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Archive for the ‘In Memoriam’ Category

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy Balloons calling me in to his new balloon dart under construction on Jones Walk. March 13, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

We’re sad to report that James Carchiolo, affectionately known in Coney Island as Jimmy Balloons, has passed away. He had been at Coney Island Hospital for four weeks and was about to be moved to a hospice. Jimmy is among the few remaining old-timers operating games in Coney Island. He was 71 years old and was a game operator in Coney for over 50 years.

ATZ has taken many photos of Jimmy and his Balloon Dart over the years at various locations, including two spots on the Bowery and on Jones Walk under the Wonder Wheel “Thrills” sign. The spot long occupied by his Balloon Dart in the century-old Henderson Building, demolished by Thor Equities in 2010, is now the Brooklyn Nets Shop in Thor’s retail building. That fact pretty much sums up why indie game operators are disappearing from the new Coney Island.

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy’s Balloon Dart in the Henderson Building on the Bowery, May 26, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita

Born and raised in Coney Island, Jimmy was a survivor who relocated from the Henderson to property leased by Manny Cohen’s Coney Island Arcade, where Target the Coney Island Cat helped him call people in to play. After Manny lost his lease, Jimmy moved in 2013 to a spot on Jones Walk owned by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Sadly, this year for the first time in his long career in Coney, Jimmy missed operating his Balloon Dart on Opening Day. Rest in peace, Jimmy Balloons. You will be missed.

Visitation will be Sunday, April 3rd, 2-5pm and 7-10pm at the Cusimano & Russo Funeral Home, 2005 West 6th Street, Brooklyn. The Funeral Mass will be on Monday, 10:00 am at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace, 2866 West 17th Street, Coney Island. Interment to follow in the Cemetery of the Resurrection, Staten Island.

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy Balloons with Target the Coney Island cat at his location on the Bowery. June 20, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Pastor Debbe Santiago

Pastor Debbe Santiago of Coney Island’s Salt and Sea Mission with Miss Coney Island. April 13, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Coney Island lost an angel and heaven gained one on Thursday. Pastor Debbe Santiago, who founded Coney’s Salt and Sea Mission over 30 years ago, passed away after battling cancer. The wake will be on Thursday, February 11, from 12pm- 5pm, followed by a funeral service from 5pm -6pm at the Salt and Sea Mission, located at 2417 Stillwell Avenue. A memorial service will be held at MCU Park, 1904 Surf Avenue from 6-7pm.

Pastor Debbe’s experience as a former homeless drug addict who turned her life around after reading the Bible gave her deep empathy and compassion for all.

“Debbe Santiago was a saint who helped the helpless, fed the hungry, protected at-risk children, and ministered to the downtrodden of Coney Island,” wrote Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson, who posted video clips of a sermon at the mission that he filmed. In the intro, Santiago explains that Salt was for salt of the earth, and Sea was for Coney Island’s sea. “Sea also refers in the Book of Revelations to the masses, and we have masses of needy people in Coney Island.”

Every Palm Sunday for the past 30 years, Pastor Debbe has officiated at the Blessing of the Rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park on Coney’s Opening Day. The ceremony consists of a prayer of invocation as well as the Fire Department Color Guard, speeches by elected officials and a ribbon cutting, followed by free rides, toys and Easter bags for children from the Salt and Sea Mission.

In the following video recorded at the 2015 ceremony, Santiago explains how the annual tradition got started. She asked Deno Vourderis, the park’s founder, if she could bring some kids from the Mission to ride the rides. “And he asked if I had 500,” she says.

This year, Coney Island’s Palm Sunday opener will be on March 20th. “The Vourderis family is deeply saddened by the loss of our lifelong friend Debbe Santiago,” said Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park co-owner Dennis Vourderis in a statement. “She will be missed, and we know she will be watching over all of Coney Island because that’s where her love lived and benefited us all.”

Related posts on ATZ...

