Fire at will! Historic shooting range opens in Coney

Fire at will! Historic shooting range opens in Coney
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It’s open season in Coney Island!

Self-declared “mayor” of the People’s Playground Dick Zigun unveiled a fully-restored 1940s shooting gallery on Aug. 1, in the Surf Avenue space that once housed Denny’s Ice Cream.

The BB-gun firing range is on a five-year loan from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, where it sat in storage for about a decade. Zigun said he spent close to $10,000 bringing the rows of soldiers, planes, tanks, paratroopers, and other targets back to life — but said it was worth it to watch customers shooting them down.

“We put a lot of money into restoring it, and it’s good to see people lining up and using it,” the founder of the Mermaid Parade said.

A mere $5 buys you 100 shots at the moving metallic plates — which were forged in legendary amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels’s old factory on W. Eighth Street between Surf Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road during World War II. Mangel’s granddaughter Lisa Mangels and great-granddaughter Rhiannon Schaefer were among the first to fire upon their late relative’s restored creation.

“They were really excited to see it back up and running,” said Zigun.

The gallery is replacing another Coney Island classic — Denny’s Ice Cream, which opened in 1978 and closed last year. Zigun, who bought the beloved frozen treats stand in 2011, said he could not afford to replace the $50,000 in ice cream-making machinery that Hurricane Sandy destroyed. Wonder Wheel co-owner Dennis Vourderis said he decided to let the Mermaid Parade founder borrow the antique target range out of a sense of Coney camaraderie — and out of a desire to see the tradition of fun in the People’s Playground continue.

“Dick got hit hard in the storm, and he needs some help, and this is one way we can help our neighbor,” said Vourderis. “There’s a lot of history here, and you can’t lose it, no matter how hard Mother Nature tries to take it away.”

And Zigun said he hopes to bring the range even closer to its former glory. This year’s profits from the gallery will go toward filling the gallery’s pond of target ducks, and obtaining a cowboy target named “Shorty” that was part of the machine’s original design.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

Sharpshooter: Zigun said he honed his skills during his years at the Young Men’s Christian Association summer camp.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini