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Archive for November, 2015

It’s only 25 days till Christmas and 111 days till Coney Island’s Opening Day on Palm Sunday, which is March 20 next year! Know somebody who can’t wait? Get ’em a Coney Island-themed gift that can be enjoyed year round.

Coney Island. Yale University Press

Coney Island. Yale University Press

At the top of ATZ’s Coney Island gift guide is the sumptuous catalog ($50) for Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland. The traveling exhibit opened this month at the Brooklyn Museum and runs through March 13. Published by Yale Press, this beautifully designed art book — 304 pages, with 228 color plates and 77 b/w illustrations– is a pleasure to own, whether you live close enough to catch the show or not. Essays by exhibition curator Robin Jaffee Frank; John Kasson, whose book Amusing the Million inspired the title of this blog; film scholars Charles Musser and Josh Glick; and Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson on the future of Coney Island are illuminating.

Ci Gift Guide John Huntington Calendar

John Huntington’s Coney Calendar

Enjoy Coney Island’s beach, boardwalk and amusement parks 365 days next year with John Huntington’s 2016 Coney Island calendar ($20). The Brooklyn-based photographer crowdsourced votes on his best shots and successfully raised $3,261 with 62 backers on Kickstarter to fund the project. Among our faves are Scream Zone’s gate on a snowy night (January), Wonder Wheel Park’s midway (July), and people watching fireworks on the beach (August). Visit John’s website to preview and buy the calendar or prints of the photos.

Famous Nathan now on DVD

Famous Nathan now on DVD

Fans of Nathan’s, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, will enjoy Lloyd Handwerker’s documentary about his grandfather, the founder of Nathan’s Famous hot dog empire. Recently released on DVD ($24.95), the documentary is told through home movies, archival photos and footage, the filmmaker’s interviews with a colorful cast of characters including family members and former Nathan’s workers, and the voice of Famous Nathan himself. As we wrote in a review when the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, the cadence of Nathan’s voice and his story reverberate in the imagination even after the film is over: “I want to go to America. I was dreaming about it.” In addition to telling an insider’s history of this Coney Island institution, the film is a wonderful family memoir.

Cyclone Pendant by Philomena Marano

Cyclone Pendant by Philomena Marano

Artist Philomena Marano, who is known for her bold and colorful cut paper collages of Coney Island’s amusement rides and signs has wearable art and wall art for sale in her Etsy shop “PhiloMania.” Stylish pendants featuring her art prints of Coney’s landmark rides and iconic signage are $30. Souvenir prints made from her American Dreamland series are $25. While the best selection is online, Philomena’s work is also available in Coney Island at Brooklyn Beach Shop and Coney Island USA, as well as at City Lore in the East Village, where her art is featured in the exhibit “Boardwalk Renaissance.”

Coney Island Carousel

Coney Island Carousel, oil on panel, by Nancy Prusinowski

Coney Island USA’s Sodom by the Sea Salon showcases the work of more than 75 artists, including painters Marc Kehoe, Eric March, Nancy Prusinowski, Chris Spinelli and Morgan Taylor; watercolorists Rose Nizami, Amanda Reilly, and Johanna Gargiulo Sherman; illustrator Sarah Beetson; and photographer members of the People’s Playground Paparazzi. The pieces range in price from $50 to $2,300, with the majority in the $200-$400 range. The free exhibit runs through February 7 at CIUSA’s Shooting Gallery/Arts Annex, 1214 Surf Avenue, and is open weekends, 1pm-4:30pm. Head next door or online to CIUSA’s gift shop for more art, as well as clothing, glassware and souvenirs.

Coney Mugs at Lola Star Boutique

Coney Mugs at Lola Star Boutique

Lola Star’s souvenir boutiques in Coney Island have a satellite location at Rockaway Beach as well as an online store stocked with her unique designs. Coney-themed mugs graced with swimmers, lovebirds, anchors or sayings like “Everything I Know I Learned in Brooklyn” cost $10. Stocking stuffers include a Coney Island snowglobe ($8), an authentic Brooklyn hot dog onesie for the baby ($20), and Lola Star T-shirts galore for kids of all ages and adults ($20). 1205 Boardwalk West, 718-975-0583.

