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Archive for February, 2010

Snow Mermaid on Coney Island Beach. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Snow Mermaid on Coney Island Beach. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Coney Island resident and contributing photographer Bruce Handy/pablo 57 went for a walk on the snowy beach and came back with photos of a coney-eared, that is a rabbit-eared, snowman. It’s very clever since Coney Island was originally named Konijn Eiland, or Rabbit Island, by the Dutch.

“It’s a snow mermaid, started out male and then someone put bunny ears on him, now female. Hermaphrodite snow mermaid,” says the photographer. “Looka, looka, looka step right up, only in Coney Island.” S/he is ready for her/his closeup here.

February is being called the snowiest month in the City’s history since 1869. “Snow was about 8 inches on the beach. Watched the sun light up the sky as it set over the water,” says Bruce. “Won’t be long, maybe a few weeks, before the sun moves back north and the sun will set over land.”

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

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

October 30, 2009: Nov 1: Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s First Swim of the Season!

June 2, 2009: Coney Island is Alive and Kicking in 2009 Photo of the Day: Dusk on the Boardwalk

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In the early 20th century, Brooklyn was home to master carousel builders and carvers Charles Looff on Bedford Avenue, MC Illions and Sons Carousell Works on Ocean Parkway, and Stein & Goldstein and William F Mangels in Coney Island. Alas, the golden age of the carousel ended in the 1920s. It was news to us that anyone was building carnival rides in Brooklyn in the 21st century, much less a jet-powered merry-go-round! We first learned about “Jet Ponies” this week when Hackett, the founder of the Gowanus-based Madagascar Institute and the ride’s inventor, gave a talk at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg. If you missed “FIRE IT UP: The Secrets of Backyard Jet Propulsion w/Hackett,” take a look at these vids…

Here’s the homemade carousel in its fiery glory at a 3 am test run in September 2009. The vid was shot in the backyard of a crew member.

The jet-powered merry-go-round had its inaugural spin with human riders the very next day at Gadgetoff 2009, a festival at Snug Harbor in Staten Island. A representative from Popular Mechanics volunteered to be one of the first riders. The ride operators use a leaf blower and a blowtorch to ignite the pulse-jet engines. BOOM! One YouTube commenter says, “You guys are frigging nuts. You used two ‘pulse-jets’ to make a merry-go-round. You get two thumbs up just for not killing yourselves.” But another commenter says, “This demonstrates what we can do when we put our minds and our scavenging abilities to work. What a great ride. When will it show up in the traveling carnivals? I know my kids will clamor for a ride or three.”

Hackett is an expert on valveless pulse-jet engines who has built a jet-powered bike, a jet-powered fish and is working on a jet pack. In an interview with The Faster Times, he says…

The motive power behind the Jet Ponies are pulse jet engines (more specifically: Valveless pulse jet engines, more more specifically: Hiller- Lockwood patent Valveless Pulse Jets). We did not invent them- the concept has been around for maybe a hundred years. They heyday of pulse jets was in the 1940s, when they provided the thrust that threw V1 rockets up from Holland, into gravity’s rainbow, and down onto England….

I do not know of any jet-powered carnival rides that were not built by us, and I feel that if they did exist, I would have heard about it. My hope is that some smartass punk nerd kids somewhere see the video on YouTube and say to themselves “I can do better than that,” and then do.

“Jet Ponies” is an art project of the Madagascar Institute, an “art combine” who create large-scale sculptures and rides, live performances, and guerilla art events. The carousel’s most recent appearance was at 2009 NYC Burning Man Decompression at Aviator Sports/Floyd Bennett Field. Any chance Jet Ponies will show up in Coney Island? As soon as we hear back from Hackett, we’ll let you know.

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February 15, 2010: Steeplechase Express: Will Zamperla MotoCoaster Pony Up for Coney Island?

January 14, 2010: Zamperla Ride-O-Rama: Rock the Disko Music Video

November 7, 2009: Thru Dec 31 at Coney Island Library: Artist Takeshi Yamada’s Cabinet of Curiosities

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

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19th century Mangels mechanical shooting gallery

This late 19th century Mangels mechanical shooting gallery owned by Doris Duke and installed at Duke Farms sold at auction last summer for $43,200. Photo via Millea Bros Ltd

William F. Mangels, the Coney Island-based inventor of such early 20th century thrill rides as the Whip and the Tickler, also held the most patents on shooting gallery targets. From the early 1900s until 1969, well after other manufacturers had gone out of business, Mangels’ Coney Island shop turned out cast-iron and sheet-metal targets in the shape of birds and beasts, stars and moons, cowboys and Indians, and soldiers and torpedo boats.

