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Archive for June, 2013

Midway at State Fair Meadowlands

Rides and Funhouse Showfront on the Midway at State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The midway at New Jersey’s State Fair Meadowlands, which runs through July 7, is alive with eye-popping painted showfronts for funhouses, entrancing sideshow banners, and flashy signage hawking fair food. We’ve been going to the fair in East Rutherford since 1996, when Johnny Meah’s eighteen-foot-high, 104-foot-wide showfront for Hall & Christ’s Weirdest Women in the World first lured us there, on assignment from Raw Vision to write about the art of the sideshow banner. It’s the front of the show that gets the dough, and it’s the front of the show that continues to attract our interest.

Girl to Gorilla Show

Girl to Gorilla Show, 4 C Productions, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

This year, the fair has a Girl to Gorilla show, which hasn’t been on the road since 1996, and four other sideshows owned and operated by Lindsey Constantine. She learned the business, including how to talk on the bally stage, from her dad Jack Constantine, who started Four C Productions in 1972 and is now semi-retired.

“Beauty or Beast? SEE the only LIVING woman with this Mysterious and Unknown Ability…Alive…The Ape Girl.” This awesome set of Girl to Gorilla banners was painted by the late Lew Stamm, whose showfronts are highly regarded in the business. He also did projects for amusement parks such as Gold Rush Junction, Silver Dollar City, Dollywood and Dixie Stampede. “They were done for my father in 1991. My dad traded his car for them,” said Lindsey.

Girl to Gorilla Show

Girl to Gorilla Show, 4 C Productions, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Across the midway is the World’s Smallest Woman, whose delightful advertisement has her sitting in a giant chair dwarfed by a “normal-sized” dog. The showfront trumpets her as being only 29 tiny inches small with hands 2 inches wide. This particular “World’s Smallest Woman” is named Gloria. For nearly 30 years, she has supported her family as one of Four C Production’s five “World’s Smallest Women” who travel the U.S. carnival and fair circuit.

World's Smallest Woman

World’s Smallest Woman, 4 C Productions, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Four C’s World’s Smallest Horse, Snake Illusion and Oddity Museum featuring such attractions as a Giant Nuclear Radiation Beetle and a Fiji Island Mermaid are also on the midway at the New Jersey fair.

World's Smallest Horse

World’s Smallest Horse, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The hot, humid weather is perfect for Drown the Clown, the great Joey Liberti, who has been working the dunk tank since he was a kid. The ballgame/show was a fixture at Little Italy’s San Gennaro Festival until last year, when a group of swank boutiques and new residents of Mulberry Street in the neighborhood now called NoLita lobbied the community board to shorten the festival. Although they were unsuccessful, Drown the Clown was one of the casualties of the gentrifiers’ efforts to take the carnival out of the street fair and make it culturally and politically correct by their standards. Ironically, century-old photos of street fairs in New York City and elsewhere in the U.S. show an array of ball games, as well as sideshows and Ferris wheels.

Drown the Clown

Drown the Clown, State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

There used to be a dunk tank in Coney Island –no more! You have to go to Jersey to be properly entertained and insulted by the dunk tank king. As the sign on the stand says, “CLOWN JOKES MAY OFFEND SOME PEOPLE. IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR YOU SHOULD NOT STAY.”

Deep Fried Buckeyes

Deep Fried Buckeyes, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Deep-fried Buckeyes, in case you’re not familiar with fair food, are an irresistible confection made of peanut butter and chocolate. The masterful showfront for this food concession is ablaze with advertisements for deep-fried treats: Oreos, Snickers, S’Mores, Twinkies. There’s even a Deep-fried Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich and a Deep-fried Grilled Cheese. The most over-the-top food at the Meadowlands Fair is the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Burger, which is breakfast, lunch and dinner rolled into one, and is on the menu at Little Richard’s Cafe.

Doughnut Burger

Doughnut Burger. State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Our vote for the most unique showfronts at the Meadowlands Fair goes to the restrooms. When you gotta go, you have a choice of Royal Flush at the Buckingham Loo…

Restroom with Showfront

Restroom with Showfront at State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Or Toon Town’s Tinkle Run. The clean and attractive portable restrooms are staffed by attendants.

