Posts Tagged ‘Dick Zigun’


New Bannerline by Marie Roberts for Coney Island USA. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Artist Marie Roberts, whose sideshow banners have adorned Coney Island USA’s building since 1997, has painted a new bannerline that pays homage to the landmarking of the building by acknowledging artists of the past. CIUSA artistic director Dick Zigun’s idea was “Marie Roberts channels Snap Wyatt.” Marie explains….

We chose Snap Wyatt – I always think of his forms as more Platonic and Piero like. We based the designs on his banners.

The central “Sideshows by the Seashore” banner depicts a stage with actual stars of the past… Bobby Reynolds, Jack Dracula, Sealo, Albert/Alberta, all performed in our building. The General Tom Thumb is for Dick’s past, Lionel is for mine.

The color is deep and rich recalling the polychroming on the Parthenon, the figures frieze-like, like Egypt perhaps.

The first time I wrote about Marie was more than a decade ago as part of a travel story for Islands Magazine. This third-generation Coney Islander spoke so vividly about her Uncle Lester, who had been a talker with the Dreamland Circus Sideshow in the 1920s, that I felt as if he were alive. Photos of him working and socializing with Lionel the Lion-Faced Man and other famous freaks left an indelible impression on Marie and continue to inspire her work.

Other sideshow stars portrayed in the frieze include…

–General Tom Thumb, who was 25 inches tall and weighed 15 pounds, found fame and fortune touring Europe with PT Barnum. He was born in 1838 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which is also Dick Zigun’s hometown.

–Bobby Reynolds, sideshow legend and self-proclaimed “greatest showman in the world,” brought his museum of curiosities to the now-demolished bank building across from Coney Island USA in the 1990s. He returned to Coney to perform this spring at the Congress of Curious Peoples.

Jack Dracula was first tattooed by Coney Island’s Brooklyn Blackie in the 1940s. He had over 400 tattoos on his body, including his face, and was famously photographed by Diane Arbus. One of the shows where he found work was Dave Rosen’s Wonderland Circus Sideshow, which occupied Coney Island USA’s building in the 1950s and ’60s.

Weird Girls

Weird Women Banner by Marie Roberts for Coney Island USA. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

The first time I wrote about David “Snap” Wyatt was in the late ’90s, when I chronicled the movement of sideshow banners into high-art venues for Art & Antiques, New Art Examiner and other magazines. Wyatt was a virtuoso who was snapping up work with traveling shows long before he attended Cooper Union and became one of the few banner painters with an art school education. During his 40-year career in the world of midway art, he also created figures of zombies and other creatures for several of his own sideshows.

My favorite Snap Wyatt banner is his Strange Girls gaff banner in the book Freaks, Geeks & Strange Girls, which Marie has reinterpreted as Weird Women. Strange Men and the new banners of individual performers have yet to be hung.

Marie is teaching a banner painting workshop at Coney Island USA’s Sideshow School in August. She is also a tenured professor of art at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her painting student at FDU, Justina Cena, assisted with the pieces.


Related posts on ATZ…

January 10, 2011: Coney Island Building Landmarked, Joe Sitt Sees the Light

October 21, 2010: Halloween In Coney Island: Behind the Scenes at Creep Show at the Freak Show

May 11, 2010: 21st Century Bars: Coney Island’s Freak Bar Featured in New Book

January 25, 2010: March 14-17: Coney Island Sideshow Banner Painting School with Marie Roberts

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Coney Island USA Building

New lights illuminating Coney Island USA Building, which will be designated a landmark today. Photo © Fred Kahl

Let’s get this puzzler out of the way first: Why are Joe Sitt and Thor Equities mentioned in a press release heralding today’s landmark designation of Coney Island USA’s building?

Repair of the exterior architectural lighting was funded through the generosity of our individual and corporate supporters, including Melissa Baldock, Steve Bernstein and Joseph Sitt of Thor Equities.

