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Landmark Childs Building

Landmark Childs Building, Coney Island Boardwalk. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Tourists often ask “what are those ruins on the Boardwalk?” Some locals tell them the crumbling palazzo by the sea is an old bathhouse. The former Childs Restaurant building has been been vacant for so long, between stints as a chocolate factory, a roller rink, and a warehouse, most people have no memory of its glory days.

Last weekend, ATZ took these photos of the 1923 landmark, which is now in hibernation, awaiting restoration as part of a $53 million dollar City project. Terra-cotta fish and seashells and Neptune the god of the sea peek out from above the sidewalk shed and plywood fencing, which was recently installed around the property.

Childs Building, Coney Island Boardwalk

Detail of terracotta ornamentation on Childs Building, Coney Island Boardwalk. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The construction of the shed and fencing and work on the floors are the only permits currently approved by the Department of Buildings. Several other permits are still listed as on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit by the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC) and the Coney Island Boardwalk Community Garden members vs the City and developer iStar Financial. The clerk for Judge Peter Sweeney, who got the case after a prior judge recused himself, told ATZ last week that the judge has not yet made a decision. At a hearing in December, Judge Sweeney asked both sides to submit briefs arguing for or against a jury trial.

“There is a chance that, given his willingness to bring the parkland issue before a jury, he might break up the case along its two issues and rule separately on each,” writes Aziz Dekhan on the NYCCGC’s website.”Or he might wait to rule on either issue until after he or a jury decides on the parkland issue.”

Former Community Garden on the Boardwalk

Site of former community garden adjacent to the Childs Building. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The crux of the suit is the gardeners’ claim the land is public parkland and that the development project is an alienation of parkland without the required approval of the state legislature. In December 2013, the garden was razed without warning to make way for construction of the seating area for the amphitheater, which was initially expected to open in June 2015.

ATZ previously wrote about the project when it was under consideration (Clock Ticking on Plan for the Landmark Childs Building, September 25, 2013) and after the razing of the garden (Pre-Dawn Bulldozing of Coney Island Community Garden, December 29, 2013).

Neptune

Neptune medallion on Childs Building, Coney Island Boardwalk. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Designated a landmark nearly twelve years ago, on February 4, 2003, the building operated as a restaurant until the early 1950s. Childs was one of the largest restaurant chains in the country with 107 restaurants in 33 cities in the U.S. and Canada by the 1920s, but it was not a formula business. According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission report, the Boardwalk restaurant was designed specifically for Coney Island “in a fanciful resort style combining elements of the Spanish Colonial Revival with numerous maritime allusions that refer to its seaside location.”

Childs Building

Childs Building, Coney Island Boardwalk. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Bulldozing of Boardwalk Community Garden

The Bulldozing of Boardwalk Community Garden. Coney Island December 28, 2013. Photo via Facebook.com/NYCCGC

If you find a bunny under the Coney Island boardwalk, he ran off during the bulldozing of the Boardwalk community garden on Saturday morning. This isn’t a “coney” joke, but something we learned from the site manager. And when a gardener collected her chickens she also walked off with three kittens. The mama cat kept coming back all day looking for them. Such was the chaos that ensued in the animal kingdom when the 16-year-old boardwalk garden was abruptly razed and the plants were plowed under on Saturday to make way for the seating area for an amphitheater slated to open in June 2015.

Boardwalk Community Garden

Community Garden on the Boardwalk adjacent to the Childs Building. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

We support the rehab of the landmark Childs Building, which tourists frequently refer to as “those ruins on the Boardwalk.” But it’s barbaric to bulldoze a garden, especially at 5am on a holiday weekend, no matter the circumstances. Waking up to photos and videos of the destruction posted on Facebook brought back memories of the infamous pre-dawn demolition of the Thunderbolt roller coaster by Mayor Giuliani in 2000. It also calls to mind Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt’s demo of the Henderson Music Hall and Bank of Coney Island in 2010, which cruelly put a halt to Save Coney Island’s efforts to create a historic district.

The community gardeners along with the New York City Community Garden Coalition are expected to call a press conference to address the demolition in the next couple of days. “The Community and the NYCCGC will not let this action stand without a fight,” said the Coalition in a post on their Facebook page. [UPDATE: The press conference will be on Monday, December 30, 11 am, at 3099 W 22nd Street, between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk, said NYCCGC in a release issued this afternoon.]

Boardwalk garden

Bulldozed Boardwalk Community Garden. Coney Island. Photo by Anonymouse. December 28, 2013.

