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Zipper Doc

Cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard filming at Chance Factory in Wichita, Kansas in 2011. Photo via Zipper Facebbok

It’s beyond cool that Amy Nicholson’s documentary “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride” is traveling this weekend to a film festival in Wichita, Kansas, the home of the Zipper. Part of the film was shot at Chance Rides factory in Wichita, where the classic ride was invented in 1968 and the company’s elderly founder Harold Chance and his son Dick Chance were interviewed. Coney Island’s Zipper was number 34 of the 224 that were built.

The film will be screened at the Tallgrass Film Festival at 1:30pm on Friday, October 18, and at 2:30 pm on Saturday, October 19.

From ATZ’s review of the film when it premiered last year: “A small-time ride operator and his beloved carnival contraption become casualties in the battle over the future of Coney Island” is the film’s capsule description. Eddie Miranda, who worked on Coney Island’s rides since he was a boy, owned and operated the Zipper and Spider for a decade. In the doc, Eddie’s Zipper represents all of the mom-and-pops who were displaced by the real estate speculation that was set off by the Bloomberg administration’s plan to rezone Coney Island.”

Zipper has an upcoming screening at Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Wednesday, October 30th, 9:30pm and is also available on itunes.

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July 19, 2011: Video of the Day: Let Us Now Praise Coney Island’s Zipper

April 12, 2010: Evicted by Thor, Coney Island’s Zipper Ride Thrills in Honduras

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Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride

Extended through August 29: The Documentary “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride” at IFC Center in the West Village. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

In the waning days of summer, there are two things we suggest you put on your to-do list if you’re in the City. “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride,” Amy Nicholson’s documentary about the rezoning of Coney Island and the City’s standoff with Thor Equities’ Joe Sitt, opened earlier this month at the IFC Center to great reviews. If you haven’t seen it yet, the film has been held over for matinee screenings through August 29. Or see it in LA, beginning August 30. We had a second look at the Coney Island doc after having reviewed the film when it opened at DOCFEST last year. As we wrote last November…

Eddie and his Zipper crew–Don, Joe, Larry and Jerry–are a likeable bunch of guys who cut up jackpots about how far back they go in Coney and with each other. Watching them disassemble the Zipper is heartbreaking, all the more so because in the film, this scene happens as the City Council votes “Aye” on the rezoning that will shrink the amusement zone and allow retail and high rises on the south side Surf Avenue. It’s poetic license because the vote was held in July 2009, two years after the Zipper had left Coney Island. But it is exactly right, because the land remained vacant all that time.

The Zipper site is presently part of Wonder Wheel Way and Scream Zone, which along with Luna Park was built after the City ended the stand-off with Joe Sitt shown in the film and bought 6.9 acres of his land for $95.6 million in November 2009. “It’s a vision offering major new opportunities for retailing and thousands of new housing units,” says Mayor Bloomberg at the City Hall press conference announcing the land deal and the City’s own redevelopment plan for Coney Island.

In the doc, Eddie’s Zipper represents all of the mom-and-pops who were displaced by the real estate speculation that was set off by the Bloomberg administration’s rezoning of Coney Island and the rebuilding that followed the City’s purchase of Thor’s land. The names of the businesses, including Batting Cage and Go Kart City, Shoot Out the Star, Shoot the Freak and Steve’s Grill House, are memorialized on the screen in the final credits.

During the Q & A after a recent screening, a couple said they knew the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel were protected because they’re landmarked, but they wanted to know if any other mom-and-pops had survived. They hadn’t been to Coney Island in four or five years!

Grandma's Predictions

Grandma’s Predictions, newly restored 90-year-old fortunetelling machine under the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Go before the end of the summer and help keep the surviving old timers alive and thriving. The good ol’ Coney Island to-do list includes getting your fortune told for 50 cents by Grandma’s Predictions, a 90-year-old arcade machine beneath the 93-year-old Wonder Wheel; clams on the half shell at Paul’s Daughter, the 50-year-old Boardwalk restaurant and clam bar formerly known as Gregory and Paul’s; marshmallow treats and candy apples at the nearly 75-year-old Williams Candy, Coney’s last old school candy store; and a ride on Eldorado Auto Skooters, a 40-year-old disco palace of bumper cars whose motto is “Bump Your Ass Off.”

