The day after the devastating fire at Coney Island Arcade, workers were busy clearing away debris and cutting planks to enclose the building at Bowery and 12th Street. We joined a group of amusement operators and owners surveying the damage and lamenting the terrible loss of our friend Manny’s arcade. Manny Cohen, owner and operator of Coney Island Arcade, was en route to New York after attending an amusement expo in China. His friends on Coney’s Bowery had stayed up all night guarding the contents of the arcade. Lights from the rides across the street shone into the open arcade. The FDNY had to saw open the metal shutters and break through the roof to fight the stubborn fire, which took more than two-and-a-half hours to put out.
One amusement operator alleged the fire was caused by the use of a propane torch by roofers who had been tarring the arcade’s roof on May 5th, the day of the fire. He claimed that when the roofers showed up the next day a fire marshal was waiting to arrest them. A quick search on the web turned up the info that it is illegal to use a propane torch on a combustible roof. According to an article by NYARM (New York Association of Realty Managers), “New York City Fire Chief Marshal Louis Garcia, Bureau of Fire Investigation, issued a directive, effective June 22, 1999, regarding what he described as ‘the reckless and illegal practice of using propane torches in installing modified roofing material on combustible [wood deck] roofs, and establishing guidelines for the arrest and prosecution of individuals and companies responsible for this reckless behavior. The penalty for violating these rules, built into the rules themselves, is arrest for endangerment of property. Further, anyone sanctioning the illegal use of propane on roofs, including board members, engineers or architects, attorneys who draw up contracts, managing agents and roofing companies, can all be subject to arrest!’”
Another operator recalled that some of Coney Island’s most notorious fires had been caused by roof tarring. The Hell Gate fire which destroyed Dreamland Park in 1911 was among them. Hell Gate was a boat ride through the caverns of hell. “The fire started around 2 A.M., from an explosion of some light bulbs that were near a pail of tar in the Hellgate that was being repaired. Built of pine, paper mache and freshly painted for the new season, the fire spread very quickly,” according to the FDNY’s unofficial history page.
The Coney Island Arcade occupied a century-old timber frame building. Sources say the structure was damaged beyond repair by the fire and will have to be torn down. The building is owned by Jeff Persily. Just to clarify a popular misconception: Real estate speculator Joe Sitt of Thor Equities does not own the building, though he does own the adjacent Bank of Coney Island Building.
We’re told the arcade machines suffered water damage and are a total loss. Coney Island Arcade’s water race game, balloon dart and other games occupy an adjoining steel frame building, which was not damaged by the fire. The games are already open for business today.
Will Coney Island Arcade be rebuilt and back in business anytime soon? We hope so. It’s painful to see a burned out building where a thriving business was just last weekend. It will be painful to see this corner become an empty lot. The fire is a huge loss, not only for Manny Cohen, but for the entire amusement community in Coney Island. We hope the building owner takes a cue from the activity just down the street, where workers are laboring round the clock to finish the new Luna Park in time for the May 29th grand opening.
Related posts on ATZ…
May 6, 2010: Suspicious Fire at Coney Island Arcade Building
January 2, 2010: Photo Album: Coney Island Boardwalk, New Year’s Day 2010
August 15, 2009: Coney Island Carnival Games: My Photo Album