In 1957, Larry Milliard came to Coney Island looking for work as a sign painter. Playland owner Alex Elowitz was so impressed by his work that he was hired to do murals across the amusement area, mostly the recently demolished Playland Arcade space. His lettering was stylish and perfect, and he soon expanded his work to include cartoon characters and humorous narratives. Each inch of the Playland Arcade on Surf Avenue was covered with his pun-filled colorful murals, and he also did work at Stauch’s and B&B Carousell. Millard worked tirelessly through the next 3 years and then in 1960, he disappeared and was never heard from again.
Much of his art has been lost and preserving it has been complicated by vandalism, death, natural disasters, and the altering landscape of Coney Island. Efforts to preserve the murals or a record of them are being taken on by the Coney Island History Project.
When you have a neighborhood full of amusements, carnival rides and arcades, you need someplace that has the nuts and bolts to make quick repairs. Grashorn Hardware in Coney Island was that place.
In 1898, Henry Grashorn (1883 – 1939) changed a little hotel at Surf and Jones Streets into a hardware store that serviced 60 years of park repairmen. Henry Grashorn was a prominent Coney Island resident, serving as the Trustee to the Coney Island Hospital, director of the Coney Island Ban and founder and President of the Coney Island Mardi-Gras Association, of which the famous Coney Island Mermaid Parade is said to have been inspired by. Mr. Grashorn saw the future of Coney Island in amusements and promoted the neighborhood as a place for fun as often as possible.
The Grashorn building is rundown and may be torn down, but has been in movies like Men In Black 3.
Alex Elowitz began working as a change boy in a Coney Island arcade when he was 12 years old. He went to the army and upon returning opened the Playland Arcade in Coney Island with his brother, Stan Fox in 1949. The first Playland Arcade was on 20th Street and the Boardwalk in the Washington Baths building. Playlands at 15th Street and the Boardwalk and 12th Street and the Boardwalk (where Nathan’s is now) followed. They opened 4 and the last was demolished in 2012 after being abandoned for about 30 years.
Alex and Stan bought the business from the surviving Katz brother for $50,000 and leased the building from Klein and Moran, who also owned the Thunderbolt. Rent for the entire 1957 season was $15,000. They operated the arcade until 1977, when they sold the business to the Getlan brothers. In 1981 the arcade machines were auctioned and the business closed, leaving Playland vacant for the past thirty years.
On Feb 14, 2013, the building was demolished, but the Coney Island Historic Society was able to save some letters and items left from the last building.
Charles Denson is executive director of the nonprofit Coney Island History Project, which has created an oral history archive and sponsors educational exhibits, school programs and performances. He is the author of Coney Island: Lost and Found, named 2002 New York Book of the Year by the New York Society Library. Mr. Denson grew up in Coney Island and began documenting his neighborhood as a boy, a passion that continues to this day. A writer, photographer and art director, he began his career in 1971 as a photographer for New York magazine and has since worked as art director for numerous publications. (source: Coney Island History Project)
Mr. Denson is also a licensed tour guide and gives tours in the Coney Island neighborhood. He also has put together the Coney Island History Project with a goal of preserving the history of this ever changing neighborhood.