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Posts Tagged ‘Steeplechase Park’

MegaWhirl

MegaWhirl Cars in Coney Island. May 6, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

ATZ snapped these photos over the weekend of the MegaWhirl under construction on the BK Festival lot in Coney Island. Set up in the center of the Stillwell East lot, the ride platform is surrounded by amusement rides including a Himalaya and Bumper Cars from Castle Rock Shows.

As previously reported, the MegaWhirl, a prototype ride described as combining the thrill of the Whip and the Tilt, is expected to make its debut on Memorial Day Weekend. Designed by Jonathan Gordon of Gordon Rides, the prototype was built by Larson International and was previously set up on the factory floor at Larson’s headquarters in Texas.

Thor Equities’ Stillwell Avenue lots were leased to the BK Festival promoters for last year’s flea market and this year’s new Steeplechase Park. Will McCarthy, event director of the BK festival, tells ATZ that the flea market didn’t mesh with the Coney Island location and this season the BK Festival will bring in rides and amusements along with a smaller number of vendors.

Coney Island

MegaWhirl Platform Under Construction in Coney Island. May 5, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Related posts on ATZ…

May 1, 2012: MegaWhirl Ride Prototype to Debut in Coney Island

April 19, 2012: Rides Return to Thor’s Stillwell Lots for 1st Time Since 2008

March 5, 2012: Exclusive: Goodbye Flea Market, Hello “Steeplechase Park”

June 28, 2011: New Ride: The Whip + Tilt-A-Whirl = MegaWhirl

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MegaWhirl

MegaWhirl Ride in Action, Still from Promotional Video. © Gordon Rides

The MegaWhirl, a prototype ride described as combining the thrill of the Whip and the Tilt in a whole new way is expected to make its debut in Coney Island this season. On Monday, the first two of four trucks carrying the MegaWhirl structure arrived on Thor Equities’ Stillwell Avenue lot leased to the BK Festival promoters for their new Steeplechase Park. The new ride’s arrival is another promising sign of Coney Island’s revival. Back in the day, the first models of new park or carnival rides would make their debut here.

“This is the prototype. It’s running like a charm,” the MegaWhirl’s designer Jonathan Gordon of Gordon Rides told ATZ. Over the next few weeks, the ride will be set up, tested and inspected. “If all goes well, we’re hoping that the ride will make its debut along with the rest of the park on Memorial Day Weekend.” The prototype was built by Larson International and was previously set up on the factory floor at Larson’s headquarters in Plainview, Texas. Promo videos show visiting ride enthusiasts going for a test spin.

“This dizzying ride swings riders in all directions, creating the illusion of near-misses with other carriages and the edges of the ride,” according to Gordon Rides website. Unlike the Whip, the cars of the MegaWhirl spin all the way around- 360 degrees – in a random curve pattern that could be mild or intense. As a family ride, it runs at a maximum of 4 miles per hour. “We’re going to tweak it a little bit faster,” said Gordon.

When we interviewed Gordon last year for “New Ride: The Whip + Tilt-A-Whirl = MegaWhirl” (ATZ, June 28, 2011), the White Plains-based ride designer said that he grew up in Westchester County and went to Playland Park as a boy, where he enjoyed riding the Whip and other classics. “That influenced me quite a bit,” Gordon told ATZ. “The rides were beloved and they’re just not around anymore.” He spent summers working at the park, first as a mechanic and later in the superintendent’s office before going to engineering school. He holds numerous patents in roller coaster and ride design, including one on a “multi-track multi-vehicle interactive roller coaster.”

First Trucks Carrying the MegaWhirl Arrive in Coney Island. April 30, 2012. Photo © Gordon Rides

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April 19, 2012: Rides Return to Thor’s Stillwell Lots for 1st Time Since 2008

March 5, 2012: Exclusive: Goodbye Flea Market, Hello “Steeplechase Park”

June 28, 2011: New Ride: The Whip + Tilt-A-Whirl = MegaWhirl

February 1, 2011: Bring Back the Whip! A Birthday Gift for William F Mangels

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First rides for BK Festival's amusement park have arrived in Coney Island. April 1, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Over the weekend, Coney Island’s amusement parks, which have a total of 60 rides including the landmark Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, celebrated opening day with fanfare. The Eldorado Bumper Cars–the 61st ride–are expected to open for one last season. Meanwhile, the first rides for the BK Festival’s new Steeplechase Amusement Park arrived and were parked on Thor Equities lot on the west side of Stillwell Avenue. ATZ snapped these photos yesterday afternoon.