State Fair Meadowlands runs from June 21 through July 7 and also features an array of rides and free shows including Circus Maximus, Rosaire’s Royal Racing Pigs, Fireworks, and the last Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Qualifier before the July 4th contest in Coney Island. We took NJ Transit from Penn Station to Secaucus Junction and then hopped on a free shuttle bus to the fair. Trip time: 25 minutes.

Restroom with Showfront

Restroom with Showfront at State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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THRILLS

THRILLS. Copyright Philomena Marano

“Thrills,” a group show featuring Coney Island and carnival-themed photography and art opens today at Smart Clothes Gallery on the Lower East Side. The artists are Lawrence Berzon, Charles Denson, Jane Dickson, Richard Eagan, Hazel Hankin, Marc Kehoe, Philomena Marano, and Marie Roberts. The reception is tonight from 6-9pm and the show runs through July 28th.

Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt. Photo copyright Hazel Hankin

Photographer Charles Denson is the author of “Coney Island: Lost and Found” and director of the Coney Island History Project. Artists Richard Eagan and Philomena Marano founded the Coney Island Hysterical Society in the 1980s. Coney Island has also been a longtime source of inspiration for painter Marc Kehoe and photographer Hazel Hankin, who have exhibited with CIHS. Marie Roberts is artist-in-residence at Coney Island USA, where she paints the banners for Sideshows by the Seashore and the Mermaid Parade.

“Thrills” at Smart Clothes Gallery, 154 Stanton Street, New York, NY 10002. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 12:00 pm – 6:30 pm. Phone 212-627-3276.

Coney Island

Critical Blue © Charles Denson

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A Winner Every Game

A Winner Every Game. Jones Walk, Coney Island. June 21, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

On the way to Friday’s Parachute Jump Lighting, we cut through Jones Walk and came across these fashion plates playing the water race. “A winner every game, a prize every time!”

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Parachute Jump Lighting Tes

Parachute Jump Lighting Test, Coney Island. June 20, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy

On Friday night in Coney Island, the landmark Parachute Jump will be lit with 8,000 LED lights. Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower will have enough bling to be visible from outer space, advance reports claim. The lighting was installed by Zamperla’s Central Amusements International, which operates Luna Park. Last night, the crowd on the Boardwalk was treated to a dazzling preview of the light show and Coney Island photographer Bruce Handy took this series of photos. “Parachute Jump vibrating to the beat of mermaid’s soul vibrations,” he said, in anticipation of Saturday’s Mermaid Parade.

Parachute Jump Lighting Test

Parachute Jump Lighting Test, Coney Island. June 20, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy

Originally designed by a retired Naval commander to train military paratroopers in the 1930s, parachute towers were soon modified into amusement attractions when civilians clamored to ride. Coney Island’s Parachute Jump first wowed visitors at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. Afterwards, the ride became the star attraction at Steeplechase, the world-famous amusement park that opened on Coney’s fabled shore in 1897.

Parachute Jump Lighting Test

Parachute Jump Lighting Test, Coney Island. June 20, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy

Along with the pier, the Jump’s tower is the sole survivor of the park that once billed itself “Coney Island’s Only Funny Place, Where 25,000 People Laugh at One Time.” The city-owned landmark’s proximity to the Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium gave it a new lease on life when the ballpark opened in 2001.

Parachute Jump Lighting Test

Parachute Jump Lighting Test, Coney Island. June 20, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy

Summer officially arrives this weekend. Friday night’s lighting ceremony will be followed by Coney Island’s first fireworks show of the 2013 season and Saturday’s 31st Annual Mermaid Parade.

Parachute Jump Lighting Test

Parachute Jump Lighting Test, Coney Island. June 20, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy

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A half-pipe skateboard ramp popped up over the weekend in Wampum’s Coney Island pop-up shop. It really turned our head! The ramp brought to mind the Minnesota State Fair, where we saw local skateboarders perform in Lair Skatepark’s X-Zone. Located in Thor Equities “Retail Ride of A Lifetime” Building, which has neither arcades nor amusements, the indoor half-pipe at least brings something unique to Coney Island. It could be year-round “entertainment retail” if the skate shop, which is leasing the space for the summer, decides to stick around.

