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Archive for June, 2009

This Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster in Coney Island was purchased by Butler Amusements last year from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

This Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster in Coney Island was purchased by Butler Amusements last year from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

On the Boardwalk side of Joe Sitt’s “Dreamland Park” on the former Astroland site, you’ll find the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster. The Wisdom Industries ride is a familiar sight on the carnival circuit. But the Coney Island ride’s claim to fame is that it came out of Michael Jackson’s private amusement park at Neverland Ranch.

Although the Dreamland Dragon Wagon’s history has not been publicized, Jackson’s death has thrust the former Neverland rides at carnivals and parks across the country into the media spotlight. At Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green, Ky, which has the pirate ship ride said to be Jackson’s favorite, complimentary rides were offered as a tribute to the King of Pop and a temporary memorial will soon be replaced with a permanent plaque. Will Coney’s Dragon Wagon follow suit with its own tribute to Michael Jackson?

ATZ learned of the Coney Island ride’s Neverland provenance earlier this month in a conversation with the ride’s owner, Earl “Butch” Butler, CEO of California-based Butler Amusements. The carnival owner purchased four rides from the Jackson ranch last year including the Balloon Samba ride, which is currently at California’s Alameda County Fair. Butler is the new carnival provider for the California State Fair and has a strong fair and festival route in California, Oregon and Washington State.

Butler Amusements Cotton Candy Wagon in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler Amusements Cotton Candy Wagon in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

As a reporter for the trade publication Amusement Business, I’d interviewed Butler and found him to be a class act. His show was awarded the prestigious Circle of Excellence Designation by the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) in 2005. When ATZ saw “Butler Amusements” name on the cotton candy trailer in Thor Equities’ temporary park in Coney Island, we were absolutely astonished. What made Butler come all the way from California to Coney’s sandy shore when East Coast ride operators galore turned down offers to play Joe Sitt’s Dreamland? We figured either Butler knew something we didn’t (Sitt decides to sit on land and offers multi-year contracts?) or we knew something Butler didn’t (Joe Sitt said amusements don’t make money. Shopping is the new amusement, full speed ahead with rezoning for big box retail!). We phoned Butler to get the scoop.

It turns out that Butler’s Coney connection is his friend and fellow Californian John Strong whose sideshow has been operating in Sitt’s would-be Dreamland since April. “John grew up on our show,” said Butler, “but has since gone off on his own. He said, ‘you’ve got to come out and see this.’ ” At first Butler thought Coney Island was too far, but Strong kept calling him and said they were having trouble getting rides. Butler agreed to fly out and see the situation. His impression: “Coney Island needs upgrading.”

New Ride on the Skyline: Butler Amusements Star Dancer. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

New Ride on the Skyline: Butler Amusements Star Dancer. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler agreed to send four rides from his arsenal of 135 rides. The rides include the Star Dancer, a 101-foot tower ride by Larsen International that combines the carousel and Gondola wheel. It offers a spectacular view of the midway. “The Star Dancer would fit here because people could look out over the beach and the Boardwalk,” said Butler, who noted that he could spare the ride because it’s not popular at fairs where it loses riders to more thrilling rides. He also sent a jewel box of a carousel equipped with menagerie animals as well as horses. The ride had been in storage since it came out of a mall in Chula Vista. The kiddie rides are the Dragon Wagon purchased from Neverland in 2008 and a walk-though play attraction called Kid Zone.

Cat figure on Butler Amusements Carousel. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Cat figure on Butler Amusements Carousel. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Asked if he would be sending more rides, Butler said he sent the four rides to “test market” Coney Island. He also sent his right hand man Bobby Merten, former owner of B & B Amusements, to set up the rides and oversee operations for the first couple of weeks. Butler’s strong fair route precludes sending more rides at this time, but he has hopes of putting kiddie rides in Thor Equities “Flea by the Sea” tents on Stillwell for the Christmas season.

ATZ has spoken with East Coast amusement operators who declined offers to bring their rides to Sitt’s temporary park due to inflated rents or because they already have a strong route and cannot spare the rides. One operator told ATZ the rent was twice as much as he would expect to pay. Asked about his contractual arrangements with Sitt, Butler said that he has a one-year contract with an option for another year, and that the rent was 35 per cent higher than what he would usually pay.

Butler Amusements Star Dancer in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler Amusements Star Dancer in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Although Butler has over 135 rides, he also has major commitments including contracts with four state fairs with concurrent dates: the California State Fair, (Aug 21-Sept 7), the Evergreen Washington State Fair (40 rides; Aug 27-Sept-7) and both the Western and Eastern Idaho State Fairs (late August-early September). In the case of Cal Expo, Butler’s new contract is for a ten-year term and requires him to provide a minimum of 55 rides, 40 games and 13 food stands.