As previously noted (“Clock Ticking on Plan for the Landmark Childs Building,” ATZ, September 25, 2013), the City has the funds to bring the landmark back to life since Borough President Marty Markowitz will be able to use $50 million set aside in 2010 for a $64 million amphitheater in Asser Levy Park that was halted by a lawsuit. If the $50 million isn’t spent by the time the Borough President’s third term ends on December 31, 2013, it would go back into the public coffers and be lost to Coney Island. The landmark building’s deteriorating condition is also cause for concern. After Sandy, parts of the terracotta facade cracked and began falling off.

Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk

Photographer and Model in front of Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Just before Christmas, developer iStar Financial won approval from the City Council for the amphitheater project. The officially “decommissioned” garden was set to be relocated to a site five blocks away. Why was it necessary to raze it, without giving the gardeners an opportunity to collect their belongings and animals and make the move? Among the items that were reportedly destroyed was a “Coney totem,” a sculpture by artist Philomena Marano.

Boardwalk Garden Furniture

Garden furniture on corner of lot after bulldozing of Boardwalk Community Garden. December 28, 2013. Photo by Anonymouse

Marty Cottingham, a consultant to iStar, cited safety concerns and the need to do environmental testing and, if necessary, remediation as required by the DEP for property that was flooded during Sandy. “We have taken great lengths to do the right thing,” he told ATZ, noting that some items were put in the Childs Building and are available for pick-up. Improvements have been made at the alternate garden site, known as Surfside Garden, on Surf Avenue at 29th Street, including new topsoil and raised beds. Some gardeners say the new site is not suitable due its smaller footprint and being hemmed in by buildings. Others who were promised help relocating felt betrayed by the lack of warning.

Seaside Park Rendering

Seaside Park and Community Arts Center, Stage Doors and Tower in Season, 3D Rendering

The amphitheater project will be developed and operated by a partnership between an affiliate of iStar’s Coney Island Holdings LLC and non-profit Coney Island USA with $53 million in City capital funds, and involves the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Childs building as well as the development of a 5,100 seat amphitheater with a neighborhood park and playground on city-owned land overlooking the beachfront. In addition to approximately 40 to 50 free and paid concerts during the outdoor concert season, the developer promises to host community-based events throughout the year.

The Childs Building along with adjacent lots rezoned for high rise condos became part of iStar’s portfolio when Taconic Investment Partners defaulted on loans. The rezoning plan approved by the City Council in 2009 put 26 high rise residential towers and 5,000 new units of housing in Coney Island, including beachfront condos on 5.5 blocks of vacant land just west of MCU Park.

Coney Island Aerial: Detail of Conceptual Rendering. CIDC Press Kit

Coney Island Aerial: Detail of Conceptual Rendering Shows Residential Towers West and North of MCU Park. CIDC Press Kit, 2007

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Childs Building

Childs Building, Proposed Elevation Boardwalk. GKV Architects, PC and Higgins Quasebarth & Partners via NYCEDC

Visitors to Coney Island frequently ask “What are those ruins on the Boardwalk?” From Steeplechase Pier, where the crumbling walls are not evident but the allure is unmistakeable, they simply ask “What is that building?” On Wednesday at 10:00 am, the City Planning Commission at 22 Reade St. will consider and is likely to approve the plan to convert the former Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk, a New York City landmark, into an amphitheater for live concerts and a restaurant. If the board votes yes, as expected, then it goes to the City Council on Dec 16

The project’s official name is “The Seaside Park and Community Arts Center” and it would also “provide the community with additional publicly accessible recreational and entertainment opportunities throughout the year,” according to the proposal. The application was submitted by property owner iStar Financial (AKA Coney Island Holdings) and the City’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

Anyone wishing to speak at the hearing is requested to fill out a speaker’s slip at the staff desk outside the hearing chambers. Remarks are limited to 3 minutes. The full agenda of the meeting –the Childs Building is “Nos. 9-14″– and information on submitting written statements can be found in the calendar[pdf].

Childs Building

section Looking at Stage, Childs Building in Season. GKV Architects, PC and Higgins Quasebarth & Partners via NYCEDC

As previously noted (“Clock Ticking on Plan for the Landmark Childs Building,” ATZ, September 25, 2013), the City has the funds to bring the landmark back to life since Borough President Marty Markowitz will be able to use $50 million set aside in 2010 for a $64 million amphitheater in Asser Levy Park that was halted by a lawsuit. Since then, his free Seaside Concerts have been held on the Washington Baths site, a vacant lot across 21st Street from the Childs Building.

If the $50 million isn’t spent by the time the Borough President’s third term ends on December 31, 2013, it would go back into the public coffers and be lost to Coney Island. The landmark building’s deteriorating condition is also cause for concern. After Sandy, parts of the terracotta facade cracked and began falling off. A sidewalk shed was installed this summer.