August 22, 2013: In Memoriam: Carousel & Amusement Park Operator Jimmy McCullough
March 16, 2012: Rest in Peace: Jerry Albert, Co-Founder of Coney Island’s Astroland Park

May 19, 2011: Rest in Peace: Rabbi Abraham Abraham’s Synagogue Was the Beach

October 13, 2010: Rest in Peace: Scott Fitlin, Coney Island’s Eldorado Man

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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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Miss Colombia with Carino the Poodle and Rosita the Parrot

Miss Colombia with Carino the Poodle and Rosita the Parrot, Coney Island Boardwalk. August 24, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

On Memorial Day in Coney Island, the colorfully costumed Oswaldo Gomez aka Miss Colombia paraded by and we scurried to take a photo. Rosita the parrot was as usual perched on his head. Where was Carino the poodle? “Carino died,” Oswaldo said. “He was 17.” That’s the equivalent of 84 in human years. The poodle passed away earlier this month.

Carino and Rosita Ride the Steeplechase Horse

Carino and Rosita Ride the Steeplechase Horse at the Coney Island History Project, May 27, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

It was on Memorial Day Weekend in 2008 that we first became aware of Miss Colombia and his pets as a New York City phenom. The Mermaids, a male folk rock duo, were singing in front of the Cyclone when he came by, took the dog out of the carriage, pirouetted around and stole the show. The flamboyant trio have been in every parade in New York City and are the subject of their very own flickr group. You’ve seen them in the Mermaid Parade, the Easter Parade, the Chinese New Year’s Day Parade, the West Indian Day Parade, Gay Pride, and St Pat’s.

Victory dance

Victory Dance after winning 1st Prize at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Pet Day, June 11, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

As regular visitors to the People’s Playground, the dog and the parrot got to “ride” the Steeplechase horse and the antique Whip car at the Coney Island History Project. They won first prize in the first annual Pet Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Afterwards, Miss Colombia did a victory dance while the parrot perched on Carino’s back, clasping the prize–a season’s pass to the Wonder Wheel– in her beak. Rest in peace, sweet little Carino.

Miss Colombia and Carino in Mermaid Parade

Miss Colombia and Carino in Mermaid Parade, June 20, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Related Posts on ATZ…

May 22, 2014: Video of the Day: Parrots Visit Coney Island

September 19, 2013: Photo of the Day: Coney Island Parakeets Go for a Walk

June 17, 2013: Photo of the Day: Paquito the Chihuahua in Coney Island

May 8, 2013: Traveler: The Cats of Rimini’s Italia in Miniatura Park

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Jimmy McCullough

Jimmy McCullough. Photo © Charles Denson via Coney Island History Project flickr

Jimmy McCullough, whose family has operated amusements in Coney Island for four generations, passed away at his home on August 19.

Born in 1929, Jimmy McCullough grew up in Long Island and began working in Coney during World War II in one of the 22 shooting galleries then owned by his grandfather, he told historian Charles Denson in an interview for the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive. He recalled working long hours–until 3, 4, or 5 o’clock in the morning at the family’s amusement attractions.

“Coney Island was the center of our world,” said McCullough, whose great-grandfather was George C Tilyou of Steeplechase Park and whose mother was a Stubbman, a family who operated a beer garden, hotel and carousel where the Aquarium is now.

Jimmy McCullough was also a traveling showman. Along with his daughters Carol and Nancy, he owned and operated such rides as one of the first Zippers ever manufactured, the Round-Up and the Skywheel, which they brought to Toronto’s CNE and booked into fairs as independent ride operators.

Last September, ATZ wrote about the McCullough family’s history in Coney Island when their 50-year-old kiddie park at the Bowery and 12th Street closed after a lease renewal with Thor Equities fell through. The lot has stood vacant ever since Coney Island’s oldest ride operator tore down his Herschell carousel and kiddie rides and left.

Carousel

1912 Charles Carmel Carousel operated by the McCullough family in Coney Island until 1952, when it was moved to Prospect Park. Photo via Coney Island History Project flickr

In the 1950s, the McCullough family had Kiddielands at Surf Avenue and 15th Street and Surf Avenue and 8th Street next to the Cyclone. They also owned and operated three historic carousels in Coney Island which are now in City parks and are their lasting legacy to the people of New York.

