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Posts Tagged ‘dark ride’

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

One of the eight-foot by seven-and-a-half-foot lighted stars from Astroland’s Surf Avenue gate is in the National Air and Space Museum among other space-age icons, but the second one could be yours for Christmas. Along with pieces of Dante’s Inferno dark ride, the Bonanza shooting gallery, and a variety of signage, the star is among the last vestiges of the Coney Island amusement park being offered for sale. Mark Blumenthal, Astroland’s longtime operations manager, has overseen the sale of the rides since the park closed and was dismantled at the end of 2008. If you’re interested in acquiring an Astro artifact, you can email Blumenthal at astrolandmark[at]aol[dot]com.

Dante's Inferno demon

Dante’s Inferno demon on crane, Astroland Park in Coney Island- Photo © Tricia Vita. December 26, 2008.

“We’d like to sell the ride as a whole,” Blumenthal said of Dante’s, which consists of the giant demon’s head and torso from the façade, props, track and cars in storage trailers. “But if someone has a home for the pieces, we’d entertain the idea of selling them.” Dante’s Inferno was made by the Italian manufacturer Soli and brought to Astroland in 1971, according to a tribute on Laff in the Dark’s website. More than a dozen stunts created by Lou Nasti’s Brooklyn-based Mechanical Displays in the 1990s are also for sale.

At the Brooklyn Museum, the Cyclops head from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Spook-A-Rama dark ride, which is going into its 66th year of operation in Coney, is on display as part of the exhibit Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland. Can Dante’s demon make a similar transition from the amusement park midway to the art world? Or what about bringing it home to Coney and exercising a little creative reuse?

Also being offered for sale is the old-timey Bonanza shooting gallery, where you could shoot the piano player. You may recall it was located on the Surf Avenue side of the park next to Gregory & Paul’s. Manufactured by Taylor Engineering, Bonanza shooting galleries first debuted in 1958 and this one was brought to Coney Island by Gregory in the mid-’70s.

“It was redone a couple of years before we closed,” says Blumenthal. “It’s the old technology,” referring to the fact that vintage Bonanza galleries used photocell sensors activated by a bright light source, usually from the rifles. That’s why there were multiple signs saying “No Photography” and why we have no photos. You can catch a glimpse of it in the following video. Refurbished galleries such as “The World’s Largest Bonanza Gallery.” currently on the fair circuit, use an infrared beam of light instead of flashing light.

As we noted in a post in 2013, Astroland’s rides have found homes in Costa Rica, South America, Australia, New Jersey and Brooklyn. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park brought back the Barbieri Bumper Cars and Scrambler, and together with the Coney Island History Project, the 1960’s Astroland Rocket, which once perched on Gregory & Paul’s rooftop as an advertisement.

Signage from Astroland’s Surf and Boardwalk entrances to the park, as well as the arcade are also for sale.”I miss it, but a lot of us miss it,” Blumenthal says of Astroland. “Now it’s part of history.”

Astroland arcade sign

Astroland arcade sign. Photo © Tricia Vita. July 25, 2008

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Coney Island Hysterical Society

Richard Eagan, Gene Manzione and Philomena Marano at the Spookhouse in Coney Island, 1984. Photo Courtesy of Coney Island Hysterical Society.

Wouldn’t it be cool to take over a derelict amusement ride and refurbish it as an art project? “Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” a new exhibit at City Lore, celebrates a time in the mid-1980’s when a group of young artists were able to do just that.

In 1981, Brooklyn artists Richard Eagan and Philomena Marano co-founded the Coney Island Hysterical Society because they were “Hysterical” at the rate that the amusement rides and attractions were shutting down. One of their projects was the transformation of the disused Dragon’s Cave ride on the Bowery into the Spookhouse, billed as “a ride through gallery in the dark – a unique blend of art and amusement.” Admission was $1.00-$1.50, which wasn’t bad considering a ride on the Cyclone cost two bucks back then.

Boardwalk Renaiisance

The art of Spookhouse at Boardwalk Renaissance, an exhibit at City Lore thru March 13, 2016. Photo © Tricia Vita

Artwork by Eagan and Marano, and scenic designs by Bill Stabile, as well as paintings by Marc Kehoe and photos by Hazel Hankin documenting the Spookhouse’s 1984-1986 run are on view at City Lore. According to a vintage poster, the ride featured works by 15 artists plus students of I.S. 291, and “Reconstruction and Revitalization” by a crew of eight. Ten artists were invited to paint each of the original 1940’s Messmore & Damon cars. Among them was Nancy Prusinowski, who reminisced with ATZ about shunning a spooky theme in lieu of a pastoral scene similar to that on a carousel chariot. The eye-catcher was a Cupid holding a Nathan’s hot dog, a hat tip to Nathan’s, which owned the building and was across the way.

