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Coney Island Sunflower. July 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

August already! On the Boardwalk past the Parachute Jump and Childs terracotta palace, you’ll see Coney Island sunflowers and tomatoes growing in the community garden at West 21st Street.


Related posts on ATZ…

May 21, 2012: Photo of the Day: A Sea of Runners in Coney Island

April 29, 2012: Photo of the Day: Space Shuttle Over Coney Island’s Parachute Jump

March 4, 2012: Photo of the Day: Cherry Blossoms on Wonder Wheel Way

June 9, 2011: Photo of the Day: Mango Vendor in Coney Island

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Rendering for 1218 Surf Ave, currently the Eldorado Bumper Cars, shows a new arcade and burger restaurant. Photo via Thor Equities Facebook Page

Long absent from social media channels, last week Thor Equities joined Facebook and Twitter. “Our FB page is up & running. We have begun featuring exclusive photos & descriptions of our properties. Take a look,” they tweeted. We did, and found that Thor “liked” Times Square, Central Park, a raft of real estate pages, and one that surprised us– Bikram Yoga — but has yet to “like” Coney Island or anybody in Brooklyn. Snub? Priorities? They’ll probably get around to it sooner or later.

Among the Brooklyn properties featured in Thor’s Facebook photo albums are two in Coney Island: The vacant new building at Surf and Stillwell Avenues and the Eldorado Building at 1218 Surf Avenue. Eldorado owners Sandy and Sheila Fitlin sold the building to Thor in March and the bumper cars and arcade are expected to close at the end of the season after a 40-year run.

Dennys and Eldorado

Thor Equities bought the Eldorado Building at 1218 Surf Avenue in March 2012. Its neighbor is Denny’s Ice Cream, owned by Coney Island USA. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

When the Eldorado closes the Fitlins plan to take down the marquee and other signs, which were not part of the sale, they told ATZ. They hope to place the signage with a museum or collector. Knowing all of this did not lessen the shock and dismay of seeing Thor’s rendering for 1218 Surf with a “Joe’s Burgers” and generic arcade replacing the fabulous Eldorado Skooters facade and “Bump Your Ass Off” signage. If this is news to you, better run right over to the disco palace of bumper cars and bump, bump, bump for one last time this summer.

Along with the expected closure of McCullough’s Kiddie Park on the Bowery, whose lease with Thor ends this season, the closing of the Eldorado marks a critical point in the exit of independent amusement operators with a long history in Coney Island and the beginning of Thor’s “CONEY ISLAND – The RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME.” It started in 2007, with Thor’s eviction of Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City and the Zipper and Spider rides documented in Amy Nicholson’s upcoming film “Zipper.” It continued with the loss of games in the shuttered Grashorn Building and the demolished Henderson Building. The caption for the Eldorado property calls it “an unbeatable retail opportunity.”

On Thor’s Facebook page, the captions on the two Coney properties got reversed and what’s more the new building at Surf and Stillwell is misidentified idiotically referred to as the “Henderson Building.” The century-old music hall was demolished by Thor in 2010 despite preservationists’ best efforts to save it. The doomed Henderson along with the old Shore Hotel were on a parcel rezoned by the City in July 2009 for a high rise hotel. “Every one of these buildings is just horrible, rundown relics with nothing exciting about them. I hate to say it, but the great buildings of Coney Island disappeared 80 years ago,” Sitt told NY1 before demolishing the buildings.

Ironically, Sitt’s first new construction after years of real estate speculation in Coney Island is a suburban looking one-story structure that looks like a car dealership. We certainly hope it’s a typo that Thor is calling this vacant, boarded-up new building the Henderson Building! Why not call it the Thor Building? The question is what are Joe Sitt’s plans for Coney Island’s newest building at Surf and Stillwell, and Coney’s oldest building– the Grashorn — at Surf and Jones Walk? ATZ tweeted that question to @ThorEquities. Awaiting a reply.


Rendering of Thor Equities Building at Surf and Stillwell, Coney Island via Thor Equities Facebook


Related posts on ATZ…

March 20, 2012: 60 Years of Family History in Coney Island End with Sale of Eldorado

May 4, 2011: Thor Equities Touts Coney Island as “RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME”

December 27, 2010: Video: Tribute to the Henderson Theater by Charles Denson

March 14, 2010: Eldorado Auto Skooter: Coney Island’s Disco Palace of Bumper Cars

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Coney Island Concretewalk

Coney Island Concretewalk at West 36th Street near Sea Gate. June 22, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

On Thursday, the advocacy groups Friends of the Boardwalk and the Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance along with neighborhood residents announced that they had filed a lawsuit against the New York City Parks Department. According to CBBA’s website savetheboardwalk.wordpress.com: “The Parks Department abused its discretion when it decided that its plan for the Boardwalk was not subject to any environmental review, even though the potential for negative environmental impact is obvious and far-reaching.”

