Have you ever looked up at the names immortalized on the street signs in front of the Cyclone roller coaster and wondered– who are Dewey Albert and Milton Berger? ATZ’s compendium of Coney Island’s Honorary Walks and Places, both official and unofficial, includes Coney Island luminaries of the past as well as the present-day paparazzi of People’s Playground Paparazzi Plaza. While there are no streets in Coney named after women, two powerful women in the Bloomberg administration had the rare honor of having new rides named after them.
Honorary street namings are sponsored by New York City Council members, voted upon by the Council and signed into law by the Mayor. “Proposed honorees must be individuals who are deceased and of significant importance to New York City,” according to the City Council. In June 1997, in recognition of the work and life of Dewey Albert, founder of Astroland, and in celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Cyclone Roller Coaster, 10th Street between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk was named Dewey Albert Place. The City-owned coaster had been set for demolition and was in disrepair when Dewey Albert and his son Jerry leased it and restored the coaster to operation in 1975. The Cyclone was designated a city landmark in 1988. “After the closure of Steeplechase Park in 1964, the Albert family’s Astroland provided the anchor that held Coney Island together during the next four turbulent decades,” writes historian Charles Denson.
On that same day in 1997, Milton Berger Place, between West 8th and West 10th Streets was named for the longtime press agent for Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park, the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce and Astroland, who died that year at age 81. “When a newspaper reporter needs a quote on anything Coney, they call the phone number Berger has had for 44 years,” wrote Denis Hamill in a 1995 Daily News article titled “Mr Coney Island: He’s a Roller Coaster of a Press Agent.” Berger’s accomplishments included bringing Arthur Godfrey to do his first live TV-radio show from Steeplechase and the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds Air Shows to Astroland. The Milton Berger Place sign on the west side of 10th Street is in front of the building that formerly housed his office at Astroland and is now the headquarters of Luna Park.
Best known for their New Year’s Day Plunge, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club actually goes for a dip in the Atlantic every Sunday at 1pm from November through April. Founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, the country’s oldest winter bathing club was honored with a street naming in 2008. The Club was cited for its continued presence at Coney Island and the charitable work it performs in strengthening the Coney Island community. The original site of Polar Bear Club Walk was at Stillwell and the Boardwalk, where their clubhouse was for many years. When the Bears moved to the Aquarium’s Education Hall, they took the sign with them.
In 2001, the name “Denos D. Vourderis Place” was added to West 12th Street, between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk, adjacent to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, in honor of the park’s founder. After emigrating from Greece, Vourderis sold from pushcarts and operated restaurants before going into business at Coney Island. He told his wife Lula that one day he would buy the Wonder Wheel for her as a wedding present – “a ring so big, everyone in the world would see how much he loved her – a ring that would never be lost.” Denos Vourderis began managing Ward’s Kiddie Park, which he bought in 1981, and when the Wheel came up for sale in 1983, he kept his promise and the Wheel became the centerpiece of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, now operated by his sons Steve and Dennis and their families.
A street sign on the Boardwalk across from Ruby’s Bar & Grill, Coney Island’s oldest bar, honors its founder Ruby Jacobs (1922-2000). After running several Coney Island bathhouses, in the 1970s Jacobs bought the Hebrew National Deli and Bar on the boardwalk, which had opened in 1934, and turned it into Ruby’s Bar and Restaurant, a legendary Coney Island gathering spot that is still run by his daughters Melody and Cindy and son-in-law Michael and their children. Jacobs was a lifelong Coney Islander whose most famous saying “Coney Island is the elixir of life” is actually carved on his headstone.
In 2007, West 15th Street between Surf and Mermaid Avenues was designated Gargiulo’s Way to mark the 100th anniversary of Gargiulo’s Restaurant. Founded by Gus Gargiulo and owned by the Russo family since 1965, the Coney Island landmark at 2911 West 15th offers classic Neapolitan cuisine.
