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Archive for October, 2009

Polar Bear Swim on March 16, 2008, Coney Island's Opening Day of the Season. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Polar Bear Swim on March 16, 2008, Coney Island's Opening Day of the Season. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

You don’t have to wait until New Year’s Day to join (or just watch) the world-famous Coney Island Polar Bear Swim. Beat the crowd! Members of the oldest cold-water bathing club in the country plunge into the Atlantic at 1 pm every Sunday from November through April. It’s a great way to enjoy Coney Island’s ambiance during the winter season. The photos accompanying this post were taken on Coney Island’s Opening Day of the Season in March 2008. By the time Coney Island’s rides open on Palm Sunday, which tends to fall in late March or early April, the Polar Bears swim season is winding down.

Visit the Coney Island Polar Bear Club website for info on joining a swim or becoming a member:

Guests are permitted to join us for two swims free of charge. If you decide this is for you and want to continue towards becoming a member, you can then apply for membership. If not, fine, we hope you had a great time,

To attend, show up any Sunday between November and April at the New York Aquarium Education Hall, on the Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30 pm. Bring your bathing suit (duh), a towel and surf boots or an extra pair of sneakers (you really need something to protect and insulate your feet.) and some warm clothes. We also recommend you bring a friend should you need assistance or want your picture taken on the beach. You will be assigned a “buddy” to swim with and must obey all safety precautions prescribed by the Club.

All guests are required to sign a liability waiver.

Don’t forget your neoprine surf boots and your camera!

Polar Bears Snap Photos on the Beach in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Polar Bears Snap Photos on the Beach in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Related posts on ATZ...

January 2, 2010: Photo Album: Coney Island Boardwalk, New Year’s Day 2010

December 9, 2009: USAF Thunderbirds Air Show Returns to Coney Island in August 2010

December 4, 2009: Photo of the Day: Let It Snow! in Coney Island

September 12, 2009: Coney Island After Labor Day: Rides Open Weekends, Special Events

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Shore Hotel Nature's Paradise by the Sea. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Shore Hotel Nature's Paradise by the Sea. April 26, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In an exclusive interview this week on Fox Business News, Joe Sitt, the real estate speculator who’s been holding Coney Island hostage in his battle to turn it into a shopping mall dotted with high rises, had this to say: “The way I look at it you’ve got to let other people play in the sandbox and be a good friend to folks. I’m looking forward to working with the Mayor of New York and sharing the development of Coney Island and hopefully seeing some hotels come to that marketplace.”

Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt sharing? We’re deeply cynical. Sitt’s history in Coney Island has consisted of buying and flipping property (Washington Baths bought for $13 million, sold for $90 million), keeping historic properties vacant or underutilized by evicting longtime tenants or tripling the rent (Astroland, Boardwalk, Grashorn Building, Shore Hotel, west side of Jones Walk), and bulldozing thriving amusements on Stillwell to create empty lots and a failed flea market.

The Coney segment is at the tail end of a conversation about “Rebounding Real Estate?” 4:10 to be precise. Watch it here…

The clip begins with the reporter asking: “What does somebody who owns more than $3 billion dollars worth of property in the nation’s most populated cities have to say about the real estate market and where it’s headed?” As Sitt yaks about investment opportunities in commercial real estate, a caption reminds the viewer that “Thor Equities owns 11 acres of Coney Island Amusement Park.”

Fox didn’t show any pix of Sitt’s property, so here’s a few shots from my Thorland set on flickr (photodocumentation from between 03 Sep 2007 & 18 Jul 2009). In the pic below, note unused tables due to lack of vendors. Note shuttered water race game across the street in the Henderson Building aka the historic Henderson’s Music Hall. Gee that’s funny, didn’t Sitt’s pr flack say Thor Equities property was 100% active in 2009?