The 1912 carousel carved by Charles Carmel, which was at 8th Street, became the Prospect Park Carousel in 1952. The Stubbman Carousel, known as the Steeplechase Carousel when the McCulloughs operated it at 16th Street and the Boardwalk, was sent to the New York World’s Fair in 1964 along with some horses from Feltman’s and still operates in Flushing Meadows Park.

The third is the B&B, the last hand-carved wooden carousel in Coney Island, which Jimmy McCullough sold to the City in 2005 after the death of his business partner Mike Salzstein. The restored B&B Carousell opened with much fanfare in Coney Island’s new Steeplechase Plaza this year.

Services for Jimmy McCullough will be held at William E. Law Funeral Home, 1 Jerusalem Ave, Massapequa, NY on Thursday, August 22, 7-9PM and Friday, August 23, 2-4:30PM and 7-9PM. The funeral will be on Saturday, August 24, at 10AM at Maria Regina R.C. Church, 3945 Jerusalem Ave, Seaford, NY. Those wishing to make an expression of sympathy in his memory are asked to consider a donation to St. Jude’s Hospital or The Alzheimer’s Foundation.

Bumble Bee Ride

Bumble Bees and Herschell Carousel at McCullough’s Kiddie Park, Coney Island, September 3, 2012. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

January 7, 2013: Photo Album: Pieces of Coney Island Skyline in December

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

June 14, 2011: Coney Island Kiddie Park Getting Squeezed by Thor Equities

June 3, 2009: Coney Island Rides: Tug Boat and Carousel in McCullough’s Kiddie Park

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The Remains of the Astrotower

The Astrostump is all that remains of the 275-foot Astrotower. July 7, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

After the nightmarish July 4 Holiday Weekend demolition of the Swaying Tower of Coney Island, all that remains in Luna Park are a few feet, shown above, covered with tarp. It looks like a grave. The media appear to have lost interest in what they called “the iconic Astrotower” as soon as it was chopped down to about 90 feet, a third of its original size.

News reports that “Officials have not said yet whether the tower will be reassembled or if it’s gone for good” are ridiculous. The tower was not dismantled, bolt by bolt. It was cut apart with a blowtorch and the pieces were hauled off to the Cropsey Avenue scrapyard, where fans rushed to photograph it and salvage pieces as a souvenir.

Coney fans on social media are referring to what’s left of the tower in Coney Island as the Astrostump or the Lunastump. Some of our friends who live in nearby high rises and for whom the Astrotower was an intrinsic part of the skyline say something’s missing and they feel sad.

Astrotower

Local resident Rochelle Goldman, who live-tweeted the last hours of the demolition, posing with section of the Astrotower, July 5, 2013. Photo © Rochelle Goldman

It is more than sad. The Parachute Jump, sole survivor of Steeplechase, endured years of neglect and threats of demolition before being landmarked in 1988 and rehabbed in 2002. Astroland, Coney’s Island’s Space-Age theme park, opened in 1964, which was Steeplechase’s final season. For children of the late 60’s and the 1970’s and beyond, Astroland Park was Coney Island.

The tower was all that remained of Astroland in the new Coney Island and now it’s gone.

Astrotower

Astrotower, September 9, 2007. Photo © Adrian Kinloch via britinbrooklyn.net

This photo and the one below were snapped by photographer Adrian Kinloch on the last day of the 2007 season, when the observation tower last operated as a ride.

Astroland was built on the site of Feltman’s, the restaurant and amusement park complex owned by Charles Feltman, the inventor of the hot dog. When the Albert family decided to develop the park, Jerry Albert began making trips to the West Coast and Europe to seek out state-of-the-art rides. Designed and built by Willy Bühler Space Towers Company of Switzerland with cabins by Von Roll, the $1.7 million dollar Astrotower was the first of its kind in the U.S. when it was installed.

