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Archive for August, 2010

Grand Finale of The Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

You get a lot of entertainment for the price of a ticket to the Coney Island Illuscination–a “thrillusionist” and his beautiful assistant, Kung Fu masters diving through flaming swords, hair-hanging aerialists, Salsa dancing acrobats, tightrope-walking kitty cats, an educated toucan and more. The circus, which is in a tent on the Boardwalk, is here for 12 more performances–Wednesday through Labor Day. Our selection of photos by Bruce Handy, Jim McDonnell and me-myself-i provides a glimpse of what you’ve missed seeing this summer if you haven’t been to the circus in Coney.

Jamieleigh with Blue-Throated Macaw at Pre-Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

At the interactive pre-show, which starts 90 minutes before showtime, we met Jamieleigh and a blue-throated macaw, one of the rare and pampered birds in David DaVinci and Jamieleigh’s traveling aviary. On his blog thethrillusionist.com, DaVinci says one of his favorite things to do is take trips to remote locations to freefly their parrots. He also takes in and trains rescued birds that haven’t flown in decades. You might enjoy watching this YouTube video of Jamieleigh and a “hilarious parrot.” More than 23,000 have viewed it so far! In the Coney Island Illuscination, DaVinci, Jamieleigh and a few of their birds perform a variety of Houdiniesque illusions.

Hair-hanging aerialists Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves

Hair-hanging aerialists Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves. Photo © Bruce Handy

Hair hanging?!!! Watching Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves spin by their ponytails is fearsome and sublime. Their act reminds us of the antique Barnum & Bailey poster showing a Chinese troupe nonchalantly sipping tea as they hang by their topknots. Hair hanging is something we’ve seen performed live only once before. Even among extraordinary circus folk, there aren’t a lot of hair hangers. One of our sideshow friends who tried to learn the act tells us a special technique of braiding the hair is what makes it possible, but it’s still excruciatingly painful. Not for the faint of scalp!

Mayya Panfilova with one of her 12 trained house cats in the Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Bruce Handy

If we were a little girl, we’d want to be Mayya Panfilova when we grow up. Then we would never be cat lonely. According to the Illuscination website, ten of the twelve performing housecats were handpicked and trained by Panfilova, while the other two were born in her care. The cats balance on top of balls, jump through hoops and walk across a low wire using their front paws. Dear Ms. Panfilova, we suggest you write a book: “How to Train Your Cat to Be a Circus Star.” We predict it will be a bestseller!

Mayya Panfilova with one of her 12 trained house cats in the Coney Island Illuscination Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

Mayya Panfilova with one of her 12 trained house cats in the Coney Island Illuscination Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

The theatrical buffoonery of the Trio Caveagna from Italy calls to mind the rich tradition of commedia dell’arte. Artidoro Caveagna and sons Steve and Jones combine music and clowning in a uniquely entertaining way.

Artidoro and Steve Caveagna of the Trio Caveagna. Photo © Bruce Handy

According to the group’s bio: “Artidoro acquired this one-of-a-kind art form from his father Elicio, who was not only an accomplished musician but also a revered clown in Italy. Elicio performed this act for several years in a prominent Italian circus, Circo Nando Orfei, where his performances were legendary.”

Artidoro Caveagna performing with the Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Bruce Handy

Steve Caveagna, an 18-year-old clown with the zaniest hairdo in New York City, joined the family act when he was 10. With his elastic body and quirky poses, he’s a natural at physical comedy. While Steve’s father and brother play trumpet and saxophone, he cheerfully drowns them out with his boom-box antics and wins over the audience with hip hop dance moves.

Steve Caveagna of the Trio Caveagna with the Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Tricia Vita//me-myself-i via flickr

Steve Caveagna of the Trio Caveagna with the Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Tricia Vita//me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Island Illuscination, Surf Ave at W 21 St, Coney Island, 800-745-3000, through Sept 6, 2010.

The Illuscination’s “Gold Tour” runs through March 2011 and includes stops in upstate New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida.

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June 5, 2010: Ringling Circus Back in Coney Island, Congrats to Trivia Contest Winners!

December 23, 2009: Coney Island School Bus Lot Has Gotta Go! The Circus Is Coming

September 3, 2009: Coney Island Baby: Cyclone, the Mini Donkey at the Ringling Circus

August 20, 2009: Q & A with Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus Star Justin Case

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The winners of the first annual LunaPic Contest were announced with fanfare on LunaTic Day (Friday) in Coney Island’s Luna Park. Jim McDonnell was awarded the grand prize in the film category for this fast-paced, 57-second video of Luna’s rides in action. Contest rules specified that entries be between 30 and 60 seconds in length. Check out Jim’s “Coney Island Dancing” video which we posted on ATZ yesterday and his photo gallery of amusement park photos. As we’ve already said to him: Bravissimo! You’ve really outdone yourself this summer with your pix and vids of Coney!