More used DVD's at Joe Sitt's Flea Flop. July 12, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

More used DVD's at Joe Sitt's Flea Flop. July 12, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The reporter finally asks Sitt if “you guys” –Joey Coney Island and Mayor Mike– are close to resolving their differences. It’s the question on everyone’s mind. When the City Council passed the Coney Rezoning on July 29, there was some serious wheelin’ and dealin’ going on behind closed doors. Charles Bagli’s article in the New York Times had us on the edge of our seat: “Under the tentative deal, according to officials and executives involved in the talks, the city will buy six of Mr. Sitt’s 10 acres, leaving the remaining property on Surf and Stillwell Avenues for him to develop.” The City and Sitt’s attorney were said to be negotiating till 11 pm on the night before the hearing and through the Council meeting. Evidently the two sides never sealed the deal, or perhaps the selling price was deemed too exorbitant to make public before the election? Oh, if we were a fly on the wall at these so-called negotiations, what a delicious tell-all this would be!

Now Sitt is telling Fox News that there have been bumps in the road, but he and “Mayor Mike” are closer than they’ve ever been to a deal. Well, this is not exactly news because Bloomberg said what amounts to the same thing in a sit-down with the Brooklyn Paper back in August: “Fundamentally, the deal with him is done.”

Thor Equities Space for Lease. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Thor Equities Space for Lease Sign on the Still Vacant Bank of Coney Island Building. August 8, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

For the past four months, it’s been awfully quiet on the Coney Island redevelopment news front. It’s as if all of the usual sources had been told to keep their lips zipped till after the election. Yet the Coney Island Rumor Mill is abuzz. Rumors come and go, but the one that sticks around is that the City is buying the Astroland site and will close on it after Bloomberg wins a third term.

Unanswered questions: Is the City buying more than the Astro site from Sitt? What happened to the now three-month-old, 6 out of 10 acres deal? Or will the City go all out and buy the Stillwell lots as well? What will happen to the former Bank of Coney Island building on 12th Street and the Henderson Music Hall at Stillwell and Bowery. Both historic buildings occupy lots rezoned for the proposed high rise “hotels.” Will Sitt keep ‘em and flip ‘em in 2010? In the vid, the Thor CEO describes 2010 as the magic year he’s been waiting for patiently.

The Grashorn, Coney Island's Oldest Building. Shuttered and Destined for Demolition. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Grashorn, Coney Island's Oldest Building. Destined for Demolition? April 18, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

As for “seeing some hotels come to that marketplace”… We’ve never heard anyone but Sitt refer to Coney as a marketplace. Thor Equities falsely advertised the flea fest as “the most thrilling open air market on the planet” and “a uniquely entertaining and amusing marketplace in Coney Island.” Instead it was a desecration of the C-7 amusement zone. This property is where amusements such as batting cages, go karts, bumper boats and mini golf thrived until Joe Sitt bulldozed them in 2007 to make way for “site preparation.”

Forget sharing. We recommend that Mayor Mike buy out Joe, no matter what it costs. The Mayor has spent $85 million to win a third term, he can afford to buy back Coney Island. If re-elected, Bloomberg is destined to go down in history as the Mayor Who Saved Coney Island or the Mayor Who Killed Coney Island by Letting Joe Sitt Get Away with Murder. As for Joe Sitt, we recommend that he take his own advice about the rebounding real estate market. At one point in the video he says “I think Brazil is the single biggest opportunity…” That’s great, Joe. Please move there. Permanently. Here’s an airline schedule. Adeus.

The Henderson Building: Thor Equities banner dwarfs Shoot out the Star. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Henderson Building: Thor Equities banner dwarfs Shoot out the Star. January 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ...

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

February 10, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Amusement Operators Balk, Money Talks at Stillwell

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

June 4, 2009: Coney Island Ride Count: Veteran Ride Ops 40, Joe Sitt 10!