ATZ also recommends the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit of murals from the demolished Playland arcade; the 25-cents-a-dance “Miss Coney Island” doll and the row of games next door; the restored 1940s Mangels Shooting Gallery at Coney Island USA; Spook-A-Rama, Deno’s classic 1950s Pretzel dark ride renovated post-Sandy; and Ruby’s, Coney Island’s oldest bar, where part of the ceiling is made from 1920s Boardwalk wood, making it one of the only places where you can still walk “Under the Boardwalk.”

Paul's Daughter Coney Island

Clams on the Half-shell at Paul’s Daughter, Coney Island Boardwalk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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May 7, 2013: Video of the Day: Restoration of Grandma’s Predictions

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Zipper

Larry posing with Freddie on the very last night of operation – Labor Day 2007. Freddie was a great loader and would spin the cars before the ride even started! Photo © Zipperfilm.com

Five years in the making, the long-awaited Coney documentary Zipper premiered Saturday at DOC NYC and screens again today at 3pm and 9:30pm. The theater is the IFC Center on 6th Avenue at West 3rd Street in Manhattan. The first time we met director Amy Nicholson was in Coney Island on September 9, 2007, the last day of Astroland, which later got a one-year reprieve from landlord Thor Equities. As Amy and cinematographer Jerry Risius loaded equipment into a car, she explained they were making a film featuring the Zipper. The ride had also been evicted by Thor and eventually they would film it being driven away.

“A small-time ride operator and his beloved carnival contraption become casualties in the battle over the future of Coney Island” is the film’s capsule description. Eddie Miranda, who worked on Coney Island’s rides since he was a boy, owned and operated the Zipper and Spider for a decade. In the doc, Eddie’s Zipper represents all of the mom-and-pops who were displaced by the real estate speculation that was set off by the Bloomberg administration’s plan to rezone Coney Island. The names of the businesses, including Batting Cage and Go Kart City, Shoot Out the Star, Shoot the Freak and Steve’s Grill House, are memorialized on the screen in the final credits.

Zipper Film

It was hard to take the Zipper apart because it hadn’t been disassembled since it was parked on that spot – almost 10 years. Photo © Zipperfilm.com

Eddie and his Zipper crew–Don, Joe, Larry and Jerry–are a likeable bunch of guys who cut up jackpots about how far back they go in Coney and with each other. Watching them disassemble the Zipper is heartbreaking, all the more so because in the film, this scene happens as the City Council votes “Aye” on the rezoning that will shrink the amusement zone and allow retail and high rises on the south side Surf Avenue. It’s poetic license because the vote was held in July 2009, two years after the Zipper had left Coney Island. But it is exactly right, because the land remained vacant all that time. The Zipper site is presently part of Wonder Wheel Way and Scream Zone, which along with Luna Park was built after the City ended the stand-off with Joe Sitt shown in the film and bought 6.9 acres of his land for $95.6 million in November 2009. “It’s a vision offering major new opportunities for retailing and thousands of new housing units,” says Mayor Bloomberg at the City Hall press conference announcing the land deal and the City’s own redevelopment plan for Coney Island.

The film does a great job of making the complex details of the Coney Island rezoning easy to comprehend with snappy graphics, newspaper headlines (“Rezonie Baloney” is a fave), and TV clips of reporters covering the Coney beat. Interviews with Amanda Burden, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning, Coney Island’s City Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr., and Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt speak louder than words. One of the most effectively edited sequences has the trio taking turns saying what kinds of retail the new zoning would allow them to bring to Coney Island. Suggestions range from entertainment franchises like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Howie’s Game Shack, and Build-A-Bear Workshop (Sitt) to Williams-Sonoma (Recchia), Gap and Duane Reade (Burden). As we said in a previous post: Ugh. Sounds like Any Vacation Spot, USA. Cut to Zipper crew members Joe and Don, who look stunned. “They could care less about the amusement business, about Zippers,” says Don.