Is it a typo? Or has Sitt seen the light, however briefly, and contributed to the renovation of an historic building in Coney Island?

It’s odd to see Sitt’s name alongside a noted preservationist and a CIUSA board member. It’s incongruous considering Sitt’s darkening of the amusement area and demolition of three buildings that he owns, including two that were nominated for landmark designation. His contribution would be more noble if his rampant destruction weren’t in evidence all around Coney Island. And if you’re wondering how much Sitt contributed to the renovations, so are we.

Update…Dick Zigun, director of Coney Island USA writes: “Yes it is true he gave us money a year and a half ago but we just finished the project… not that much money $16,000… I asked him for funding it was not his idea… I ask everyone for money.” Zigun added that the total cost of the renovation was $70,000. As far as we know, this is the first time Joe Sitt and Thor Equities have contributed to the restoration of historic Coney Island. Way to go, Joe!

As for the topic of the press release, we’re thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission will at long last designate the arts organization’s 1917 Child’s Restaurant Building a New York City landmark. It’s cause for celebration in Coney Island, especially amid the ongoing demolitions and evictions.

According to the designation report, “Although the Spanish (or the variant Mediterranean) Revival style was more often found on buildings in warmer climates, such as in Florida or the Caribbean, the designer of this structure (John Corley Westervelt) was hoping to suggest this same kind of vacation-oriented environment for a building in the heart of New York’s most popular resort area.”

Coney Island USA deserves credit for nominating 6 historic buildings for designation back in 2005. As we noted when the Shore Theater was designated in December, the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission delayed consideration of the buildings until February 2010, after Coney Island had been rezoned. Of the nominated buildings, only two–the Childs Restaurant (owned by CIUSA) and the Shore Theater (owned by Horace Bullard) were considered worthy of landmark designation. The Thor Equities-owned Bank of Coney Island and Shore Hotel were demolished and the Henderson Building demolition is underway. The doomed buildings were on parcels rezoned for high rise hotels.

Coney Island USA purchased the historic building in 2007 with funding from the City. When the Childs Building was first illuminated in mid-November, Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun said it was part of a major upgrade to the exterior of the building. “The Surf Avenue facade will be illuminated every evening, 365 days a year; the West 12th Street lights will be on when we are open for business any evening,” noted Zigun.


Related posts on ATZ…

October 21, 2010: Halloween In Coney Island: Behind the Scenes at Creep Show at the Freak Show

May 11, 2010: 21st Century Bars: Coney Island’s Freak Bar Featured in New Book

March 10, 2010: Coney Island Sideshow to Add Girlie Freak Show, Run 7 Days a Week

January 25, 2010: March 14-17: Coney Island Sideshow Banner Painting School with Marie Roberts

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On opening night of the Coney Island Film Festival, the first film up was Charles Ludlam’s silent horror short “The Museum of Wax,” shot in the late 1970s in Coney’s World in Wax Musee. It is a little gem, but seeing Lillie Santangelo’s long-vanished museum was eerie and sad, especially now that the Henderson Building, where it was located for more than 60 years until closing in 1984, is being demolished to make way for Thor Equities’ strip mall.

Equally eerie and sad was seeing the late and much-missed Charles Ludlam‘s brilliance on the silent screen. Ludlam’s over-the-top performances in campy melodramas like “The Mystery of Irma Vep” at his Ridiculous Theatrical Company in Sheridan Square were a must-see for us in the 1980s.

Unfinished at the time of Ludlam’s death from AIDs in 1987, this rarely seen 16 MM film was remastered by Queer/Art/Film as part of the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. OutfestLA has also made the 20-minute film available in three parts on their YouTube channel.

At Friday’s screening, Coney Island USA founder and artistic director Dick Zigun referred to the film as “a work of film genius” and noted that it was last screened in Coney Island on Halloween in 1981. The occasion was a day-long theatrical extravaganza called “Tricks or Treats,” which Zigun curated at the Wax Musee. The film was shot in a few days after Zigun introduced Ludlam to Lillie Santangelo, the elderly proprietress of the wax museum. “It was a 100 percent found location,” says Zigun, who had discovered fifty wax heads, which appear in the film, in the museum’s storage area.

