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Archive for the ‘historic preservation’ Category

Burger Girl

Burger Girl at Paul’s Daughter, Coney Island. November 13, 2010. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Have you seen Mama Burger? It seems that she was swept off the roof of Paul’s Daughter on the Coney Island Boardwalk by Hurricane Sandy. We’re not sure of her exact size but she’s smaller than Papa Burger who anchors the other end of the roof. He is 10 feet tall, 6 feet wide, and weighs 250 pounds. The Burger figures known as the “A & W Root Beer Family” were first made in the 1963 and are catalogued on Debra Jane Seltzer’s website RoadsideArchitecture.com.

On Tuesday, Mama’s burger was spotted at West 15th Street by a photographer but Mama herself remains a missing person. Tina Georgoulakos, owner of Paul’s Daughter, wrote in an email to ATZ: “She must have blown away, We don’t know where she is. After all these years!!” If you find her please contact Paul’s Daughter at 917-607-4960 or via Facebook.

UPDATE November 12, 2012

GOOD NEWS: Mama Burger was found but her burger, last seen on 15th Street, is still missing. Update from Paul’s Daughter: “Just wanted to let you know that we found Mama Burger!! I posted about it on FB but wanted to let you know as well. She was on the roof, Burger-less and Beer-less but ok. We tried to find the Burger on 15th street (where someone posted a picture of it) but we couldn’t find it. At least we have her. Now we just have to get all of the sand out of the store.”

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October 13, 2011: Photo of the Day: Coney Island Americana Looking for New Beach

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The New Childs Restaurant

The New Childs Restaurant on the Riegelmann Boardwalk, August 1924. Eugene L. Armbruster Collection, New York Public Library

Earlier this week, NY1 reported the excellent news that the City plans to develop the former Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk and an adjacent lot into an entertainment complex. It will be the new home of Borough President Marty Markowitz’s popular Seaside Summer Concerts. First we felt surprise, since the building was not on the market, and then a mixture of elation and relief.

It’s been sad to see Coney Island’s terracotta palace by the sea boarded up for the past few years after being enlivened by the Mermaid Parade Ball and Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink. Yet it’s hard to pass by without taking photos of its ornamental ships, seashells, fish and King Neptunes. When a tourist recently tweeted a photo describing the Childs as “the ruins,” we didn’t have the heart to respond. The 1923 Spanish Colonial Revival style building was designated a City landmark in 2003.

Terra-cotta

Detail of terracotta ornamentation on Childs Building. July 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Luckily, the City has the funds to bring the building back to life since the Borough President will be able to use $50 million already set aside for a $64 million amphitheater in Seaside Park that was halted by a lawsuit. This is great news because if the money wasn’t spent by the time his third term ends in December 2013, it would go back into the public coffers and be lost to Coney Island.

Taconic Investment Partners, which owns approximately four blocks west and north of MCU Park, also holds a 99-year lease on the Childs building. The NY1 report didn’t say whether the City would acquire the lease from the development company or buy the building from the owner. Back in 2007, Brooklyn’s blogfather Bob Guskind described Taconic as “Coney Island’s Sleeper Megadeveloper” and it’s still an apt description. The developer began buying property in 2005 but has yet to develop anything in Coney Island.

“Taconic is in the process of evaluating the economics of a planned development for some or all of our holdings,” according to a web page about their “Coney Island, North and South Ventures.” That’s been the message for the longest time, probably because the economy and inadequate infrastructure put a dent in their plans. The 2009 rezoning allows Taconic to build nearly 2,000 residential units and more than 200,000 square feet of retail west and north of MCU. A restaurant and catering hall were part of the original plans for the Childs building. Dreamland Roller Rink operated rent-free for two years until 2010, when the high cost of insurance caused Taconic to shutter the space.

Dreamland Roller Rink

Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink. August 2, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

According to NY1, the lot west of the building will also be developed as part of the entertainment complex. The City-owned lot is the community garden pictured below. Right now it’s filled with tomatoes and sunflowers. Taconic owns the land east of the building, the former Washington Baths site. Thor Equities bought the vacant lot from Horace Bullard for $13 million and then flipped it to Taconic for an exorbitant $90 million because both parties were sure the City would rezone it for residential.

