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Coney Island Wonder Wheel Still Waiting for Its 100th Birthday Party
Denos Wonder Wheel set to Celebrate 100 years in 2020
Everything was in place for a boom year for Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island New York. The local economy boomed, gentrification and development, reinvestment, gentrification and an influx of new families in the Tri-State region had revived Coney Island for the 21st century. The Coney Island Boardwalk and one its key anchors had seen consecutive years of growth, higher attendance and higher spending.
The summer of 2020 promised another highlight, the centennial of the park’s Wonder Wheel. One of the most famous Ferris Wheels on the planet – recently featured in the 2017 Woody Allen movie of the same name – the Wonder Wheel is iconic, a signature image in any picture of the Coney Island skyline. Ever since Gatsby passed Coney Island driving from West Egg Long Island into Manhattan, the Wonder Wheel has been part of American culture.
One of the largest wheels in the world at the time, the 150’ tall Wonder Wheel was unusual in that only one-third of its 24 cars were stationary, while the other two-thirds rolled on tracks within the wheel itself.
In 1989, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declared the wheel a landmark. While 2012's Hurricane Sandy flooded the entire area, the wheel reopened the next season. But a global pandemic did what an extreme weather event could not. Its 100th birthday party, a three-day bash on Memorial Day Weekend that featured tie-ins with Broadway Shows, and events throughout the summer, was postponed when quarantine measures shuttered all businesses deemed non-essential.
“We were planning the centennial for more than a year, and when we couldn’t open obviously we had to change those plans,” said Dennis Vourderis, who owns and operates the amusement park with his brother Steve. Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park is considered the last family-operated amusement park in Coney Island.
But the birthday celebration of one of the most recognizable pieces of ride equipment in the Northeast, like the opening of the park itself and the restaurants, entertainment centers, souvenir & beach shops and most other businesses, remained closed due to COVID-19.
Vourderis has reinvested more than $40 million in recent years, on new rides, additional food concessions, such as a sweet shot, an updated ticket & computerized debit card system and of course making the wheel birthday ready. “We made several enhancements to our operation. We bought a piece of property and were able to expand the amusement park.”