter Buxbaum, and a carpenter named Rafael. Opening date was March 21st 1973, admission was 50 cents and 25 cent re-rides. The FIRST record played was Cisco Kid-War!”
In a 2007 interview in the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive, Sheila Buxbaum Fitlin recounts how her parents met in 1930s Coney Island when her mother was working in a frozen custard stand at Bowery and Stillwell and her father was selling hot corn next door to Nathan’s.
In the 1940s, the family opened the Shamrock Irish House, a restaurant, cabaret and open air bar with singing waiters on Henderson Walk and the Bowery. Customers would throw money onto the stage. “I can recall as a child–10, 11, 9–going there, getting a stage-side table and my father would give me a roll of dimes and set me up with my Coca Cola,” says Sheila in the interview with Charles Denson.
In the oral history interview, Sheila says the family switched over to games in the mid-1950s and had one of the first-ever water racing games. The Eldorado building was at one time the Pleasureland Arcade and was won by the Buxbaum and Fitlin families in a closed bid auction in 1971. The building is located mid-block on Surf Avenue between Denny’s Ice Cream and the Popper Building, a few doors down from Thor Equities property at the corner of Surf and Stillwell.
Good news! Gordon Lee of Coney’s Eldorado Bumper Cars phoned to say he’s operating the ride today & open for business! The arcade will also open this weekend for the season. Hours at the Eldorado are “12 noon till closing.” Eldorado Bumper Cars and Arcade, 1216 Surf Avenue, Coney Island