BK Festival event director Will McCarthy tells ATZ that the first rides include a Himalaya, Scrambler, Bumper Cars, Giant Slide and Fun House. Castle Rock Amusements of Pittsfield, Massachusetts and NJ Party Works of South Amboy, New Jersey are the ride suppliers. The rides are projected to open for Easter on the BK Festival’s Stillwell lot behind Nathan’s. “This is a soft opening with the grand opening coming for Memorial Day Weekend,” McCarthy said.

The flea market vendors along with food stands and trailers are expected to continue on the east side of Thor’s Stillwell lots until the new Steeplechase Amusement Park’s full complement of rides and attractions debuts on Memorial Day Weekend.

Last month, McCarthy told ATZ the flea market didn’t mesh with the Coney Island location and this season the BK Festival will bring in rides and amusements in addition to a smaller number of vendors. As a critic of flea markets on land that historically has been used for amusements, we are thrilled with this new direction for the BK Festival and Thor Equities and wish them success. We’re looking forward to the return of popular flat rides like the Scrambler and the Trabant. With the newly arrived rides, Coney’s ride count is once again going up and is likely to be over 70 by Memorial Day Weekend.

The new park will be the third Steeplechase. In 1967, Norman Kaufman leased part of the Tilyou’s Steeplechase site from Fred Trump and called his park Steeplechase Park, according to Charles Denson’s Coney Island: Lost and Found. The Jumbo Jet, Cortina, Bumper Cars, Go Karts, Batting Cages and a Miniature Golf Course were among Kaufman’s attractions over the years. Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City was on this piece of land until he was evicted by Thor Equities in 2007.

UPDATE April 22, 2012:

The rides opened last weekend on Stillwell West and have since been moved to the Stillwell Avenue East lot, where permits are in process for a “temporary fair.” According to Will McCarthy of the BK Festival all of the rides will open on Memorial Day Weekend when the Festival brings in additional rides and attractions and debuts as “Steeplechase Park.” In the meantime, the merchandise vendors, food stands and Coney Island Dancers will continue to operate on the Stillwell West lot.

Rides

First rides for BK Festival's amusement park have arrived in Coney Island. April 1, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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April 19, 2012: Rides Return to Thor’s Stillwell Lots for 1st Time Since 2008

March 5, 2012: Exclusive: Goodbye Flea Market, Hello “Steeplechase Park”

November 15, 2011: Coney Island 2012: What’s New on the Boardwalk

April 22, 2011: Coney Island Has 64 Rides and 30 Weekends of Summer!

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Amusement Park Opening Soon

Steeplechase the Fun Place Amusement Park Opening Soon. Photo © Jim McDonnell. All rights Reserved

On Sunday, a sign appeared on the fence at the Thor Equities lot on Stillwell Avenue leased to the BK Festival announcing the opening of “Steeplechase Amusement Park.” We’ve known for several weeks that rides and amusements were planned for the former flea market this summer, but details were pending.

Will McCarthy, event director of the BK festival, tells ATZ that the flea market didn’t mesh with the Coney Island location and this season the BK Festival will bring in rides and amusements in addition to a smaller number of vendors. The flea market is expected to continue until the rides debut in May. Among the old school carnival flat rides confirmed for the event are a Himalaya, Ring of Fire, Trabant and Cakewalk. There will be also be a climbing wall, McCarthy said. Additional rides and amusements will be announced soon. The BK Festival’s partners went to the carnival convention in Gibsonton, Florida, last month to recruit ride operators for Coney Island.