The suit aims to stop the agency from replacing additional sections of the Coney Island Boardwalk with concrete and plastic wood. The above photo taken a few weeks ago by ATZ shows the concrete-slabbed Boardwalk between West 33rd and West 37th Streets in the West End of Coney Island. It’s not a pretty sight. The cracks, repairs and drainage issues mentioned in the suit can be seen in the close-up shots. The Parks Department’s plan to redo the Boardwalk was approved by the Public Design Commission at a charade of a public hearing in March.

Coney Island Boardwalk

Section of Coney Island Concretewalk at West 36th Street near Sea Gate. June 22, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The petitioners are the Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance and its president Robert Burstein, Ocean Parkway resident Arlene Brenner, Boardwalk resident Brunilda Figueroa, Friends of the Boardwalk and its president Todd Dobrin, and Ida Sanoff, an environmental advocate who led the fight against the amphitheater in Seaside Park. All are longtime residents of Brighton Beach.

The release says:

The lawsuit seeks to prevent the Parks Department from implementing a plan to replace 56,000 square feet of wood boards on the section of the Coney Island Boardwalk running from Coney Island Avenue to Brighton 15th Street with concrete and plastic. The lawsuit also contends that the Parks Department has a longer-range plan to replace most of the Boardwalk – approximately 1 million square feet of wood – with some combination of the same concrete and plastic materials.

The lawsuit contends that the Parks Department violated the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) and New York City’s Environmental Quality Review (“CEQR”) regulations by not subjecting its plans to the necessary environmental review. Under SEQRA and CEQR, state and municipal agencies are required to determine if actions they undertake may have a significant impact on the environment. Under the law, factors such as erosion, flooding, drainage problems, and impact on existing use must be considered. Additionally, an agency must consider the project’s impairment of the character or quality of important historical or aesthetic resources and existing community or neighborhood character.


Section of Coney Island Concretewalk at West 36th Street near Sea Gate. June 22, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The full complaint can be read via scribd


Related posts on ATZ…

March 22, 2012: The Coney Island-Brighton Beach Concretewalk Blues

March 9, 2012: The 10 People Who Will Decide the Fate of Coney Island Boardwalk

February 29, 2012: Exclusive: Coney Boardwalk Group’s Letter to PDC Rebuts Parks

January 24, 2012: Parks Postpones Do-Or-Die Hearing on Coney Concretewalk

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Popeyes Coney Island

Popeyes new location in the Popper Building on Surf Avenue. March 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

After serving its last supper on August 24, 2010 in its former location at Surf and Stillwell, Popeyes Chicken is reopening today at 1220 Surf Avenue. As previously reported in “Popeyes Chicken Returning to Coney Island’s Surf Avenue” (ATZ, October 17, 2011), the restaurant’s owner had been in business year-round in Coney Island for 27 years, first as Kennedy Fried Chicken and then as Popeyes, when he lost his lease in the now-demolished Henderson Building. The Thor Equities-owned site is now a vacant new building encased in plywood.

The popular fast-food restaurant’s new home is in the Popper Building, which has a distinctive old copper sign that says “Herman Popper & Bro.” Though it does not have landmark designation, the building as well as its original owner have a colorful history. Herman Popper was a whiskey distiller and wholesale liquor seller who once supplied most of the Bowery dives and concert halls. Though selling liquor on the Lord’s Day was then illegal, his business extended to Sundays on the orders of Coney’s notorious John “Boss” McKane.

Popeyes is the third relocated Coney Island eatery to open this week. On Easter Sunday, Cha Cha’s opened a bar/restaurant on Surf Avenue and Steve’s Grill House made a comeback on Stillwell Avenue after losing their leases on the City-owned Boardwalk last year.


Related posts on ATZ…

April 9, 2012: Steve’s New Grill House Opens on Stillwell in Coney Island

August 23, 2010: Vid: Thor’s Coney Island: After 3 Decades, Last Supper at Popeye’s & Au Revoir Souvenirs

April 21, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings

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

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Dennys & Eldorado

Denny's Ice Cream & Eldorado Bumper Cars at Night. Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Thor Equities paid $4.5 million for Coney Island’s Eldorado Building according to the deed recorded on Thursday for the March sale of the property. The recorded buyer is a newly formed foreign limited liability company with Thor Equities listed as the contact. The multi-parcel transaction included the 4,500-square-foot building at 1218 Surf Avenue housing the Bumper Cars and the 6,123-square-foot building at 1215 Bowery where the arcade is located, according to Property Shark. ATZ first reported the sale in “60 Years of Family History in Coney Island End with Sale of Eldorado” (ATZ, March 20, 2012).