The grand prize winners in the Lunapic Contest’s film and photo categories receive $500 cash, four 4-hour wristbands, and a Luna bag with merchandise and souvenirs. In the photo category, the grand prize was awarded to Paul Gerace’s Best Overview shot. The first prize winners in the individual categories were Eric Kowalsky, Most Artistic; Sylvia Rosenbaum, Best Close-Up; Mike Cherry, Best Nighttime; Janelle Bara, Best Overview. They receive wristbands and the Luna bag of goodies. Congrats to all! The winning photos may be viewed on the park’s Facebook page.

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August 27, 2010: Video: Coney Island Dancing by Jim McDonnell

August 24, 2010: Video: Coney Island Pier Divers by Kevin C Downs

April 17, 2010: Our Fave Coney Island Song: Joe McGinty’s Million Dollar Mermaid

July 19, 2009: Coney Island Hip-Hop Anthem: AMO1’s Fight for Your Right to Save Coney

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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

On Sunday at the Coney Island Museum’s Ask the Experts series, theater historian Cezar Del Valle will give an illustrated lecture to celebrate the launch of his Brooklyn Theater Index. The first volume covering theaters from Adams Street to Lorimer has just been published. The topic of his talk will be drawn from the third volume, a work-in-progress devoted to Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.

The subject is timely, since one of Coney Island’s historic theater buildings, the former Henderson Music Hall at Surf and Stillwell, has been doomed to demolition. Pre-demo asbestos abatement is currently underway by Thor Equities despite preservationists efforts to save the building and make it part of an historic district.

Del Valle told ATZ that the Henderson Music Hall will be part of his talk. “Twice in the past, I have been asked to work on landmarking Henderson,” he says. “First on a panel and then in an advisory capacity. Sad to say, nothing ever came of it. I thought the building was being held hostage for some future bargaining ploy but I was wrong. If you went around to the Bowery side, a few of the windows still followed the rake of the old balcony.”

The Henderson was one of six buildings nominated for city landmark designation by Coney Island USA in 2004, although its chances were thought to be slim since the building has been altered extensively. It was even cut in half in 1923 when Stillwell Avenue south of Surf was created!

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.

If you’re able to make a day of it, Save Coney Island will be offering a free walking tour this Sunday at 11 am and every Sunday through the end of September. The guided tour covers the historic buildings along Surf Avenue as well as some of Coney Island’s existing landmarks. According to the group’s website, “we will have historic pictures so you can see what the buildings once were and a few renderings illustrating how these buildings could be creatively restored and reused.”

August 29, 4:30 pm, Ask the Experts! Cezar Del Valle’s Brooklyn Theater Index Book Launch, Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Avenue, Coney Island, $5 admission, Free for members of Coney Island USA.

August 29, 11:00 am, Save Coney Island’s Walking Tour of Historic Coney Island, meet in front of the Shore Theater, on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Aves, Rain or shine. Free, but suggested donation of $10 appreciated

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April 29, 2010: Photo of the Day: Interior of Coney Island’s Doomed Henderson Music Hall

March 8, 2010: March 23: Rescuing Coney Island’s Shore Theater from 35 Years of Neglect

February 23, 2010: Feb 24: Theater Historian’s Talk Puts Spotlight On Coney Island’s Lost Stages

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

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During the summer, Coney Island’s Boardwalk plays host to legendary dance parties as well as impromptu jumpin’ and jammin’. Photographer Jim McDonnell captures the exuberant spirit of Coney’s dancers in this vid shot over the course of the Summer 2010. “Everyone likes to dance at Coney Island. Whether it’s the amazing Coney Island Dancers, in front of the Polar Express or at the Mermaid Parade,” he says. Music is the Stockholm band the Teddybears from their yet-to-be released in the US album “Devil’s Music.”

If watching the vid puts you in the mood to tear it up, come out to the Coney Island Dancers Friday and Saturday parties on the Boardwalk. Their free parties start in May and end in September. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

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August 28, 2010: Video: Grand Prize Winner of Luna Park Coney Island’s Film Contest!

April 17, 2010: Our Fave Coney Island Song: Joe McGinty’s Million Dollar Mermaid

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

July 19, 2009: Coney Island Hip-Hop Anthem: AMO1’s Fight for Your Right to Save Coney

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Coney Island’s Steeplechase Pier is a popular spot for fishing and diving as well as for people-watching and photography. For photographer Kevin C Downs, who spends his summers running an annual photo documentary workshop at Coney Island USA, the pier is a magnet. His photos and video capture the daredevil spirit of the pier divers, who defy the “No Diving” signs for the thrill of the jump. Says one teenager: “It’s like…the adrenalin rush. It’s high. It’s better than going on any rides. It’s cheaper than Six Flags.”

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June 16, 2010: Coney Island Photography Workshop with Kevin C Downs

March 30, 2010: Super 8 Movie: I Had A Dream I Went To Coney Island

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

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

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“Predatory developer Thor Equities is evicting small businesses while preparing to demolish the historic Henderson Building…” In this video, you’ll meet two business owners who after 3 decades of operating year-round businesses in the Henderson Building have lost their leases and have to move out.

