The Wonder Wheel is a 150-foot (46 m) tall eccentric Ferris wheel located at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States. The wheel is located on a plot bounded by West 12th Street to the west, Bowery Street to the north, Luna Park to the east, and the Riegelmann Boardwalk to the south. Some of the Wonder Wheel's passenger cabins are not fixed directly to the rim of the wheel, but instead slide on rails between the hub and the rim as the wheel rotates.
It was built in 1920 as one of several Ferris wheels on Coney Island, and was originally operated by Herman J. Garms Sr. Despite subsequent financial and economic troubles at Coney Island, the Wonder Wheel has continued to operate throughout the years. In 1983 it was sold to the Vourderis family, who continues to operate the wheel today. Since 1989 the Wonder Wheel has been an official New York City designated landmark.
The Wonder Wheel was designed by Charles Herman as an improvement on G.W.G. Ferris' giant wheel. At the time of the Wonder Wheel's construction, Coney Island was one of the largest amusement areas in the United States.:4 The first Ferris wheel in Coney Island was built for nearby Steeplechase Park in 1894 and was erroneously billed as "the world's largest". Several variations of the Ferris wheel would be erected in the neighborhood before the Wonder Wheel was built for Herman J. Garms, Sr. between 1918 and 1920 by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company. The Wonder Wheel was unusual in that only one-third of its 24 cars were stationary, while the other two-thirds rolled on a track within the wheel itself.:4
The wheel was opened on Memorial Day, 1920. Herman originally called it the "Dip-the-Dip", promising to combine in his new invention the thrill of a scenic railway, the fun of a Ferris wheel, and the excitement of the Chute-the-Chutes. An article written about the ride in Science and Invention said the Wheel was a "real thrill like you have probably never had before—at least not at this great height." Coney Island started to decline during the mid-20th century, and by 1964, it had seen its lowest number of visitors in 25 years. Despite subsequent failed attempts to redevelop the area as a casino area or theme park, the Wonder Wheel continued to operate. Furthermore, it had not had any significant incidents in its history, making it a relatively well-off ride when other Coney Island attractions were closing.
Fred Garms, whose father Herman had been the Wonder Wheel's first owner-operator, was looking to sell the wheel by 1983, as he was getting older and unable to manage the wheel. At the time, Deno D. Vourderis had been interested in buying the wheel whenever Garms was willing to sell. At the time, Vourderis was in a hospital recovering from a stabbing attack, but Garms approached Deno's son Dennis on the possibility of purchasing the ride. On June 7, 1983, Vourderis bought the Wonder Wheel from Garms, and it became "Deno's Wonder Wheel". The Vourderis family restored the Wheel and made it the central attraction of Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. They spent $250,000 to restore the wheel, in addition to the $250,000 cost of buying it. Vourderis stated that part of the wheel's allure had come from when he had proposed to his later-wife Lula atop the wheel almost four decades earlier, he had promised to give the wheel to his wife as a future gift.
In 1989, the Wonder Wheel was made a New York City designated landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. By the early 1990s, the Wonder Wheel had offered free advertising space to the McDonald's fast-food chain, which had two franchises near the wheel. Fearing that the distinctive McDonald's logo would overshadow the Wonder Wheel itself, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted against allowing a McDonald's logo on the wheel, despite allowing Vourderis to put "Deno's" above the "Wonder Wheel" sign on the wheel's hub. Upon Deno's death in the mid-1990s, control of the wheel and the amusement park passed to Dennis Vourderis. In the 2000s, Deno's grandchildren also became involved in the operation of the wheel. Despite the redevelopment of Coney Island and the erection of the nearby Luna Park in 2010, the wheel and associated amusement park continued to operate. The Wonder Wheel received a new solar-powered lighting system in 2012, replacing a lighting system that had been broken for three decades. Even during the aftermath of 2012's Hurricane Sandy, when Deno's Amusement Park was flooded, the Wonder Wheel was only slightly damaged and went into operation the next year.
As of 2019[update], Dennis Vourderis and his brother Steve continue to operate the Wonder Wheel and the amusement park. Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park is the last family-operated amusement park in Coney Island, and as such, Dennis and Steve personally operate the Wheel and the park. Even though several developers have made offers for the amusement park and wheel, the Vourderis family has refused to sell.
The Wonder Wheel is 150 feet (46 m) tall, weighs 200 short tons (180 long tons) and is powered by a 40 horsepower (30 kW) motor.:4 It has 24 fully enclosed passenger cars, each able to carry six people, giving a total capacity of 144 passengers. Sixteen of the cars slide inward on a snaking track, falling outward as the wheel rotates. The remaining eight cars are fixed to the rim, giving a traditional Ferris wheel experience to passengers.:4 Since it opened, over 35 million rides have been taken on the Wheel. A ride on the Wonder Wheel costs 10 credits; the cost of each credit varies depending on how many is purchased, but generally costs $1 if purchased individually.
The Wonder Wheel's entrance plaza is composed of a steel structure with plywood-and-corrugated metal. The hub of the wheel, supported by two blue-painted legs shaped like the letter "A", contains a neon sign with orange letters spelling "wonder wheel" in all capital letters. There are sixteen spokes extending from the hub, each connected at their outer ends by a hexadecagonal frame and braced by green beams, each connected through rivets and gusset plates. The eight stationary cars on the hexadecagonal frame are painted white while the sixteen motion-capable cars are painted red-and-yellow or blue-and-yellow. At West 12th Street is a neon sign weighing 700 pounds (320 kg), overhangs the sidewalk by 7.5 feet (2.3 m), and is raised 10 feet (3.0 m) above the sidewalk; the sign contains letters spelling "wonder wheel" and arrows pointing to the actual wheel. Yet another Wonder Wheel sign with arrows is located on a southern approach to the wheel.:5
The Wonder Wheel has not had any significant incidents in its history. This is due to the fact that the ride is overhauled and painted each year, to protect it from the harsh weather associated with New York winters. The only time the wheel stopped while not under the control of the operator was during the New York City blackout on July 13, 1977. However, since Wonder Wheel has its own electricity, the owners cranked the wheel around to evacuate the passengers.
Pixar Pal-A-Round, also formerly known as Sun Wheel and Mickey’s Fun Wheel, is a 48.8-metre (160 ft) tall eccentric Ferris wheel at Disney California Adventure. There was also a replica in Yokohama Dreamland, Japan.
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- "VISIT US". DENO'S WONDER WHEEL. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
- Kamil, Seth I.; Wakin, Eric (2005). The Big Onion Guide to Brooklyn: Ten Historic Walking Tours. NYU Press. ISBN 9780814747858.
- Fretts, Bruce (October 4, 2017). "New Trailer: 'Wonder Wheel' From Woody Allen". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
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