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Archive for January, 2016

Save your quarters, it’s only 7 weeks till Miss Coney Island’s first dance of the 2016 season. The Coney Island amusement area’s traditional Palm Sunday opener is early this year — March 20 — and it’s still costs only 25 cents a a dance. Miss Coney’s twin mottoes are “25¢ to Fall in Love” and “Don’t Postpone Joy.” The doll and her dancing cats are located on West 12th Street below the Wonder Wheel and next door to the Coney Island History Project.

Related posts on ATZ…

October 4, 2015: Video: Coney Island Dancing 2015 by Jim McDonnell

April 6, 2014: Photo of the Day: Miss Coney Island’s Dancing Cat

September 30, 2012: Photo of the Day: Last Dance With Miss Coney Island

April 27, 2012: The Dancing Doll “Miss Coney Island” Speaks

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Bobby Wicks  Roller Skating Monkey Banner

Vintage Roller Skating Monkey Sideshow Banner by Bobby Wicks. Morphy Auctions

Brooklyn-born Bobby Wicks (1902-1990) was a banner and show painter and tattooist greatly admired by his fellow artists. Wicks once told a reporter that he got his start as a boy painting signs that said “Frankfurters 5¢” for Coney Island hot dog stands. Though both his paintings and tattoo flash are hard to come by, a delightful roller skating monkey banner that he did for a carnival’s monkey speedway will be on the block at Morphy Auctions on Sunday.

The 9-1/2 foot tall by 7-1/2 foot wide advertisement was part of a banner line designed to draw people over to a midway attraction that remained popular through the 1950s and ’60s. Trained monkeys in little metal cars raced around a track while customers placed bets on the laydown of numbers. The banner painters often took liberties and portrayed the monkeys in a variety of eye-catching scenarios, from walking a tightrope to dining in a fine restaurant, that were not part of the show.

According to Wicks’ page on the Tattoo Archive, in his early years in Coney he painted shooting galleries for the McCulloughs, worked with several banner painters, and had learned tattooing by age 14 or 15. After making and losing a fortune as a tattooist in the 1920s, he joined Royal American Shows, “The World’s Largest Midway,” and became their chief scenic artist and show painter.

The auction is online and one can bid now or in real time during Morphy’s January 31st sale in Las Vegas.

Update: The banner sold for $1,500 plus a 22% buyer’s premium.

Related posts on ATZ…

March 19, 2014: Memoirs of a Carny Kid: Monkeys on the Midway

November 23, 2013: More Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner

November 7, 2013: Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner

February 4, 2013: Rare & Vintage: Girl to Gorilla Sideshow Banner

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water race game

Water race game on Coney Island’s Bowery is one of the tenants in the buildings recently sold by Jeff Persily. Photo © Tricia Vita

What does it feel like to leave Coney Island after more than 60 years? ATZ asked Jeff Persily, who grew up working his family’s games on the Bowery and recently closed the sale of three lots–1105, 1205 and 1207 Bowery– to Thor Equities.

ATZ broke the news of the real estate deal in November, amid speculation that the Bowery buildings are destined for a date with the wrecking ball, as one of Thor’s long vacant lots on West 12th Street was rezoned by the Bloomberg administration for a 30-story hotel. Long owned by the Persily family, the properties stretch from West 12th Street to Jones Walk and are home to a dozen game, novelty and food concessionaires.

With the acquisition of 1105 Bowery, Sitt now owns the entire block bounded by Surf Avenue and the Bowery with the exception of one privately held lot on Jones Walk.

1205 Bowery Coney Island

Water Race Game and Gyro Corner are among the tenants at 1205-1207 Bowery, which Persily sold to Thor Equities along with the lot on the east side of West 12th Street. November 1, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Back in 2007, when Jeff Persily was asked by the NY Times if he would sell to Sitt, he said, “At the end of the day, combining all the properties and building amusements, hotels and residential would be a wonderful thing for New York. We’re talking about creating not hundreds of jobs but many thousands of jobs. I love Coney Island. I’d love to see it become what it once was when I was a kid.”

Persily’s late father Sid was the oldest of five children and supported his whole family through working at Coney, he says. “He was able to put himself through college and was a teacher (summers off), but still worked the games.” Sid’s siblings included Phil aka “Fishie,” a Coney concessionaire since 1929. The Persilys introduced the first water race game to Coney Island in 1960 and once owned the bumper cars where Woody Allen would film the famous scene in Annie Hall (1977), says his son. The Persilys are among the very last families owning property in Coney Island to sell to Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities.

