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Soap Box Derby

Annual Coney Island Generation Gap Soap Box Derby. Photo courtesy of Big Rod at Nubian Knights Network via CIGG

On Saturday in Coney Island, racing around Kaiser Park in home-made cars, it’s the annual Coney Island Generation Gap Soap Box Derby! Twenty teams of kids including drivers and pushers will compete for prizes in three categories: Speed, Design and Camaraderie. The event starts at 1pm in Kaiser Park at Neptune Avenue and West 29th Street. Trophies and prizes will be awarded at 5pm.

Among the names emblazoned on the cars are team sponsors Alliance for Coney Island, New York Aquarium, Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr., Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, State Senator Diane Savino, State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, City Council candidate Mark Treyger, Friends of Kaiser Park, Ringling Bros Circus, and Naomi AME Zion Church Sunday School.

Race Day Sponsor Rules:

1. Please stay with your youth at all times
2. Encourage your team remember camaraderie
3. Use your team pusher they are older and can help you
4. Cheer, Cheer, & Cheer some more

“CIGG is committed to keeping our youth on a straight path,” says the organization’s founder and executive director Pam Harris. “This is why our Soap Box Derby race is so important to us.” Contributions and volunteers are welcome for Coney Island Generation Gap‘s Soap Box Derby as well as their teen media arts program.

Earlier this year, the group produced “Keeping Heads Above Water,” a documentary based on how Superstorm Sandy affected them and brought everyone in Coney Island together.

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Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride

Extended through August 29: The Documentary “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride” at IFC Center in the West Village. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

In the waning days of summer, there are two things we suggest you put on your to-do list if you’re in the City. “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride,” Amy Nicholson’s documentary about the rezoning of Coney Island and the City’s standoff with Thor Equities’ Joe Sitt, opened earlier this month at the IFC Center to great reviews. If you haven’t seen it yet, the film has been held over for matinee screenings through August 29. Or see it in LA, beginning August 30. We had a second look at the Coney Island doc after having reviewed the film when it opened at DOCFEST last year. As we wrote last November…

Eddie and his Zipper crew–Don, Joe, Larry and Jerry–are a likeable bunch of guys who cut up jackpots about how far back they go in Coney and with each other. Watching them disassemble the Zipper is heartbreaking, all the more so because in the film, this scene happens as the City Council votes “Aye” on the rezoning that will shrink the amusement zone and allow retail and high rises on the south side Surf Avenue. It’s poetic license because the vote was held in July 2009, two years after the Zipper had left Coney Island. But it is exactly right, because the land remained vacant all that time.

The Zipper site is presently part of Wonder Wheel Way and Scream Zone, which along with Luna Park was built after the City ended the stand-off with Joe Sitt shown in the film and bought 6.9 acres of his land for $95.6 million in November 2009. “It’s a vision offering major new opportunities for retailing and thousands of new housing units,” says Mayor Bloomberg at the City Hall press conference announcing the land deal and the City’s own redevelopment plan for Coney Island.

In the doc, Eddie’s Zipper represents all of the mom-and-pops who were displaced by the real estate speculation that was set off by the Bloomberg administration’s rezoning of Coney Island and the rebuilding that followed the City’s purchase of Thor’s land. The names of the businesses, including Batting Cage and Go Kart City, Shoot Out the Star, Shoot the Freak and Steve’s Grill House, are memorialized on the screen in the final credits.

During the Q & A after a recent screening, a couple said they knew the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel were protected because they’re landmarked, but they wanted to know if any other mom-and-pops had survived. They hadn’t been to Coney Island in four or five years!

Grandma's Predictions

Grandma’s Predictions, newly restored 90-year-old fortunetelling machine under the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Go before the end of the summer and help keep the surviving old timers alive and thriving. The good ol’ Coney Island to-do list includes getting your fortune told for 50 cents by Grandma’s Predictions, a 90-year-old arcade machine beneath the 93-year-old Wonder Wheel; clams on the half shell at Paul’s Daughter, the 50-year-old Boardwalk restaurant and clam bar formerly known as Gregory and Paul’s; marshmallow treats and candy apples at the nearly 75-year-old Williams Candy, Coney’s last old school candy store; and a ride on Eldorado Auto Skooters, a 40-year-old disco palace of bumper cars whose motto is “Bump Your Ass Off.”

ATZ also recommends the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit of murals from the demolished Playland arcade; the 25-cents-a-dance “Miss Coney Island” doll and the row of games next door; the restored 1940s Mangels Shooting Gallery at Coney Island USA; Spook-A-Rama, Deno’s classic 1950s Pretzel dark ride renovated post-Sandy; and Ruby’s, Coney Island’s oldest bar, where part of the ceiling is made from 1920s Boardwalk wood, making it one of the only places where you can still walk “Under the Boardwalk.”