During the rezoning hoopla in 2008, the City proposed the creation of “entertainment retail” in the part of the former 60-acre amusement area designated “Coney East,” yet struggled to come up with viable examples. At a Municipal Art Society panel, Brooklyn Director of City Planning Purnima Kapur replied to a question from the moderator by mentioning Dave & Busters and ESPN Zone, laser tag and virtual reality. Yawn. An indoor ramp where you could see skateboarders do tricks where you also try out and buy boards would be cool.

wampum

Wampum Skate Shop in Coney Island. June 1, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Wampum, which bills itself as a “lifestyle clothing brand and skate shop” and has locations in Bridgehampton and Nolita, opened the 2,500 square foot shop on Coney Island’s Stillwell Avenue for the summer season. When we interviewed Wampum co-owner Lennon Ficalora in April, he talked about putting in a ramp. For now, employees are using it for demos to draw people inside the cavernous store. Will local skateboarders be able to give it a go? They’re looking into the logistics of having the public sign waivers, Wampum’s skateboarding sales clerk said.

Update: This Wampum location closed for the season after Labor Day Weekend. Throughout the summer, the half-pipe was used by store employees for demos and as a stage for a rock band. It did not open to the general public.

Wampum Coney Island

T shirts, caps and boards for sale at Wampum Coney Island on Opening Weekend. May 27, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Thor's Coney Island

Shoes galore at Rainbow Shops in Thor Equities Retail Ride of a Lifetime building in the New Coney Island. June 15, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The latest chain store to invade Coney Island’s amusement district has opened and it is neither “hip” nor “glitzy,” words used by the mainstream media in recent weeks to describe the chainification of Coney’s Surf Avenue. Over the weekend, Rainbow Shops, which sells discount clothing and shoes, opened on the Stillwell Avenue side of Thor Equities’ “Retail Ride of a Lifetime” Building, across the street from Nathan’s Famous. Shoot Out the Star, Basketball, Balloon Dart and Water Racing as well as the Fascination Arcade were among the amusements in the Henderson Building, which was on this corner until Thor CEO Joe Sitt demolished it in 2010.

This is the new retail building flaunting two ARCADE signs but no arcades, despite the fact that 15% of amusement frontage was required by zoning regulations to obtain the Certificate of Occupancy from the City. We wrote about this sham last week. The “ARCADES” remain vacant. Apparently, having an ARCADE in name only is fine with the City. Anything goes as long as Thor’s Coney Island has shoes galore!

ARCADE

ARCADE sign on Thor Equities Retail Building with No Arcade on Stillwell Avenue, Coney Island. June 1, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The 2,500 square foot Rainbow Shop, the maximum size allowed by the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009, is filled with aisle after aisle of shoes in shoeboxes, just like a warehouse outlet. It’s as if the store owners expected the “PEDESTRIANS GALORE” (“4.7 million subway riders visit Coney Island every year, 13 million people visit the beach every season and over 100,000 people visit Coney Island’s Luna Park on the 4th of July!”) touted in Thor Equities property description to arrive shoeless.

Flea by the Sea

Shoes Galore at Anchor Store # 7 at Joe Sitt’s Flea by the Sea. July 12, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In 2008, Thor Equities dismal flea market on the Coney lot where the Tornado Roller Coaster once thrilled had vendors selling clothing and shoes, both new and used. At the time, it was a reminder that Joe Sitt’s pitch book unsuccessfully used to lobby Borough President Marty Markowitz for 10,000 square foot retail touted flagship retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap/Banana Republic, and DSW (“Thousands of shoes…prices you love”). Now it appears to have been a dress rehearsal for Rainbow Shops. The Brooklyn-headquartered retailer has 28 stores in Brooklyn and over 1,000 locations nationwide.

Rainbow Shop

Rainbow Shop on Stillwell Ave opposite Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island. June 15, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Paquito the Chihuahua

Paquito the Chihuahua Onstage in Coney Island. June 15, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

After winning 2nd prize as “Uncle Sam” in Saturday’s 3rd Annual Pet Costume Contest on the Coney Island Boardwalk, Paquito the Chihuahua stripped down to his trousers and chilled in his wicker chair. Aren’t his yellow boots the cutest! The self-possessed little Brooklyn dog was a cowboy in last year’s contest, which is sponsored by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.

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