Annie Hall Bumper Car Scene

The Bumper Car Scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Photo via ScoutingNY.com

“I started working in my father’s concessions before I was ten,” Persily said in an exclusive interview with ATZ. “In 1960 the first Water Race game was brought to Coney Island and was off the corner of Surf and West 15th st. I was 10 then and liked the idea that there was an actual winner every game, as opposed to the regular games at the time – Bushel Basket, Balloon, Cat Rack, etc.- which was always prone to people losing more money than they wanted.”

“We brought in the same Water Game, manufactured by Quinn who was the original and exclusive manufacturer at the time, and brought it to the Bowery between West 12th and Stillwell where it stayed until the late ’60s when a newer Balloon game was able to get around Quinn’s patent, and we had to update to it because everyone else in Coney was getting water games that were nicer than ours, and we had to compete.”

water race patent

Harold E. Quinn’s 1954 Patent for Water Gun Game which Phil Persily debuted to Coney Island

“I will never forget the great times I had there. Competing with our neighbors for customers on the Bowery till 5:00 A.M. and then reopening at noon the next day. We owned the Cavalcade Bumping Cars on Surf Ave. till we sold it to the Handwerker family in the early seventies. I hated working that ride, the dust from the metal floor used to get into our lungs and we always sneezed black. On my wife’s 18th Birthday at 12:01 a.m. we were working the bumper cars, and one of our fondest memories is of us giving everyone a free ride in her honor.”

Asked the location of the bumper cars, Persily says: “In the 60’s there were two Bumping Car rides on Surf Avenue. One was next to Nathan’s that Nathan’s youngest brother Harry Handwerker ran, and the other was between West 12th St and Jones Walk, which was the Cavalcade. There is a famous Woody Allen movie that was filmed on our ride.”

The film is of course Annie Hall, in which Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) famously says “You know, I have a hyperactive imagination. My mind tends to jump around a little, and have some trouble between fantasy and reality,” just before a shot of people in bumper cars happily bumping into each other. Alvy’s father, who ran the bumper car concession, stands in the center of the track directing traffic as Alvy’s voice says “There-there he is and there I am. But I-I-I used to get my aggression out through those cars all the time.”

Says Persily: “Coney Island will always be a part of me. I think I missed a lot, having to spend my youth there every day from April through September, but I also think I learned a lot. My years spent there were happy ones with no regrets. I wish all of the remaining, and all of the New families that are working there, Health, Happiness, and 100 days of sunshine!”

Related posts on ATZ…

November 9, 2015: Thor Equities Buying 3 Lots on Coney Island’s Bowery, Mom & Pops Await Rent Increase Amid Rumors of Hotel

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

August 27, 2012: Video of the Day: Raw Footage of 1960s Coney Island

March 26, 2012: 60 Years of Family History in Coney Island End with Sale of Eldorado

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Rcihard Eagan Photo by Hazel Hankin

Richard Eagan, the outside talker for a shark show in Coney Island, 1987. Photo © Hazel Hankin

“You’re going to meet Miss Atlantis, the daring young lady who will defy the devil and swim with three killer sharks,” says Brooklyn artist and performer Richard Eagan, recalling his spiel as an outside talker for the Florida Shark Show. His 1987 gig managing the Coney Island attraction is among the midway experiences that he relives in “Alive on the Inside,” on Thursday, January 28th at City Lore.

Eagan has performed the one-man theater piece since the late ’80s at venues from the Lower East Side to Coney Island, where it was last seen in 2007 as part of the Coney Island History Project’s folklore program. “Most of what I talk about is gone, so it is a memory piece,” Eagan tells ATZ. “When I was developing and performing it in earlier days, it was the last days of the old Coney Island hanging on by a thread. The characters were still there plying their trade. There’s so few of them left.”

Among the characters Eagan brings to life in the show are Buddy Cook, who is actually Norman Kaufman, owner of the Jumbo Jet coaster, whose Stillwell Avenue amusement park was evicted by Thor Equities in 2006 to make way for “redevelopment.” “I refer to him as ‘The Buddha of the ticketbox,'” says Eagan. Ronnie D is Ronnie Guerrero, the late owner of 12th Street’s famed Polar Express, which was located on Stillwell Avenue in the 1980s. Jake Fein is concessionaire Jack Merr, who operated a basketball game across from the Spookhouse.

Eagan co-founded the Coney Island Hysterical Society with fellow artist Philomena Marano in 1981 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, which they operated until 1984. Their visual art is on view in the exhibit “Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” at City Lore Gallery through March 13.

“Alive on the Inside,” January 28th, 7:00pm. Tickets are $11.49 via Eventbrite. City Lore, 56 E 1st St, New York, New York 10003. 212-529-1955

Related posts on ATZ...

