Coney Island

Benches were named in honor of Coney locals. The community had no idea.

The mystery memorials along the boardwalk ended up being part of a city program.

November 5, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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A pair of Coney Island park benches were recently named for lifelong employees of the amusement area. But families of the honorees — and the local community board tasked with reviewing other tributes such as street co-namings — had no idea it was happening.

Members of Community Board 13 lamented at an Oct. 10 meeting of the group’s parks committee that they hadn’t been told about a bench outside of Paul’s Daughter’s Restaurant being named for Paul Georgoulakos, the founder of the historic Riegelmann Boardwalk eatery formerly known as Gregory and Paul’s.

When the issue surfaced, committee member Dennis Vourderis revealed that he had also been blindsided by a bench dedication. After his mother Lula’s passing in February, a pew opposite of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park was named for the 87-year-old family matriarch.

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According to meeting minutes, Vourderis, son of park founder Denos Vourderis, told the committee that he is grateful for the tribute, but he didn’t ask for it and he didn’t have any idea it was coming until after it was done.

“We were just concerned that, is it something that’s coming from the Parks Department or a private company, and if it’s a private company, why are they taking advantage of city property?” CB13 District Manager Eddie Mark told the Brooklyn Eagle. He and other board members penned a letter to the New York City Parks Department asking for clarity.

“We’re sure it’s the Parks Department and that they have it under control but we wrote them a letter just asking for some clarification and future communication so that we’re not continuously shocked by these renamings,” he said.

It turns out, the dedications were done through the Parks Department’s under-the-radar Adopt-A-Bench program, a donor-driven dedication initiative that’s arguably underutilized.

“This is just another way to remember people,” Mark told the Eagle, adding that, while the dedications can certainly come from family members, they can also be made anonymously, “which is probably what happened here.”

Unlike street co-namings — which go through local community boards, that may state their support before the application heads to the City Council for approval —Adopt-A-Bench applications go through the Parks Department directly, unless a requested location falls within the purview of a park conservancy.

If approved (and for a starting price of $1,500), the agency will install a plaque engraved with a personal message on the bench and maintain it for the next 10 years, the approximate life of a city park bench.

“Apparently it’s been around for 25 years but no one around here really takes advantage of it,” Mark said.

In 2018, 86 benches across the city were named as part of the program — 14 of them in Brooklyn, according to the Parks Department. Year-to-date, 71 have been transformed into tributes, with just five of them in Brooklyn.

“Our Adopt-a-Bench programs offers opportunities to leave a mark in your favorite city park,” Parks Department spokesperson Anessa Hodgens told the Eagle. “Through the program, donors can adopt a bench that features a customized plaque to honor, memorialize or even woo a loved one. From marriage proposals, memorials, birthday wishes, to miscellaneous notes — you can share a NYC Parks-approved message.”

According to Hodgens, the program has seen more than 350 benches named since Fiscal Year 2007, and it brings in more than $100,000 annually for general park maintenance and operations.

CB13’s district manager was admittedly relieved to learn about the program, though he said he hopes more people — especially Brooklynites — make use of it in the future.

“Now that we know where these memorials came from, I think we can all agree that it’s a great program,” he said. “I just think more people should know about it.”

Correction (Nov. 6 at 10:45 a.m.): A previous version of this article mislabeled members of the Vourderis family. The Eagle regrets the error.

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