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Archive for December, 2012

Party Poppers

Happy New Year! Champagne Party Poppers at Gristede’s. December 28, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

The sight of packages of champagne party poppers in the supermarket for New Year’s brought me back to my carnival childhood and an essay that I wrote in the 1980s. Originally published in the Boston Review, “The Land of Prizes” is from a work-in-progress titled “Memoirs of a Carny Kid.” Does anyone else remember the Clam Shell Flowers? Happy New Year!

When I was a carny kid, De Cicco’s of Boston was one of the great wholesale houses of the carnival world. They carried hundreds of Oriental novelties including every one of the little “prize-every-times” in my mother’s balloon dart store. Winners in the game could be counted upon to look at the label “Made in Japan” and say, “What a piece of junk!” But I disagreed. I thought the prizes were wonderful stuff, my own private stock of here-today, gone-tomorrow toys.

The De Cicco brothers sold things by the gross, like big-time egg farmers. They sold red, white and blue rosette fans to wave like Fourth of July flags every day of the carnival season, and Daredevil Sam, the parachute man, to launch into the air. They sold pirates’ eye patches and villains’ moustaches, policemen’s badges and sheriffs’ stars, and the straw fingertraps called “Chinese handcuffs.”

They sold enough musical instruments to start a parade of marching bands: bamboo flutes with two or three notes to toot; kazoos to hum a catchy tune into; tin crickets to click like castanets; and guitars and banjos with rubber band strings to strum. And they sold every kind of whistle under the summer sun: leather and paper crescents that, after soaking up every drop of saliva, would stick to the roof of my mouth and let me sing like a Swiss warbler; balloon whistles that I tried to blow up, mostly because the long, drawn-out whine that was heard when the air escaped from them was certain to make my mother say, “why don’t you go out and play on the midway?”; and rubber razzers, imported from Hong Kong, of which my mother would gaily say as she gave them away everywhere in New England,  “Here’s a Bronx cheer – Phuuuuu!”

While the grown-ups were busy buying ten gross of this and twelve gross of that, I had the run of the house. Up one wide aisle and down the next, over dusty wooden floors and along countertops level with my beguiled eyes, I’d browse among trinkets and trick toys that I’d never see anywhere else, not even in those Cape Cod souvenir shops where almost everything came from China and Japan. By the time my mother’s order was ready,  I’d have picked out a slew of things and asked one of the Mr. De Ciccos to write up a bill for me too.

He looked over what I’d chosen: a mailbox bank with its own lock and key, a deck of miniature playing cards, and a handful of polished clam shells sealed with flimsy strips of paper that said those three magic words—“Made in Japan.” I knew that if I placed one in a tall glass of water, then waited until I couldn’t wait longer and went away, I’d come back to find a pink paper flower floating up from the opened shell. I couldn’t say how long it took for this Japanese water lily to blossom: in all the years I bought packages of shells at De Cicco’s, I never saw it happen with my own eyes.

The shells remained as mysterious to me as the party poppers that I shot off like fireworks—Bing! Bang!—whenever there was a lull in carnival business. Town kids scrambled to catch the streamers, as colorful and curly as Christmas ribbons, before they fell softly to the ground. While the cardboard champagne bottle that they’d come in was still smoking, I pulled it apart, anxious to get at the little bits of foreign newspaper that were hidden inside. There were seldom more than two or three elaborately printed symbols on the singed strip of paper, but they had come all the way from the other side of the world and I studied them with deep curiosity. What did they say to me?

I wouldn’t find out until I grew up and traveled to Boston’s sister city—Kyoto, Japan.  There I deciphered my long-lost ideograms in a book called Read Japanese Today. And I practiced my Japanese conversation with coffeeshop acquaintances. In the beginning I couldn’t explain to them why I’d come or, after, why I stayed for more than three years. But now I can tell you: I had come to find a home in the land of prizes, where my heart first opened, as slowly and imperceptively as the clam shell in its glass of water.