January 18, 2016: Art of the Day: Coney Island at Valentine Museum of Art

November 16, 2015: Art of the Day: Remembering Spookhouse – A Ride Through Gallery in the Dark

April 21, 2011: Remembering Coney Island’s Jumbo Jet Coaster 1972-2002

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

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Snowy View from Jones Walk

Snowy view from Jones Walk of Luna Park pinwheels and Deno’s Wonder Wheel. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

For the first snow of past winters, ATZ has posted Bruce Handy’s exquisite photos of snow mermaids and the pattern of snow on the slats of the wooden boardwalk. Saturday’s snow was a blizzard of 26.8 inches, making it the city’s second largest snowstorm since 1869. It’s no wonder this year’s photos are less contemplative and more action-oriented.

Coney Island Polar Bear in the snow

Coney Island Polar Bear saoking up some snow on the beach. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

After weeks of balmy weather, several members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club gathered for a frolic on the snowy beach and a blizzard dip amid crashing waves and gusty winds.
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Coney Island Polar Bears Blizzard Swim

Coney Island Polar Bears Blizzard Swim. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

Want to go for a day after the blizzard swim with the Polar Bears on Sunday? You’re welcome to join as a guest. Just show up at the Bears’ “Clubhouse” at the Aquarium’s Education Hall on the Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30 pm with your bathing suit, a towel, surf boots or an extra pair of sneakers, and some warm clothing.

Coney Island Beach Blizzard 2016

Photographer atop berm built by the Parks Department. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

Prior to the blizzard, the Parks Department built temporary berms on the beach to protect against possible coastal flooding. On Saturday afternoon, when Mayor De Blasio visited Coney Island with other elected officials, he climbed the berm to check out the waves. All was well, but he was surprised to see a jogger on the beach. A few hours earlier the Mayor might have seen a woman pushing a baby stroller along the shore. With no snow tires, it was easier for her to push the carriage in the sand than in the snow. “It was the clearest path,” says the photographer, who resides in Coney Island. “It was a Fellini moment to end the day.”

Blizzard 2016

Pushing a Baby Carriage on Coney Island Beach during Blizzard 2016. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

Oh, and you couldn’t even get a hot dog in Coney Island on Saturday. The century-old Nathan’s Famous on Surf Avenue, which is open daily year-round, was closed due to the snow. The 24-hour Dunkin Donuts in Stillwell Terminal was among the very few businesses that remained open during the storm

storm-shuttered Nathan's

View of Surf Avenue and a storm-shuttered Nathan’s from Stillwell Terminal. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

Related posts on ATZ...

January 9, 2015: Photo of the Day: Snowy Night in Coney Island by Bruce Handy

January 26, 2013: Winter’s First Snow in Coney Island by Bruce Handy

December 27, 2010: Photo of the Day: First Snow on Coney Island Boardwalk

February 26, 2010: Photo of the Day: Snow Mermaid on Coney Island Beach

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Snow Swim

Coney Island Polar Bears Snow Swim, March 1, 2015. Photo © Bruce Handy

After weeks of balmy winter weather, members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club are ready for their first snow swim of the season on Sunday at 1:00pm. Several Bears plan to meet for an unofficial blizzard dip at Stillwell Avenue on Saturday at 12 noon during the storm.

Snow swims during or just after a storm are a Polar Bear tradition. These photos were taken by Coney Island photographer and Polar Bear Bruce Handy last year and in 2010.

Snow Swim, Blizzard of 2010

Snow Swim, Blizzard of 2010. December 26, 2010. Photo © Bruce Handy

The National Weather Service has forecast 12 to 18 inches of snow and winds of 30 to 35 mph with gusts up to 45 mph for Southern Brooklyn on Saturday. Photographer and Periscope user dutchmazz announced that he’ll be on Coney Island Beach at 11:50: “Watch the Bears swim in whiteout conditions from the comfort of your warm home! Tune in!”

Morning Update from Bruce Handy. It’s a go: “10 AM Polar Bear Report. Not too cold. Heavy numerous waves, gusting north wind, mild at times. Snow is 8″, drifts to 1.5, deep drifts beween the bathhouse and berm at Stillwell. All stores, Toms, Nathans, are closed. DD is open. Streets are getting unpassable. Sidewalks are unwalkable. Bathrooms are closed. Seagulls are serene. Few potential bears. No mermaid tracks although the grok is strong.”

