A museum of Coney Island history is making moves to ensure that it will be part of Coney Island’s future.
The booth-size Coney Island History Project, which pays homage to the supposed glory days of the beach-side neighborhood, will close its facility at the base of the Cyclone on Surf Avenue and open a new exhibition center near the landmark Deno’s Wonder Wheel two blocks away.
History Project Executive Director Charles Denson said that the museum’s five-year lease at the 83-year-old coaster has expired, and that he was worried about getting evicted after the city selects a new operator for the landmark attraction.
“We were offered the space by Wonder Wheel Park and were happy to take it because the Cyclone is going through a transition,” Denson said. “Things are uncertain there and this was a good opportunity for us.”
Denson said that he has not decided how big the new facility will be, but Wonder Wheel co-owner Dennis Vourderis said that he is prepared to offer the History Project two storefronts: one near the entrance at the corner of Jones Walk and Bowery Street and another on West 12th Street near the Boardwalk. Construction on a new History Project booth will start in the coming weeks and will be completed in time for the spring, Vourderis said.
“We’ve been wanting to host the Coney Island History Project for a long time,” said Vourderis, whose father bought the massive Ferris wheel — itself a city landmark — in 1983. “We’re proud to have them here.”
The History Project started in 2004 as a mobile Boardwalk display booth and opened under the Cyclone three years later. Its main exhibit is a model horse from the legendary Steeplechase ride, but it also shows off old-time photos and recorded testimonies by notable Coney figures. The Project even posts downloadable audio/visual walking tours on its web site.
Denson considers the Cyclone-based History Project a success, as its free exhibitions draw hundreds of people every weekend, but he was worried that a future Cyclone operator would feel differently. The Parks Department announced in October that it would replace Carol Albert, whose family has operated the iconic wooden coaster since 1976. The goal is to make the Cyclone a revamped, year-long amusement attraction.
By renting a new space near the Wonder Wheel, the History Project will avoid the fate of eight Boardwalk businesses that were evicted last year as part of the city’s push to remake the main amusement area in Coney Island.
But Denson denied that the plight of the evicted “Coney Island Eight” influenced his decision to leave. He merely said that “the move is right for our business now.”