The Washington Baths site has been the temporary home of the Seaside Concert Series for the past two summers and for the Ringling Circus in 2009 and 2010. During the rest of the year, it is used as a school bus parking lot.

UPDATE September 26, 2013:

The City’s plan to convert the former restaurant into an amphitheater for live concerts is now working its way through City Planning and the City Council approval, though it was voted down by the community board. “Clock Ticking on Plan for the Landmark Childs Building,” ATZ, September 25, 2013.

community garden

Coney Island Community Garden adjacent to Childs Building. July 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Shore Theater

Vacant and for Sale: The Shore Theater, on left, viewed from the Thunderbolt lot, a 3-acre development site. July 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The above photo taken yesterday shows Coney Island’s long-vacant Shore Theater, on the left, viewed from the three-acre development site where the Thunderbolt roller coaster, illegally demolished by the City in 2000, once stood. Both are owned by Horace Bullard and are among two dozen privately owned properties advertised for sale or lease on a Coney Island Development Corp. map of retail opportunities in 2011 and 2012. The Shore Theater has an asking price of $13 million and the Thunderbolt parcel says “Submit all Offers.” Nobody snapped ‘em up yet. If you think about it, buyers are few in Coney’s over-priced amusement area. There’s the City and Thor Equities. Plus Coney Island USA, which bought the building next door to their sideshow headquarters.

Coney Island USA’s artistic director Dick Zigun and Brooklyn Daily deserve credit for calling attention to the plight of the Shore Theater, which has been shuttered for more than 35 years. In December 2010, the City landmarked the exterior and presumably would like to see the building restored. But in our opinion, Zigun saying that the City should seize the Shore from its owner and the Brooklyn Daily doing a reader poll on the E.D. issue is grandstanding to make a point.

The Shore Theater, formerly the Loew's Coney Island, is up for City landmark designation. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Shore Theater, formerly the Loews Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Bloomberg administration was right to back off from the idea of taking land by condemnation from Thor Equities and other Coney Island property owners during the rezoning hearings in 2009. Under sharp questioning by City Council land use committee members, the EDC’s Seth Pinsky was forced to admit, “I’m not saying we will use eminent domain, but in fairness to your question, I’m not saying we won’t.” In order to get Council members to agree to vote for the zoning, the EDC instead had to negotiate an agreement to buy property from Thor Equities. At the same time, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and other property owners were no longer threatened by E.D.

As for the Shore, the City should either come up with the money to buy Bullard’s property or find a buyer. Community Board 13’s land use committee voted yes on the Coney Island rezoning, but one of the non-binding stipulations was that the City buy the theater and make it into a community arts center. What happened to that idea? Ideally BP Marty Markowitz could use the $64 million set aside for the Seaside Park amphitheater to purchase and renovate the Shore. Or somebody can start a “Chip in” to buy the Shore and Mayor Bloomberg can make it one of his charitable projects. The City should buy the Thunderbolt parcel too and use it to right Mayor Giuliani’s wrong and rebuild either the Thunderbolt or the Tornado.

As far as we know, there’s no precedent for the Landmarks Preservation Commission taking property by Eminent Domain. There is however the precedent of a Demolition by Neglect lawsuit which, if successful, requires the owner to fix up the property or sell it. As ATZ reported at the time of the Shore’s landmarking in December 2010:

If the building is landmarked, Demolition by Neglect laws could come into play. The New York City demolition by neglect ordinance states, “every [owner] of a landmark site or historic district shall keep in good repair (1) all of the exterior portions of such improvement and (2) all interior portions thereof which, if not so maintained, may cause or tend to cause the exterior portions of such improvement to deteriorate, decay or become damaged or otherwise to fell into a state of disrepair.” NEW YORK, N.Y., CODE § 25-311 (2001).

Last year [2009], in a precedent setting lawsuit, the City was awarded $1.1 million in civil penalties and gave the owners of the landmarked Windermere apartments a choice of fixing the property or selling it. “This settlement sends a message to owners of landmarked buildings that they must keep them in a state of good repair,” said Robert B. Tierney, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in a New York City Law Department press release about the case. “Buildings like the Windermere are an indispensable part of New York City’s architectural heritage and must be preserved for future generations.”