UPDATE: Photos from Saturday’s swim and more in “Photo Album: Blizzard 2016 in Coney Island by Bruce Handy,” (ATZ, January 24, 2016)

Snow Swim

Snow Swim, Blizzard of 2010. December 26, 2010. Photo © Bruce Handy

Related posts on ATZ…

January 8, 2016: Photo of the Day: Santa at Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge by Barry Yanowitz

January 5, 2016: Coney Island New Year’s by the Numbers: 28K Visitors, Nearly $90K Raised for Charity

January 27, 2015: Photo Album: Coney Island’s First Hours of the Blizzard of 2015 by John Huntington

December 26, 2010: Video: Today’s Snow Swim with Coney Island Polar Bears

February 26, 2010: Photo of the Day: Snow Mermaid on Coney Island Beach

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Hazel Hankin Coney Island

Poster for Coney Island exhibit at Valentine Museum of Art. Photo of Coney Island’s Bowery in 1977 © Hazel Hankin

Coney Island has come to Flatbush Avenue -specifically, the Coney-themed work of seven photographers and two painters is on view at the Valentine Museum of Art through March 11. Photographer Larry Racioppo curated the exhibit, which grew out of a meeting with Michael Valentine, publisher of Breuckelen Magazine, to propose a special Coney Island issue. The upcoming edition of the magazine will feature interviews with each of the artists in the show.

In addition to Racioppo, the photographers are Norman Borden, Dan Burmeister, Hazel Hankin, Ron Meisel, John Rossi and Jamel Shabazz. The painters are Greg Frux and Marc Kehoe. The work spans Coney Island’s past and present, and is supplemented by archival images from the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection.

March Kehoe Coney Island

One of a series of paintings by Marc Kehoe depicting riders on Coney Island’s Spookhouse dark ride. Oil on canvas, 1987.

As a member of the Coney Island Hysterical Society in the mid-1980s, Marc Kehoe painted his “It’s Spooky” mural on the exterior wall of the group’s Spookhouse, a dark ride renovated as an art project. Both are long gone. What remains are Kehoe’s 20 canvases portraying the lurid faces of Spookhouse riders whose expressions mirror the macabre stunts that made them scream.

“Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” a concurrent exhibit at City Lore in Manhattan, which we wrote about in “Art of the Day: Remembering Spookhouse – A Ride Through Gallery in the Dark” (ATZ, November 16, 2015), showcases some of the work of CIHS artists, including Kehoe and Hazel Hankin.

Larry Racioppo

Ruins of Coney Island’s Spookhouse just before its demolition in 1997. Photo © Larry Racioppo

At VMoA, Hankin documents the Spookhouse in operation while Larry Racioppo captures it after it had closed and fallen into ruin. Racioppo, whose subjects range from revelers at the Mermaid Parade to the derelict beauty of the abandoned Thunderbolt roller coaster, took up photography in 1970. Hazel Hankin also began photographing what was left of the Coney Island of her childhood in the 1970s. Her forte is beautifully framed shots of old school concessionaires and snoozing ticket takers who have all but disappeared from the new Coney Island.

The two posters for the exhibit feature Hankin’s stunning photo of the Skydiver ride and other vanished attractions on Coney’s Bowery and Racioppo’s heartbreaking shot of the half-demolished Thunderbolt with its ramshackle cars in the foreground. The posters are available for sale via the museum’s online store.

Hazel Hankin Photography

One In Wins, 1977. Photo © Hazel Hankin

Also striking at VMoA is Jamel Shabazz‘s sympathetic documentation of the Tribute to the Ancestors of the Middle Passage, which has been held annually on Coney Island beach for more than 25 years. Attendees are encouraged to wear white and bring offerings to place in the ocean to honor the spirit of African ancestors who died during the voyage across the Atlantic where they were being taken as slaves.

Two public programs are planned at VMOA in February:

FROM BROOKLYN COLLEGE to CONEY ISLAND – Saturday, February 20th, 2pm -6 pm. Brooklyn College graduates Hazel Hankin, Larry Racioppo and John Rossi discuss/illustrate their photography careers.

TRIBUTE TO THE ANCESTORS – Saturday, February 27th, 6pm. Artist talk with Jamel Shabbaz about the history and significance of this annual event.

The Valentine Museum of Art is located in the Philip Howard Apartments, where art collector and longtime resident Michael Valentine has teamed up with the co-op’s board to activate a 5,000 square foot art gallery space. The next exhibit, in May, will feature work by BFA students from nearby Brooklyn College.

“Coney Island,” Valentine Museum of Art at Philip Howard, 1655 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11210. Exhibit runs through March 11, 2016. Gallery open Wednesday – Sunday, 12pm – 6pm. Free admission.

Jamel Shabazz

Annual Tribute to the Ancestors of the Middle Passage in Coney Island. Photo © Jamel Shabazz.

Related posts on ATZ…

November 18, 2015: Art of the Day: Remembering Spookhouse – A Ride Through Gallery in the Dark

April 20, 2015: Art of the Day: “Greetings from Coney Island” Blends Past & Present

January 28, 2015: Art of the Day: Takahiro Iwasaki’s Miniature Coney Island at Asia Society

December 13, 2014: Art of the Day: David Levine’s Watercolors of Coney Island

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