“Not much was planned. It was just go for it,” recalled actor Everett Quinton, who was Ludlam’s partner and muse. Quinton, who appears as the second convict in the film, compared it to “the unfinished Michelangelo sculptures that lead up to the David. It is unfinished.” According to Outfest’s website, until the recent digital re-mastering and the addition of a new score by original composer Peter Golub, “Museum of Wax” had not been seen in over 20 years.

In an act of programming genius by Coney Island Film Festival director Rob Leddy, “The Wax Museum” shared the opening night bill with “Shape of the Shapeless,” a new documentary exploring the gender bending life and performance art of Jon Cory aka Rose Wood, and the effervescent “Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque,” which won best documentary feature.


Related posts on ATZ…

September 20, 2010: Movie Monday: Teaser Trailers from the Coney Island Film Festival

September 12, 2010: Video: Coney Island’s Faber’s Fascination by Charles Denson

August 28, 2010: Video: Grand Prize Winner of Luna Park Coney Island’s Film Contest!

March 30, 2010: Super 8 Movie: I Had A Dream I Went To Coney Island

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Timothy Haskell, the Off-Broadway theater director whose annual Nightmare Haunted House in NoHo bills itself as New York’s Most Horrifying Haunted House is coming to Coney Island for Halloween.  On August 11, Haskell tweeted: “got the gig to turn Luna Park in Coney Island into a Halloween wonderland. Opens October 15th. Pretty cool.”

Yesterday, Haskell had a meeting with Zamperla/Central Amusements International, the operators of Luna Park, according to his twitter feed:  “Going to Luna Park (coney island) to discuss my concepts for the haunted theme I will be implementing. It’s going to be scarecrows!”

Although Luna Park has yet to announce details of their Halloween festivities, the amusement park, which is open daily through Labor Day, will remain open weekends through Halloween, according to a recent post on the Luna Park NYC Facebook page. When reached for comment, Valerio Ferrari, who is president of both CAI and Zamperla’s United States branch, said in two weeks they’ll know for certain if the project is a go for Halloween 2010.

In October Coney Island USA will stage their annual Creepshow at the Freakshow haunted house tour of CIUSA’s building. The show is written and directed by CIUSA founder and Mermaid Parade creator Dick Zigun, who says this year’s theme is “The Ride Inspector’s Nightmare”! The Creepshow’s designer is Kate Dale, whose fabulous creations for the Mermaid Parade have won her “Best Mermaid” and “Best Float” more times than anyone else in the history of the parade.

Let the countdown till Halloween in Coney Island begin!

Happy Halloween!! From Coney Island Creepshow at the Freakshow. Photo © Norman Blake?Coney Island USA

Happy Halloween!! From Coney Island Creepshow at the Freakshow. The Scurvy Proprietor of the Grog Shop (Insectavora).Photo © 2006 Norman Blake/Coney Island USA

UPDATE September 7, 2010:

Luna Park Presents Nights of Horror…Here to Haunt You is set for Halloween 2010. This banner advertising the event was on display in Luna over Labor Day Weekend…According to a flyer, the event is scheduled for October 15- 31, on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 pm – 12 am, and on Sundays from 5 pm -10 pm.

Banner for Luna Park Presents Nights of Horror...Here to Haunt You, October 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Banner for Luna Park Presents Nights of Horror...Here to Haunt You, October 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i


Related posts on ATZ…

October 10, 2013: Art of the Day: Creepshow at the Freakshow Is Back

September 13, 2013: Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round

December 7, 2010: Art of the Day: Freak Taxidermy Skull by Takeshi Yamada

October 18, 2010: Halloween in Coney Island: Snapshots of Luna Park’s Nights of Horror

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In the video, Dick Zigun, founder and artistic director of Coney Island USA and the permanently unelected “Mayor” of Coney, asks YOU to contact your City Councilmembers to deliver the message “Don’t Kill Coney! Fix the Plan!”