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Le Carrousel at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Horses and Menagerie Animals Grace the Carousel at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

As we left Bryant Park Cafe the other night, the lights of Le Carrousel beckoned us. By the time we arrived, Gabriel the carousel operator was getting ready to close for the night. The ride was silent and motionless, though its lights were still blazing. The horses and menagerie animals looked like part of a magical stage set. But the players had gone home. Eight o’clock is closing time in October. We hurriedly took a few photos of the hand-painted ticket booth against the backdrop of illuminated skyscrapers. We promised ourselves that we’d come back to take more photos of the carousel when the Ice Skating Pond and the Shops at Bryant Park open in November. Oh, and we want to go for a spin on the rabbit, which we like to imagine is a coney from Coney Island! There’s plenty of time because Le Carrousel has extended hours and activities through the holidays according to the Bryant Park blog:

Tricks and Treats at Le Carrousel in Bryant Park
Saturday, October 31
2:00pm – 3:00pm
Le Carrousel, 40th St. side of the park
Halloween party will be cancelled in case of rain.

Daily Hours at Le Carrousel
October, 11:00am – 8:00pm
November 1 – January 24, 2010, 11:00am – 9:00pm

Special Holiday Hours at Le Carrousel
Thanksgiving, 8:00am – 10:00pm
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, 10:00pm – 6:00pm
December 26 – December 30, 10:00am – 10:00pm
New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day, 10:00am – 6:00pm

In addition to the rabbit, the French inspired carousel has 10 horses, a frog, a cat and a deer. It was designed and built for Bryant Park by Marvin Sylvor (1937-2008) of Brooklyn’s Fabricon Carousel Company. A commemorative plaque on the ticket booth notes that Le Carrousel was Sylvor’s favorite of the more than 60 carousels he designed and constructed worldwide. As the carousel maker once told the New York Times, he loved merry-go-rounds because “they touch some spiritual part of your soul somewhere. They make you smile.”

Bryant Park Carousel Ticket Booth at Closing Time. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Bryant Park Carousel Ticket Booth at Closing Time--8 pm in October, 9 pm from Nov through January 24. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Bryant Park is behind the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan, between 40th and 42nd Streets & Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Le Carrousel is on the 40th Street side. $2 per ride. 212-768-4212.

Related posts on ATZ...

December 9, 2010: USAF Thunderbirds Air Show Returns to Coney Island in August 2010

October 12, 2009: Moments in Time: Artist Eric March’s Coney Island

October 10, 2009: Traveler: Carnival Rides as Public Art at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche

October 4, 2009: The Wonder of Artist Philomena Marano’s Wonder Wheel

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Welcome to ATZ’s Coney-centric blog finds, which we’ve come across recently and not so recently. We wanted to do this kind of feature for awhile, but our blog was launched at the beginning of Coney’s 2009 season and it’s been a hectic five months reporting from the trenches of the amusement zone. Now that summer’s over, we’ll have more time to explore the blogosphere. Unless we decide to run away with another carnival…

Diving from the Pier. Photo © Bruce Handy (Pablo57) via flickr

Diving from the Pier. Photo © Bruce Handy (Pablo57) via flickr

“What is Coney to you?” A Canadian photographer in Kevin Downs‘ 2009 Coney Island USA Summer Photography Workshop asked the group members at the end of the summer. Coney Island resident and ATZ contributor Bruce Handy/pablo 57 posted a 14 point “My Coney Credo” on the group’s discussion board on flickr. We like #5: “It is timeless, like baseball, Coney reminds me of 1940. Summer after summer they play the game, the players change, but the excitement, the mathematics of chance never changes. It’s a place where Zoltar grants you the wish to remain young forever.”

Lori_b_Donny VomitThe summer season is over at the Coney Island Sideshow, but you can find out what Human Blockhead and Escape Artist Donny Vomit and friends are up to over at his blog. The Vomitorium was launched at the beginning of the 2009 season. Look for news about upcoming events, the new Krissy Kocktail documentary, behind the scenes photos at the sideshow taken with an antique camera, and Donny’s visual diary of a road trip to the Pima County Fair. More! More!

Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York followed up must-reads on Coney Island’s historic and endangered Shore Hotel and the Henderson Building with a look back at Lillie Santangelo’s World in Wax Musee, which was in Henderson’s until it closed in the 1980s. Featured are seldom seen photos by Costa Mantis of the wacky and macabre waxworks.

LSD-scoop-mauve-shirtLola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink and Boutique in the Childs Building is closed for the season, but her online boutique has been redesigned and is open for biz 24/7. According to Lola’s diary, you can shop for her Coney Island T’s and souvenirs at various flea markets around the City such as Green Flea and West Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue.

At Underwater New York’s launch party, Lawrence Kim and his Boss performed their original song (at 2:30 in the vid) “There’s a Dreamland under the ocean, there is silver under the sea…” The editors of the online anthology are seeking submissions of art, music and creative writing inspired by objects found underwater. Coney-related items on their list include Mermaid, Dreamland Bell, Island Growing on a Submerged Barge in Coney Island Creek, and 1968 Lincoln Continental found off Steeplechase Pier. The last one is new to us. “We are not looking for explanations, but rather for the stories these objects evoke, in whatever form such stories might take,” say the editors. “Tell us if you find an object to add to our list.” UNY’s bloggy new website was designed by our friend Adrian Kinloch of Brit in Brooklyn photoblog and features some of his photos of Coney Island Creek.

All summer long we’ve been cheered by blog reports about what visitors love about Coney Island. Here’s one of ’em. The blogger Wisconsin Girl in the UK, formerly known as Wisco Girl in NY, gave three reasons why she loves New York’s Coney Island. We’ll go with #2: “I always witness some bizarre activity going on while I’m there. Last time it was a group of Polar Bear swimmers in March or April and then this time some Jewish guy was reading his giant prayer book while throwing food at seagulls. The gulls went absolutely nuts and it was actually really pretty (I have photos).”

Thank you to everyone who visited this season despite the bad weather and rumors that Coney Island was closed for redevelopment! See you again soon…

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Here’s a trip you won’t want to miss! On Friday, October 16, Coney Island USA’s Burlesque at the Beach presents “A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy” by East Village performance artist and virtuoso “vocal acrobat” Zero Boy. As a longtime fan, we’re confident Zero Boy is the man to make the glorious hurly burly of Coney’s history come alive onstage.

“The audience is the nephew,” says the ad for the show. “Visit Dreamland, Luna and Steeplechase Parks! Ride the Colossus! Soar on the Parachute Jump! Explore the wonders of Coney Island’s previous centuries. Hot dog eating contests, amusement rides and games of chance. Ride the roller coasters and swim in the clean and pristine aural waters of Zero Boy’s latest vocally animated cartoon.” Here’s a snippet of the play performed this spring at the Ask Dr Hal Show in San Francisco…

In a recent phone conversation with ATZ, Zero Boy talks about developing the play from a three-minute bit to a 45-minute work-in-progress, the inspiration for the set design, fave things to do in Coney, and oh yeah, how he got the name Zero Boy. For the record, his answers were punctuated with lots of laughter and little onomatopoeic flourishes. Photos of Zero Boy used with permission of the photographer Scott A Ettin.

Q: When I first saw the notice for your show on the CIUSA website I was excited because of course I know your work and I love Coney Island. I thought, I have to see this! What will the show be like in relation to the history of Coney Island?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: Well, I do a comic romp through the past, present, and future of Coney Island. It’s sort of like a cartoon of certain big historical elements starting with the beginning of Coney Island all the way up to the 80s, 90s, to now. I did a thing called Stump Zero Boy where people would write in a two word scenario on the radio. I do a similar thing toward the end of the show. People say the Future of Coney Island is dot dot dot. Then I present the future of Coney Island via the audience’s suggestions.

Q: How did you get the idea to do a show about Coney Island?