Paul's Daughter Coney Island

Clams on the Half-shell at Paul’s Daughter, Coney Island Boardwalk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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May 7, 2013: Video of the Day: Restoration of Grandma’s Predictions

July 17, 2012: 50 Years on Coney Island Boardwalk for Paul & His Daughter

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March 14, 2010: Eldorado Auto Skooter: Coney Island’s Disco Palace of Bumper Cars

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Zipper

Larry posing with Freddie on the very last night of operation – Labor Day 2007. Freddie was a great loader and would spin the cars before the ride even started! Photo © Zipperfilm.com

Five years in the making, the long-awaited Coney documentary Zipper premiered Saturday at DOC NYC and screens again today at 3pm and 9:30pm. The theater is the IFC Center on 6th Avenue at West 3rd Street in Manhattan. The first time we met director Amy Nicholson was in Coney Island on September 9, 2007, the last day of Astroland, which later got a one-year reprieve from landlord Thor Equities. As Amy and cinematographer Jerry Risius loaded equipment into a car, she explained they were making a film featuring the Zipper. The ride had also been evicted by Thor and eventually they would film it being driven away.

“A small-time ride operator and his beloved carnival contraption become casualties in the battle over the future of Coney Island” is the film’s capsule description. Eddie Miranda, who worked on Coney Island’s rides since he was a boy, owned and operated the Zipper and Spider for a decade. In the doc, Eddie’s Zipper represents all of the mom-and-pops who were displaced by the real estate speculation that was set off by the Bloomberg administration’s plan to rezone Coney Island. The names of the businesses, including Batting Cage and Go Kart City, Shoot Out the Star, Shoot the Freak and Steve’s Grill House, are memorialized on the screen in the final credits.

Zipper Film

It was hard to take the Zipper apart because it hadn’t been disassembled since it was parked on that spot – almost 10 years. Photo © Zipperfilm.com

Eddie and his Zipper crew–Don, Joe, Larry and Jerry–are a likeable bunch of guys who cut up jackpots about how far back they go in Coney and with each other. Watching them disassemble the Zipper is heartbreaking, all the more so because in the film, this scene happens as the City Council votes “Aye” on the rezoning that will shrink the amusement zone and allow retail and high rises on the south side Surf Avenue. It’s poetic license because the vote was held in July 2009, two years after the Zipper had left Coney Island. But it is exactly right, because the land remained vacant all that time. The Zipper site is presently part of Wonder Wheel Way and Scream Zone, which along with Luna Park was built after the City ended the stand-off with Joe Sitt shown in the film and bought 6.9 acres of his land for $95.6 million in November 2009. “It’s a vision offering major new opportunities for retailing and thousands of new housing units,” says Mayor Bloomberg at the City Hall press conference announcing the land deal and the City’s own redevelopment plan for Coney Island.

The film does a great job of making the complex details of the Coney Island rezoning easy to comprehend with snappy graphics, newspaper headlines (“Rezonie Baloney” is a fave), and TV clips of reporters covering the Coney beat. Interviews with Amanda Burden, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning, Coney Island’s City Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr., and Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt speak louder than words. One of the most effectively edited sequences has the trio taking turns saying what kinds of retail the new zoning would allow them to bring to Coney Island. Suggestions range from entertainment franchises like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Howie’s Game Shack, and Build-A-Bear Workshop (Sitt) to Williams-Sonoma (Recchia), Gap and Duane Reade (Burden). As we said in a previous post: Ugh. Sounds like Any Vacation Spot, USA. Cut to Zipper crew members Joe and Don, who look stunned. “They could care less about the amusement business, about Zippers,” says Don.

Zipper film

From the wall in Harold Chance’s office: homage to the greatest ride ever, the Zipper. Photo © Zipperfilm.com

But the film makes viewers care about Zippers. It takes us to Chance Rides factory in Wichita, where the classic ride was invented in 1968 and the company’s elderly founder Harold Chance is interviewed. We learn there were only 224 built and Coney Island’s Zipper is number 34. Seeing the Zipper for the first time since it left Coney Island for a seaside carnival in Honduras, tears welled up. They have our Zipper! At the same time, we felt happy to see it still alive and thrilling riders. The irony is that the three members of the Zipper crew who managed to find another place to work in Coney Island are about to lose their jobs again. On the weekend of Zipper’s premiere, they were busy dismantling the rides in McCullough’s Kiddie Park since it has closed forever after 50 years. The family that owns the park wasn’t able to come to an agreement on extending the lease with property owner Thor Equities.

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

July 19, 2011: Video of the Day: Let Us Now Praise Coney Island’s Zipper

April 12, 2010: Evicted by Thor, Coney Island’s Zipper Ride Thrills in Honduras

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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The Zipper was a thrill ride on West 12th Street in Coney Island. Now it’s the title of Amy Nicholson’s new documentary about the rezoning and redevelopment of Coney Island. “A small-time ride operator and his beloved carnival contraption become casualties in the battle over the future of Coney Island” is the film’s capsule description. The trailer was released the other day and it will make you want to see the movie, even if you think you know how the redevelopment turned out.