Childs Building

Childs Building, Proposed elevation West 21st Street. GKV Architects, PC and Higgins Quasebarth & Partners via NYCEDC

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December 2, 2013: New Construction: Coney Island Area’s 1st Hotel in Decades

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October 7, 2012: ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island

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Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk

Photographer and Model in front of Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The fate of the landmark Childs Building on the Boardwalk is in limbo as Brooklyn’s Community Board 13 voted 15-7, with 7 abstentions, against the City’s plan to convert the former restaurant into an amphitheater for live concerts. Noise, traffic, parking and infrastructure issues were some of the reasons cited for the “no” votes. In public testimony at Monday night’s meeting, some residents of Coney Island said the plan was rushed, they needed to hear more about it. Others brought up the idea of a Community Benefits Agreement. Community garden advocates protested the loss and relocation of the Boardwalk garden adjacent to the building, which has been active since 1998 and has between 35-50 gardeners.

Boardwalk Community Garden

Community Garden on the Boardwalk adjacent to the Childs Building. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The problem is with less than 100 days left in this administration, time is running out to use the funds allocated for the project. If some kind of compromise plan isn’t worked out, the chance to restore and repurpose the vacant building could be lost. The City has the funds to bring the landmark back to life since Borough President Marty Markowitz will be able to use $50 million set aside in 2010 for a $64 million amphitheater in Seaside Park that was halted by a lawsuit. Since then, his free Seaside Concerts have been held on the Washington Baths site, a vacant lot across the street from the Childs Building.

If the $50 million isn’t spent by the time the Borough President’s third term ends on December 31, 2013, it would go back into the public coffers and be lost to Coney Island. The building’s deteriorating condition is also cause for concern. After Sandy, parts of the facade cracked and began falling off. The sidewalk shed was installed this summer.

Childs Building Coney Island

Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The Community Board’s vote is advisory only. Their recommendation is being forwarded to the City Planning Department and the Borough President’s Office, which may amend the proposal before sending it the City Council. It is customary for the Council to vote with the council member from the district. In 2011, when the community board voted 21 to 7 against the Parks Department’s plan to make a section of the Boardwalk concrete and plastic, the City pressed forward with the plan and won the necessary approval of the Public Design Commission, which is comprised of Mayoral appointees.

Dreamland Roller Rink

In 2008 and 2009, the Childs Building was used as Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink. August 2, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The City’s plan to develop the former Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk and adjacent lot into an entertainment complex with a rooftop restaurant was first reported by NY1 in August 2012 but detailed plans were not made public until April of this year. The property and surrounding lots zoned for high rise condos became part of the portfolio of iStar Financial when Taconic Investment Partners defaulted on loans. The developer plans to sell the building to the City and partner with nonprofit Coney Island USA to manage the programming.

As we noted last summer, 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.

UPDATE December 20, 2013:

The City Council approved the development of the Seaside Park and Community Art Center, an entertainment complex and public park at the site of the Childs Restaurant Building. The approval by the City Council was part of a public review process that also involved approvals by the City Planning Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Public Design Commission.

The project will be developed and operated by a partnership between an affiliate of Coney Island Holdings LLC, and non-profit Coney Island USA, Inc., with $53 Million in city capital funds to develop the project, which involves the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Childs building as well as the development of a 5,100 seat amphitheater with a neighborhood park and playground overlooking Coney Island beachfront. Completion of the project is slated for June 2015.

UPDATE October 21, 2013:

There’s a public hearing on Wednesday, October 23rd, at 10:00 AM in Spector Hall, at the Department of City Planning (22 Reade Street, in Manhattan) to receive comments related to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Seaside Park and Community Arts Center project. According to the posted notice:

Comments are requested on the DEIS and will be accepted until 5:00p.m. on Monday, November 4, 2013. The Applicant, Coney Island Holdings LLC, is proposing a number of land use actions to facilitate the development of the Seaside Park and Community Arts Center (the “proposed project”) in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn. The proposed project involves the development of approximately 2.41-acres of publicly accessible open space, which would include an approximately 5,100-seat seasonal amphitheater for concerts and other events. The proposed project also includes the landmarked (Former) Childs Restaurant Building, which would be restored for reuse as a restaurant and banquet facility and renovated for adaptive reuse to provide the stage area for the open-air concert venue and use as an indoor entertainment venue during the off-season months. The Seaside Park and Community Arts Center would be a temporary use of the development site for a term of ten years from completion of construction.

The New Childs Restaurant

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

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The Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk

The Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. February 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk, which has been in use since January as the Childs Warehouse, a multi-agency program for organizations that need space for Sandy recovery projects, will host a pop-up market this summer. Called the Coney Flea, the seasonal market will operate from mid-June through October, with proceeds to fund post-Sandy recovery programs, according to the organizer’s website.