Copyright © Tricia Vita

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We’re marking the year’s end with a look back at ATZ’s Top 10 Coney Island News Stories of 2012 along with updates. Thanks to the writers and readers who linked to our posts this year. Thanks to everyone who shared comments, both online and in person. If you’re already subscribing to ATZ updates via Feedburner, the service is now virtually defunct since Google is in the process of shutting it down. Email updates have not been going out for several days though this one was sent. We recommend resubscribing via WordPress.com’s new “Follow Amusing the Zillion” widget in the right column. There’s also an RSS feed at the top of the page.

Flood Line

Surf Avenue: Flood Line on Coney Island Mural. Photo © Jim McDonnell

1. “Photo Album: Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath in Coney Island,” October 30, 2012 and “Photos of the Day: Hurricane Sandy Approaches Coney Island,” October 29, 2012

The biggest Coney Island news story of the year was of course Hurricane Sandy. Photos of the approaching SuperStorm in Coney Island and Sea Gate by Charles Denson and the day after in Coney Island by Jim McDonnell had the most visitors followed by updates on the storm’s impact in the amusement area. During the storm surge, Surf Avenue as well as Mermaid and Neptune Avenues and adjacent streets were submerged in 4 to 5 feet of water that came from the bay, the creek, overflowing sewers and the rising tide. Jim McDonnell’s photos from the day after Hurricane Sandy show the high water mark at Surf and Stillwell, the twisted sign on the landmarked Shore Theater and the damaged Steeplechase Pier.

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy: Waves Crashing at Sea Gate. Photo © Charles Denson via Coney Island History Project

Luckily, the landmark Cyclone and Wonder Wheel will be fine and the parks are scheduled to open as usual on Palm Sunday, which is March 24, 2013. However, cleanup and rebuilding is an ongoing effort for the parks, arcades and other businesses in Coney Island’s amusement area as well as for the neighborhood. For post-Sandy news, see “Update on Coney Island’s Amusement Area After Sandy,” November 9, 2012 and “Coney Island Post-Sandy: A Few Stores Reopen, Most Delayed by Damage,” November 24, 2012. How can you help? Read “Coney Island Nonprofits Begin to Raise Funds After Sandy,” December 10, 2012.

Coney Island Zipline

Coney Island Zipline. August 18, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

ATZ’s #2 news story based on page views was “Zip Line Coming to Coney Island’s Stillwell Avenue in July,” June 28, 2012. There was so much interest in this high-thrill attraction that managed to open only briefly, we’d be surprised if somebody didn’t open a zip line next season. The scaffolding remains standing behind Nathan’s, apparently undamaged by Sandy. Plans to install the 60-foot-high, 400-foot-long zip line in Coney Island first came to our attention in June via an introductory special on Pinchit of 50 percent off the regular price. Originally set to open on July 1, the zip line’s debut was rescheduled for late July and then August due to permitting delays. After umpteen updates to our original post, ATZ tweeted on September 12: “Wow, will the long delayed Coney Island Zipline open this weekend?!?! Right now people are zipping across in test runs #BetterLateThanNever.” Our final update: The ride was open for a day and a half before being closed by the City for permit issues and will not reopen. On October 8th, ATZ received an email from the BK Festival operators which said: “After a very long and difficult process the city still didn’t issue the permit needed to operate the zip line.”

Rathskellar

Remnant of Under the Boardwalk Rathskeller from 1940s. Photo © Brooklyn Beach Shop

3. In January, ATZ broke the news of the discovery of a “Remnant of Under Boardwalk Bar Found in Coney Island,” January 31, 2012. Menus of one of the rathskellers that thrived under the Boardwalk in the 1940s and ’50s were found on a basement wall by Maya Haddad of Brooklyn Beach Shop when she moved into the first floor. The name of the rathskeller remains unknown, but beer and milk were 10 cents, coffee was a nickel. The sandwich menu included hamburger, egg, cream cheese, American cheese, Swiss cheese, Sardine or Salmon, Ham, Salami or Liverwurst, Ham & Egg, and a Western. Could this be the place where the boy in the 1953 movie The Little Fugitive returned soda bottles to collect money to go on the rides?

