Coney Island Theatre Building. Photo © katherine of chicago via flickr
In advance of a public hearing set for March 23rd, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has released a detailed description of the long vacant Shore Theater that positively sings landmark designation and Broadway at the Beach! ATZ is reprinting it in its entirety below for your reading pleasure. We hope it will inspire you to voice your support at the hearing or via letters and emails to LPC.
If you have additional info about the history of the Shore Theater or photos of the interior, now is the time to come forward. The exterior is currently up for landmarking, but the LPC may consider the interior at a later date. People who have been inside the Shore have said that architectural features of the ornate interior remain and can be restored.
We think that the Shore Theater, as well as the Coney Island USA Building (the former Childs Restaurant), which is also on the agenda for March 23, will be landmarked. The two buildings are considered the most likely to win landmark designation of the six historic structures in the amusement area nominated by Coney Island USA. In 2007, the City funded Coney Island USA’s $3.6 million purchase of the former restaurant and landmark status will make the 1917 building eligible for grants to continue CIUSA’s ongoing renovation. The Shore’s history as a year-round entertainment venue fits in with the Bloomberg administration’s long-term plan to revitalize Coney Island as a year-round destination.
But Horace Bullard, the Shore’s owner, is likely to voice objections. Last month Bullard told the Bay News that landmarking would “handicap” the transformation of the amusement district: “If all of old Coney Island was there and it was all landmarked, it virtually would no longer be an amusement district – it would be a historic district.”
Sources tell ATZ that the City has been trying to buy Bullard’s Coney Island properties or negotiate a land swap. We have also heard rumors of a “blight” taking of the Shore Theater based on the fact that the property owner has done nothing with the building for 25 years. In fact, the Shore has been vacant for over 35 years! Bullard’s acrimonious relationship with the City dates back to the Giuliani administration, when the Mayor killed his plans to build a new Steeplechase Park and illegally demolished the Thunderbolt roller coaster.
Across the Street from the Shore Theater: Nathan's, the Parachute Jump. Photo © Betty Blade via flickr
The day before the LPC’s calendaring of the Shore Theater in February, Bullard was served with a violation from the Department of Buildings. The caps are the DOB’s: “FAILURE TO FILE AN ACCEPTABLE SIXTH ROUND TECHNICAL FACADE REPORT.” Cycle 6 ended February 20, 2010. Chunks of the facade are falling off.
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, 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.”
As ATZ reported last month (“Feb 9: First Step in Landmark Designation of Coney Island’s Shore Theater”), much has been written about the Shore Theater in recent months. Vanishing New York’s photo essay on the theater’s history and probable future and “The Shore Theater: A Sure Part of Coney Island’s Future?” by the Municipal Art Society’s Melissa Baldock are required reading. The Municipal Art Society, Coney Island USA and Save Coney Island are among the organizations that support the landmark designation.
Coney Island's Shore Theater. Photo via masnyc's flickr
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission Report on the Shore Theater…
CONEY ISLAND THEATRE (LATER SHORE THEATER) BUILDING
1301 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn (aka 2932-2952 Stillwell Avenue)
Architect: [Paul C.] Reilly & [Douglas Pairman] Hall, with Samuel L. Malkind
Builder: Chanin Construction Company
Style: neo-Renaissance Revival
Significant Alterations: Marquee removed, storefront infill, replacement windows
Previous Actions: None
The Coney Island Theatre Building was constructed in 1924-25 to the designs of experienced theater architects Reilly & Hall, with associate architect Samuel L. Malkind, all of whom were protégés of the famous theater architect Thomas W. Lamb. The builder was the Chanin Construction Company, specialists in theater construction. Opened on June 27, 1925 with screenings of the silent film “The Sporting Venus” and live performances by the famous Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, the seven-story neo-Renaissance Revival style structure housed a 2,500-seat auditorium theater for vaudeville and motion pictures as well as six stories of office space. Shortly after its opening, the theater came under the operation of Marcus Loew, founder of one of the nation’s premier movie theater chains. According to one source, Al Jolson performed at Loew’s Coney Island Theatre on August 11, 1949.