It’s remarkable that folks without amusement biz chops were able to preserve and operate an old Coney dark ride, even for a few years. It could not be done today. After Astroland closed in 2008, some friends were actually talking about how we could bring back Dante’s Inferno. Of course it was not feasible.

Marc Kehoe Coney Island Hysterical Society

Marc Kehoe painting ‘It’s Spooky’ mural on exterior wall of the Spookhouse, 1985. Photo courtesy of Coney Island Hysterical Society

“Those were very different times,” says Philomena Marano in an e-mail. “All the right ingredients magically fell into place: Coney Island was abandoned, Sporty Kaufman wanted out of his Dragon’s Cave Ride, we were rowdy, creative and had a vision and Nathan’s Ken Handwerker was keen on launching a revitalization. I must say that all of the time we were working on Spookhouse I was strangely aware that something like this could never happen again. In the canons of weird and bizarre ‘Projects & goals,’ it’s surely at the top.”

In a fantastic example of synchronicity, the Spookhouse also featured set pieces designed by Bill Stabile for Harvey Fierstein’s Off-Broadway play Spookhouse, which were nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design in 1984. Fierstein is a childhood friend of Marano, and when the play closed the pieces were donated to Coney’s Spookhouse. When the ride closed due to rising insurance costs, the Skull and the Devil were acquired by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and became part of Spook-A-Rama’s stable of props from defunct dark rides.

Spookhouse Bill Stabile

Scenic Designs by Bill Stabile for Harvey Fierstein’s Spookhouse on exhibit at City Lore.

Thirty years later, all that remains of the Spookhouse are two signs and two cars in private collections, and Stabile’s car, which can be seen in the exhibition, along with a replica of his Giant Skull in park paint, the original of which is on display at the Coney Island History Project as “Skully.”

“We’re happy knowing that a few items survived,” says Marano. “And although they are owned by others we maintain a strong attachment to them. Like they are still ours.”

“Boardwalk Renaissance” also spotlights Coney’s house under the Thunderbolt roller coaster, the World in Wax Musee, shooting galleries, and the early days of Coney Island USA including the first Mermaid Parade.

“Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” City Lore Gallery, 56 East 1st Street, NYC 10003. Exhibit runs through March 13, 2016. Gallery open Wed – Fri, 2pm – 6pm and Sat – Sun, 12pm – 6pm. Closed November 26-29. Free admission.

Boardwalk Renaissance

Boardwalk Renaissance, an exhibit at City Lore. November 7, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

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March 13, 2013: Coney Island 2013: New Ghouls Mingle with Old in Rebuilt Spook-A-Rama

November 21, 2012: Coney Island Post-Sandy: Flooded Spook-A-Rama to Get New Stunts

October 26, 2010: Studio Visit: Richard Eagan of the Coney Island Hysterical Society

October 26, 2010: Studio Visit: Philomena Marano of the Coney Island Hysterical Society

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Spook-A-Rama Cyclops

Spook-A-Rama Cyclops on Display at Coney Island History Project, March 24, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Spook-A-Rama’s vintage Cyclops head is on view at the Coney Island History Project on Sunday along with other artifacts that survived Sandy. The iconic eye is still operational. The eye slyly moves back and forth in the manner of a Kathakali dancer. Meanwhile, the dark ride in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park was carefully rebuilt after flood damage from Sandy and has a fabulous new animatronic dragon atop its roof as seen in this video by Jay Singer.

Spook-A-Rama’s Pretzel cars and track are back and some vintage props were combined with new stunts in a way that remains true to the spirit of Coney’s last classic dark ride. The Cyclops was one of the original figures atop the 1950s ride but it was retired decades ago. The head resurfaced a couple of years ago to be inducted into the Coney Island Hall of Fame and was later put on display in front of Spook-A-Rama. The most recent resident of the dark ride’s roof was a giant skeleton. In the photo below, taken in Wonder Wheel Park just a few weeks after Sandy, you can see Sandy’s high water mark on the Cyclops teeth. The marks are still visible today.