Zipper film

From the wall in Harold Chance’s office: homage to the greatest ride ever, the Zipper. Photo © Zipperfilm.com

But the film makes viewers care about Zippers. It takes us to Chance Rides factory in Wichita, where the classic ride was invented in 1968 and the company’s elderly founder Harold Chance is interviewed. We learn there were only 224 built and Coney Island’s Zipper is number 34. Seeing the Zipper for the first time since it left Coney Island for a seaside carnival in Honduras, tears welled up. They have our Zipper! At the same time, we felt happy to see it still alive and thrilling riders. The irony is that the three members of the Zipper crew who managed to find another place to work in Coney Island are about to lose their jobs again. On the weekend of Zipper’s premiere, they were busy dismantling the rides in McCullough’s Kiddie Park since it has closed forever after 50 years. The family that owns the park wasn’t able to come to an agreement on extending the lease with property owner Thor Equities.

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September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

July 19, 2011: Video of the Day: Let Us Now Praise Coney Island’s Zipper

April 12, 2010: Evicted by Thor, Coney Island’s Zipper Ride Thrills in Honduras

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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The Zipper was a thrill ride on West 12th Street in Coney Island. Now it’s the title of Amy Nicholson’s new documentary about the rezoning and redevelopment of Coney Island. “A small-time ride operator and his beloved carnival contraption become casualties in the battle over the future of Coney Island” is the film’s capsule description. The trailer was released the other day and it will make you want to see the movie, even if you think you know how the redevelopment turned out.

The Bloomberg administration succeeded in “saving” Coney Island by buying it from Thor Equities, didn’t they? That’s what you’d believe from some of the news stories and statistics released this summer. “Coney Island, Renewed but Recognizable,” says the New York Times. Ah, but the story is far from over. What kind of vision will future Mayors have for Coney Island? Before the lease on Luna Park expires in December 2020, the City plans to issue an RFP for a permanent amusement operator. Meanwhile, six years after evicting the Zipper, Thor CEO Joe Sitt is sitting on property rezoned for 30-story hotels and advertising his first new building in Coney Island as “The Retail Ride of a Lifetime.”

We’ve been following @TheZipper on twitter over the past year and get a kick out of their tweets referring to “Zipper star Amanda Burden,” “Zipper star Domenic Recchia” and “Zipper star Joe Sitt,” among others. We imagined the Director of the New York City Department of City Planning, Coney Island’s City Councilman and Thor’s CEO on the red carpet, now here they are in the trailer. A grinning Joe Sitt shows off a framed T-shirt with his self-proclaimed nickname “Joey Coney Island” and rattles off the names of businesses that might come to his Coney Island: Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Dave and Buster’s, Hard Rock, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Ugh. Sounds like Any Vacation Spot, USA.

We’d say “Bring Back Coney Island’s Zipper,” but it was sold to a carnival operator in a beach town in Honduras, where it’s still thrilling riders, according to the film-maker, who went to see it one last time. The Honduras footage will provide a satisfying coda to the film which Nicholson and cinematographer Jerry Risius have been working on for the past five years. But what happened to its owner, independent ride operator Eddie Miranda? In the trailer, he says his days in Coney Island are pretty much over. The Zipper film’s new website also debuted this week.

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November 15, 2012: Zipper: Coney Island Documentary Debuts at DOC NYC

March 27, 2012: Video of the Day: Eldorado Auto Skooter at Coney Island (2011)

July 19, 2011: Video of the Day: Let Us Now Praise Coney Island’s Zipper

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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Remember Coney Island’s Zipper ride? Check out the first three minutes of “Zipper,” Amy Nicholson’s documentary about “Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride,” on the film’s new Facebook page. “In a market-driven world where growth often trumps preservation,” says the film-maker, “Eddie and his Zipper may be just the beginning of what is lost.” The film is set to be released in 2012. In the meantime, here are a couple of vintage vids to show you what old school carnival thrills Coney Island has been missing since the Zipper left Brooklyn for Honduras.