A: It started as a routine last year I did in a show called “Astroland” at the Kitchen. They asked me to do a bit for it, three minutes of Coney Island Zero Boy style. That routine went from three minutes and developed into a 25, 30 minute routine. I knew I wanted to do a full blown play because the response to it in traveling around the country. When I was doing the routine in Seattle, Eugene, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and in New York, it was sort of like a sail boat. I didn’t have to put up the sail very hard before the thing was flying across the lake.

Every show, there’s a guarantee someone will come up and tell me, I went to Coney Island when I was bla bla years old. I saw Steeplechase. Or, oh I was too young to see it but… Or I went with da da da da. People come up and tell their stories. As I found out the history of Coney Island, I was really blown away. I developed the show and brought in a director from Seattle who really helped format the show for September 11 at Ars Nova.

Q: How did you research it?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: I read Charlie Denson’s book Coney Island Lost & Found, which I loved. It was a major inspiration for me and for the set design, along with the other materials we had. I did a lot of Internet surfing. This summer was the summer that I’ve gone to Coney Island the most. And I jumped on my bike and I rode around the whole island, which was a real interesting eye opener because most people just get off at Brighton Beach or the amusement district and that’s it. Seriously, people get off the train they just head for the beach. They never really go in the opposite direction.

On Labor Day Weekend we were wandering around Coney Island. When you get there at 11 o’clock on a Sunday no one is there, you get there at 12 the place is hopping. Then we came around the corner— and I’d read that article about the Bell in the newspaper how the divers pulled the Bell out of the water— and here we are and they’re pulling the Bell out of the Coney Island History Project and I was the second person to ring the Bell that day!

For me it was a special moment, I felt like it was Coney Island saying go, Zero Boy go, tell our story. I tell everyone this story. One, I tell people you should check out the Bell, and two, it really meant something to me, like history is coming back around. Because people really don’t know anything about Coney Island unless they really research it. I didn’t know anything. You realize the whole island was a giant resort that slowly melted away.

I hope folks from Coney show up and say, oh you’re wrong about this, you need to add that, because the show really needs about 20 minutes more worth of material in my estimation.

Q: How long is it now?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: it runs about 40 to 45. It is a Zero Boy style show in that it’s like Bugs Bunny going through history

Q: I saw that YouTube clip from San Francisco and I realized that it was probably a shorter, earlier version because it didn’t say anything about Luna Park or Dreamland. I love the intro Dr Hal gives you, he’s hilarious!

A: At that Dr Hal show this guy David Capurro the Yo-Yo King was on the fly. No matter what performer is going on he throws up images off the Internet. He was on the fly doing that and I started interacting with it. It inspired me.

The rest of the show, whole sections of it, I had gone out and done solo bits. So there were elements that had been tried and true with the audience. Now it’s a play rather than just a routine.

I’m going to start adding interactive stuff where I’ll be using old film footage and literally as people turn and look maybe speaking to them sort of Zelig style.

Q: Do you use props too?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: No, I do not. A la Zero Boy, the props you see are whatever I create via sound and simple pantomime and I have a beautiful set. As a Coney Island person you will love it. What was so funny was when we did the show at Ars Nova, there’s a reveal where I say “Welcome to Coney Island” and the curtains open, and there was the set. And the set got applause

Q: Wow

A: I thought so, too. I was like, wow. The visual artist who spent two weeks making it was crying he was so happy. But the other thing is the Elephant. It’s the centerpiece on the set actually. In the sideshow I don’t think there will be a reveal cause there’s no place to hide the set. But people who know the history will appreciate it. Aficionados are gonna go, yeah

Q: Personally what are some of your favorite things to do in Coney Island?

A: I’d say first thing you do is take the Q train to Brighton Beach and pick up your food. You’ve got that great neighborhood filed with all Russian food, Georgian food, great deals on fruit, then walk down the Boardwalk to the amusement zone. That’s what I tell people

Q: What’s your favorite ride or game?

A: My favorite would be the Cyclone, It scares me every time but I love it every time. The Cyclone is such a great old thing.