The Bloomberg administration succeeded in “saving” Coney Island by buying it from Thor Equities, didn’t they? That’s what you’d believe from some of the news stories and statistics released this summer. “Coney Island, Renewed but Recognizable,” says the New York Times. Ah, but the story is far from over. What kind of vision will future Mayors have for Coney Island? Before the lease on Luna Park expires in December 2020, the City plans to issue an RFP for a permanent amusement operator. Meanwhile, six years after evicting the Zipper, Thor CEO Joe Sitt is sitting on property rezoned for 30-story hotels and advertising his first new building in Coney Island as “The Retail Ride of a Lifetime.”

We’ve been following @TheZipper on twitter over the past year and get a kick out of their tweets referring to “Zipper star Amanda Burden,” “Zipper star Domenic Recchia” and “Zipper star Joe Sitt,” among others. We imagined the Director of the New York City Department of City Planning, Coney Island’s City Councilman and Thor’s CEO on the red carpet, now here they are in the trailer. A grinning Joe Sitt shows off a framed T-shirt with his self-proclaimed nickname “Joey Coney Island” and rattles off the names of businesses that might come to his Coney Island: Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Dave and Buster’s, Hard Rock, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Ugh. Sounds like Any Vacation Spot, USA.

We’d say “Bring Back Coney Island’s Zipper,” but it was sold to a carnival operator in a beach town in Honduras, where it’s still thrilling riders, according to the film-maker, who went to see it one last time. The Honduras footage will provide a satisfying coda to the film which Nicholson and cinematographer Jerry Risius have been working on for the past five years. But what happened to its owner, independent ride operator Eddie Miranda? In the trailer, he says his days in Coney Island are pretty much over. The Zipper film’s new website also debuted this week.

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November 15, 2012: Zipper: Coney Island Documentary Debuts at DOC NYC

March 27, 2012: Video of the Day: Eldorado Auto Skooter at Coney Island (2011)

July 19, 2011: Video of the Day: Let Us Now Praise Coney Island’s Zipper

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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Working in Coney Island over the past few summers, we got used to a zillion people asking us if Coney Island was closing. It wasn’t and it’s not. In fact, Coney Island never closes (think Beach, Boardwalk, Aquarium) and is getting a brand-new Luna Park this summer.

But filmmaker JL Aronson’s documentary “Last Summer at Coney Island” is aptly titled. For the past three summers, it has felt like the last summer of our Coney Island because of Thor Equities’ eviction of Astroland and other businesses and the City’s rezoning of the C-7 amusement district. JL, known as Sonny to his friends, has distilled the essence of those turbulent times in his elegaic film. From 150 hours of footage, he has edited a 100-minute rough cut. Here’s a scene from the 2008 Mermaid Parade, featuring a replica of the Astroland Rocket and many of our mermaid and merman friends…

Says the filmmaker….

Beginning in early Spring of 2007, I set out to capture Coney Island at a pivotal moment in its 125+ year history as an amusement destination. With City Hall and private developers laying out their competing plans for Coney Island’s 21st century makeover, many of the local residents and business people felt trapped in the middle or left out in the surf. Much has happened since then, and while the area’s uncertain future brought media attention from across the world, few stuck around long enough to get the full story.

It’s true, summer weekends brought out multiple film crews seeking people to interview. Sonny was always here filming both public events and private moments. “Last Summer at Coney Island” promises to be an exceptional film. It is nearing completion and being pitched on Kickstarter, a website that “helps fund creative ideas and ambitious endeavors.” The only catch is a project must be fully funded before its time expires or no money changes hands. Total amount needed: $16,000. The film currently has 27 backers and needs 20 more with two weeks to go!

Watch the trailer featuring Community Board 13 Manager Chuck Reichenthal, historian Charles Denson, Mermaid Parade creator Dick Zigun and other Coney Island luminaries here. There’s also an engaging interview with Gerry Menditto, longtime manager of the Cyclone roller coaster here.

UPDATE June 1, 2011:

A 60-minute cut of JL Aronson’s documentary “Last Summer at Coney Island” is being shown on public television. We recommend watching it and then buying the DVD with the full 90-minute version and a host of extras, including “Since Last Summer,” in which the film-maker narrates a candid update. Read our review here:“Last Summer at Coney Island” Airs on PBS, DVD Offers Epilogue” (ATZ, May 12, 2011)

UPDATE August 10, 2010:

The film was funded and premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music premiere. Read the review by Rich Calder in the New York Post. Check out on the new trailer at http://www.lastsummeratconeyisland.com.

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February 22, 2010:Coney Island’s Luna Park Launches Blog Site, Lists Job Openings

December 30, 2009: Looking Back & Forward: Astroland Shrine on New Year’s Day 2009

June 22, 2009: A Judge’s Photo Album of the 2009 Coney Island Mermaid Parade

May 21, 2009: Astroland Closed But Your Kid Can Still Ride the USS Astroland This Summer!

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