A rare glimpse of the ornate interior of the Shore Theater, photographed by historian Charles Denson, is on view at the Coney Island History Project exhibit center though September 3rd.

UPDATE August 4, 2012

Charles Denson’s beautiful photos of the Shore Theater interior made into a heartbreaking video. Watch it here.

Coney Island Theatre Building.  Photo © katherine of chicago via flickr

Coney Island Theatre Building. Photo © katherine of chicago via flickr

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January 10, 2012: Will Casino Gold Rush of 1970s Replay in Coney Island

December 23, 2010: Coney Island Christmas Wish List: $12M Shore Theater

December 14, 2010: Amid Demolitions & Evictions in Coney Island, City Landmarks Shore Theater

March 8, 2010: March 23: Rescuing Coney Island’s Shore Theater from 35 Years of Neglect

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B&B Carousell

The B&B Carousell’s first restored horse returns to Coney Island! Photo © Coney Island History Project via flickr

This sweet pony, the first restored horse from the B&B Carousell, looks happy to be back in Coney Island! What’s his or her name? That will be up to the popular vote on Facebook. At the moment “Cotton Candy” and “Ravishing Ruby” are the front runners. “Home Sweet Home,” “Thunderbolt,” “Tornado,” and “In Memory of Mike Saltzstein,” who operated the carousel for decades, are some of the other suggested names.

There’s also “William,” for the carousel’s builder William F Mangels, and “Marcus,” for Marcus Illions, the carver of the lead horse. This horse, as well as the others, was carved by Charles Carmel.

The name “Ravishing Ruby” is being championed by Brooklyn-born actress Annabella Sciorra, who writes on her Facebook page: “They’re looking to name the first restored carousel horse in Coney Island. If you like my page please vote for the name ‘Ravishing Ruby’ after one of my best friends who grew up on the beaches of Coney Island!!” Ravishing Ruby is also the title of a country song from the ’70s! Our guess is that some who are voting for the name are associating it with Coney’s beloved Ruby’s Bar and Grill.

“Cotton Candy” is a cute choice, but please be advised if it wins that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to bring actual cotton candy on the ride.

Inspired by the creative names of the horses at the Kentucky Derby, which was run yesterday, ATZ’s choice is “Home Sweet Home.” We think it’s the perfect name since this B&B horse is the first to come home to Coney from Ohio, where the carousel has been undergoing restoration, after an absence of seven years. Go, Go, Go, Home Sweet Home!

As for “Mikey” or “In Memory of Mike Saltzstein,” we agree with a commenter on the voting page who writes: “May the last horse in be named ‘In Memory of Mike Saltzstein.’ Mike kept those horses going … God rest his soul.”

Today is the second and final day of the B&B Carousell Open House presented by the City’s Economic Development Corporation at the Coney Island History Project, where you can get your picture taken with the horse and cast your vote in person. If you live too far away to visit, you can still vote on Facebook to name the horse.

The B&B Carousell is also in a very competitive online horse race with 40 historic properties for a share of $3 million from Partners in Preservation. New Yorkers as well as anyone who loves New York may cast one vote daily on the Partners in Preservation New York City website or via Facebook, smartphone or tablet.

UPDATE May 7, 2012:

Congratulations to Dano Panariello, who suggested the name “Ravishing Ruby” in honor of his mother! The Open House and the naming contest are over, but everybody please remember to vote for the B&B Carousell every day thru May 21 at Partners in Preservation, where it is in a horse race to win a grant.

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B & B Carousell

B & B Carousell, Coney Island. August 2005. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Last night the Empire State Building was lit up blue and white in honor of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was a prelude to this morning’s announcement that New York City has been selected as the location for Partners in Preservation 2012. American Express, in partnership with the National Trust, will award $3 million to preserve historic places in New York City. Coney Island’s B & B Carousell is one of 40 competitors vying for your online vote.

