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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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Remember Coney Island’s Zipper ride? Check out the first three minutes of “Zipper,” Amy Nicholson’s documentary about “Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride,” on the film’s new Facebook page. “In a market-driven world where growth often trumps preservation,” says the film-maker, “Eddie and his Zipper may be just the beginning of what is lost.” The film is set to be released in 2012. In the meantime, here are a couple of vintage vids to show you what old school carnival thrills Coney Island has been missing since the Zipper left Brooklyn for Honduras.

When photographer Jim McDonnell shot the video “Dave Rides the Coney Island Zipper” six years ago, in July 2005, real estate speculator Joe Sitt of Thor Equities had yet to buy up property in Coney Island and decimate the amusement area. The independently owned and operated Zipper reigned on West 12th Street till it was evicted in 2007. Says Jim: “It was one of the few (if not only) operating Chance Zipper rides that allowed single riders, and you definitely got your moneys worth with a super long ride cycle. Dave is the only rider on this cycle – he’s in car #5 but its sometimes a bit hard to follow. Pardon the crude video work and enjoy the flipping!”

The manufacturer’s recommended ride duration is two minutes (two-and-a half tops), but Dave gets to ride for an astounding five-and-a-half minutes, which was typical for the Coney Island Zipper. The ride cost only $4.00, according to a sign on the ticketbooth. Our fave comment on the next vid’s YouTube page was “I remember when Big Louie ran that ride. He left me in there for a half an hour. It felt like I was in a washing machine left in the spin cycle.”

Take a trip back in time to 1987 and watch Larry Tee and Lahoma Van Zandt ride the Coney Island Zipper in this video by Nelson Sullivan, whose work chronicled the downtown New York club scene in the ’80s. You’ll catch a glimpse of a young RuPaul here and in another vid where the group rides a Swinging Car on the Wonder Wheel. The best part of the Zipper vid is the ride operator spinning the car at both the beginning and end of their ride. The worst part is watching the riders look for a spot to throw up. The Zipper, a notorious “puke ride” on the carnival circuit, was invented in 1968 by Chance Rides and is still manufactured today.

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Zipper, Coney Island.  Photo © brooklynnfoto via flickr

Zipper, Coney Island. Photo © brooklynnfoto via flickr

A tweet from zipperfilm, aka documentary filmmaker Amy Nicholson, made us feel happy and sad at the time: “On our way back from shooting in Honduras. The Zipper is alive and well and scaring the crap out of kids on a beach there. Viva la Zipper!”

It makes us smile to think Coney Island’s beloved Zipper ride, which was evicted by Thor Equities in September 2007, has found new life as an expat. It makes us sad that nearly three years after the Zipper was dismantled and trucked away, its spot on West 12th Street remains empty and devoid of fun. Call it Thorland instead of Coney Island because real estate speculator Joe Sitt has managed to erase amusements from the property and blight the block.

Before Thor: View of W 12th Street with Go Karts and Zipper. April 15, 2006. Photo © frankko via flickr

Before Thor: View of W 12th Street with Go Karts and Zipper. April 15, 2006. Photo © frankko via flickr

The Honduras footage will provide a satisfying coda to “The Last Day of the Zipper,” which Nicholson and cinematographer Jerry Risius have been working on for the past three years. We’ve been looking forward to their film ever since we met the duo on the last day of Coney Island’s 2007 season. A synopsis posted on twitter says “A small-time carnival operator is forced to sell his ride and vacate his lot when he becomes the victim of a power struggle over the future of Coney Island.”

On the Zipper film’s newly launched website, the intro shows Zipper operator Eddie Miranda uncannily disappearing and reappearing on the empty lot. “A story about politics, greed, land use and public policy, Last Day of the Zipper chronicles a critical period in Coney Island’s history and examines the impact of redevelopment on a place that has always provided affordable entertainment for the masses. In a market driven world, where revenue and profits often trump nostalgia, Eddie and his Zipper may only be the beginning of what is lost.”

We don’t expect THE Zipper to ever come back to Coney Island, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some kickass carnival rides including a replacement Zipper and Go-Karts on Thor’s empty lots this summer? Let the countdown till Summer of Hope 2 or Dreamland 3 begin!

Thorland, August 2, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Thorland, August 2, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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