“Who Wants An Outlandish Astrotower? Who Wants A Big Bagel in the Sky?” said an editorial in the World Telegram and Sun when the Astrotower made its debut in 1964, according to the book “Coney Island and Astroland” by Charles Denson. “There’s only one place where anyone would dare to put up such a thing, and that’s Coney Island, that land of the frivolous, where gaiety and fun have reigned for years. We’re glad to see the old place hasn’t lost it’s zest for the bizarre.” R.I.P. Astrotower, 1964-2013.

Astrotower

Hungry March Band Play as they Ride Astrotower on Astroland’s Last Night of 2007 Season, September 9, 2007. Photo © Adrian Kinloch via britinbrooklyn.net

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Related posts on ATZ…

July 3, 2013: Long Live Coney Island’s Swaying, Singing Astrotower!

March 16, 2012: Rest in Peace: Jerry Albert, Co-Founder of Coney Island’s Astroland Park

September 28, 2012: Astrotower Lit for 1st Time Since Astroland Closed in 2008

May 29, 2009: Astroland Star from Coney Island’s Space-Age Theme Park Donated to the Smithsonian

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Steve Bitetzakis

Steve Bitetzakis in front of his restaurant on the Coney Island Boardwalk. November 6, 2010. Photo © Jim Kiernan via jamienyc/flickr

Coney Island lost one of its own last night. Steve Bitetzakis, 54, the owner of Steve’s Grill House located on the Coney Island Boardwalk from 1993 until 2011, passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Decorative flags, flowerpots, hand-painted signage and ample seating gave Steve’s Grill House a homey ambiance. Friends remembered him as a nice guy who knew all of his customers and would help out people who were hungry. “He’d say, you can pay me when you have the money, but I’m sure they never did,” said retired arcade operator Stanley Fox. “But he was that kind of guy.”

Door of the Grill House. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Handpainted Sign on Door of the Grill House. August 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

The restaurateur was the last hold out of the “Coney Island 8” evicted from the Boardwalk by Zamperla. In February 2012, he called off plans to have his modular building moved down Stillwell and instead took a buyout. Steve invested in a state-of-the-art concession trailer which opened for Easter of last year on Thor Equities’ Stillwell Avenue lot leased to the BK Festival.

Unfortunately, he lost his location to Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis and had to move to another lot leased by the festival where he was not able to open for business. The BK Festival’s plan for satellite locations on Surf Avenue called for opening the fencing during business hours but it turned out that city regulations did not permit it. Steve’s shuttered trailer remained parked on the Surf Avenue lot until a few weeks ago when all of the vehicles on the lot were towed away to a City pound.

Steve's Grill House

Steve's New Grill House concession trailer at the BK Festival on Stillwell Avenue. April 8, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

It was sad to see Steve’s Grill House leave Coney Island since we knew he was ill and his restaurant was not likely to be coming back. There was no spot for him to lease in the new Coney Island, even though there are still empty lots.

Steve’s family has a long history of operating food concessions in Coney Island. His father Gregory Bitetzakis was the co-owner of Gregory & Paul’s, which opened more than 50 years ago. After Gregory retired in 2009, the restaurant changed its name to Paul’s Daughter. Steve first got sand in his shoes working for his father in the G & P’s on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone. “He wanted to be in Coney Island more than anything,” said an old friend.

A wake will be held at the Dahill Funeral Home, 2525 65th Street, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, May 21st from 5 until 9 pm.

Grill House coney Island Boardwalk

Steve’s Grill House, Coney Island Boardwalk. Last day of season, Oct 31, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 16, 2012: Rest in Peace: Jerry Albert, Co-Founder of Coney Island’s Astroland Park

July 27, 2011: Coney Island Lost A Good Friend: RIP Andy Badalamenti

May 19, 2011: Rest in Peace: Rabbi Abraham Abraham’s Synagogue Was the Beach

October 13, 2010: Rest in Peace: Scott Fitlin, Coney Island’s Eldorado Man

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