From April 26 through May 21, New Yorkers as well as anyone who loves New York may cast one vote daily on the Partners in Preservation New York City website or via Facebook, smartphone or tablet. According to the initiative’s press release, the top four vote-getters, to be announced May 22, are guaranteed to receive grants for their preservation projects. A Partners in Preservation advisory committee of community and preservation leaders will select sites that will receive the rest of the $3 million in grants.

On May 5 and 6, the Coney Island History Project is hosting a “B & B Carousell Open House” where the first restored horse will be on display along with photos of the restoration process and archival images of the carousel. The historic carousel was saved from auction in 2005 when the City purchased it for $1.8 million. The 1919 ride was packed up and moved from its longtime location on the north side of Surf Avenue and sent to Carousels & Carvings in Ohio for restoration.

The Partners in Preservation grant would fund transport and assembly from the restoration in Ohio back to New York. In 2013, the B & B will reopen in a new pavilion next to the Parachute Jump.

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December 4, 2011: Brass Ring Dept: Coney Island “Carousell” RFP Up for Grabs

February 1, 2011: Bring Back the Whip! A Birthday Gift for William F Mangels

December 8, 2010: Children’s Book Tells Coney Island Carousel Carver’s Story

February 26, 2010: Made in Brooklyn: The World’s Only Jet-Powered Merry-Go-Round

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Burlington Arcade

Burlington Arcade by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, 1827-28

Not done desecrating Coney Island’s amusement area by evicting longtime tenants and creating empty lots, Thor Equities moved on to London in 2010. Joe Sitt’s first European acquisition was the Burlington Arcade, London’s first covered shopping arcade, built in 1819, which was purchased with Meyer Bergman.

London’s reaction to the developers’ plan to modernize the historic arcade calls to mind the uproar that greeted Thor’s original plan to Vegas-ify and mall-ify Coney Island. “Owners about to turn 192 years of history into a bland mall,” tweeted antique silver dealer and arcade tenant Daniel Bexfield, who is leading a campaign to Save Burlington Arcade. “In case you didn’t know, anyone from anywhere can lodge a complaint with Westminster City planning department,” he told ATZ. If you’d like to file a transatlantic protest, here’s a copy of the campaign letter:

19th March 2012
‘Save Burlington Arcade’ – AGAIN!

I am writing to ask for your help once more. The campaign to Save Burlington Arcade has been spurred back into action just a few months after our victory last year. The Arcade owners have now submitted fresh plans to Westminster City Planning Department to replace the existing floor with a brand new highly-polished black and beige quartzite tiled floor.

Hard shiny quartzite can already be seen in modern shopping malls (and bathrooms) the world over. I believe it would be completely out of character and wholly inappropriate in the Arcade, which is not a Las Vegas or Dubai-style shopping mall. When the original applications were submitted last year to ‘modernise’ the Arcade, celebrity protestors included Dame Judy Dench, Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley along with other notable supporters such as Deputy London Mayor Kit Malthouse, Ken Livingstone, the Baroness Boothroyd, Rob Brydon, Alan Davies, Kelly Hoppen, Jay Rayner and Michael Winner. They all lined up alongside hundreds of ‘ordinary’ horrified Londoners and visitors alike, to make their feelings known.

The Arcade’s foreign owners (Joseph Sitt of Thor Equities & Mayer Bergman) dreamed up sweeping changes, with infamous American ‘architect’ Peter Marino, to oust small traders in favour of big-name fashion brands such as Prada, Gucci and Chanel with their infinitely deeper pockets.

Burlington Arcade is part of our heritage and must be preserved. If commercial owners do not appreciate what they are buying into when they invest into such unique properties, that is their problem – we should not let them vandalise our city just to make a quick buck.

The clock is ticking – and we only have until March 31st to lodge objections to their submitted planning application. Anyone who wishes to object must do so quickly – details of how to object can be found at my website: www.bexfield.co.uk.

Or you can write to: Westminster City Planning Department, Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QP, quoting the reference no. 12/01433/LBC, along with your name and address, stating that you ‘object to the application’.

Yours sincerely,

Daniel Bexfield


Last year, Sitt launched a defense of his plans for the Burlington Arcade in an interview with the Financial Times of London. He brought up his track record with three historic properties in the U.S.– the Palmer House in Chicago, the Phelan Building in San Francisco and good old Coney Island. Sitt said: “In all three situations, there were critics who doubted we could revitalise these buildings and neighborhoods while staying true to their unique history. And in all three places we’ve already proved–or are in the process of proving–those doubters wrong.”