Q: The Cyclone is in the show, right?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: Oh, of course, it’s the height of the show. It’s funny, if I had my druthers, my favorite ride would be the Steeplechase. If I could go back in time and ride that thing, that would be one of my wishes of life. Part of the show is based on my friend, a Lower East Sider who grew up on 13th Street between 2nd and 3rd. He told me about going to Coney Island as a kid in the 1940s and riding the Steeplechase horse and thinking he was gonna fall off. Part of my show is Uncle Zero Boy talks about when your grandfather grew up on the Lower East Side and he loved to go to Coney Island and I tell his story of Steeplechase and Luna Park.

I talk about Dreamland, Luna Park and Steeplechase Park in one element of the show. You’ll get the reference to the Bell.

Q: Oh, the Bell is in the show?

A: Very briefly. I talk about the fire. I talk about everything went up in flames, and you hear bong bong splosh. I talk about the historical recreations they did. I talk about the Wonder Wheel… the Wonder Wheel, the largest ferris wheel in the world. It’s 600 meters in diameter.

I bring out Frankie Yale. I bring out Al Capone. I talk about the Fearless Frogman himself. I basically cover a lot of bases in a small show. It’s such a huge, huge thing, but there are a few more bases I need to cover. That’s why I’m taking a long process and developing the show.

I have this really great feeling about this Coney Island show. I’ve hit some universal vein. It’s the right time and the place is really wonderful. Coney Island was the template for so many things.

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

Id like to ultimately do the Fringe Festivals this coming spring and summer and fall. What would be cool is doing it in Times Square in a small theatre so people who are coming to visit New York get a little taste of this and go running out to Coney Island.

Q: How did you become Zero Boy? I thought, gee I wonder if he did this as a boy at school?

A: No this is what happened… when people interview me on the radio, how did you get the name Zero Boy, I say when I was a young kid I was hit by a radioactive mathematician and it gave me the superhero powers to make sound into reality, cartoon sounds. And then we moved to France and while we were in France, I was walking along the Champs d’Elysee and I heard non non non, which in English means no. And I look up and the Eiffel Tower is shaking and bolts are popping out. So I fly over and I turn on my welding finger. I hear “the hero boy the hero boy he saved us he saved the Eiffel Tower, the hero boy!” and I get the medal from the President. But the newspapers in America messed up and got it as Zero Boy. So I kept it.

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

“A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy”

Written by Zero Boy
Director… Armitage Shanks
Dramaturge… Jodi Glucksman
Set Design…Adrianno
Audio and Media Design… Richard Reta
Set Construction…Terry McHugh
Booking… Gorgeous Management
Michael Wolk, Maureen Sebastian
Photography… Scott Ettin

Burlesque at the Beach at Sideshows by the Seashore, Coney Island USA
Friday, October 16, 2009, 9 pm, $15
1208 Surf Avenue at West 12th St, Coney Island

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astroland-park (3)
Astroland Park, Watercolor by Eric March. From the exhibition “Moments in Time: Queens to Coney Island” at Park Slope Gallery, October 16 – December 31.

The roof of Gregory & Paul’s, now known as Paul’s Daughter, looked empty this summer without the iconic Astroland Rocket. I kept having to remind myself: The Rocket is safe in storage in Staten Island. It’s been saved! But things were not the same in so many ways: Astroland was gone. Closed on September 7, 2008. In Eric March‘s achingly lovely watercolor study from the summer of 2008, G & P’s original sign is intact, the “Astroland Park” Rocket is perched atop the Boardwalk food stand, and all is well in this part of the world.

