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Posts Tagged ‘Cezar Del Valle’

Brooklyn Theatre Index Vol III“Henderson’s and Inman’s still offer the cream of the vaudeville acts to be seen at Coney Island…” according to a story in The New York Dramatic Mirror back in the summer of 1898. Both music halls are long gone from Coney Island’s Henderson’s Walk and the Walk itself is now a private parking lot thanks to property owner Joe Sitt’s demolition of the Shore Hotel and the Henderson Building. Henderson’s and Inman’s are among dozens of entertainment venues in old Coney Island catalogued in the newly published The Brooklyn Theatre Index Vol III. The third volume of theater historian Cezar Del Valle’s borough-wide opus covers Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.

Del Valle’s area of expertise is New York City popular entertainment between 1850 and the 1950s, including special emphasis on actual theater buildings. The book project began with listings compiled over a 25-year-period by Dario Marotta, whose interest in theater history was inspired by a photo of his late uncle standing in front of his nickelodeon in Williamsburgh circa 1912. Marotta never discovered the location of his uncle’s theater, proving the ephemeral nature of many of these venues. In 2002, he gave his research to Del Valle, who kept the information on file for use in articles, talks, and walking tours. Eventually he began adding to the listings with library and internet research of his own at the Theatre Historical Society of America’s Michael Miller Collection.

Del Valle also pored over newspaper clipping files in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle “morgue,” which is housed in over 150 filing cabinets at the Brooklyn Public Library. “Both Marotta and Miller had problems researching Coney Island. I was fortunate because more and more publications became available online, between 2010-2014, and these were searchable,” Del Valle told ATZ. “Trade publications like Variety and The New York Clipper are now available along with a staggering number of newspapers.”

Henderson's Music Hall

Henderson’s Music Hall. Staley’s Views of Coney Island by Frank W. Staley, 1907. Cezar Del Valle Collection

The 250-page book is organized alphabetically by street name with the Bowery and Surf Avenue having the lion’s share of performing venues. Among the quaintly named places are Perry’s Glass Pavilion, a music hall and bar-room “constructed almost entirely of glass and of different colors,” and “Flynn’s Sporting House,” featuring “sparring, wrestling, singing and dancing, large balcony and ball-room on second floor.”

Some excerpts from newspaper articles give insight into the Gay Nineties, when Sunday blue laws were enforced in Coney Island and concert saloons had to close their doors or give “sacred concerts.” Female impersonators and short-dressed singers were cause for getting one’s license revoked. The index is a great resource for theater buffs and Coney Island aficionados. And if you happen to be writing a historical novel about Coney (we’ve heard from at least two people who are), it is required reading.

Feltmans' Seaside Gardens

Feltmans’ Seaside Gardens. Cezar del Valle Collection

If only the book had more photos, though of course that would raise its cost. Our favorite among the 30 black and white photos is this rare image of Feltman’s Seaside Garden. The park built by hot dog inventor Charles Feltman eventually included an open-air movie theater, a precursor to the popular Coney Island Flicks on the Beach of recent summers. “The theatre is located on the main promenade quite near the ocean, so that the temperature will be cooled by ocean breezes at all times,” said an article in the Brooklyn Eagle on July 4, 1914. “The house has a seating capacity of 2,000. The space between the rows is exceptionally wide.”

It’s sad to realize that only a few of the mentioned venues are extant: Coney Island USA is carrying on the tradition of sideshow and burlesque in their landmarked building on Surf Avenue which once housed the Blue Bird Casino and the Wonderland Circus Sideshow. The long-vacant Shore Theater building, formerly the Loew’s Coney Island and built in 1925, is landmarked, but has fallen victim to demolition by neglect. In Brighton Beach, the Oceana Theatre, which opened as a movie house in 1934 with Dancing Lady starring Joan Crawford, is now the Millennium Theatre with live entertainment by Russian touring groups.

A book launch party with an illustrated talk by the author will be held at 440 Gallery, 440 6th Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Sunday, December 14 at 4:40pm.

The Brooklyn Theatre Index Vol III: Coney Island Including Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach by Cezar Del Valle. Theatre Talks LLC, 2014. Paperback, $15

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Vintage Postcard of Henderson's Music Hall Stage in Coney Island. Cezar Del Valle Collection

Vintage Postcard of Henderson's Music Hall Stage in Coney Island. Cezar Del Valle Collection

On Sunday at the Coney Island Museum’s Ask the Experts series, theater historian Cezar Del Valle will give an illustrated lecture to celebrate the launch of his Brooklyn Theater Index. The first volume covering theaters from Adams Street to Lorimer has just been published. The topic of his talk will be drawn from the third volume, a work-in-progress devoted to Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.

The subject is timely, since one of Coney Island’s historic theater buildings, the former Henderson Music Hall at Surf and Stillwell, has been doomed to demolition. Pre-demo asbestos abatement is currently underway by Thor Equities despite preservationists efforts to save the building and make it part of an historic district.

Del Valle told ATZ that the Henderson Music Hall will be part of his talk. “Twice in the past, I have been asked to work on landmarking Henderson,” he says. “First on a panel and then in an advisory capacity. Sad to say, nothing ever came of it. I thought the building was being held hostage for some future bargaining ploy but I was wrong. If you went around to the Bowery side, a few of the windows still followed the rake of the old balcony.”

The Henderson was one of six buildings nominated for city landmark designation by Coney Island USA in 2004, although its chances were thought to be slim since the building has been altered extensively. It was even cut in half in 1923 when Stillwell Avenue south of Surf was created!

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.

If you’re able to make a day of it, Save Coney Island will be offering a free walking tour this Sunday at 11 am and every Sunday through the end of September. The guided tour covers the historic buildings along Surf Avenue as well as some of Coney Island’s existing landmarks. According to the group’s website, “we will have historic pictures so you can see what the buildings once were and a few renderings illustrating how these buildings could be creatively restored and reused.”

August 29, 4:30 pm, Ask the Experts! Cezar Del Valle’s Brooklyn Theater Index Book Launch, Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Avenue, Coney Island, $5 admission, Free for members of Coney Island USA.

August 29, 11:00 am, Save Coney Island’s Walking Tour of Historic Coney Island, meet in front of the Shore Theater, on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Aves, Rain or shine. Free, but suggested donation of $10 appreciated

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Related posts on ATZ…

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

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

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

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