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Archive for March, 2011

New View

After the Demolition: New View of Surf Ave in Coney Island. February 11, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In the words of T.S. Eliot: “April is the cruellest month…” Last April, Joe Sitt of Thor Equities announced plans to demolish the buildings he owned along Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Now when visitors step out of Stillwell Terminal, their first glimpse of Coney Island will be the blue construction fence surrounding Joe Sitt’s Wasteland–the newest empty lot in the real-estate speculator’s collection of empty lots. The temporary one-story building that Sitt filed a variety of plans to build beginning in October has yet to break ground because the DOB “DISAPPROVED” the plans as many as 16 times over the past six months.

Surf and Stillwell was the site of the now-demolished, century-old Henderson Music Hall. The Henderson had survived being cut in half in the 1920s to make way for the widening of Stillwell Avenue. When the City rezoned the parcel for a high-rise “hotel” in July 2009, the historic building was doomed, even though no hotel is scheduled to be built there anytime soon. At the end of the 2010 season, longtime tenants Popeye’s Chicken, Fascination Arcade and Maritza’s Souvenirs were booted out and haven’t been heard from since.

Thor’s proposed construction is a “ONE STORY NEW COMMERCIAL BUILDING WITH ASSEMBLY AND AMUSEMENT SPACES AS INDICATED ON PLANS FILED HEREWITH.” If you look under “plan examination” you’ll see that they have filed for a variety of types of permits (equipment, new building, general construction, foundation & earthworks, fencing) with a corresponding number of disapprovals for each.

Coney Island

Post No Bills: Thor Equities Empty Lot at Corner of Surf & Stillwell, Coney Island. February 28, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

As shown under “all permits,” they have applied for and been issued permits for Foundations, Earthwork, and a Construction Fence in connection with the project. This will allow them to do the excavation and pour the foundations for the job, even while the New Building and other applications remain disapproved.

Last April, Thor Equities released a rendering of a cheesy looking temporary one-story building occupied by hamburger and taco food joints. And a statement: “With the work we are commencing today, by Memorial Day, 2011, all of our parcels along Surf Avenue are scheduled to be activated with family-friendly games, food, shopping and other activities that visitors to, and residents of, Coney are clamoring for….”

Thinkwell rendering

Thinkwell's rendering for Thor's Temporary One-Story Building in Coney Island. April 2010

When we first read about Thor’s plan and saw the rendering in Eliot Brown’s piece in the Observer–”The New Coney Island? Sitt Sees Fast Food in Place of Current Buildings”–we thought Thinkwell, a well-known firm in the themed entertainment industry, should be renamed Thinkworst for creating this crappy rendering for the gateway to Coney Island. Thor’s plan to get demo permits from the City seemed calculated to put an end to Save Coney Island’s efforts to create an historic district in Coney Island.

Coney Island

Joe Sitt's Newest Empty Lot (Site of Demolished Henderson Building), Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Last April, ATZ complained about “Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents and Deathwatch for Historic Buildings” (ATZ, April 21, 2010). The bedraggled tenting was removed and the City put up fence wraps with colorful advertisements for Coney attractions to camouflage the empty lots. We’re curious to see what kind of bills if any will be posted on Thor’s blue construction fence. Posters for Aqueduct Flea by the Sea?

UPDATE April 4, 2011:

Some readers have questioned whether Thor Equities ever really intended to build anything on the site. Were the building plans just an excuse to get a permit to demolish the Henderson? Why didn’t Thor’s architects resubmit a plan that would win DOB approval? Six months of disapprovals seems like an inordinately long time.

ATZ asked someone in the building trade to take a look at the DOB page and give an opinion. Here it is: it IS strange that they had so many disapprovals for what seems like such a simple building, and i have to think that if they are proceeding with foundations, they either think they are about to get the new building application approved, or they are sensing some change in the regulatory environment and want to get the foundations in so that they can claim to be “vested”. who knows what that would be in this case, but does seem like a lot of trouble to go thru for a one story building (am sure they’re thinking the same thing).

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December 20, 2010: Displaced Queens Flea Vendors Eye Coney Island’s Vacant Lots

September 24, 2010: Coney Island Cat Is Last Tenant of Henderson Building

April 21, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings

June 7, 2010: Fence Wrap Advertising Comes to Coney Island’s Stillwell Avenue

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View of Stillwell Avenue East in Coney Island. February 28, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Is Thor Equities defunct Flea by the Sea about to become Aqueduct by the Sea? The City’s and Central Amusement International’s new Scream Zone amusement park may be getting a flea market as a next-door neighbor. The buzz in Coney Island is that the vendors from the displaced Aqueduct Flea Market are prepared to lease Thor’s Stillwell Avenue lots, which are adjacent to the City-owned land. The tent frames from 2009′s Flea by the Sea remain standing, though the lots were vacant last season. If all goes smoothly with the process of securing permits from the City, vendors from the City’s largest flea market may set up their wares on property next to the new high thrill rides. Um, so was this part of the Coney Island Development Corporation’s Strategic Plan? Is shopping at a flea by the sea what the city planner really meant by “entertainment retail”?

Since ATZ first reported the news in “Displaced Queens Flea Vendors Eye Coney Island’s Vacant Lots” (ATZ, December 20, 2010), nobody has followed up on the story. But Queens vendors who are coming to check out the Coney Island location helped keep the story alive for me. I figured the rumored deal would fall through due to high rent and onerous lease terms. Hey, maybe it will still fall through! Last May, Tennessee-based Universal Fairs plan to lease Thor’s lots for an amusement park fell through for those very reasons. The flea management is currently working to secure the permits. To be clear, it is not the operator of the Aqueduct Flea Market, but individuals who helped manage the flea market and know how to run such a business, who are trying to put together the deal.