The artist, whom ATZ got acquainted with in Coney, recently sent us a link to a preview of his upcoming exhibition “Moments in Time: Queens to Coney Island.” The oil paintings and charcoal drawings of Queens industrial landscape are impressive. Naturally we felt drawn to successive images of the Rocket– the black & white and hand-tinted etchings done in 2009. “For ‘Astroland’ I thought the fine detail you can achieve in etching lent itself well to depicting all the signage,” says Eric March. “‘Parachute Jump’ has a lot of precise line work but I also used different biting techniques to get a softer sense of atmosphere in the sky. In addition, an additional layer of yellow ink rolled over the entire plate helps gives ‘Parachute Jump’ that sunset glow.”

astroland-bw (2)
Astroland, etching by Eric March, 2009

Whenever I ran into Eric in Coney Island he was busy gathering signatures for a petition to save the amusement zoning and move the proposed high rises north of Surf Avenue. How did all the Save Coney lobbying and events of the summer affect or inspire his work?

The show is actually about half Coney Island subjects and half Long Island City subjects. I moved to LIC in 2006 from Brooklyn and was attracted to all the industrial structures in Queens Plaza and other places in LIC. Coney Island has my heart, though, and I was drawn back to the beach when I started developing the work for this show. In 2006 I had my first solo show, “A Brooklyn Year”, which was all Brooklyn—including a lot of Coney Island pieces. So I already had ideas for paintings that I didn’t get to for my last show.

When I learned that Coney Island was potentially destined for the wrecking ball it definitely lit a fire under me to not only capture images of the Coney that I knew and loved, but also to get involved politically to help keep it that way. That’s when I started volunteering for Save Coney Island. I did some petitioning on the boardwalk and helped organize to raise awareness about the city’s redevelopment plan and it’s inherent threat to the existence of the vibrant, small scale, historic, and unique Coney Island that’s been drawing people there for over 100 years. The fight’s not over yet and I hope that when people see the work in this show they will also be inspired to fight for a Coney Island that remains one of the last places in New York City that is an open-access melting pot of people, creativity, color, and fun.

astroland-hc (2)
Astroland, hand-tinted etching by Eric March, 2009

parachute-jump (2)

Gallery Talk, Friday, November 6, 7 pm
The artist will discuss the artistic process and the political inspiration for his Coney Island images. Featuring guest speaker Juan Rivero from Save Coney Island

Moments in Time: Queens to Coney Island, October 16- December 31, 2009. Park Slope Gallery is a by-appointment-only art gallery in the historic Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Phone 718-768-4883 or e-mail parkslopegallery@mindspring.com

Parachute Jump, etching by Eric March, 2009

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Wild ride avalanche 1

Wild Ride 2009 by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan. Performance Art/Multimedia Installation on Bay Street, Toronto at Nuit Blanche, October 3, 2009. Rides owned by Funland Outdoor Amusements. Photos courtesy of Scotiabank Nuit Blanche

Now that the summer is over in Coney, we have time to make good on our promise to cover not only Coney Island and the amusement business, but “fun places in between.” The category “Traveler” will include places we’ve been, places we’d like to go, and places that have something we’d love to see recreated in Coney Island. We’re kicking it off with free carnival rides!

Tag surfing for “amusement rides” on WordPress, photos of a Fun Slide and Avalanche ride set up in Toronto’s financial district for an all-night art fest caught our eye. Last weekend, the 4th annual Nuit Blanche (aka “Sleepless Night”) attracted an estimated one million festival-goers and featured over 150 contemporary art installations. On the Nuit Blanche website, we found this writeup by artists Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan about their “Wild Ride 2009″:

Bay Street – emblem of Canada’s banking industry – is closed. The smell of cotton candy and raucous music fill the air. Two midway rides reflect the whirling, tilting exhilaration of the bull market and its less than thrilling collapse. Free to the public and staffed by recently downsized businesspeople, the rides invite audience members to kinetically contemplate the ups and downs of the recent economic crisis. Out of the darkened financial district, screams will be heard!

wild ride fun slide

ATZ enjoys seeing carnival rides transform the city streets at Little Italy’s San Gennaro and other Italian Feasts into a temporary People’s Playground. We’re taken with the democratic idea of rented carnival rides presented as a free public art project. Did we mention “Wild Ride 2009” and the other interactive artwork was free to the public thanks to $2 million in funding from the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario, and Scotiabank? We could use a few free rides in the newly rezoned Coney Island. Note to Creative Time, the non-profit which commissioned the Dreamland Artists Club sign painting project in 2005 and Steve Powers’ Guantanamo-themed “The Waterboard Thrill Ride” (not an amusement ride) in 2008. Here’s your next Coney project: Commission an artist to bring back the Whip and Zipper rides and spin a narrative around it.

