After more than 50 years, the fabulous lightbulb lettering on the front of Faber’s Fascination, an arcade that was one of Coney Island’s oldest year-round businesses, will no longer light up Surf Avenue. The arcade’s last day of business was Labor Day. On Tuesday, arcade machines were being hauled out and trucked away. The sign is the last vestige of Nat Faber’s arcade empire, which dates back to the 1930’s, though the Fabers got into the business in the early 20th century. The iconic marquee is on the front of the historic Henderson Building, owned by Thor Equities and currently being subjected to pre-demolition asbestos abatement. Faber’s was the last remaining tenant in the building.
Nat Faber’s arcade once occupied the entire first floor of the Henderson Building. Faber’s Sportland had the corner location where Popeye’s Chicken flourished for the past two decades. Faber’s amusement empire once encompassed arcades on Coney’s Boardwalk and at Surf and Kensington Walk, as well as Rockaway’s Playland, Long Beach in Long Island and the heart of Times Square. In 1935, according to a report in the Billboard, “Following a year’s preparation, Nat Faber opened the showiest sportland in New York’s Times Square. Flags and bunting decorated the front and a series of ads in the New York Times heralded the opening. This is the fourth sportland Faber opened between 1933-1935.”
In 1939, Faber’s Fascination in the Henderson Building got its name written in blazing, chasing lights! By the early 1950’s the arcade was advertised as the only air-conditioned place of its kind in Coney Island. Nat Faber installed 48 new Fascination tables and new balls, and flashed the place with merchandise brought in from Los Angeles. He prided himself on having the top mike man in Coney Island. Faber’s Fortune next door got redone as Faber’s Sportland with Skeeball, Shuffle Alleys and Pokerino.
Stan Fox, whose brother operated four arcades in Coney island, recalls Faber telling him, “There isn’t room on the Boardwalk for another arcade.” Stan’s brother coolly replied, “You’d better shut yours down.” In those days, Coney Island was busy enough to accommodate more than one Fascination parlor. In addition to Faber’s, there was Moe’s Fascination operated by Moe and Sadie Silverman. There was Eddie’s Fascination. A lot of people ask Stan Fox, who was Eddie? If you know, please drop us a line. But Faber’s was the one with longevity. The location in the Henderson Building was operated by the Faber family until 1971 or 72.
“When Hy Singer bought the building he tripled the rent,” says Fox, who notes that Nat Faber’s son Stanford, then in his 40s, struggled to keep the business going. “I don’t know if it was the stress, but he had a stroke and a few weeks later he died.” While the game Fascination hasn’t been played at the Surf arcade for decades, the sign, and its twin, Faber’s Playland, remained. Somebody, anybody, please rescue the Fascination sign! We contacted Tod Swormstedt, founder of the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, who assured us that this type of sign can be saved.
Too bad the City doomed the Henderson building as well as the former Bank of Coney Island to demolition last July by rezoning the parcels for 30-story high rise “hotels.” If ATZ had a dollar for every time we’ve used the word “doomed” to describe a building owned by Joe Sitt, we could buy a round of Coney Island lagers for everyone in the Freak Bar and proceed to cry in our beer. Instead we urge you to join Save Coney Island’s David vs. Goliath effort to convince the powers that be to re-purpose the building as part of a historic district. Last month the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation wrote that “the historic core of Coney Island appears to meet the criteria for listing to the Registers as a historic district.”
UPDATE September 11, 2010:
As we noted yesterday in the comments below, the letters have been removed from the Fascination sign and the two Sportland signs! The signs are being dismantled piece by piece and saved from Thor’s demolition by Carl Muraco, who owns the arcade. He told ATZ that he plans to sell the letters and possibly the entire Fascination sign if there is a buyer for it. The arcade machines are also for sale. We hope that these Coney Island artifacts end up in the collections of people who appreciate them, including the Faber family. We’re happy the arcade owner was able to take down and “save” the signs from demolition. At the same time, it’s heartbreaking to see the building being emptied of tenants and stripped of its personality. The sign on Popeye’s was also removed. It makes the impending date with Thor Equities’ wrecking ball seem that much closer. As soon as the ongoing asbestos abatement is completed and certified, Thor will be able to get a demolition permit.
Related posts on ATZ…
November 29, 2011: Fascination: From Coney Island to Nantasket Beach