“The City came up with an acceptable master plan, but at the same time, a private developer, Thor Equities, came in and purchased most of the property on the south side of Surf Avenue,” Zigun says in the video. “Thor Equities started lobbying and pressuring the city, and suddenly, the plan changed…there are some things in there that are frankly no good, and that’s the plan that’s going to be voted on at the end of July.”

Zigun’s recommendations include moving the 27-story high rises north of Surf Avenue, a change endorsed by the Borough President and Community Board; expanding the acreage for outdoor rides and amusements; and protecting Coney Island’s historic structures instead of creating financial incentives for tearing them down.

“Politicians DO listen to the public. Make some noise; July is the month,” says Zigun, who rallied on the steps of City Hall last month with the grassroots group Save Coney Island.“The future of Coney Island is being decided now. It’s an American treasure; let’s develop it the right way, the good way.”

To find your City Councilmember, type in your street address and borough on the City Council’s About page.

An email blast posted on Coney Island USA’s website urges people to make three phone calls by Monday, July 13, the City Council’s deadline for requests for changes to the City’s plan.

Call #1:
If you want to help save Coney Island, PLEASE CALL your City Council member TODAY (the sooner the better!).

Call #2:
Call your friends. If everyone forwards this to three friends and the chain continues, we can affect change to this plan!

Call #3:
If you REALLY want to Save Coney Island, also call Speaker Christine Quinn and deliver the same message.
Christine Quinn’s legislative office: (212) 788-7210.


If you are not a New York City resident, ATZ suggests that you phone and leave a comment for Christine Quinn, the Speaker of the City Council. Legislative Office Phone (212) 788-7210. We also recommend calling 311 (1- 212-NEWYORK outside of NYC) and leaving a “Don’t Kill Coney! Fix the Plan” comment for the Mayor.


Related posts on ATZ…

December 18, 2009: Ciao Coney Island! Will Ruby’s, Shoot the Freak, Astrotower & Other Oldies Survive?

October 9, 2009: A Rare Peek Inside Endangered Old Bank of Coney Island

July 27, 2009: Tall, Skinny & Destined to Kill Coney Island: High Rises on South Side of Surf

June 11, 2009: Coney Island Amusement Advocates Rally for More Acreage for Outdoor Rides

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Summer 2008: Thor Equities Future of Coney Island tarp hides empty lot where evicted amusements once thrived.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Summer 2008: Thor Equities Future of Coney Island tarp hides empty lot where evicted amusements once thrived. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Save the dates: This weekend Coney Island heavy hitters Charles Denson and Dick Zigun will be giving talks about the precarious present and imperiled future of the People’s Playground. If you want to know what’s likely to happen in Thor-land if the City’s rezoning of Coney passes the upcoming City Council vote, your presence is required at one or both of these events.

On Saturday, Charles Denson, noted historian and author of the award winning book Coney Island: Lost & Found will give a slide talk at the New-York Historical Society. Denson, who grew up in Coney Island in the ’50s and ’60s, began documenting his neighborhood at age 12 amid rumors that Steeplechase Park was going to be torn down. Denson’s talk will follow a showing of the Ric Burns documentary about Coney Island. The program is free and open to the public. Saturday, June 27, 1 – 4 pm, Free. New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West at 77th St

On Sunday, Dick Zigun, Coney Island USA Founder and Artistic Director and “Permanently Unelected Mayor of Coney Island” will give his annual State of Coney Island Address. Last year’s address was on July 20, nearly a month later than this Sunday’s talk. Time is of the essence since the all-important City Council review, the next to the last step in the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), is scheduled for this summer July. At the recent “Don’t Shrink Coney Island” rally at City Hall, Zigun called on the City to increase the acreage for outdoor rides, move the high-rise hotels to the north side of Surf, and protect Coney Island’s historic resources.
Sunday, June 28, 4 pm, $5, Free for members of Coney Island USA
Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Ave. between Stillwell and West 12th St