When photographer Jim McDonnell shot the video “Dave Rides the Coney Island Zipper” six years ago, in July 2005, real estate speculator Joe Sitt of Thor Equities had yet to buy up property in Coney Island and decimate the amusement area. The independently owned and operated Zipper reigned on West 12th Street till it was evicted in 2007. Says Jim: “It was one of the few (if not only) operating Chance Zipper rides that allowed single riders, and you definitely got your moneys worth with a super long ride cycle. Dave is the only rider on this cycle – he’s in car #5 but its sometimes a bit hard to follow. Pardon the crude video work and enjoy the flipping!”

The manufacturer’s recommended ride duration is two minutes (two-and-a half tops), but Dave gets to ride for an astounding five-and-a-half minutes, which was typical for the Coney Island Zipper. The ride cost only $4.00, according to a sign on the ticketbooth. Our fave comment on the next vid’s YouTube page was “I remember when Big Louie ran that ride. He left me in there for a half an hour. It felt like I was in a washing machine left in the spin cycle.”

Take a trip back in time to 1987 and watch Larry Tee and Lahoma Van Zandt ride the Coney Island Zipper in this video by Nelson Sullivan, whose work chronicled the downtown New York club scene in the ’80s. You’ll catch a glimpse of a young RuPaul here and in another vid where the group rides a Swinging Car on the Wonder Wheel. The best part of the Zipper vid is the ride operator spinning the car at both the beginning and end of their ride. The worst part is watching the riders look for a spot to throw up. The Zipper, a notorious “puke ride” on the carnival circuit, was invented in 1968 by Chance Rides and is still manufactured today.

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Zipper, Coney Island.  Photo © brooklynnfoto via flickr

Zipper, Coney Island. Photo © brooklynnfoto via flickr

A tweet from zipperfilm, aka documentary filmmaker Amy Nicholson, made us feel happy and sad at the time: “On our way back from shooting in Honduras. The Zipper is alive and well and scaring the crap out of kids on a beach there. Viva la Zipper!”

It makes us smile to think Coney Island’s beloved Zipper ride, which was evicted by Thor Equities in September 2007, has found new life as an expat. It makes us sad that nearly three years after the Zipper was dismantled and trucked away, its spot on West 12th Street remains empty and devoid of fun. Call it Thorland instead of Coney Island because real estate speculator Joe Sitt has managed to erase amusements from the property and blight the block.

Before Thor: View of W 12th Street with Go Karts and Zipper. April 15, 2006. Photo © frankko via flickr

Before Thor: View of W 12th Street with Go Karts and Zipper. April 15, 2006. Photo © frankko via flickr

The Honduras footage will provide a satisfying coda to “The Last Day of the Zipper,” which Nicholson and cinematographer Jerry Risius have been working on for the past three years. We’ve been looking forward to their film ever since we met the duo on the last day of Coney Island’s 2007 season. A synopsis posted on twitter says “A small-time carnival operator is forced to sell his ride and vacate his lot when he becomes the victim of a power struggle over the future of Coney Island.”

On the Zipper film’s newly launched website, the intro shows Zipper operator Eddie Miranda uncannily disappearing and reappearing on the empty lot. “A story about politics, greed, land use and public policy, Last Day of the Zipper chronicles a critical period in Coney Island’s history and examines the impact of redevelopment on a place that has always provided affordable entertainment for the masses. In a market driven world, where revenue and profits often trump nostalgia, Eddie and his Zipper may only be the beginning of what is lost.”

We don’t expect THE Zipper to ever come back to Coney Island, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some kickass carnival rides including a replacement Zipper and Go-Karts on Thor’s empty lots this summer? Let the countdown till Summer of Hope 2 or Dreamland 3 begin!

Thorland, August 2, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Thorland, August 2, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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January 8, 2010: Coney Island 2010: Good Riddance to Thor Equities Flopped Flea Market, Hello Rides?

October 30, 2009: Video: Joe Sitt Talks Sharing his Coney Island Sandbox, Hotels & Brazil

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