Outside McDonald’s at the corner of Stillwell and Mermaid Avenue is Stillwell’s last remaining trolley pole and the street sign “Granville T. Woods Way.” Woods invented the overhead conducting system which made the trolley possible. He held more than a dozen patents for electric railway technology including a power distribution system first tested and demonstrated to the public at Coney Island in 1892. He also invented and patented an early electric roller coaster. In 2008, the African American inventor was honored with the street naming and was inducted into the Coney Island History Project’s Hall of Fame.
In 1923, the Coney Island Boardwalk was officially named the Riegelmann Boardwalk after Edward Riegelmann, the Brooklyn Borough President who built it. Today Coney has a few noteworthy though unofficial street and place names celebrating the living courtesy of their peers. Last year, Coney Island photographers Bruce Handy, Jim McDonnell, Norman Blake, Kenny Lombardi and Eric Kowalsky received the gift of a street sign “People’s Playground Paparazzi Plaza” from their friend Eddie Mark at the opening of their photo exhibit “A Stroll Through Coney Island Among Friends.” After the show, the sign was affixed to the balcony of Tom’s Restaurant on the Boardwalk at Stillwell.
A street sign proclaiming “Valerio’s Way” was placed at the Boardwalk entrance to Scream Zone, though the sign is not currently on view. “Well someone was just showing some type of recognition towards THE NEW KING IN TOWN,” said a commenter on the Coney Island message board at the time. Valerio Ferrari is president of Zamperla’s Central Amusement International, which owns and operates the new Luna Park.
Two women who were City officials during the Bloomberg administration received the rare honor of having rides named for them. Lynn’s Trapeze, a Wave Swinger with a center pole graced with historic images of Coney Island, was named after Lynn Kelly, who was president of the Coney Island Development Corporation when the park opened in May 2010. Kelly oversaw the rezoning of Coney Island and was fond of referring to Luna Park, which is a public-private partnership with the City of New York, as her park.
Less well known is that the Zenobio, the towering Turbo-Force ride in Scream Zone, was named after Tricia Zenobio, who was an attorney in Mayor Bloomberg’s Office for Capital Development, sources tell ATZ. Only two other rides in Coney Island are named after people: Deno’s Wonder Wheel and the B&B Carousell. The initials “B&B” stand for Bishoff and Brienstein, who owned and operated the City-owned carousel from the 1930′s through the early 1970s.
Coney Island once had a number of private walks running from Surf Avenue to the beach. There was Thompson Walk, Henderson Walk, Stratton’s Walk, Schweikert’s Walk, Van Bergen Walk, Kensington Walk, Swan Walk and Tilyou’s Walk, among others. Jones Walk, one of the last of these historic alleyways, was the subject of ATZ’s post “The New Coney Island: A Tale of Two Jones Walks.” Thor Equities-owned Grashorn Building, Coney Island’s oldest building, sits at the corner of Jones Walk, and has been sadly vacant since 2008. Henderson Walk has ceased to function as a walk since Thor demolished the century-old Henderson Building and the neighboring Surf Hotel. There’s no longer a sign for Henderson Walk. The place where it was is fenced off and used as a private parking lot.
Schweikerts Walk is adjacent to Nathan’s Famous and runs from Surf Avenue to the Bowery. Nathan’s hot dog eating contest was originally held in this alley, which was named after Philip Schweikert, a local bottler. The street sign for Schweikerts Walk appears to have been stolen from the post. (Reported missing street sign via the City’s Street Sign Defect Complaint page. Replacements usually take a couple of weeks.) The faded sign for Kensington Walk is still on Surf Avenue but the walk itself has disappeared and the property is fenced off. The walk is on property currently owned by Horace Bullard’s estate and is now a vacant lot. It was adjacent to the now demolished Playland Arcade and the 1925 Thunderbolt roller coaster, which had been built over the old Kensington Hotel.
Related posts on ATZ…
November 3, 2014: Summertime Has Gone Away, Polar Bears Are Here to Stay
May 19, 2014: New Thunderbolt Loops the Loop Again in Coney Island
December 31, 2013: Amusing the Zillion’s Coney Island 2013 Year in Review
September 13, 2013: Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round