In the early 1900s, shooting gallery operators could select from 25 different kinds of targets for “The Slide” –a chain slide mechanism– all for a dollar a piece. Ducks with moving wings could be purchased for an extra fifty cents! Today, collectors are willing to pay $200 to $1,000 per target, depending on the condition and rarity of the figure. Last June, an intact Mangels mechanical shooting gallery installed at Duke Farms and used by heiress Doris Duke during parties at her home sold at auction for $43,200! It featured a moving clown, ducks, squirrels, birds, stars and circular spinning targets. The late 19th century shooting gallery was stamped “W.F.M. Co. 389” and bears the characteristic plaque “Made by W.F. Mangels Co. – Coney Island – New York.”

ATZ can’t let February go by without honoring the memory of this amusement industry innovator’s birth. Born February 1, 1867, Mangels was best known as a developer and supplier of amusement rides and the mechanisms for carousels and roller coasters After he died on February 11, 1958 at age 92, his family carried on the business for another decade. The Coney Island History Project inducted Mangels into the Coney Island Hall of Fame and some of his kiddie rides can still be enjoyed by visitors to Coney Island’s Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Keep an eye out for the rides that bear the Mangels plaque.

Mangels Pony Cart Ride

Mangels Pony Cart Ride at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. The Mangels plaque can be seen to the left of the numeral 8. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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February 1, 2011: Bring Back the Whip! A Birthday Gift for William F Mangels

November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola

November 5, 2010: Museum Piece or Obsolete? Old Carnival Games, Stick Joints on eBay

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

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Working in Coney Island over the past few summers, we got used to a zillion people asking us if Coney Island was closing. It wasn’t and it’s not. In fact, Coney Island never closes (think Beach, Boardwalk, Aquarium) and is getting a brand-new Luna Park this summer.

But filmmaker JL Aronson’s documentary “Last Summer at Coney Island” is aptly titled. For the past three summers, it has felt like the last summer of our Coney Island because of Thor Equities’ eviction of Astroland and other businesses and the City’s rezoning of the C-7 amusement district. JL, known as Sonny to his friends, has distilled the essence of those turbulent times in his elegaic film. From 150 hours of footage, he has edited a 100-minute rough cut. Here’s a scene from the 2008 Mermaid Parade, featuring a replica of the Astroland Rocket and many of our mermaid and merman friends…

Says the filmmaker….

Beginning in early Spring of 2007, I set out to capture Coney Island at a pivotal moment in its 125+ year history as an amusement destination. With City Hall and private developers laying out their competing plans for Coney Island’s 21st century makeover, many of the local residents and business people felt trapped in the middle or left out in the surf. Much has happened since then, and while the area’s uncertain future brought media attention from across the world, few stuck around long enough to get the full story.

It’s true, summer weekends brought out multiple film crews seeking people to interview. Sonny was always here filming both public events and private moments. “Last Summer at Coney Island” promises to be an exceptional film. It is nearing completion and being pitched on Kickstarter, a website that “helps fund creative ideas and ambitious endeavors.” The only catch is a project must be fully funded before its time expires or no money changes hands. Total amount needed: $16,000. The film currently has 27 backers and needs 20 more with two weeks to go!

Watch the trailer featuring Community Board 13 Manager Chuck Reichenthal, historian Charles Denson, Mermaid Parade creator Dick Zigun and other Coney Island luminaries here. There’s also an engaging interview with Gerry Menditto, longtime manager of the Cyclone roller coaster here.

UPDATE June 1, 2011:

A 60-minute cut of JL Aronson’s documentary “Last Summer at Coney Island” is being shown on public television. We recommend watching it and then buying the DVD with the full 90-minute version and a host of extras, including “Since Last Summer,” in which the film-maker narrates a candid update. Read our review here:“Last Summer at Coney Island” Airs on PBS, DVD Offers Epilogue” (ATZ, May 12, 2011)

UPDATE August 10, 2010:

The film was funded and premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music premiere. Read the review by Rich Calder in the New York Post. Check out on the new trailer at http://www.lastsummeratconeyisland.com.

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February 22, 2010:Coney Island’s Luna Park Launches Blog Site, Lists Job Openings

December 30, 2009: Looking Back & Forward: Astroland Shrine on New Year’s Day 2009

June 22, 2009: A Judge’s Photo Album of the 2009 Coney Island Mermaid Parade

May 21, 2009: Astroland Closed But Your Kid Can Still Ride the USS Astroland This Summer!

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On Wednesday at the Brooklyn Central Library, theater historian Cezar Del Valle will give an illustrated talk on the history of the Legitimate Stage, Vaudeville, Burlesque and Minstrel Show in Brooklyn’s three entertainment districts: Fulton Street, Eastern District, and Coney Island.

