Big (Wonder) Wheel Keeps On Turning—After 85 Years
When John Fogerty wrote “Big wheel keep on turning…” for the song “Proud Mary” that became a huge hit for his band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, almost 40 years ago, he was referring to a riverboat’s paddle wheel. Nevertheless, that line is also applicable to Deno’s Wonder Wheel, the 150-foot high, 140-foot wide structure on the Boardwalk at West 12th Street in Coney Island that is celebrating its 85th birthday.
Last week a gala birthday tribute was held to mark the occasion with a ceremony capped off with a ribbon-cutting by P.S. 379 fifth grader John Bernard, who submitted the winning design for the attraction’s 85th birthday t-shirt, as owners Dennis and Steve Vourderis and their mother, Lula, looked on.
The 200-ton Wonder Wheel debuted in 1920, after two years of planning and construction and before the Boardwalk even existed. Since then it has entertained more than 30 million riders without a single mishap. It was declared a New York City landmark in 1989, six years after the Vourderis family purchased it.
On a clear day, like last Thursday, Wonder Wheel riders enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean to the south and the New York City skyline to the north.
The only time the wheel has ever had a stoppage was on July 13, 1977 during the massive blackout that affected New York City and the entire northeastern United States.
As the world turned, enduring two World Wars, the Depression, the Cold War and the Space Race, the Wonder Wheel’s durability remained intact. The Wonder Wheel is still awe-inspiring to riders, as well as spectators, and, like the mighty riverboat queen, “Proud Mary,” is still turning after all those years.
Photos by Neil S. Friedman