Why did they choose the name Steeplechase Park? “We want to bring back a lot of things that used to be on the property,” says McCarthy. “It’s a tribute to Steeplechase Park.”

sign

Steeplechase Park Sign Already Defaced. © Magical Theme Parks. All Rights Reserved

And why not? Coney Island’s three grand amusement parks of the early 20th century were Steeplechase, Dreamland and Luna Park, and the names of the last two are already taken. When Joe Sitt brought carnivals to his property in the summers leading up to the 2009 rezoning, he called it Dreamland Amusement Park. Zamperla named their park after Thompson and Dundy’s Luna Park. Although the new parks bear very little resemblance to the originals, the familiar names evoke memories and exert a powerful pull. We’re just happy the BK Festival, which has a three-year lease, will not be a flea market this summer. We wish them well. Evidently one person wasn’t thrilled with this iteration of the Funny Face. The sign, which has a couple of unfortunate misspellings, was almost immediately defaced.

The park will be the third Steeplechase. In 1967, Norman Kaufman leased part of the Tilyou’s Steeplechase site from Fred Trump and called his park Steeplechase Park, according to Charles Denson’s Coney Island: Lost and Found. The Jumbo Jet, Cortina, Bumper Cars, Go Karts, Batting Cages and a Miniature Golf Course were among Kaufman’s attractions over the years. Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City was on this piece of land until he was evicted by Thor Equities in 2007.

Club Atlantis

Cha Cha's Club Atlantis Opening Soon. Photo © Magical Theme Parks. All Rights Reserved

Another sign on the fence announced “Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis Opening Soon,” setting the stage for two clubs with the same name. Cha Cha, one of the Coney Island 8 evicted from the Boardwalk by Zamperla, is opening a restaurant on Surf Avenue as well as a reincarnation of his Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis. His former Boardwalk location, which will become Tom’s Restaurant, was the site of the original Club Atlantis. Across the way, the former Steve’s Grill House and Beer Island are set to become Zamperla’s Club Atlantis. Last month, Zamperla CEO Valerio Ferrari told the NY Post that a new beach bar called Club Atlantis would offer beer, wine and dancing.

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April 2, 2012: BK Festival’s 1st Amusement Rides Arrive in Coney Island

November 15, 2011: Coney Island 2012: What’s New on the Boardwalk

May 16, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Make Dismal Debut

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

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Just watching this video of Coney historian Charles Denson climbing the 270-foot tall Parachute Jump gives us vertigo. Ten years ago, when the landmarked Jump was about to get a $5 million refurbishment, we did a story for Preservation that featured a striking portrait of Denson standing atop the tower. Denson’s 10-minute film of the climb, released today via his “Coneyologist” Channel on YouTube, features video footage by Seth Kaufman and his own exquisite photos.

The Coney Island native, who came of age riding the Parachute Jump with his dad in Steeplechase Park, told us: “That ride—there was nothing like it, before or since. Just when you thought, ‘It can’t go any higher,’ the chute hit the top and exploded. You were flying in a free fall. Then it billowed open and you sailed down.”

Originally designed by a retired Naval commander to train military paratroopers in the 1930s, parachute towers were modified into amusement attractions when civilians clamored to ride. Denson last soared from the Jump’s tower in 1962, two years before the great granddaddy of vertical-thrill rides, along with the rest of Steeplechase Park, closed forever.

In 2002, Denson fulfilled his childhood dream to once again see the view from the top.  He writes:

The Jump was a nature preserve. The motor room base was filled with pigeon nests and covered with muddy footprints of the raccoons who fed on the eggs. A raptor circled us at the top as we disturbed its perch, and the feet of the many small birds it had caught and devoured were spread out across the catwalks. I grew up a few blocks from the Jump and have documented it since it closed. When the city decided to dismantle and renovate the Jump ten years ago, my engineer friend Seth Kaufman had the only copy of the original plans. The city needed them so we made a deal: We got to climb it legally.

If you think it would be crazy fun to scale Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, keep in mind Denson has issued a warning remarkably similar to that of a sideshow sword swallower: “Do NOT try this on your own. It is extremely dangerous and chances are that you will die.”