Wild ride set up

“Wild Ride 2009” creators Dempsey and Millan have collaborated on performances, film and public art projects since 1989, but for this project they teamed up with showmen from Ontario’s Funland Shows. How did it go? We did a quick Q & A with the artists via email to find out…

Q: How did you get the idea do this?

A: We received the commission in the fall of 2008. It was to do a 12-hour art piece on Bay Street in the business district of Toronto. In Canada, Bay Street is synonymous with the economy. It is the financial engine of the country. A couple of things struck us about the site. The area is a series of glass canyons: banking skyscrapers everywhere. Loads of reflective surfaces. There also aren’t any people on the street. There is an underground system called the PATH that is really a vast underground mall. It sucks all the life from pedestrian street traffic. The economic collapse had just happened so the lack of people on the street seemed more eerie. The financial centre of Canada seemed dead.

Q: Are you fans of carnivals and fairs?

A: We grew up going to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. It was the thing that you looked forward to every year, almost like Christmas. Midway carnivals meant freedom, abandon, risk, and possibility. There was also that “post” feeling afterwards when you realized you had spent all your money and had nothing to show for it. We though it might be a good metaphor for the financial meltdown. A wild ride. We could comment on the folly/absurdity of the speculative financial industry.

Plus we wanted to return Bay Street to the people – us – who paid for it. Make it useable, functional, joyful. Make it ours. What would be more democratic than free midway rides and cotton candy?

Wild Ride 1

Q: Can you tell me about carnival company from whom you rented the rides? What was it like working with them?

A: We rented two rides from Funland/Superior . They are a partnership with a long history in the Ontario midway business. They staffed the rides with their carnies who we dressed in business suits. Beforehand we told the public that the midway was being run by downsized business people but on the night we confessed that, really, those Bay Street types have few transferable skills, and that in the interest of safety we had hired skilled professionals and dressed them in business attire, as appropriate to the district.

We were afraid that the carnies would be resistant to wearing the suits but they were so into the spirit of the event. They looked super sharp, literally like they had just stepped off the trading floor of the stock market. And they kept the energy up all night, playing with the crowd, shaking their hands…very business-y! We were awed by their ability and enthusiasm. It made us think about how we valourize and reward some kinds of labour (like that of bankers and stock traders) but not others (like carnies). The guys working for us were just as capable, smart and charismatic.

We were also struck by how removing a ride from a carnival and putting it in another context transformed it into a beautiful object. It was as if people were seeing the rides for the first time. They looked so beautiful (and so incongruous) on Bay Street. People were awed by the blinking lights reflected in the banking towers.

wild ride avalanche 2

Also, because everything was free, sometimes the carnies would let a ride go on for 20 minutes if the riders were willing. There was lots of teasing back and forth. It felt like there was plenty, that you could have all you wanted. Now that’s a rare feeling, especially on Bay Street!

We transformed the location in a couple of other ways, too. We made signs (“Wild Ride…Do You Want to Go Lower?”and “Absolutely Free and Worth Less All The Time”), and pumped out a soundtrack featuring songs about money and loss with a voice-over by a barker (“Lay your money down”). The free cotton candy (distributed by volunteers in business suits) had clown-headed garbage cans nearby. People danced to the music, some putting the clown heads on, some playing air guitar. We rocked them all night long. Even at 6 am there were still lineups and big smiles. It was a beautiful night, the way fairs and carnivals can be, outside of time and sense: magical.

wild ride clown head

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June 13, 2009: June 13: Coney Island Hysterical Society Artists in Conversation at A.M. Richard Fine Art in Williamsburg

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