With Mayor Bloomberg, Councilman Domenic Recchia and other electeds responsible for the rezoning of Coney Island leaving office in 120 days, and their would-be successors campaigning for the September 10th Primary, it’s time to look at the City’s accomplishments in Coney Island and what has yet to be done. The New Coney Island. We’ll also take a look at some of the casualties as well as some of the survivors of the July 2009 rezoning. ATZ hopes to cover these topics in a series of posts over the next couple of months.
Let’s start with the Surf Avenue side of Jones Walk, the last of Coney Island’s historic walks. Before Thor, it used to be a vibrant and authentic place, a midway of midways. Now “the Walk” looks like a victim of a split personality disorder. The City-owned east side of Jones Walk, re-activated by Luna Park with cute carnival games and a few food stands, and Thor Equities-owned west side, vacant since 2009, offers a stark contrast between Coney’s largest property owners. While the City has brought in replacement amusements, Thor–whose slogan for a time was “Coney Island, Retail Ride of a Lifetime”– has gotten rid of amusements.
You’d never know from looking at it, but the building on the west corner of the Walk is Coney Island’s oldest, the circa 1880s Grashorn Building. Originally Henry Grashorn’s hardware store, the building later housed shooting galleries, arcades, and cotton candy and taffy stands. Now it’s a victim of the continuing decimation of the amusement area by Thor CEO Joe Sitt. The Grashorn building fronts Surf Avenue and extends along the west side of the walk, yet this location has remained vacant and devoid of activity for five seasons. WHY? A business owner who had leased a small stand on the Walk from Thor in 2008 told us in 2009 that the rent had tripled from $8,000 to $24,000. He declined the space and left Coney Island, never to return.
Since then, the Grashorn has fallen victim to squatters, blight and burst water pipes. A parade of sideshow operators and arcade owners tried but failed to lease the Jones Walk space from Thor. The only use that it has seen since we started blogging in 2009 was as a set for HBO’s Bored to Death (2011) and an office for the production company filming Men in Black 3 (2012).
Meanwhile, on the east side of the walk are carnival games, including the comical “Stinky Feet” water race, newly installed this year by Luna Park on property leased by the City to Zamperla in 2012. The city displaced independent operators with an RFP for a single operator to renovate and re-activate the property. The result was a few unsavory operators got the boot while the good guys relocated to City-owned or private property elsewhere in Coney.
We’re lucky the Grashorn Building is still standing. Unlike the Bank of Coney Island, the Surf Hotel and the Henderson Building, which Sitt demolished, the Grashorn parcel at Surf Ave and Jones Walk was not rezoned by the City for a 30-story high rise hotel. There’s also the fact that the building is just a few doors away from Luna Park’s entrance. And there’s also the fact the City owns the east side of Jones Walk. The demolition of the Grashorn would have created a desolate empty lot right next to the City’s showcase amusement park and completely killed business on the Walk.
In Coney Island: Lost and Found, historian Charles Denson writes that the building at 1104 Surf dates back to the 1880’s and the Grashorn hardware store served Coney Island’s amusement businesses for more than 60 years: “The clapboard façade, dormers, cast iron resting, chimneys and fish-scale shingles were removed when the building was renovated in the 1980s but the mansard roof retains its shape.”
What will be the fate of Coney Island’s historic Jones Walk and its oldest building under the next administration? Will Thor Equities’ property remain vacant? Will it be sold? Will Joe Sitt seek a zoning variance from the next administration for this property or for any of his vacant lots? To be continued…
Related posts on ATZ…
June 18, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Shoe Store Invades Amusement Area
December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?
October 7, 2012: ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island