Grimaldi's Coney Island

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, Coney Island. June 22, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

4. “Opening Today: Coney Island Grimaldi’s Pizzeria,” June 23, 2012

After three months of construction, an outpost of the famed DUMBO pizzeria Grimaldi’s opened in Coney Island on Mermaid Parade Weekend. Located on the north side of Surf Avenue across the street from the amusement parks, its illuminated sign boasts a 3-D Brooklyn Bridge and a New York City skyline. Inside the cavernous space, vintage photos of old Coney Island and the City’s rendering of the new Coney Island line the brick walls. Despite Grimaldi’s policy of “No Credit Cards – No Reservations – No Slices – No Delivery,” the new restaurant quickly became a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Its success has helped make the north side of Surf attractive to national franchisees including a Johnny Rockets and an Applebee’s, who have snapped up leases on neighboring storefronts. Grimaldi’s is among the many local businesses that suffered flood damage from Sandy and is expected to reopen in the spring.

Thor Equities

Thor Equities New Building at Surf & Stillwell. January 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

5. “Thor’s Coney Island: Generic New Building at Surf & Stillwell,” February 2, 2012

After seven years of real estate speculation and many grandiose renderings, the construction fencing came down from Thor Equities first-ever new construction in Coney Island (flea market tents don’t count) to reveal a sterile-looking building suited for a suburban mall. The site is on the southeast corner of Surf and Stillwell, the gateway to Coney’s Beach and Boardwalk as well as Scream Zone’s roller coasters and thrill rides. A few weeks later, the vacant building was encased in plywood. Just before Christmas, Thor Equities announced a plan to lease space in the building to Brooklyn business owners at a 40% rent reduction for a one-year lease term, which makes us think it’s best suited for a “pop-up store.” As much as the building looks out of place in Coney Island, we hope it can be activated for some kind of creative use this summer.

Trolley poles

Surviving century old trolley poles in front of Luna Park. February 20, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

6. “Thor Destroys 119-Year-Old Relics of Coney Trolley History,” February 21, 2012

When Thor Equities laid a new sidewalk on Surf Avenue in front of the building pictured in #5, two trolley utility poles which date back to the 1890s and had been documented in previous photos were demolished. What is the history of these humble artifacts? ATZ learned that when trolley service on the Surf Avenue-Seagate line ended on December 1, 1946, the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce requested that the poles on both sides of Surf Avenue be left in place in the amusement area to be used for holiday decorations. Ten years ago, 64 poles were counted. There are currently 43 poles along Surf Avenue, including the ones in front of Luna Park pictured above, which are painted red, white and blue.

Employees at Luna Park

Employees at Luna Park Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

7. “Summer Jobs: From Coney Island to the Carnival Midway,” February 24, 2012

While we got hits on this post throughout the year, February is the time to begin applying for a job if you’d like to work in Coney Island or travel across the country with a carnival. In 2012, Central Amusement International, operator of Coney Island’s Luna Park and Scream Zone, and Nathan’s Famous, together with the Coney Island Development Corporation, announced their first recruitment event for seasonal positions at the end of February with subsequent events in March and April. Seasonal jobs include Ride and Game Operators, Food and Beverage Service, Park Service, Customer Service/Retail Sales and Ticket Sales Associates/Cashiers. If the idea of traveling to 20 states and 4 Canadian provinces, including 10 of the top 50 fairs in North America is appealing, then you may want to check out North American Midway Entertainment’s Careers page.

Eldorado

Eldorado Auto Skooter, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

8. “60 Years of Family History in Coney Island End with Sale of Eldorado,” March 20, 2012

In March, 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 on Surf Avenue to Thor Equities. Their son 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 had left the attraction’s future in question. As it turned out, Gordon Lee who managed both the bumper cars and the arcade for the Fitlins after their son’s death, was able to negotiate a one-year lease with Thor and operated the business for the season. After a “Last Ride 2012 Party” on the eve of Hurricane Sandy, the Eldorado is expected to ride again this summer. The good news is Lee, who bought the equipment from the Fitlins last year, won a lease extension with reduced rent from Thor. The bad news is flooding from the storm soaked both the ride and the arcade, which will need costly repairs. Check out our original post to see the last music video shot at the Eldorado Auto Skooters just a few weeks before the storm.