The Coney Island Theatre was an important part of a redevelopment initiative launched in the early 1920s by the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce (organized in 1923) that aimed to transform the existing core of outdoor amusements into a more respectable year-round entertainment district. The 1920 construction of the Stillwell Avenue subway station and construction of the boardwalk, which made the beachfront publicly accessible for the first time, had paved the way for a revamped Coney Island. The Theatre Building was one of the few buildings on Coney Island to be constructed of more permanent, fireproof materials like brick, stone and terra cotta; when completed, it stood out in contrast to the traditionally low-rise wood and plaster buildings of the amusement district. In addition to a year-round theater, the Chamber of Commerce promoted other amusement ventures such as Child’s Restaurant, the Cyclone Roller Coaster, and the Wonder Wheel (all designated New York City landmarks), as well as RKO’s Tilyou Theater and the Half Moon Hotel (both demolished). Today the Coney Island Theatre Building remains among the tallest structures on the Coney Island skyline.
The theater-and-office building was erected by the Chanin Construction Company, founded in 1919 by Irwin S. Chanin, an engineer and architect, and his brother Henry Chanin, an accountant. The Chanin Construction Company soon became one of the city’s preeminent design-build firms, and in 1924 branched out into theater construction. Between 1924 and 1927, the Chanins built six Broadway theaters: the Forty-sixth Street, Biltmore, Mansfied, Majestic, and Royale theaters, and the Theater Masque, all of which are designated New York City Landmarks (the Biltmore Theater is a designated interior landmark). The 6,200-seat Roxy Theater (demolished) was also the work of the Chanin brothers. In addition to theaters, the Chanins erected a number of significant residential and commercial buildings throughout the city in the the 1920s and 1930s, including the Century and the Majestic apartments on Central Park West (1931 and 1930-31, respectively), and the Chanin Building (Irwin S. Chanin with Sloan & Robertson, 1927-29), all designated New York City landmarks.
Designed by Paul C. Reilly and Douglas Pairman Hall, the building is a modest interpretation of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. Constructed using the latest in fireproofing technology and clad in limestone, buff brick and cream-colored terra cotta with green accents, the building has a rusticated base with arcaded Florentine arches, a terra-cotta clerestory, and a roof pavilion with arched windows and a balcony. Decorative panels and balustrades enliven the building’s facade. The plain brick box of the auditorium space, which is roughly five stories in height and has a covered fire escape/exit on the exterior, extends to the rear of the seven-story building. Both Reilly and Hall were employed by the firm of Thomas W. Lamb prior to forming their own partnership in 1920, Reilly as Lamb’s chief designer. Their associate on the project, Samuel L. Malkind, also worked for Lamb in the late 1910s. The architects’ design for the Coney Island Theatre Building was illustrated in R.W. Sexton’s book American Theatres of Today, published in 1927.
Vintage view: The Stage at the Shore Theater. stevesobczuk via flickr
The Coney Island Theatre Building is unusual for its combination of a theater with a full-size office building, a typology more often seen in Manhattan’s theater district than in the outer boroughs. Another interesting feature of the building’s design is the single entrance for theater patrons; reportedly owing to his childhood memories of entering movie theaters through secondary entrances for low-price ticket holders, Irwin Chanin of Chanin Construction did away with the secondary entrance in all of his theater buildings, exclaiming “Whether you’ve got a nickel or a five-dollar bill, go right inside… You’re part of the audience”. (Irwin S. Chanin obituary, New York Times, Feb. 26 1988)
In 1964 the theater came under the operation of Harry Brandt, who renamed it the Shore Theater. Just two years later the theater stopped showing films and began staging musical revues. From 1966 until 1971 the theater was operated by Leroy C. Griffith, a national burlesque entrepreneur; Griffith’s opening show at the Shore Theater was called “Stars ‘n Strips Forever”. After a brief stint showing adult films, the theater was converted into a bingo hall.
Still remarkably intact, the Coney Island Theatre Building is an impressive reminder of Coney Island’s heyday as America’s playground.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is located on the 9th Floor of the Municipal Building at the corner of Centre Street and Chambers Street, across from City Hall, in Manhattan. The public hearing is on the LPC calendar for Tuesday, March 23rd. The hearing time will be scheduled a week in advance and posted on the LPC’s website. Mailing address: Landmarks Preservation Commission, Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor New York, NY 10007
Related posts on ATZ…
December 14, 2010: Amid Demolitions & Evictions in Coney Island, City Landmarks Shore Theater
April 29, 2010: Photo of the Day: Interior of Coney Island’s Doomed Henderson Music Hall
February 23, 2010: Feb 24: Theater Historian’s Talk Puts Spotlight On Coney Island’s Lost Stages
October 9, 2009: A Rare Peek Inside Endangered Old Bank of Coney Island
Read Full Post »