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Juan  Rivero of  Save Coney Island.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Juan Rivero of Save Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Yesterday afternoon members of Save Coney Island stood at the gates of City Hall waiting permission to symbolically take over the steps for a “Don’t Shrink Coney!” rally aimed at getting the City to amend its rezoning plan. Some were veterans of the very first Save Coney Island rally in March 2007 at City Hall. ATZ asked Dick Zigun of Coney Island USA: What would you say to motivate people who say it’s too late to save Coney, it’s a done deal, the pols have already decided?

Zigun, who resigned last June from the Coney Island Development Corporation’s board of directors to protest “the city’s flawed plan” had this to say: “There is a vote next week (City Planning Commission) and there is another vote in July or August (City Council) and that’s why we’re making our voices heard.”

Save Coney Island is asking the city to expand the acreage for outdoor rides and amusements, keep high-rises out of the central amusement district, protect small businesses, create amusement jobs and preserve Coney Island’s historic structures such as Nathan’s and the Shore Theater.

Carnival Stalls, Not Mega Malls. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Carnival Stalls, Not Mega Malls. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

If you missed the rally, there’s still time to sign the online petition or volunteer for the group’s citywide petition drive. Save Coney will also be hosting breakfast briefings with legislators, media and other interested individuals in the weeks to come.

Next question: What I don’t get is why doesn’t the City just go back to their original plan? This so-called “compromise plan” of reducing the proposed new amusement park from 15 acres to 9 acres has utterly failed in its purpose of appeasing Thor Equities. Or is the city now veering towards an even worse compromise with real estate speculator Joe Sitt? Today’s Daily News quotes Sitt saying he has no interest in selling unless the city decides to spend $165 million for the property. That’s $60 million more than the City’s supposed “final offer.” But who knows what’s going on behind the scenes? The Coney Island Rumor Mill has been sayin’ for weeks it’s a done deal and the City is set to acquire the land in September. All the more reason for Save Coney Island to press the city to “fix the plan.”

ATZ will be asking additional questions as the city’s rezoning plan continues to wend its way through the ULURP process this summer. For now, here are a few photos of the rally and excerpts from some of the speeches. Speakers included Dick Zigun and Fred Kahl aka The Great Fredini of Coney Island USA; Juan Rivero of Save Coney Island; Angie Pontani, Miss Cyclone; and artists Richard Eagan and Marc Kehoe of the Coney Island Hysterical Society.

Dick Zigun of Coney Island USA Speaking at Dont Shrink Coney Rally

Dick Zigun of Coney Island USA Speaking at Don't Shrink Coney Rally


Although the plan has merits it does need modifications. A Coney Island that rips down Nathan’s Famous restaurant and replaces it with a themed Nathan’s restaurant in the base of a 15-story hotel is not a good Coney Island. A new Coney Island that builds a hotel blocking the view of the Wonder Wheel, a designated landmark, is not a good Coney Island. And if you tell us Mayor Bloomberg that you are going to designate 15 acres for outdoor amusements and then a few months later say cut it back to 9, we have a right to agitate, protest, and ask you to reconsider and give us some acreage back for outdoor rides because those tourists staying in those hotels are not tourists coming for bowling alleys or movie theatres or gymnasiums. They will be coming for rides (cheering)

We want a critical mass of acreage for outdoor rides, we want you to move the hotels to the north side of Surf Avenue like the New York Times suggests, like the Municipal Art Society suggests, like Community Board 13 suggests.

We want respect for our historic icons: the Shore Theater, Nathan’s, other historic buildings. Give us the right things, make your plan better and we will stand with you in the upcoming fight against Thor Equities, who is the true villain. THe City is not the villain. But if the City wants our help, the City has to make the plan better.