New Boardwalk Section of Wood over Concrete

New Boardwalk Section of Wood over Concrete. February 20, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

9. “The 10 People Who Will Decide the Fate of Coney Island Boardwalk,” March 9, 2012

When we wrote this post to alert readers to the twice-postponed hearing before the City’s Public Design Commission to decide the fate of the Coney Island Boardwalk, we naively believed that the PDC would conduct a fair hearing, despite the fact that quotes in a New York Times article indicated two of the Commissioners had been persuaded by Parks to support the plan in advance. At the previous hearing in October, they refused to approve the Parks Department’s plan and said that more environmental and engineering studies were needed to address the questions that they had. A few weeks after the hearing we wrote this follow-up post titled “The Coney Island-Brighton Beach Concretewalk Blues,” March 22, 2012:

Boardwalk Not Sidewalk

Sign on Building Facing Boardwalk East of Ocean Pkwy in Brighton Beach. Photo © Bruce Handy

The way the meeting was conducted made a mockery of democracy and public hearings. Only seven commissioners showed up and one –Alice Aycock– left early, kissing her colleagues goodbye in the middle of someone’s testimony. How does it happen that in a city of more than 8 million people, six people get to decide the fate of the Coney Island Boardwalk and appear to have decided in advance of the so-called public hearing?” A ten-foot-wide Concrete Lane for so-called “emergency vehicles” and an adjoining Plasticwalk were unanimously approved by the Commissioners for a pilot project in Brighton Beach. In December, Judge Martin Solomon, who self-importantly told the courtroom that he knew “more about the boardwalk than probably anybody here,” ruled that the Parks Department could go ahead with the plan without doing additional environmental studies requested by Boardwalk advocates in a lawsuit. If you count the judge, seven people got to decide the fate of the Coney Island Boardwalk.

Brooklyn Beach Shop

Brooklyn Beach Shop and Scream Zone, Coney Island Boardwalk. May 26, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

10. “Photo Album: Coney Island Lights & Signs of the Times,” May 29, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend in Coney Island saw the debut of new lights and signage as well as the return of some old favorites. Making their debut were the Coney Island Raceway Sign for Scream Zone’s Go Karts and the solar-powered lights on Deno’s Wonder Wheel. Ruby’s and Paul’s Daughter opened their renovated stores on the Coney Island Boardwalk and brought back some of their hand-painted signs advertising clams and fried shrimp. The new look for the Boardwalk includes lighted custom signs replacing much of the vernacular signage of recent decades. One of the Boardwalk’s new stores, the Brooklyn Beach Shop, features a glass-fronted storefront with custom brickwork and a 6-foot-tall stone Steeplechase face. Lola Star’s fashionably skinny boutique on the Boardwalk is crowned with a dazzling sign of blinking white lights encircling a pink neon “Lola Star” designed by the shop’s eponymous owner.

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December 28, 2012: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island Videos of 2012

December 30, 2011: Amusing the Zillion’s Fave 11 Posts of 2011 – Part 1

December 27, 2011: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island News Stories of 2011

January 1, 2011: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island News Stories of 2010

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The most popular videos posted on Amusing the Zillion in 2012 include a music video by a country star, new films by Coney Island photographers Charles Denson and Jim McDonnell, two films that premiered at festivals in 2012 and rediscovered footage from Coney’s past.

Coney Island is a long way from Nashville, but in December 2011 country singer Alan Jackson was spotted filming a music video on the Boardwalk. Released in January, this poignant ballad about the end of a love affair had the very likeable Jackson singing “I’ll be the SOB, if that’s what you need from me. So you don’t have to love me anymore.” The shuttered stores and lonely beauty of Coney Island on a December day suit the lyrics, which are sorrowful yet defiant, in the way that the best country songs often are. (“Music Video: Alan Jackson’s So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore,” ATZ, January 13, 2012)

Coney Island historian Charles Denson’s 10-minute film of “Climbing the Parachute Jump” was released in January via his “Coneyologist” Channel on YouTube. Featuring video footage by Seth Kaufman and his own exquisite photos, Denson’s film captures the fulfillment of his boyhood dream to once again see the view from the top. “I grew up a few blocks from the Jump and have documented it since it closed,” he writes. “When the city decided to dismantle and renovate the Jump ten years ago, my engineer friend Seth Kaufman had the only copy of the original plans. The city needed them so we made a deal: We got to climb it legally.” (“Video of the Day: Climbing Coney Island’s Parachute Jump,” ATZ, January 18, 2012)