The price per square foot was $423, which is in line with the most recent comparable sale. Last November, the nonprofit arts organization Coney Island USA bought Denny’s Ice Cream for $1.3 million. The price per square foot was $465.

Neighbors for more than 30 years, the owners of the Eldorado and Denny’s Ice Cream were among the few remaining longtime property owners with businesses in Coney’s amusement zone. The business owners were at the age of retirement and lacking a next generation to step in decided to sell. The Eldorado Disco Palace of Bumper Cars opened in 1973, but the building was purchased by the Fitlin and Buxbaum families in 1971. Denny’s Dennis Corines has owned and operated the ice cream shop, where specialties include pistachio-banana soft serve, since the late ’70s.

Both businesses are expected to continue for at least this season. As ATZ reported last week, Gordon Lee, who operated the Eldorado Bumper Cars and Arcade for the Fitlins last year, has plans to reopen the business in the coming days for one last year.

On Friday, we watched workers getting Denny’s ready for Coney Island’s Opening Day. CIUSA’s Dick Zigun tweeted, “Just ate the very 1st ice cream of the year at DENNY’S: a big hot fudge Sunday! There goes the diet…”

Zigun tells ATZ: “Since we own an ice cream parlor and have no money to renovate, Denny’s might or might not continue next year. Even once we renovate the building will maintain a 500-square-foot storefront taking up most of Surf Avenue frontage that will always serve light food to street plus lobby inside.”

Denny's Ice Cream

Denny's Ice Cream Getting ready for Coney Island's Opening Day. Now owned by Coney Island USA. March 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“Some day we can transfer air rights from the landmark Childs Building, match the two-story front of Childs then do a setback with an additional five to seven story tower on top of the base,” Zigun noted. The renderings that he showed last year at a Coney Island presentation at the AIA included a whimsical homage to the Elephant Hotel.

While the rezoning of Coney Island offers property owners the opportunity to increase the FAR –floor to area ratio–of their properties, Joe Sitt of Thor Equities got a big bonus: the controversial rezoning for “hotels” of up to 27 stories on the south side of Surf. One of these parcels is the corner of Surf and Stillwell, where Thor demolished the century-old Henderson Music Hall to build a one-story building that remains vacant. Sitt is expected to tear down the Eldorado building, which dates back to 1928, and the Coney Island Rumor Mill is saying Thor will try to acquire other property on the Bowery.

Nearly three years since the Coney Island Rezoning was approved by the City Council, we’ve seen a few demolitions by Thor but have yet to see any new construction in Coney East that wouldn’t also have been possible before the rezoning. The marquee of the Eldorado and Denny’s signage enliven Surf Avenue and will forever remain in our memories thanks to many people’s photos. Their old school authenticity will be missed in the new Coney Island.

UPDATE April 12, 2012:

Good news! Gordon Lee of Coney’s Eldorado Bumper Cars phoned to say he’s operating the ride today & open for business! The arcade will also open this weekend for the season. Hours at the Eldorado are “12 noon till closing.”

Eldorado Coney Island

Eldorado Auto Skooter. June 29, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr


Related posts on ATZ…

March 20, 2012: 60 Years of Family History in Coney Island End with Sale of Eldorado

March 12, 2011: Signage: Fresh Crispy Popcorn, Candy Caramel Apples

October 13, 2010: Rest in Peace: Scott Fitlin, Coney Island’s Eldorado Man

March 14, 2010: Eldorado Auto Skooter: Coney Island’s Disco Palace of Bumper Cars

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Thor's Coney Island

Thor Equities Building at Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. February 25, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy. All Rights Reserved

Even though ATZ has been covering the boarding up of Thor Equities new (and first-ever) building in Coney Island, we were shocked by these photos. Is this a glimpse into the future of what we can expect on Joe Sitt’s property in Coney Island? Yes, the building is ugly and out of place, but the plywood just makes a bad situation worse. The blight doubled overnight.

Last time we looked, plywood covered only the Surf Avenue side, but now the entire structure has been boarded up. “Looks like they built a box then flew it in attached to helicopters,” writes photographer Bruce Handy, who shot the photos on Sunday.

What does it look like to you? Hey, let’s have a comment contest! Last time we posted photos of the building, one astute reader wrote, “Sterile is too kind of a description. Thor’s soulless construction is the true definition of urban blight.”

The plywood-encased, suburban mall-like structure is on the southeast corner of Surf and Stillwell, the gateway to Coney’s Beach and Boardwalk as well as Scream Zone’s roller coasters and thrill rides. It’s the first sight visitors see in Coney Island as they exit Stillwell Terminal. The Henderson Music Hall stood on this corner for more than a century until Sitt had it demolished along with two other buildings in 2010, putting an end to Save Coney Island’s efforts to create an historic district.

