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.
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.
“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.”
“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…
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