ATZ found this spoof of Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous from an early Conan O’Brien Show in which comedian Andy Richter and actor Abe Vigoda travel to Coney Island on a rainy day in December 1994. “Come join the stars as they escort Andy Richter to their wonderful weekend getaways on Runaway with Andy,” Leach says in the intro. He describes Coney as “a sleepy island of exotic delight.” You’ll catch glimpses of such vanished attractions as Faber’s Sportland Arcade, the Thunderbolt roller coaster, Hell Hole, Jumbo Jet, the Zipper ride, and a food trailer called Trashy Trudy’s Goodeating. (“Blast from the Past: Andy & Abe Tour 1994 Coney Island,” ATZ, February 9, 2012)

“Coney Island Lights” by photographer and self-described “footage guru” Jim McDonnell is lyrical and bewitching thanks to masterful editing by McDonnell, who knows Coney Island and has a talent for distilling its essence into a short film. Watch for Luna Park’s Air Race ride, the dancing lights of the landmark Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, and the blinking red eye of the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops (“Video of the Day: Coney Island Lights by Jim McDonnell,” ATZ, July 8, 2012)

This is the trailer for Amy Nicholson’s Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride, the award-winning new documentary about the rezoning and redevelopment of Coney Island. “A small-time ride operator and his beloved carnival contraption become casualties in the battle over the future of Coney Island” is the film’s capsule description. Eddie Miranda’s Zipper represents all of the mom-and-pops who were displaced by the real estate speculation that was set off by the Bloomberg administration’s plan to rezone Coney Island. ATZ reviewed the film when it premiered at DOC NYC in November. (“Film Trailer: Zipper, Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride,” ATZ, July 26, 2012)

ATZ happened to come across this raw footage shot in early 1960s Coney Island from the collection of Anthology Film Archives. The clip above titled “Coney Island – Night – Silent work-print” has atmospheric scenes of a grand carousel, amusement games and Nathan’s packed with people. The “Steeplechase Carousel” was on the Boardwalk at 16th Street and according to a reader, its frame and some of the Illions horses are likely part of the Flushing Meadows carousel today. (“Video of the Day: Raw Footage of 1960s Coney Island,” ATZ, August 27, 2012)

Posted on Labor Day, “Coney Island Dancing 2012″ opens with the legendary Tony Disco before segueing to the legendary dancing mannequin known as “Miss Coney Island.” For the past two seasons, photographer and film editor Jim McDonnell has released an annual video of the season’s best dance moves on the Boardwalk and the Polar Express and at Luna Park, Wonder Wheel Park and the Mermaid Parade and Ball. Here are links to his dance vids from 2010 and 2011 in case you missed ’em. Party on!(“Video: Coney Island Dancing 2012 by Jim McDonnell,” ATZ, September 13, 2012)

“Gotta Love Coney Island” by Brooklyn native and Coney Island regular Jay Singer is frenetic and hypnotic. It was one of the films in ATZ’s “5 Coney Must-Sees at the Coney Island Film Festival”, where it premiered in September. “It is 275 separate scenes at various speeds composited into a ‘one reel’ experimental film,” Jay told ATZ. “The goal was to capture the ‘pulse’ of Coney Island on a busy day, with intercuts of vintage footage filmed by my grandfather alongside contemporary footage of my own.” (“Video of the Day: Gotta Love Coney Island by Jay Singer,” ATZ, September 25, 2012)

Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson rode out Hurricane Sandy in Sea Gate where his apartment flooded up to the windows and his car floated away. He posted this dramatic video footage of Sandy making landfall at Sea Gate on October 29th. (“Photos of the Day: Devastation at Coney Island’s Sea Gate,” ATZ, November 1, 2012)

Set to “I Remember Coney Island,” a 1981 recording by the Lounge Lizards, Dave Pentecost’s Coney Island Time Lapse features footage shot in the summer of 2012 of the Wonder Wheel, Brooklyn Flyer and other amusement rides in action. “This circular fisheye video is intended to be projected in the digital dome in the new Lower Eastside Girls Club community science and art center,” says Pentecost. (“Video of the Day: Coney Island Time Lapse by Dave Pentecost,” ATZ, December 3, 2012)

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