Warriors and mermaid tees at Brooklyn Beach Shop

Warriors and mermaid tees at Brooklyn Beach Shop

From November through April, Coney Island’s beach belongs to the Polar Bears, but souvenirs of summer can still be found at Brooklyn Beach Shop on the Boardwalk. Warriors, mermaid, and various other Coney-themed tees come in an array of designs and colors. You can also find books such as Coney Island and Astroland by Charles Denson and Michael Stallings’ 500-piece jigsaw puzzle depicting summer at the amusement park. 1223 Boardwalk West, 718-676-0939.

Marshmallow treats and candy apples at Williams Candy

Marshmallow treats and candy apples at Williams Candy

Williams Candy, Coney Island’s last remaining Mom and Pop candy shop since Philip’s lost their space in Stillwell Terminal, is owned by the Agrapides family and has been on Surf Avenue for over 75 years. Their homemade marshmallow treats ($12 per dozen) and candy apples ($18 per dozen) are the quintessential Coney Island dessert after a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous, which is next door. While there is no mail order, Williams will cater your party and is open daily year round. Our favorites are their caramel marshmallow sticks with toasted coconut and chocolate caramel marshmallow sticks with chocolate sprinkles. 1318 Surf Avenue, 718-372-0302.

Polar Bear Plunge

I Did It! New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

Now that we’re past Black Friday and Small Biz Saturday, and Cyber Monday is nearly over, tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. A membership or donation to support one of Coney Island’s non-profit attractions — New York Aquarium, Coney Island History Project and Coney Island USA–is a gift that gives back all year long.

Start off the New Year by joining the 112-year-old Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s January 1st Polar Bear Dip at 1pm. This hugely popular event is also a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families can enjoy a summer vacation. On New Year’s Day 2015, the Club raised more than $70K for the charity and they hope to meet or beat that amount in 2016. You and your friends can register online now and pledge a donation or help other participants meet their fundraising goals here. On the day of the event, the Polar Bears will also have a table on the boardwalk, where you can register for the Plunge and buy Polar Bear Hoodies and T-shirts.

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Cha Cha Coney Island

Cha Cha in front of his Coney Island Bar, April 2, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita

Today we received the sad news that John Ciarcia, known to all as Cha Cha of Coney Island, passed away this morning. He had recently undergone surgery for cancer and was about to start a course of chemotherapy, a family friend told ATZ.

Update: Services will be held after Thanksgiving in Little Italy. Viewing will be Monday, November 30, and Tuesday, December 1, from 5-9pm at the Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral recreation hall behind the church. The funeral Mass will be on Wednesday, December 2, at 10:30am at the Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, 263 Mulberry Street between Prince and Houston.

Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis on the Coney Island Boardwalk, the “Home of Wild Women and Wise Guys,” closed at the end of the 2011 season after losing its lease. It was one of the “Coney Island 8” evicted by Zamperla. Cha Cha’s Coney Island Seafood Bar & Pizzeria relocated to Surf Avenue in 2012 but never re-opened after Sandy.

This post will shortly be updated with an obituary. In the meantime, here’s a 2009 photo of Cha Cha’s the way we like to remember it….

Cha Cha's

Cha Cha’s Bar & Cafe on the Coney Island Boardwalk. June 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Coney Island Hysterical Society

Richard Eagan, Gene Manzione and Philomena Marano at the Spookhouse in Coney Island, 1984. Photo Courtesy of Coney Island Hysterical Society.

Wouldn’t it be cool to take over a derelict amusement ride and refurbish it as an art project? “Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” a new exhibit at City Lore, celebrates a time in the mid-1980’s when a group of young artists were able to do just that.