Coney Island hasn’t seen a flea market since 2009, when Thor Equities inflicted Festival by the Sea aka Flea by the Sea on Stillwell Avenue. The flea market featured an array of incongruous items and was a spectacular flop. Just look at my Flea by the Sea flickr set –automotive supplies, bathtub remodeling, shoes galore at anchor store #7. Yeah, they had cheap sunglasses, cellphone cases, T-shirts and beach towels, too.

Shoes Galore at Anchor Store # 7 at Joe Sitt's Flea by the Sea. July 12, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In 2001, the Giuliani administration repeatedly ticketed and finally got rid of the flea market that had operated on the north side of Surf since the 1980s. The headline in the Daily News read “CONEY SMALL BIZ BLITZ STORM OF TICKETS TIED TO DEBUT OF CYCLONES.” One vendor alludes to the previously unenforced zoning: “The city is telling us that we’re in the wrong zone. We’ve been in this wrong zone for 25 years, and now they say we have to stop doing business.”

At Thor’s flea market, I felt really sad walking on the hallowed ground where amusements had existed for more than 100 years until Joe Sitt bought the property and bulldozed everything. Stillwell Avenue, where the Tornado Roller coaster (1927-1977), the Bobsled (1941-1974), and Stauch’s Baths and Dance Hall (1930-1998) once stood, where Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City amused the zillion until Joe Sitt emptied out the amusements.

This is not the place for a flea market. Some people would say to me, well it’s better than an empty lot. I can’t agree. Sadly, many amusement operators tried but failed to rent the property from Thor. I always felt the gi-normous enclosed tents were part of Thor Equities strategy to win a variance for 10,000 square foot retail from the next administration. The City made a huge mistake not to have driven a better bargain with Joe Sitt and bought all of Stillwell instead of merely half of it.

Thor Equities Flea Market in Coney Island. June 6, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

UPDATE April 5, 2011:

ATZ learned that event organizer Will McCarthy, who already applied for a Temporary Place of Assembly Permit for the market from the DOB, will meet with City officials on Thursday in hopes of speeding along necessary approvals from the FDNY and DEP. Sources say a meeting with the Brooklyn Borough President to discuss the “BK Festival’s” plans is also on this week’s schedule. Read more at “Thor’s Coney Island: Joe Sitt Scores Puff Piece in NY Times,” ATZ, April 5, 2011.

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Related posts on ATZ…

May 26, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Make Dismal Debut

May 4, 2011: Thor Equities Touts Coney Island as “RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME”

May 13, 2010: Scoop: Deal to Rent Thor’s Coney Island Lots a No-Go for Fair Producer

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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Die Cut Tag from Coney Island's Bostock Arena in Dreamland circa 1904. Courtesy of eBay Seller monsonantiques

We’ve been too busy to blog the past few days, much less browse on eBay. Luckily we found out about the auction of this century-old souvenir of Coney Island’s Bostock Arena via the blog ephemera. The circa 1904 tag depicts famed animal trainer and menagerist Frank C Bostock, whose show was a featured attraction at Coney Island’s Dreamland Park. The reverse side of the tag trumpets the 25-cent show as “Positively the Most Wonderful Wild Animal Exhibition in the World” and notes that “All Bostock’s Patrons Enter Dreamland Free.”

Seller monsonantiques has this rare item up for bid on eBay, where four bidders are vying for it in an auction that ends on Wednesday, March 23rd. The high bid is currently over $150, but that’s peanuts. We’ve seen tickets and advertising tags for Coney’s early rides and attractions sell for several hundred dollars. Good luck to everyone who plans to jump in!

Bostock was a third-generation showman who came to New York from his native England in 1893. He and his partners the Ferari Brothers first set up their carnival on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and then moved to Coney Island. The show featured animal acts, sideshow curiosities, concession games, and such early amusement rides as an English gondola and a carousel.

According to the University of Sheffield’s National Fairground Archive, “The elaborate carved fronts of the wild animal shows Frank Bostock brought from England, some of them made by Burton-upon-Trent company Orton and Spooner, served as the prototype for wagon-mounted show fronts on American carnivals for the next half century.” Since the company toured New England in 1896, historians credit Bostock and his partners with introducing the traveling carnival concept to America. As a former carny kid, this aspect of Bostock’s career holds greater interest for me than his exploits as the best-known lion tamer of his day or his many narrow escapes from death.

If you’d like to read an engaging biographical essay, we recommend “Frank C. Bostock – The Animal King of Abney Park Cemetery.” Bostock died of the flu in England in 1912, more than a year after the fire that destroyed Coney Island’s Dreamland Park. His tomb at Stoke Newington in London is a magnificent marble lion.

UPDATE March 24, 2011:

The tag sold for $386.99 with the winning bid placed in the last few seconds of the auction!

Bostock Arena, Dreamland, Coney Island, N.Y. circa 1905. Library of Congress

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 9, 2011: Inexhaustible Cows & Bottomless Cups of Chocolate Milk

January 24, 2011: Artifact of the Day: Souvenir of Henderson’s Restaurant

December 19, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Original Coney Island Motordrome Bike

November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola

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