On Saturday we took a few lousy pix of Popeye’s knowing it would be our last chance. After 27 years in Coney Island, Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits was expected to serve its last supper to customers on Sunday. Today we’re hearing Popeye’s may have gotten a few days reprieve, if you want to head over for a last snack. The Henderson Building at the corner of Surf and Stillwell is one of four lots in Coney Island rezoned last summer for 30-story high rise hotels, which set the stage for the current evictions and demolitions.

Thor-Owned Henderson Building sits on a Parcel Rezoned for a High-Rise Hotel. Photo © Tricia Vita//me-myself-i via flickr

Thor-Owned Henderson Building sits on a Parcel Rezoned for a High-Rise Hotel. Photo © Tricia Vita//me-myself-i via flickr

The historic building once known as the Henderson Music Hall is slated to be demolished next month.  In the video, the business owners comments are punctuated by the drill of machinery.  You’ll see workers carrying out asbestos abatement/demolition on the building’s roof without any protection for the people below.  (But that’s another story,  which ATZ has been reporting.)

Maritza, who has operated the souvenir stand on the Stillwell Ave side of the Henderson building for 30 years,  began packing up and moving out on August 11.  In the video, she says she got one week’s notice. “When [Thor Equities] makes the new building he promised to give me a 10 year lease, but I don’t know. They’re supposed to talk to me about it, but I’m still here waiting,” Maritza says in the video. After Thor announced demolition plans in April, a rendering was released of a cheesy looking temporary one-story building occupied by hamburger and taco food joints. At the time we thought it was a ploy to get demo permits from the City and put an end to preservationists’ efforts to get approval for an historic district in Coney Island.

Will Popeye’s and Maritza find a spot in Joe Sitt’s future Mall of Coney Island? That depends on whether you think such a thing will ever be built. From where we stand, Joe Sitt is just creating another empty lot in Coney Island to add to his collection of empty lots. If you’re skeptical, we suggest you take a look at what the now decimated Stillwell Avenue looked like before Joe Sitt.

Evicted by Thor Equities, Popeye's Chicken in Coney Island Closes after 27 Years. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

UPDATE April 10, 2012:

Popeyes Chicken reopened today at 1220 Surf Avenue, a new doors down from their original location, in a building owned by another landlord. The popular fast-food restaurant’s new home is in the Popper Building, which has a distinctive old copper sign that says “Herman Popper & Bro.” and a colorful history.
“Relocated Popeyes Set to Open Today in Coney Island,” ATZ, April 10, 2010

UPDATE August 24, 2010:

Popeye’s last chicken dinner will be served tonight! After 27 years at this location, the restaurant will close at midnight. Thirty people, including 20 year-round employees, are now out of work. The owner has until the end of the month to move out his equipment. He hopes to stay in Coney Island and is looking at two locations- one on the south side of Surf Avenue and another on the north side. We wish him luck and hope to see Popeye’s back soon!

Save Coney Island is giving free walking tours every Sunday through the end of September. The tours highlight the four soon-to-be demolished buildings owned by Thor Equities along Surf Avenue as well as some of Coney’s existing landmarks. This Sunday’s guest tour guide will be historian Charles Denson, author of Coney Island: Lost and Found.

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August 19, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Crack of Dawn Demo Work Attracts Scrutiny

April 29, 2010: Photo of the Day: Interior of Coney Island’s Doomed Henderson Music Hall

April 21, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings

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

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On Saturday we chatted with Luke Stangarone in front of Coney Island USA, where he was cleaning a stained glass window, one of two which the Sheepshead Bay resident is donating to the Coney Island Museum. Rescued from three feet of mud in a Park Slope basement, the windows originally came from Coney Island’s Feltman’s complex, says Stangarone. The tantalizing question is which part of Feltman’s? Stangarone speculates the windows could be from the ballroom or the carousel pavilion. He says that his wife’s relatives, the Whittakers, worked at the Parachute Jump and rescued the artifacts from Feltman’s demolition more than 50 years ago. Can you help identify this window into Coney Island’s past?

Charles Feltman is famous as the inventor of the hot dog, but his entertainment complex on Surf Avenue was multi-faceted and covered a full city block. According to the Coney Island History Project, which has a 120-year-old chair from Feltman’s Maple Garden on display, the Feltman empire included nine restaurants, two bars, a ballroom, an outdoor movie theater, a hotel, a beer garden, a bathhouse, a pavilion, a Tyrolean village, a carousel, a roller coaster called the ZIZ and the maple garden! Since Feltman’s closed in 1954 and was demolished to make way for Astroland Park in 1962, you’d have be over 60 to remember going there. Perhaps someone will recognize the window from family photos that show the stained glass window in the background. Let us know if you have any clues!

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

February 25, 2010: Happy Belated Birthday to Coney Island’s William F Mangels

January 19, 2010: Nathan Slept Here! Coney Island’s Feltman’s Kitchen Set for Demolition

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

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