Spook-A-Rama's Cyclops

Spook-A-Rama’s Cyclops Survived the Super Storm. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Coney Island. November 17, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

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March 13, 2013: Coney Island 2013: New Ghouls Mingle with Old in Rebuilt Spook-A-Rama

November 21, 2012: Coney Island Post-Sandy: Flooded Spook-A-Rama to Get New Stunts

November 9, 2012: Update on Coney Island’s Amusement Area After Sandy

October 30, 2012: Photo Album: Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath in Coney Island

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Spook-A--Rama

Spook-A-Rama Under Reconstruction. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. February 22, 2012

This veteran imp from Spook-A-Rama survived Sandy and is peeking out at the scary new creatures from Scarefactory, a design and fabrication studio which specializes in haunted attractions. As ATZ reported in November, Coney Island’s oldest dark ride, which dates back to the 1950s and is part of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, was severely damaged due to flooding during Superstorm Sandy. Park owners Dennis and Steve Vourderis vowed to rebuild. Construction is well underway and the ride, which is adjacent to the Wonder Wheel, is expected to open on March 24th, Coney Island’s Opening Day.

These photos from late February offer a sneak peek at a few of the new ghouls. You’ll also be happy to see some of the old-timers were rescued. These flood-damaged props original to Spook-A-Rama and other historic dark rides are being restored and will be put on static display. Some will get new electronics. The exterior artwork and restored Pretzel cars and tracks will remain.

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Spook-A-Rama

Power-Washed Spook-A-Rama Cars and Murals Drying Out at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Coney Island. November 5, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Coney Island’s oldest dark ride, which dates back to the 1950s and is part of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, was severely damaged due to flooding during Superstorm Sandy. Spook-A-Rama’s electrical, interior props and the floor inside the ride were destroyed but park owners Dennis and Steve Vourderis have vowed to rebuild the attraction. At last week’s IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando, they contracted with Scarefactory, Inc. to come in and lay out new props, according to Dennis Vourderis. The giant skeleton on Spook-A-Rama’s roof is a product of the design and fabrication studio, which specializes in creating haunted attractions and everything that goes into them.

Spook-A-Rama Skeleton

Giant Skeleton from Spook-A-Rama’s Roof Recuperating After Superstorm Sandy. November 17, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Sadly, some of the destroyed props original to Spook-A-Rama and other historic Coney Island dark rides cannot be replaced. If it’s possible to save them, the old props will be put on static display (February 2013 Update: some of the rescued props will get new electronics!) The good news is that the legendary Cyclops, which came out of retirement two years ago to be inducted into the Coney Island History Project’s Hall of Fame, was unharmed. Another old-timer at the Wonder Wheel, the 1920’s fortunetelling machine Grandma’s Predictions, suffered water damage, but is being restored by an expert in antique arcade machines. Grandma’s “boyfriend” Zoltar was not so lucky –the popular machine which debuted at the park in 2011 will be replaced by a brand-new one.

zoltar

Zoltar Destroyed by Sandy, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Coney Island. November 5, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Also destroyed in the flood waters and being replaced is the Scarface-themed shooting gallery next to Spook-A-Rama. The new shooting gallery will be themed with some of the same spooky characters that visitors will see inside the refurbished dark ride. While the Wonder Wheel side of the park and the area beneath the kiddie park were inundated with 5 to 7 feet of flood waters, the 92-year-old landmark Wonder Wheel and the rides and games in Deno’s Kiddie Park on the Boardwalk escaped serious damage though a lot of work remains to be done. The park will re-open with its 25th Annual Blessing of the Rides Ceremony on Palm Sunday, which is Coney Island’s opening day and falls on March 24, 2013. (Update: On opening day, rides on the Wonder Wheel will be free of charge for one and all.)

Spook-A-Rama's Cyclops

Spook-A-Rama’s Cyclops Survived the Super Storm. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Coney Island. November 17, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

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November 20, 2012: Coney Island Post-Sandy: Mini-Golf or Roller Rink to Replace Denny’s?

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Ghost Hole in Winter

Wonder Wheel, Ghost Hole & Astrotower in Winter. January 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

On West 12th Street in Coney Island, the Ghost Hole Demon is still hibernating in his plastic shroud, but preparations are well underway for opening day of the 2012 season.

Next door in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, the kiddie rides have been reassembled, the Wonder Wheel is being painted, and the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops opened his eye and looked around. Putting the cars back on the Wheel is the last bit of business before Palm Sunday. Coney’s traditional opener is early this year. It’s on April 1st–yes, April Fool’s Day!–but some of Coney Island’s rides and attractions are expected to open for the weekend on Saturday, March 31st.

If you’re curious to see the demon on the Ghost Hole’s facade, here he is calling in customers courtesy of a 2009 video by magicalthemeparks. Formerly called “Geister Hohle”, the German dark ride came to Coney Island from Trimper’s Amusement Park in Maryland in 1999. The facade was updated and the demon was added by 12th Street Amusements in Coney Island.

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