This illustrates the absurdity of Thor Equities so-called efforts to recruit amusement operators to bring spectacular or major rides to Coney Island. If amusement ride operators are operating on a year to year basis, they simply can’t afford to invest in new equipment. As for whether the temporary fair that Joe Sitt calls “Dreamland Park” will be operating next year, much depends on whether the City rezoning plan for Coney Island passes in the City Council this month. And whether or not the City comes to some kind of 11th hour deal to acquire the property from Thor Equities.

Medallion on Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Medallion on Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

November 23, 2009: The Contenders from A to Z: Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP

August 26, 2009: Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ride for Sale in Coney Island!

August 5, 2009: Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!

July 8, 2009: Coney Island Wish List: Michael Jackson’s Bumper Car Ride for Sale on eBay

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UPDATE JAN 2010 The Coney Island kittens pictured below have found homes, but we came across the cutest Greenpoint kitties on our friend Miss Heather’s blog

UPDATE SEPT 2009… Click here for pix of More Genuine Coney Island Kittens Up for Adoption!

Genuine Coney Island Kittens Up for Adoption!

Genuine Coney Island Kittens Up for Adoption!

In the tradition of Gowanus Lounge’s Adoptable Cutie of the Week, ATZ is featuring 7 cuties up for adoption. A friend who lives and works in Coney Island has 6 kittens looking for a good home. The kitties are 2 months old. I finally got to take some photos on Saturday. They are of course adorable. She also has a lovely, cuddly 7 month old kitten looking for a home.

Adorable & Adoptable: Seven month old Coney Island Kitten

Adorable & Adoptable: Seven month old Coney Island Kitten

The kitties are from Luna Park! You can’t get more Coney Island than that…I mean Luna Park Houses, of course.

If you are interested, please email me at amusingthezillion[AT] gmail.com and I will forward your contact info to the cats’ owner or vice versa.

Two Cuties from Luna Park Up for Adoption!

Two Cuties from Luna Park Up for Adoption!

UPDATE SEPT 9More Genuine Coney Island Kittens Up for Adoption!

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Cyclone Roller Coaster, View #3. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Cyclone Roller Coaster, View #3. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

We’re going to a birthday party today in Coney Island. The Cyclone Roller Coaster, which gave its first ride on June 26, 1927, is 82 years young. As Gerry Menditto, the operations manager for the coaster told the Daily News, “I’ve been here 34 years, and we’ve probably rebuilt this entire ride while I’ve been here. While most of the steel has been around since the beginning, the wood gets replaced regularly.” This season we started taking photos (like the one above) that highlight the architectural beauty of the National Register-listed New York City landmark.

According to the official history of the Cyclone:

Brothers Jack and Irving Rosenthal commissioned the legendary Vernan Keenan to design, and Harry C. Baker to construct, the preeminent wooden-tracked roller coaster. The design had to be exceptionally tight and steep because of the relatively small ground space that was available for the attraction. The construction of this masterpiece began on a historical site which was significant in the world of roller coasters — the Cyclone graces the place which contained the world’s very first roller coaster, LaMarcus A. Thompson’s Switchback Railway.

Thompson’s “Roller Coasting Structure,” the first coaster to be designed as a U.S. amusement ride, opened in June 1884. National Geographic is celebrating the 125th anniversary with pictures of the Switchback Railway, the Cyclone and other notable coasters.

Today’s birthday celebration begins at 11 am. On its 82nd birthday the first 100 people in line get to ride the Cyclone for free. The coaster opens at 12 noon but the line is expected to start forming early. Miss Cyclone Angie Pontani will be there to meet, greet, and dance with visitors. From 11 am to 1 pm, the Cranky DJ will spin 78rpm records on his 1923 Brunswick phonograph and 1921 Victor Victrola.

“These songs are from a very special time in the history of recorded music<” says the Michael Haar aka The Cranky DJ. Some of the selections that will be played at the Cyclone Roller Coaster’s birthday party are Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Everybody’s Doing It” from 1911 and 1912, “The Sidewalks of New York,” singing sensations Al Jolson and Nora Bayes, and the vocal comedian Billy Murray. The party takes place at the Coney Island History Project’sexhibition center on Surf Ave under the Cyclone.

AUG. 28 UPDATE: Due to the ongoing Coney Island redevelopment hoopla, ATZ is getting more than the usual number of queries that ask: Will the Cyclone be open in 2010? The answer is YES, THE CYCLONE WILL BE OPEN IN 2010 and for many years to come. The roller coaster’s designation as an official New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1988 is one of the strongest possible safeguards. The Cyclone is owned by the City, which leases it out to the Albert family (former owners of Astroland Park) to operate. The Cyclone is open daily, noon to closing, until September 7. Then it will be open weekends only through September 27.

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December 20, 2009: Coney Island Photo of the Day: First Snow on the Cyclone

September 25, 2009: Coney Island’s ‘Mr Cyclone’ Gerry Menditto Elected to People’s Hall of Fame

August 5, 2009: Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!

June 7, 2009: How Sweet It Is: Wedding Party at Cyclone Roller Coaster

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