London’s Westminster Council is to be commended for meeting the challenge of preserving an historic property. To the Council, we would say Joe Sitt has a long way to go to prove the Coney Island doubters wrong. What he has done here is evict amusement operators, demolish historic buildings and create empty lots. After seven years of predatory real estate speculation and many grandiose renderings, Thor Equities first-ever new construction in Coney Island (flea market tents don’t count) was revealed to be a sterile-looking building suited for a suburban mall. Thor’s space for lease signs with the odious slogan “Coney Island: Retail Ride of a Lifetime” are an insult to Coney’s unique and glorious history. The vacant new building stands on the site of a century-old music hall that was sacrificed by the City of New York in the Coney Island rezoning and demolished by Thor Equities.

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February 2, 2012: Thor’s Coney Island: Generic New Building at Surf & Stillwell

September 9, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Faber’s Fascination Goes Dark After 50 Years

April 29, 2010: Photo of the Day: Interior of Coney Island’s Doomed Henderson Music Hall

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

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Coney Island USA Building

New lights illuminating Coney Island USA Building, which will be designated a landmark today. Photo © Fred Kahl

Let’s get this puzzler out of the way first: Why are Joe Sitt and Thor Equities mentioned in a press release heralding today’s landmark designation of Coney Island USA’s building?

Repair of the exterior architectural lighting was funded through the generosity of our individual and corporate supporters, including Melissa Baldock, Steve Bernstein and Joseph Sitt of Thor Equities.

Is it a typo? Or has Sitt seen the light, however briefly, and contributed to the renovation of an historic building in Coney Island?

It’s odd to see Sitt’s name alongside a noted preservationist and a CIUSA board member. It’s incongruous considering Sitt’s darkening of the amusement area and demolition of three buildings that he owns, including two that were nominated for landmark designation. His contribution would be more noble if his rampant destruction weren’t in evidence all around Coney Island. And if you’re wondering how much Sitt contributed to the renovations, so are we.

Update…Dick Zigun, director of Coney Island USA writes: “Yes it is true he gave us money a year and a half ago but we just finished the project… not that much money $16,000… I asked him for funding it was not his idea… I ask everyone for money.” Zigun added that the total cost of the renovation was $70,000. As far as we know, this is the first time Joe Sitt and Thor Equities have contributed to the restoration of historic Coney Island. Way to go, Joe!

As for the topic of the press release, we’re thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission will at long last designate the arts organization’s 1917 Child’s Restaurant Building a New York City landmark. It’s cause for celebration in Coney Island, especially amid the ongoing demolitions and evictions.

According to the designation report, “Although the Spanish (or the variant Mediterranean) Revival style was more often found on buildings in warmer climates, such as in Florida or the Caribbean, the designer of this structure (John Corley Westervelt) was hoping to suggest this same kind of vacation-oriented environment for a building in the heart of New York’s most popular resort area.”

Coney Island USA deserves credit for nominating 6 historic buildings for designation back in 2005. As we noted when the Shore Theater was designated in December, the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission delayed consideration of the buildings until February 2010, after Coney Island had been rezoned. Of the nominated buildings, only two–the Childs Restaurant (owned by CIUSA) and the Shore Theater (owned by Horace Bullard) were considered worthy of landmark designation. The Thor Equities-owned Bank of Coney Island and Shore Hotel were demolished and the Henderson Building demolition is underway. The doomed buildings were on parcels rezoned for high rise hotels.

Coney Island USA purchased the historic building in 2007 with funding from the City. When the Childs Building was first illuminated in mid-November, Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun said it was part of a major upgrade to the exterior of the building. “The Surf Avenue facade will be illuminated every evening, 365 days a year; the West 12th Street lights will be on when we are open for business any evening,” noted Zigun.

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March 10, 2010: Coney Island Sideshow to Add Girlie Freak Show, Run 7 Days a Week

January 25, 2010: March 14-17: Coney Island Sideshow Banner Painting School with Marie Roberts

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