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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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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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Jerry Albert Astroland

Jerry Albert (center) with Astrotower manager and welder, sliding Astrocule time capsule into the tower foundation. Photo from Coney Island and Astroland by Charles Denson. All Rights Reserved

Coney Island lost an historical figure who helped transform one of the amusement area’s oldest properties into a space age theme park in the 1960s. Jerry Albert, the co-founder of Astroland Park with his father Dewey Albert, died on Thursday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. This year is the 50th anniversary of the founding of Astroland, which broke ground in 1962 and closed at the end of the 2008 season.

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. The new park started with little more than a miniature golf course, a Double Diving Bell, a Sky Ride, and six kiddie rides. When the Alberts decided to develop the park, Jerry Albert began making trips to the West Coast and Europe to seek out state-of-the-art rides.

“The Mercury Capsule Skyride,” “The Ascension Tower,” and “The Rocket Ship Star Flyer” were among the space-age rides mentioned in an early press release about Coney Island’s new park. Neptune’s Water Flume was one of the early flumes made by Arrow Development, a pioneering ride builder for Disney, in the early 1960s right after the New York World’s Fair, and it was built specifically for this park. The $1.7 million Von Roll Astrotower from Switzerland was the first ride of its kind in the United States when it was installed in 1963.

In the historic photo above from Charles Denson’s Coney Island and Astroland, Jerry Albert (center) pictured with Astrotower manager Charlie Bower and welder Joe Peluso, slides the Astrocule time capsule into the tower foundation. “The press nicknamed it the ‘Bagel in the Sky’ or ‘Flying Bagel,'” writes Denson in the book. “Jerry Albert embraced the name, serving bagels and lox at the tower’s opening, as his mother cracked a bottle of champagne on its base. When the tower opened in July 1964, the conversion of Feltman’s into Astroland was complete.”

Jerry Albert took over the operation of Astroland Park after Dewey Albert’s death in 1992, notes Denson. After he retired due to the onset of Parkinson’s, his wife Carol Hill Albert operated the park until it closed. In 2004, the Coney Island History Project, a nonprofit that aims to increase awareness of Coney’s legendary and colorful past, was founded by Carol Hill Albert and Jerry Albert in honor of Dewey Albert.

In 1987, on the 25th anniversary of Astroland, the New York Post hailed the Alberts as “the family that keeps Coney Island rolling,” adding that while so much of Coney Island had burned down or was in decay, the Alberts kept the Cyclone running and kept expanding the park. By way of explanation, Jerry Albert told the reporter, “We have sand in our shoes.” Spoken by those who have an intimate working connection with Coney Island, the phrase conveys an unwavering commitment to this place where the amusement industry was born.

Funeral services will be held at 11 am 10 am Sunday at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Ave at 91st Street in Manhattan, to be followed by interment at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers donations may be sent to the American Parkinson Association, 135 Parkinson Ave. Staten Island, New York 10305

UPDATE March 17, 2012:

More tributes…

“In Memorium: Jerry Albert, Co-Founder of Astroland Park” by Charles Denson, Coney Island History Project

“Jerome Albert, Who Helped Bring Space Age to Coney Island, Dies at 74” by Dennis Hevesi, New York Times

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Related posts on ATZ…

May 19, 2013: Rest in Peace: Steve Bitetzakis of Steve’s Grill House

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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