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The B & B Carousell: Restoring a Piece of Coney Island’s Past

b b carousel coney islandThis past weekend, two of Coney Island’s historic and iconic rides, the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, opened for the 2009 season. The B & B Carousell, Coney Island’s third operating historic ride, however, is still undergoing a thorough restoration in Ohio. The restoration work includes its 50 hand-carved horses and two chariots, as well as its 66-key German-made Bruder Gebruder organ. When it is restored to its former glory and reinstalled in City’s new Steeplechase Plaza, its grand re-opening will be well worth the wait. Although Coney Island was once filled with as many as 24 hand-carved carousels, only the B & B Carousell survived to the twenty-first century. Originally built in 1919 in Coney Island, it spent its first decade and a half in New Jersey, possibly in Asbury Park before being purchased in the 1930s by William Bishoff and Herman Brienstein. These gentlemen renamed it the “B & B Carousell” (with the two “L”s) and moved it to the north side of Surf Avenue in the Coney Island’s amusement district where it remained in operation until the early 2000s, long after all of the amusements on the north side of the Surf Avenue had closed around it. After the untimely death of its then-owner, the City purchased the carousel in 2005 and started its journey towards restoration and re-installation. The B & B Carousell is one of Coney Island’s most important historic resources. It is truly a product of Coney Island during its heyday. The carousel was the work of William F. Mangels, a builder and an inventor of early-20th-century amusement rides with a workshop on 5th Street and Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Among other important amusement inventions, Mangels patented a new type of gearing that improved the up and down movement of non-stationary horses. While Mangels conceived and perfected carousels’ operations, he employed carvers to create his carousels’ aesthetics. For the B & B Carousell, Mangels used Marcus Charles Illions and Charles Carmel, both considered to be expert carvers in their day and known for their mastery of the exuberant “Coney Island Style.” Today, the B & B Carousell is one of only 12 Carmel carousels remaining (another one is located in Prospect Park). It is also one of only 16 remaining carousels in America where riders can strive to “grab the brass ring.” MAS has asked the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the carousel as a landmark, along with other remaining historic structures in Coney Island’s amusement area.