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Thunderbolt Roller Coaster from Photographs of New York by Reginald Marsh. ca. 1938-1945, printed 1976. Reginald Marsh. Courtesy AntiquePhotographics.com

Best known for his drawings and paintings of crowds at Coney Island’s beach, artist Reginald Marsh also took photos with a 35mm Leica beginning in 1938. These images from the 1930’s and ’40s by Marsh are from a portfolio of 50 photographs of New York City published in 1977, which is currently offered for sale. The limited edition of 25, plus four artist proof sets, were printed from the original negatives with the provision that the negatives could not be used for any further publication. “The sets are very rare,” photography dealer Jeffrey Kraus of Antique Photographics, told ATZ. “I sold one a number of years ago and this is the second set I am offering.” The portfolio is available for $6500.

Reginald Marsh

Beach Gymnasts from Photographs of New York by Reginald Marsh. ca. 1938-1945, printed 1976. Reginald Marsh. Courtesy AntiquePhotographics.com

Coney Island was one of Reginald Marsh’s favorite places to sketch and photograph. On a hot summer’s day he’d take the subway from his studio high above Manhattan’s Union Square. “I like to go to Coney Island,” said Marsh, “because of the sea, the open air, and the crowds—crowds of people in all directions, in all positions, without clothing, moving—like the great compositions of Michelangelo and Rubens.”

Beauty Contest from Photographs of New York by Reginald Marsh. ca. 1938-1945, printed 1976. Reginald Marsh. Courtesy AntiquePhotographics.com

Marsh was also drawn to the front of the shows, where people stood entranced by the talkers, and the whirl of rides like the carousel and the Virginia Reel, which also attracted onlookers. The Virginia Reel was invented by Henry Elmer Riehl, who named the ride after his daughter, Luna Virginia Riehl. Originally in Luna Park, it later operated at Bowery and West 12th Street as part of Kyrimes Park, where it shared a lot with such now vanished rides as the Gyro Globe, the Looper and the Whip.

Back in the day, there were more independently owned rides and attractions and all had their own distinctively-lettered, open-air ticket booths. The only ride in Coney Island that exists today with its original ticket booth is the Wonder Wheel. Like the Wheel, the ticket booth was built in 1920.

Virginia Reel from Photographs of New York by Reginald Marsh. ca. 1938-1945, printed 1976. Reginald Marsh. Courtesy AntiquePhotographics.com

In an essay published with the portfolio, Norman Sasowsky, who worked as a curator/cataloguer for the Marsh estate, notes that the artist had a pass to Steeplechase Park given to him by park founder and operator George C Tilyou. Steeplechase’s carousel was a favorite subject. “Even though Marsh did not think of himself as a photographer–trying to make a photograph as an end in itself–he produced an exceptional array of photographic images. He selected unerringly the frame for the bit of reality he was about to record,” writes Sasowsky. “Marsh used his camera to photograph other events, such as family gatherings or friends, but his photographs of the places and people he used as themes for his paintings and prints are of special interest because of their intrinsic value and their relationship to his work.”

Carousel

Carousel with Attendant from Photographs of New York by Reginald Marsh. ca. 1938-1945, printed 1976. Reginald Marsh. Courtesy AntiquePhotographics.com

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Time travel back to Coney Island at Night in 1905 and see a panoramic view of the magical lights of Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase. This early time exposure was made by pioneering filmmaker Edwin S. Porter, whose use of panning and the first after-dark photography can be seen in films of the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo. The long, sweeping view of Coney Island’s three great amusement parks ends with the camera panning up and down the Dreamland Tower.

According to Charles Musser’s Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company, Edison acquired “the exclusive privilege” for the 1905 season at Dreamland. Other subjects made by Porter under this contract are Hippodrome Races, Dreamland, Coney Island (June 1905), Mystic Shriners’ Day, Dreamland, Coney Island (July 1905), June’s Birthday Party (July 1905), and Boarding School Girls. In this version of the film, the young ladies of Miss Knapp’s Select School go on an outing to Coney Island where they pass through Dreamland’s Creation gate, frolic in the surf and ride Steeplechase’s camels and mechanical Horse Race.

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