Destination Coney Island
|Adam Phillips||April 26th 2013|
Last October, when Hurricane Sandy slammed the east coast of the United States with powerful winds, sea surges and flooding, it threatened the lives and livelihoods of thousands who live and work in coastal areas like Coney Island in Brooklyn.
Through the winter, members of the Vourderis family cleaned up, reimagined and rebuilt their iconic Coney Island attractions for opening day in 2013. For over a century, Coney Island has been known for fun, relaxation and seaside thrills.
But that dreamland turned into a nightmare for the Vourderis family on October 29, when a massive sea surge flooded their rides and games. Their century-old Wonder Wheel and Spook House, from 1955, were nearly destroyed. “When we got here and saw the devastation, it was like a death, figuratively like a death," said Deno Vourderis, a third generation worker in his family-owned business. "I mean figuratively like a death because a lot of the stuff has history."
But the family resolved to rebuild. Deno worked with a five-man crew he has known since he was a boy. They assisted his father, co-owner Steve Vourderis, who directed the clean-up and restoration. "We’re men and we do what we have to do. We get it done," Vourderis said.
Steve’s brother Dennis Vourderis handled logistics and finances. He says the family had to borrow a huge amount of money to pay for repairs and new equipment. “But what hurts more is when you have an old piece of equipment that has been around for 70 or 80 years that was underwater and you know it can’t be restored. So that’s especially painful to throw away," he said.
Three months of solid labor later, the Wonder Wheel is refashioned, the kiddie rides are buffed up, and the Scary House’s gimmicks have been restored or replaced. The Vourderis family felt they were ready for Coney Island’s opening day.
“We kept a couple of the old relics, but a lot of it is new. All new mechanics, all new haunts. So, you know, the silver lining is if you come by this summer you’re gonna have a lot of new stuff to see," Deno Vourderis said. Coney Island's rebirth became reality in March when dignitaries and New Yorkers came together on the famous boardwalk for Opening Day. And the Vourderis family offered up fun, free of charge.
"I couldn't be happier. Everything worked out the way we wanted it to work out . All the rides are up and running. Wonder Wheel is at 100 percent. So I couldn’t be happier," said Deno Vourderis. Much of what Hurricane Sandy destroyed has been rebuilt. Still, it's probably safe to say that nowhere have the results been more fun than in Coney Island.
Adam Phillips writes for VOA, from where this article is adapted.