This month marks the 2nd anniversary of Amusing the Zillion, which began on April 10, 2009 with a sweet first post on Coney Island ‘s Opening Day. The zings came in May and June with “Joe Sitt’s No Show Rides” (ATZ, May 17, 2009) and “Coney Island Ride Count: Veteran Ride Ops 40, Joe Sitt 10!” (ATZ, June 4, 2009). Back then, the dwindling number of rides and the empty lots had people asking “Is Coney Island Closed?” and gave rise to the marketing slogan “Coney Island: Really Fun, Really Open.”
We’re happy to report that Coney Island has come a long way since then with the opening of Luna Park (May 2010) and Scream Zone (April 2011) on land purchased by the City from real estate speculator Joe Sitt. As we head into Coney Island’s Easter weekend, which can be as busy as Fourth of July if the sun shines, the amusement area has a grand total of 64 rides! (Update: September 12, 2012… McCullough’s had to reconfigure the park and removed two kiddie rides in 2011. Scream Zone added two rides: Go Karts and a Skycoaster in 2012. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park replaced two rides with the largest Bumper Cars in New York City. For the 2012 season, Coney Island’s parks had 63 rides plus the Megawhirl and a half-dozen or so carnival rides brought to Stillwell Avenue for the summer.)
The ride count for the 2011 season is Luna Park (19), Scream Zone (4), Cyclone (1), Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park (22), Eldorado Bumper Cars (1), Polar Express and 12th Street Amusements (5) and McCullough’s Kiddie Park (12). Coney Island’s extended season stretches all the way to Halloween, effectively creating 30 weekends of summer fun.
Coney Island isn’t a gated single operator park like Six Flags or Disneyland. Visitors can move freely throughout the People’s Playground, where the rides and attractions are individually owned and operated by several different families. Here’s ATZ’s guide to Coney Island’s rides for the 2011 season.
Luna Park opened last May with a magnificent gate that pays homage to the original Luna Park. Operated by Central Amusements International, the park division of Italian ride manufacturer Zamperla, Luna Park features 18 Zamperla rides and a Reverchon water flume. Notable rides include the prototype Air Race, designed by Mega Disk’O creator Gianbattista Zambelli. The thrill ride sends riders upside down at up to 4 g forces and made its world debut in Coney Island last May.
One of Coney Island’s historic rides that inspired a modern counterpart in the new park is “The Tickler.” Zamperla’s spinning coaster model, the Twister, was renamed “The Tickler” in honor of Coney Island inventor William F. Mangels pioneering thrill ride that debuted in 1907.
Additional rides include the Brooklyn Flyer (Vertical Swing), Eclipse (Discovery Pendulum), Circus Coaster, Coney Island Hang Glider, Lynn’s Trapeze, Surf’s Up, Big Top Express, Happy Swing, Mermaid Parade (Kiddie Log Flume), Speed Boat and Tea Party.
Also operated by Central Amusement International is the iconic Cyclone Roller Coaster, a New York City landmark that first opened in 1927. This weekend the amusement operator is debuting Scream Zone, a new thrill park on the Boardwalk. Rides include the Turbo Force, Sling Shot, Soarin’ Eagle Coaster (Volare), and Steeplechase Motocoaster, which pays homage to Steeplechase Park’s legendary horse race ride.
Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park has 22 rides and is owned and operated by the second and third generation of the Vourderis family. The Wonder Wheel, which is an official New York City landmark, celebrated its 90th birthday last year. A popular spot for engagement photos, the Wheel has a very romantic history: When the park’s founder Denos 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 ring if she would marry him. She said yes and in 1983 when the Wheel was offered for sale, he bought it and built the park around it.
According to the history page on the Wonder Wheel’s site, it was “built in 1920 by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company using 100% Bethlehem Steel forged right on the premises. Each year, the entire 400,000 lb. ride is overhauled and painted to protect it from the elements of weather, wear and tear.”
The park’s adult rides include the legendary Spook-A-Rama dark ride, Thunderbolt, Bumper Cars and Tilt-A-Whirl. The Kiddie rides are the Carousel, Herschell Boats, Dizzy Dragons, Pony Carts, Jumping Motorcycles, Sea Serpent Roller Coaster, Mini Enterprise, Free Fall, Red Baron Airplanes, Willie the Whale, Fire Engines, Jets, Flying Elephants, Pirate’s Pond, Big Foot Trucks. Rio Grande Train, and Samba Balloon.
The Guerrero family’s 12th Street Amusements has 5 adult rides including the Polar Express, Bumper Cars, Saturn 6, Ghost Hole and Virtual Reality. The Saturn 6 is a classic flat ride. “Right now, I believe the only one in existence is at Coney Island,” writes one ride fan on the CoasterBuzz forum. “Some people think the newer Dartron Hurricane’s are the same thing but the Saturn 6 cars are fastened directly to the arm in a manner so as they do not pivot when they are raised. This is one of those rides you can hear from way down the midway. The loud pop of compressed air being released as the arms raise up & down.”
Coney Island’s disco palace of bumper cars, the Eldorado Skooters, is a family owned business at Surf Ave between Stillwell and 12th St.
As we say in the amusement biz, it’s the front of the show that gets the dough! The front of Coney Island’s Eldorado is famed for its lights and signage. On flickr you’ll find dozens of pix of the dazzling theater-style “Eldorado Auto Skooter” marquee and the sassy “BUMP YOUR ASS OFF!” signs by Dreamland Artist Club founder Steve Powers.
The Eldorado was hand built by the Buxbaum and Fitlin families and a carpenter named Rafael, according to Scott Fitlin. It opened on March 21st 1973 and the first record played was “Cisco Kid-War.” The bumper cars are old school Italian-made Soli cars. Stop by the Eldorado this summer to hear the legendary sound system and “Turn that Wheel!”
McCullough’s is a family owned park with
12 10 kiddie rides on the Bowery at 12th Street. The rides are the Bumblebeez, Ferris Wheel, Carousel, Swings, Motorcycles, Yellow Submarine, Dizzy Dragons, Himalaya, Ladybug, Frog Hopper, Circus Train and Tug Boat.
According to his interview in the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive, “Jimmy McCullough learned the carousel business from his father, James McCullough, who began his career working on the Steeplechase and Stubbman carousels. Working in Coney Island is a family business going back generations for Jimmy who is a descendent of both the Tilyou and the Stubbman families.”
Related posts on ATZ...
May 29, 2012: Photo Album: Coney Island Lights & Signs of the Times
May 22, 2012: Photo Album: Welcome Back, Paul’s Daughter & Ruby’s Bar!
November 15, 2011: Coney Island 2012: What’s New on the Boardwalk
May 21, 2009: Astroland Closed But Your Kid Can Still Ride the USS Astroland This Summer!