In 1981, Brooklyn artists Richard Eagan and Philomena Marano co-founded the Coney Island Hysterical Society because they were “Hysterical” at the rate that the amusement rides and attractions were shutting down. One of their projects was the transformation of the disused Dragon’s Cave ride on the Bowery into the Spookhouse, billed as “a ride through gallery in the dark – a unique blend of art and amusement.” Admission was $1.00-$1.50, which wasn’t bad considering a ride on the Cyclone cost two bucks back then.

Boardwalk Renaiisance

The art of Spookhouse at Boardwalk Renaissance, an exhibit at City Lore thru March 13, 2016. Photo © Tricia Vita

Artwork by Eagan and Marano, and scenic designs by Bill Stabile, as well as paintings by Marc Kehoe and photos by Hazel Hankin documenting the Spookhouse’s 1984-1986 run are on view at City Lore. According to a vintage poster, the ride featured works by 15 artists plus students of I.S. 291, and “Reconstruction and Revitalization” by a crew of eight. Ten artists were invited to paint each of the original 1940’s Messmore & Damon cars. Among them was Nancy Prusinowski, who reminisced with ATZ about shunning a spooky theme in lieu of a pastoral scene similar to that on a carousel chariot. The eye-catcher was a Cupid holding a Nathan’s hot dog, a hat tip to Nathan’s, which owned the building and was across the way.

It’s remarkable that folks without amusement biz chops were able to preserve and operate an old Coney dark ride, even for a few years. It could not be done today. After Astroland closed in 2008, some friends were actually talking about how we could bring back Dante’s Inferno. Of course it was not feasible.

Marc Kehoe Coney Island Hysterical Society

Marc Kehoe painting ‘It’s Spooky’ mural on exterior wall of the Spookhouse, 1985. Photo courtesy of Coney Island Hysterical Society

“Those were very different times,” says Philomena Marano in an e-mail. “All the right ingredients magically fell into place: Coney Island was abandoned, Sporty Kaufman wanted out of his Dragon’s Cave Ride, we were rowdy, creative and had a vision and Nathan’s Ken Handwerker was keen on launching a revitalization. I must say that all of the time we were working on Spookhouse I was strangely aware that something like this could never happen again. In the canons of weird and bizarre ‘Projects & goals,’ it’s surely at the top.”

In a fantastic example of synchronicity, the Spookhouse also featured set pieces designed by Bill Stabile for Harvey Fierstein’s Off-Broadway play Spookhouse, which were nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design in 1984. Fierstein is a childhood friend of Marano, and when the play closed the pieces were donated to Coney’s Spookhouse. When the ride closed due to rising insurance costs, the Skull and the Devil were acquired by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and became part of Spook-A-Rama’s stable of props from defunct dark rides.

Spookhouse Bill Stabile

Scenic Designs by Bill Stabile for Harvey Fierstein’s Spookhouse on exhibit at City Lore.

Thirty years later, all that remains of the Spookhouse are two signs and two cars in private collections, and Stabile’s car, which can be seen in the exhibition, along with a replica of his Giant Skull in park paint, the original of which is on display at the Coney Island History Project as “Skully.”

“We’re happy knowing that a few items survived,” says Marano. “And although they are owned by others we maintain a strong attachment to them. Like they are still ours.”

“Boardwalk Renaissance” also spotlights Coney’s house under the Thunderbolt roller coaster, the World in Wax Musee, shooting galleries, and the early days of Coney Island USA including the first Mermaid Parade.

“Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” City Lore Gallery, 56 East 1st Street, NYC 10003. Exhibit runs through March 13, 2016. Gallery open Wed – Fri, 2pm – 6pm and Sat – Sun, 12pm – 6pm. Closed November 26-29. Free admission.

Boardwalk Renaissance

Boardwalk Renaissance, an exhibit at City Lore. November 7, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ...

March 13, 2013: Coney Island 2013: New Ghouls Mingle with Old in Rebuilt Spook-A-Rama

November 21, 2012: Coney Island Post-Sandy: Flooded Spook-A-Rama to Get New Stunts

October 26, 2010: Studio Visit: Richard Eagan of the Coney Island Hysterical Society

October 26, 2010: Studio Visit: Philomena Marano of the Coney Island Hysterical Society

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