Thousands of visitors turned back the clock to the last century at the third annual Coney Island History Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park on Saturday.
The event is the brainchild of the Vourderis family — which owns the park and the 83-year-old Ferris wheel that gives it its name — and Charles Denson, founder of the Coney Island History Project. The Project, a mini-museum of People’s Playground artifacts, inhabits a storefront on W. 12th Street between Bowery Street and the Boardwalk that the Vourderises donated to Denson.
“We decided to celebrate the rich history of the Wonder Wheel, and all the wonderful stuff we have from all of our years in Coney Island,” said Dennis Vourderis, who runs the park with his brother Steven.
With Denson’s help, the Vourderises revived the era when their landmark wheel first came to Coney, with organ grinders and a banjo band cranking out 1920s tunes. Visitors who dressed in Great Gatsby-style garb rode the Wonder Wheel for free. And Sodom by the Sea history buffs competed in Coney Island trivia contests to win Wonder Wheel pins and free tickets on the park’s rides.
The day had a special significance for the Vourderis brothers, since 2013 marks the 30th year since their late father, Denos Vourderis, bought the wheel. Denos Vourderis — who passed away in 1994 — opened a concession stand on the Boardwalk in 1966, and bought the nearby kiddie park in 1976, before acquiring the iconic turning attraction. Denson set up a special exhibit dedicated to the family’s work in Coney Island, which now includes the Vourderises’ sons. Dennis Vourderis said it was difficult to imagine how long he has been part of the People’s Playground.
“Time flew. Thirty years, and here we are,” said Vourderis, who began working at his father’s concession 43 years ago at age 15. “It’s quite an achievement.”