Thor's Coney Island

Thor Equities Building in Coney Island, view from Bowery and Stillwell February 25, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy. All Rights Reserved


Related posts on ATZ…

February 21, 2012: Thor Destroys 119-Year-Old Relics of Coney Trolley History

February 18, 2012: Thor Equities Boards Up New Building in Coney Island

February 5, 2012: Botched Job: Coney Island Art Exiled by Thor Equities

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

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Polar Bear Plunge

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

On New Year’s Day 2012 in Coney Island, a record number of people, nearly three times as many as last year, did the Polar Bear Plunge. Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club told ATZ that the number of “I Did It” certificates given out to registered swimmers soared. “We went through almost 3,000,” said Thomas, who noted that the unofficial number of plungers is always higher because “some register, others don’t.” On New Year’s Day 2011, the official tally of registered swimmers was about 1,200 and the Bears gave out 1,000 certificates before they ran out.

Sunny skies and temps in the 50s also drew the largest crowd of spectators in the club’s history. “I think the weather made it better and more enjoyable,” Thomas said of the event, which is an annual fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life threatening diseases. According to the chart at Freezin for a Reason, more than $37,000 has been received in donations. Thomas said pledges are still coming in and the Coney Island Polar Bears expect to meet their goal of raising $50,000. (If you missed the event, it’s not too late to mail a check.)

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Coney Island Photo Diary via flickr

“We had a DJ on Stillwell to provide entertainment and there were hundreds of people dancing,” Thomas said. Some of the costumed plungers were familiar from previous years’ swims or reminiscent of the Mermaid Parade. There was the Metrocard Man, Big Babies in Diapers, a group of jailbirds, a pirate couple in their pirate ship, and a gaggle of superheroes, as well as penguins, ducks, and of course polar bears! Some carried hand-made signs that read Occupy Peace, Occupy the Ocean, Free Polar Hugs and Polar Bears from Bronx.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

The only stores open on the Boardwalk were Ruby’s, which was jam-packed with New Year’s Day revelers celebrating the beloved bar’s new eight-year lease, and the Lola Star Boutique next door. Shop owner and designer Dianna Carlin said it was the “Best New Year’s Day party ever!” It was the first time her shop was open on New Year’s and when she arrived bright and early at 10:30am, much to her surprise the Boardwalk was already packed. Lola Star Boutique offered the first Coney Collectible of 2012– a limited edition magnet–for free to Polar Bear Plungers as well as to customers who spent $20 at the shop. Nearly all 150 of the magnets were given out. “You can’t buy it. You can only earn it. I’m going to make it an annual souvenir, only available on New Year’s Day.”

On the Boardwalk in front of Ruby's Bar and Lola Star Boutique, January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Coney Island resident and photographer Bruce Handy, whose photos are featured in this post, echoes others when he said, “I have never seen a huge, gigantic crowd as on Sunday.” He estimated there were about 5,000 people on the beach and boardwalk, 2,000 polar bears plunging. “The plunge frontage was from Stillwell Avenue almost to Steeplechase Pier, way longer than usual. The warm weather brought many people out, who in past years had thought about plunging into the frigid sea.”

Polar Bear Plunge

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

What are the reasons for the event’s growing popularity? Thomas told us in “By the Numbers: Coney Island New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim 2010” (ATZ, Jan. 8, 2010)…

Part of it is just word of mouth. People went last year, told their friends who said, yeah I want to do that next year. Part of it is that Coney Island has been in the press so much lately that it is going through its own revival regardless of the development plans. Crowds out there are getting bigger for all events the past 2 years.

Part of it is our club seems to have a larger media presence than in the past and things like our website make us much easier to find than say, 10 years ago. And somehow we are less portrayed as those idiots on the beach that cause network newscasters to chuckle and shake their heads after a 10 second clip before the weather report. The New Year’s Swim is basically free and open to the public, that might be a draw in the current economy as well. I think it’s all these things that explains the larger crowds.

After this year’s record attendance, Thomas says “It’s getting so big, we’re pushed to the limits.” He and his team begin working on the event in November, when their winter swimming season starts. “We really need to enlist more help. The logistics are getting to be enormous and it imposes a lot more costs on us.” In past years, sponsorships from Planet Green and Vaseline Skin Care helped out.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Coney Island Photo Diary via flickr


Related posts on ATZ…

December 25, 2013: Just Do It! January 1st Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

January 1, 2013: Videos of the Day: Coney Island Polar Bear New Year’s Day Plunge 2013

December 18, 2011: Playing Santa at the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

Jan 2, 2010: Photo Album: Coney Island Boardwalk, New Year’s Day 2010

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