Vintage Postcard of Henderson's Music Hall Stage in Coney Island. Cezar Del Valle Collection

Vintage Postcard of Henderson's Music Hall Stage in Coney Island. Cezar Del Valle Collection

Del Valle’s area of expertise is New York City popular entertainment between 1850 and the 1950s, including special emphasis on actual theater buildings. He has led walking tours of the lost theaters of Coney Island’s Bowery. “In its fabulous heyday, the resort was more than just rides and arcades; it was home to numerous cabarets, variety halls and movie shows – a training ground for a generation of legendary performers,” says Del Valle.

The subject is timely since Coney Island’s two historic theater buildings–the Shore Theater and the Henderson Music Hall— have been nominated for New York City landmark designation by Coney Island USA. A March 23 public hearing date has been set for the Shore Theater, a 2,500 seat movie and vaudeville house built in 1925. The building has been shuttered by owner Horace Bullard since the 1970s. Sources tell ATZ the City is trying to acquire the Shore Theater with the idea of reviving it as a year-round entertainment destination.

Also up for landmarking on March 23 is Coney Island USA’s Building (former Childs Restaurant), which is currently in use as a theater for the Coney Island Sideshow and Burlesque at the Beach. The second floor houses the Coney Island Museum. In 2008 the non-profit arts organization bought the 1917 building with $3.6 million funding from the City.

The Henderson Music Hall has yet to be calendared. Its chances of gaining landmark designation are thought to be slim since the building has been altered extensively. It was even cut in half! There’s also the unfortunate fact that the Henderson is owned by real estate speculator Joe Sitt of Thor Equities and occupies a prime site at the corner of Surf and Stillwell that has been rezoned for a high rise hotel. City rezoning documents detail the history of the Henderson Music Hall:

Fred Henderson opened the 3-story brick music hall on Stillwell Avenue at the Bowery around 1900. Henderson’s establishment began as a restaurant at Bowery and Henderson Walk in 1881. When that building burned in 1899, Henderson constructed the new structure to the designs of John B. McElfatrick. The original Italianate southern façade (which fronts on the Bowery) has brick piers, corbelling, stone window lintels, and a bracketed cornice. In 1923, Stillwell Avenue south of Surf Avenue was created by the widening of Stratton’s Walk, and Henderson’s Music Hall was cut in half. At that time, a new brick façade with decorative panels and a stepped parapet was added to the Stillwell Avenue frontage. Additional alterations include modern storefronts and replaced windows. The music hall operated until 1926 and featured such music and vaudeville acts as Al Jolson, the Marx Brothers, and Sophie Tucker. During its run, Henderson’s Music Hall was an important Coney Island entertainment venue. From 1926 to 1984, the building housed the World of Wax Musee. The former Henderson’s Music Hall has been extensively altered. This property was identified in the inventory of potential resources prepared by Coney Island USA.

February 24, 7:00 pm, “Brooklyn Stages,” Brooklyn Collection Reserve Room at Brooklyn Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, 718- 230-2762. “Seating is limited so come early and join us for wine and cheese from 6:30 to 7.”

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February 6, 2010: Feb 9: First Step in Landmark Designation of Coney Island’s Shore Theater

October 14, 2009: Q & A with Zero Boy: “A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy

October 9, 2009: A Rare Peek Inside Endangered Old Bank of Coney Island

July 7, 2009: Tall, Skinny & Destined to Kill Coney Island: High Rises on South Side of Surf

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Screengrab from lunaparknyc.com, the new website of Coney Island’s New Luna Park

Screengrab from lunaparknyc.com, the new website of Coney Island’s New Luna Park

Luna Park Coney Island’s new website and blog debuted last week on the same day as Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference at the Aquarium announcing the new park. Renderings of four of the park’s new rides, including a Mega Disk’O and a roller coaster, were released to the press. Sources said that Central Amusement International (CAI) will be releasing details of the ride line up and other info little by little over the next 100 days—now 95 days and counting till opening day. CAI is ride manufacturer Zamperla’s subsidiary for park operations and also operates Victorian Gardens in Central Park.

This is where some of the announcements will appear: Luna Park Coney Island NYC’s blog, which for the moment consists of an introductory post:

Central Amusement International, LLC is excited to be chosen by the NYCEDC to be a part of the revitalization of Coney Island. Our dedicated team is working hard to bring you Luna Park this summer, a new amusement park filled with new thrill and family rides, opening in May on Memorial Day Weekend. We are thrilled in becoming the newest destination for Coney Island visitors and look forward to seeing you all at Luna Park this summer. Keep checking our blog for the latest Luna Park updates.

