On Wednesday at the Brooklyn Central Library, theater historian Cezar Del Valle will give an illustrated talk on the history of the Legitimate Stage, Vaudeville, Burlesque and Minstrel Show in Brooklyn’s three entertainment districts: Fulton Street, Eastern District, and Coney Island.
Del Valle’s area of expertise is New York City popular entertainment between 1850 and the 1950s, including special emphasis on actual theater buildings. He has led walking tours of the lost theaters of Coney Island’s Bowery. “In its fabulous heyday, the resort was more than just rides and arcades; it was home to numerous cabarets, variety halls and movie shows – a training ground for a generation of legendary performers,” says Del Valle.
The subject is timely since Coney Island’s two historic theater buildings–the Shore Theater and the Henderson Music Hall— have been nominated for New York City landmark designation by Coney Island USA. A March 23 public hearing date has been set for the Shore Theater, a 2,500 seat movie and vaudeville house built in 1925. The building has been shuttered by owner Horace Bullard since the 1970s. Sources tell ATZ the City is trying to acquire the Shore Theater with the idea of reviving it as a year-round entertainment destination.
Also up for landmarking on March 23 is Coney Island USA’s Building (former Childs Restaurant), which is currently in use as a theater for the Coney Island Sideshow and Burlesque at the Beach. The second floor houses the Coney Island Museum. In 2008 the non-profit arts organization bought the 1917 building with $3.6 million funding from the City.
The Henderson Music Hall has yet to be calendared. Its chances of gaining landmark designation are thought to be slim since the building has been altered extensively. It was even cut in half! There’s also the unfortunate fact that the Henderson is owned by real estate speculator Joe Sitt of Thor Equities and occupies a prime site at the corner of Surf and Stillwell that has been rezoned for a high rise hotel. City rezoning documents detail the history of the Henderson Music Hall:
Fred Henderson opened the 3-story brick music hall on Stillwell Avenue at the Bowery around 1900. Henderson’s establishment began as a restaurant at Bowery and Henderson Walk in 1881. When that building burned in 1899, Henderson constructed the new structure to the designs of John B. McElfatrick. The original Italianate southern façade (which fronts on the Bowery) has brick piers, corbelling, stone window lintels, and a bracketed cornice. In 1923, Stillwell Avenue south of Surf Avenue was created by the widening of Stratton’s Walk, and Henderson’s Music Hall was cut in half. At that time, a new brick façade with decorative panels and a stepped parapet was added to the Stillwell Avenue frontage. Additional alterations include modern storefronts and replaced windows. The music hall operated until 1926 and featured such music and vaudeville acts as Al Jolson, the Marx Brothers, and Sophie Tucker. During its run, Henderson’s Music Hall was an important Coney Island entertainment venue. From 1926 to 1984, the building housed the World of Wax Musee. The former Henderson’s Music Hall has been extensively altered. This property was identified in the inventory of potential resources prepared by Coney Island USA.
February 24, 7:00 pm, “Brooklyn Stages,” Brooklyn Collection Reserve Room at Brooklyn Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, 718- 230-2762. “Seating is limited so come early and join us for wine and cheese from 6:30 to 7.”
Related posts on ATZ…
October 14, 2009: Q & A with Zero Boy: “A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy
October 9, 2009: A Rare Peek Inside Endangered Old Bank of Coney Island