Rotating spaces with dimensions starting at 8 x 10 feet are being offered to local and regional vendors at weekly, monthly and seasonal rates. The market is expected to be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Vendors can apply online at coneyflea.com:

Vendor spaces range from $120/day to $200/day. Please mention if you are a Coney Island establishment and include details in the form below, and we can offer you a discount. One of the main purposes to opening the market this season is to help bring life back to Coney Island, and create space for businesses, artists and vendors who have not been able to reopen after Hurricane Sandy. We’re opening too, and just cleaned out our 63,000 square foot site. We know it takes a community to recover, and we’re grateful to be part of the recovery process.

Detail of Landmark Childs Building

Detail of Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. February 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“It’s a very special place,” said Dan Compitello of the 1923 Spanish Colonial Revival style building, which was designated a City landmark in 2003. He is overseeing the Coney Flea with a team that he says has a combined total of over 42 years of flea market management experience. Food vendors and arts and crafts vendors from the tri-state area have already reserved spaces, Compitello added. Our impression from talking with him is that Coney Flea will be an artsy, curated marketplace that will activate a landmark and give visitors a reason to stroll westward along the Boardwalk past the new Steeplechase Plaza.

That’s a plus, because despite the fact that Coney Flea is for a good cause we’re not sold on the idea that what Coney Island needs is another flea market. In 2009 and 2011, Thor Equities staged a “Festival by the Sea” of vendors selling tube socks, cellphone accessories, shoes, automotive supplies and cleaning products on lots where amusement rides had previously thrived. Just looking at photos of these previous Coney flea markets induces post-traumatic stress order. There was a smaller, more attractive group of vendors on Stillwell Avenue last year, a dress rehearsal for Joe Sitt’s “Retail Ride of a Lifetime.”

iStar Financial and Stone Harbour Management donate the Child’s Building in-kind to the Childs Warehouse with free rent, utilities and building maintenance. Additional sponsors of the Childs Warehouse are the Mayors Office of Community Affairs, the Brooklyn Long Term Recovery Group, and the Staten Island Long Term Recovery Group. Partners are Transform-US, Occupy Sandy, New York Disaster Interfaith Services, World Cares Center, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Resurrection Brooklyn Relief.

Originally built as a Childs Restaurant, one of the country’s first national chains with more than 100 locations in 33 cities, the terracotta palace is set to be restored and developed into an amphitheater and restaurant by 2015. In past years, the building was used as a candy factory beginning in the 1950s and Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink in 2008 and 2009. Today, tourists routinely ask what are “those ruins” on the Boardwalk?

UPDATE September 26, 2013:

Summer is officially over and the flea market never opened. As a commenter said from the get-go: “Word on the street, this project is dead in the water.” Whether the flea market was doomed by permitting issues or complaints to the DOB about the stability of the building is unknown. After Sandy, parts of the facade cracked and began falling off. A sidewalk shed was installed this summer. Childs Warehouse did not reply to queries and their website is currently down.

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.

The New Childs Restaurant

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

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January 24, 2013: Occupy Sandy’s New Warehouse in Coney Island Landmark

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Occupy Sandy

Twitter Page for Occupy Sandy’s Warehouse in Coney Island

Last week, Occupy Sandy said goodbye to 520 Clinton Street as their main distribution center and opened a warehouse in the basement of the landmarked Childs Building in Coney Island’s amusement area. Helpavists, as Occupy Sandy calls volunteers, pumped flood water out of the basement, which was still there two and half months after Sandy. They proudly took their first delivery of supplies: 600 gallons of water on 22 pallets from City Harvest.

Located on 21st Street, the site is steps away from the Parachute Jump and across the street from where the Seaside Summer Concerts are held in the summer and school buses park during the winter months. Unlike the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill, the Coney Island warehouse is not open to the public: “@OSWarehouse is NOT a public hub but a decentralized warehouse. Please visit http://www.occupysandy.org & @SandyRegistry to support our efforts!”

According to the Coney Island page on Occupy Sandy’s website: “In Coney Island, the main volunteer hub that we are working out of is across the street from 2828 Neptune Ave. We are currently organizing volunteering events on certain days – but the location is not open regular hours. So, in order to volunteer to help with canvassing and supply distribution in Coney Island, please register as an Occupy Sandy volunteer and we will send you emails when volunteering events are scheduled in Coney Island.”

Designated a New York City landmark in 2003, Coney Island’s terracotta palace by the sea has been boarded up for the past few years after being enlivened by the Mermaid Parade Ball and Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink. The rink operated rent-free on the Boardwalk side of the property for two years until 2010, when the high cost of insurance caused leaseholder Taconic Investment Partners to shutter the space. In August, there was news that the City planned to develop the building and an adjacent lot into an entertainment complex for Borough President Marty Markowitz’s Seaside Summer Concerts, but an official announcement has yet to be made.

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, 2012.

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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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