Looking for a fun summer job? The Luna Park website already has job descriptions and downloadable applications. Job opportunities include ride and game operator, ticketseller, retail sales, food and beverage sales and logistics associate. The City’s press release about the new amusement park says “in its inaugural season Luna Park is projected to create 247 new jobs in Coney Island, increasing to 330 full and part time positions in 2011, with an emphasis on local hiring.”

Zamperla's "Air Race" Ride will debut this summer at Coney Island's New Luna Park

Rendering of Zamperla Air Race Ride Set to Debut in Luna Park Coney Island in 2010

The new park will have 19 new rides for 2010 and is scheduled to open on May 29. The rest of Coney Island–the Cyclone Roller Coaster, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park (22 rides), McCullough’s Kiddie Park (12 rides), 12th Street Amusements (4 rides), Eldorado Bumper Cars and Arcade, Coney Island Sideshow, Coney Island Arcade and games, and other independently owned businesses–will open as usual for the season on Palm Sunday, which is March 28th. Hope to see you at both opening days!

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February 24, 2012: Summer Jobs: From Coney Island to the Carnival Midway

August 29, 2010: Video: Grand Prize Winner of Luna Park Coney Island’s Film Contest!

May 29, 2010: Photo Album: Preview of Coney Island’s New Luna Park

January 26, 2010: Scoop: Zamperla’s $24M Coney Island Park to be Named Luna Park!

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Pony Express Horse at Knott's Berry Farm

Pony Express Horse at Knott's Berry Farm. Photo © bayareabrats via flickr

Back in the summer of ’08, we had a chance to ask a visiting Zamperla ride rep if his company could rebuild Coney Island’s legendary Steeplechase Ride, which closed in 1964. His reply was to whip out his cellphone and show us a vid of the Pony Express-themed MotoCoaster. It had just opened at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., on Memorial Day Weekend in 2008.

Zamperla, which won a 10 year contract to build a new Luna Park on the City-owned former Astroland site and Stillwell parcels, is expected to announce their ride line up this week. Now that Zamperla is New York City’s new Coney Island Amusement Operator, we think there’s a pretty good chance the Pony Express will become the Steeplechase Express, perhaps in 2011 or 2012. Here’s a look at the Pony Express courtesy of a vid by Ryan Childers via YouTube…

According to Zamperla’s website:

The Pony Express comes with two trains, each accommodating up to 16 rides in an innovative pedestal seating design that maximizes safety, comfort and ride freedom. Using the time tested flywheel and clutch launch system, the PONY EXPRESS delivers a high energy ride with low energy costs. Seated two abreast on their own horses, 16 riders are treated to an exhilarating launch from 0–60 km/h (0-37 mph) in 2.5 seconds. The horses then race to the finish line along a 450 meter (1476 ft) track reaching heights of 14.7mt (48 ft.) through a breathtaking series of exciting 65 degree banked turns. Like the MotoCoaster, the PONY EXPRESS can be adapted to any theme. Let Zamperla design a custom layout and specialized theme for your venue.

The Zamperla Pony Express pays homage to the Steeplechase Ride, but it does differ quite a bit in design. Most notably, the horses are part of a single train instead of racing against each other on multiple tracks. Another big difference: The ride’s seating design and restraint system are new and improved to comply with current-day safety standards.

Park World correspondent and coaster aficionado Paul Ruben recalls the dangerous thrill of riding Coney Island’s Steeplechase Ride:

It was back in 1959 that I learned what it was that has two heads, four eyes, six legs and a tail. Do you know? A horse and rider. It was then I rode my first sit-astride coaster, the original Steeplechase horseback ride at Coney Island. Remember that this was the same park that featured the human roulette wheel, which you rode at your own risk. Back then the only seat belts were on race cars, and they weren’t always effective, either.

On the Steeplechase, the restraint system was a bar to hold. Since then I’ve ridden the Steeplechase at Blackpool, the old Cycle Chase at Knott’s Berry Farm, and now Darien Lake’s MotoCoaster. Most impressive on these newer rides is the progress made improving the restraint systems.

Vintage postcard of Coney Island’s original Steeplechase Ride

Vintage postcard of Coney Island’s original Steeplechase Ride (1898-1907), George C. Tilyou’s first Steeplechase Park. Photo via Tricia Vita/me-myself-i’s flickr

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April 22, 2011: Coney Island Has 64 Rides and 30 Weekends of Summer!

January 26, 2010: Scoop: Zamperla’s $24M Coney Island Park to be Named Luna Park!

January 14, 2010: Zamperla Ride-O-Rama: Rock the Disko Music Video

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

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