View of media & bystanders from steps before start of rally. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

View of media & bystanders from steps before start of rally. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr


The City maintains that its plan is to revitalize Coney Island and make it into a world class amusement destination. Well, let us see how that scans. Coney Island is identified in the world’s imagination as an amusement park. The first thing they do is take 60 acres zoned for amusements and reduce it to a narrow 12 acre strip, turning the playground of the world into a playground for a few skinny children. It is as if they were thinking, “what is the smallest possible park that would still be viable” instead of, “how many acres of these 60 acres currently used for amusements could we use to create an extraordinary amusement experience.”

And the rest of the amusement area has succumbed to this indoor
fetishism. Seasonality is one of the biggest assets of Coney Island.
For obvious reasons: The beach is seasonal, tourism is a seasonal
phenomenon, the school year is organized seasonally. To try to fight that seasonality would be like putting a tarp over Central Park so that you can increase attendance in the winter. You are fighting the very thing that makes Coney Island appealing, and the very thing, ironically, that is the crux of its economic potential.

Then, having done that, they erect a wall of hotels along Surf
Avenue. You want people to come out of that station and be dazzled by a display of amusements and to encounter a unique Coney Island with the few historic structures that remain along that corridor. The City’s plan would destroy all that, it would create an incentive to demolish those buildings and it would create a wall. Although they maintain that this a great idea they have not yet seen fit to produce a rendering of what this would actually look like so I have a little illustration for you…

We really want to support the city’s plan. The changes that we are
asking are not that big. We have already conceded 60% of the area zoned for amusements. But in what remains, amusements have become just an afterthought. So, we are asking for amusements to be expanded so that they extend all the way to the Bowery, as the City itself originally proposed. We’re asking for those hotels to be removed form the south side of Surf Avenue, as basic human decency would dictate. If the City makes those changes, they have our support. Until they make those changes, we will continue to denounce the plan for what it is: a permanent squandering of the enormous potential of Coney Island to become a world class amusement destination that once more might capture everyone’s imagination.

Juan Rivero of Save Coney Island holds up a rendering of a high rise to illustrate the danger of the city's rezoning plan. It would allow high-rise towers up to 27 stories tall in the heart of Coney Island’s amusement district.

Juan Rivero of Save Coney Island holds up a rendering of a high rise to illustrate the danger of the city's rezoning plan. It would allow high-rise towers up to 27 stories tall in the heart of Coney Island’s amusement district.


Brooklyn and Manhattan politicians should take a long hard look at what is being done in the amusement area. It must be enlarged not shrunk. I also work at the present time as a tour guide taking people around Manhattan and Brooklyn, people from Australia, Europe, Asia and the rest of the United States. They all ask me about Coney Island. Coney Island is an international brand. Shrinking Coney Island at this point is the worst possible thing you can do because if you build an amusement park the world will come to it and there will be a continual revenue stream for the city and the borough of Brooklyn. I would say at this point, with this vote coming up, we’re standing at the threshold of the time in 1963 when Penn Station was ripped down and New York was changed forever. That was the beginning of historic preservation in America. And we need to do that here and now with Coney Island. We have to save Coney Island, enlarge the amusement area, keep the hotels to the north side of Surf Avenue.

Miss Cyclone Angie Pontani and Charlotte the Mermaid. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

"Miss Cyclone" Angie Pontani and Charlotte the Mermaid. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr


What I would like to say to the City is think big, think ambitious, like the people who started Coney Island. Let’s make it big, let’s make it fabulous.

Today when people say ‘go out to Coney Island,’ they go for the amusement rides. That’s what people want, we have to make the area bigger. If you don’t have that, it’s just Anywhere USA.

We owe it to the world to keep Coney Island. There’s replicas of a Coney Island in Australia, Japan. We have the original. We have to maintain it and keep it. We don’t need to build a replica on top of the original.

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