Last week, Sheila Buxbaum Fitlin and Sandy Fitlin, whose families have operated businesses in Coney Island for more than six decades, sold the building that houses the Eldorado Auto Skooters and Arcade at 1216-1218 Surf Avenue to Thor Equities. For months Coney Island insiders knew of the pending sale as well as the possibility that the bumper cars and arcade will open for one more season, in the same way that Astroland remained open the year after it was sold.
“We’re actively working on negotiations,” arcade operator Gordon Lee told ATZ on Monday. Lee’s company Sun Star is a longtime provider of arcade machines to Coney Island, including the Eldorado as well as the now-closed Astroland Arcade and Faber’s Fascination. Last season Lee managed both the bumper cars and the arcade for the Fitlins after the death of their son Scott in October 2010. The bumper cars have undergone pre-season maintenance and passed inspection and are ready to open on Coney Island’s opening day if an agreement can be reached with Thor Equities.
Scott Fitlin was the DJ extraordinaire of Surf Avenue’s legendary disco palace of “Bump, Bump, Bump Your Ass Off” bumper cars and his untimely death at the age of 48 left the attraction’s future in question. His parents had retired to Texas and left the bumper cars in his care. It was a gift to Coney Island and a tribute to his memory that the Eldorado reopened last season. ATZ asked the Fitlins for a statement about the sale of the Eldorado and their years in Coney. Sheila Buxbaum Fitlin sent us the following note via email:
It is with deep regret that I sold Eldorado. Due to my advancing age, the fact that I live in Texas, and, of course, Scott’s death, I could no longer continue.
As one of the last of the “old timers,” I view a legacy in Coney Island that spanned three generations and lasted almost 60 years. I pay homage to those of us who shaped Coney Island–
The Buxbaum & Fitlin Family, Jerome & Carol Albert, Denos Vourderis, Freddy Garms, Norman Kaufman, Ronnie Guerrero, Jeff Persily and any I may have forgotten.
Eldorado established an entity that became a standard of the industry. The Bumping Disco was known worldwide, reproduced somewhat once in Japan, but never really successfully duplicated anywhere. Eldorado was one of the very first of the FECs. Today the concept is everywhere and much embellished upon. Many years ago we had plans to extend to other areas, but it never came to fruition. Unfortunately, we were never really recognized or acknowledged by “the new Coney Island.” Oh, what things the “old timers” could have taught the “johnny come latelys.”
I only wish that Scott had not died and the next generation could have persevered.
GOODBYE CONEY ISLAND, and most of all, goodbye to those I love.
Our friend Scott Fitlin told us about the history of the Eldorado in a March 2010 interview. It begins: “Eldorado was hand built by my grandfather Joseph Buxbaum, my Dad Sandy Fitlin, and my Uncle Peter Buxbaum, and a carpenter named Rafael. Opening date was March 21st 1973, admission was 50 cents and 25 cent re-rides. The FIRST record played was Cisco Kid-War!”
In a 2007 interview in the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive, Sheila Buxbaum Fitlin recounts how her parents met in 1930s Coney Island when her mother was working in a frozen custard stand at Bowery and Stillwell and her father was selling hot corn next door to Nathan’s.
In the 1940s, the family opened the Shamrock Irish House, a restaurant, cabaret and open air bar with singing waiters on Henderson Walk and the Bowery. Customers would throw money onto the stage. “I can recall as a child–10, 11, 9–going there, getting a stage-side table and my father would give me a roll of dimes and set me up with my Coca Cola,” says Sheila in the interview with Charles Denson.
In the oral history interview, Sheila says the family switched over to games in the mid-1950s and had one of the first-ever water racing games. The Eldorado building was at one time the Pleasureland Arcade and was won by the Buxbaum and Fitlin families in a closed bid auction in 1971. The building is located mid-block on Surf Avenue between Denny’s Ice Cream and the Popper Building, a few doors down from Thor Equities property at the corner of Surf and Stillwell.
UPDATE March 20, 2012, 9:00 AM:
UPDATE April 12, 2012:
Good news! Gordon Lee of Coney’s Eldorado Bumper Cars phoned to say he’s operating the ride today & open for business! The arcade will also open this weekend for the season. Hours at the Eldorado are “12 noon till closing.”
Eldorado Bumper Cars and Arcade, 1216 Surf Avenue, Coney Island
Related posts on ATZ…
October 17, 2010: Photo Album: Oct 15 Tribute in Sound & Light to Scott Fitlin
October 13, 2010: Rest in Peace: Scott Fitlin, Coney Island’s Eldorado Man