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“Predatory developer Thor Equities is evicting small businesses while preparing to demolish the historic Henderson Building…” In this video, you’ll meet two business owners who after 3 decades of operating year-round businesses in the Henderson Building have lost their leases and have to move out.

On Saturday we took a few lousy pix of Popeye’s knowing it would be our last chance. After 27 years in Coney Island, Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits was expected to serve its last supper to customers on Sunday. Today we’re hearing Popeye’s may have gotten a few days reprieve, if you want to head over for a last snack. The Henderson Building at the corner of Surf and Stillwell is one of four lots in Coney Island rezoned last summer for 30-story high rise hotels, which set the stage for the current evictions and demolitions.

Thor-Owned Henderson Building sits on a Parcel Rezoned for a High-Rise Hotel. Photo © Tricia Vita//me-myself-i via flickr

Thor-Owned Henderson Building sits on a Parcel Rezoned for a High-Rise Hotel. Photo © Tricia Vita//me-myself-i via flickr

The historic building once known as the Henderson Music Hall is slated to be demolished next month.  In the video, the business owners comments are punctuated by the drill of machinery.  You’ll see workers carrying out asbestos abatement/demolition on the building’s roof without any protection for the people below.  (But that’s another story,  which ATZ has been reporting.)

Maritza, who has operated the souvenir stand on the Stillwell Ave side of the Henderson building for 30 years,  began packing up and moving out on August 11.  In the video, she says she got one week’s notice. “When [Thor Equities] makes the new building he promised to give me a 10 year lease, but I don’t know. They’re supposed to talk to me about it, but I’m still here waiting,” Maritza says in the video. After Thor announced demolition plans in April, a rendering was released of a cheesy looking temporary one-story building occupied by hamburger and taco food joints. At the time we thought it was a ploy to get demo permits from the City and put an end to preservationists’ efforts to get approval for an historic district in Coney Island.

Will Popeye’s and Maritza find a spot in Joe Sitt’s future Mall of Coney Island? That depends on whether you think such a thing will ever be built. From where we stand, Joe Sitt is just creating another empty lot in Coney Island to add to his collection of empty lots. If you’re skeptical, we suggest you take a look at what the now decimated Stillwell Avenue looked like before Joe Sitt.

Evicted by Thor Equities, Popeye's Chicken in Coney Island Closes after 27 Years. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

UPDATE April 10, 2012:

Popeyes Chicken reopened today at 1220 Surf Avenue, a new doors down from their original location, in a building owned by another landlord. 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.” and a colorful history.
“Relocated Popeyes Set to Open Today in Coney Island,” ATZ, April 10, 2010

UPDATE August 24, 2010:

Popeye’s last chicken dinner will be served tonight! After 27 years at this location, the restaurant will close at midnight. Thirty people, including 20 year-round employees, are now out of work. The owner has until the end of the month to move out his equipment. He hopes to stay in Coney Island and is looking at two locations- one on the south side of Surf Avenue and another on the north side. We wish him luck and hope to see Popeye’s back soon!

Save Coney Island is giving free walking tours every Sunday through the end of September. The tours highlight the four soon-to-be demolished buildings owned by Thor Equities along Surf Avenue as well as some of Coney’s existing landmarks. This Sunday’s guest tour guide will be historian Charles Denson, author of Coney Island: Lost and Found.

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Related posts on ATZ…

August 19, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Crack of Dawn Demo Work Attracts Scrutiny

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

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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At the Crack of Dawn, Work on Henderson Building, 5:30 am, August 18, 2010

This morning at 5:30 am, Thor Equities work crew continued demo and asbestos abatement work on the doomed Henderson Building across from Nathan’s in good old Coney Island. A few courageous photographers ventured out to document the worksite, despite the fact that one was threatened by a worker who tried to grab his camera on Tuesday. Now it’s safety in numbers! The above photo of the Bowery side of the Henderson Building arrived via email just after 6 am. We asked the photographer: what were they doing to the awnings? The answer was “they were tearing them down.” This appears to be the case if you look at the photo below taken 3-1/2 hours later of the same scene. Unfortunately the DOB has to see the violations happening and photographic evidence seems to count for nothing.

Since photos of Thor’s workers hammering away at the Henderson Building were posted on Monday, Coney Island’s Community Board 13 has questioned the Dept of Buildings (no permits have been issued for demolition) and Dept of Environmental Protection (a permit for asbestos abatement has been issued, though it was not displayed at the worksite). It appears that public scrutiny has led the crew to beef up their asbestos safety procedures. In the first photo, for example, there’s a sheet of material covering the sidewalk, which was not the case on Monday.

One photographer writes: “Took some photos today, Thursday 8/19/10, at 9 am, most taken from the Boardwalk side. They are working on the theater, south side of building. Looks like they are using a staircase to bring stuff up to the roof. All the workers are in air tight suits, see the yellow boots. They are laying out white plastic sheets on the roof and dumping stuff into the white sheets, tying up the sheets and stacking the rolls.” Okay DEP, we would like to know if the City is doing “Ambient air monitoring” to measure airborne asbestos fiber concentrations in the general vicinity of the worksite. Unlike the DOB website, the DEP site provides no information to the public on permits that have been issued. Readers may want to take a look at the DEP’s “New Asbestos Rules & Regulations, effective June 6, 2010.”

Before we go anywhere near Surf and Stillwell, we plan to take a cue from the workers and suit up in protective clothing. The yellow boots could become a new fashion statement in Coney Island–Lola Star take note! In the meantime, ATZ recommends the Asbestos Safety Kit which we found online for only $43.95 and includes the following items:
• Tyvek® disposable suit with integral hood and boots
• Sleeve covers (1 pair) (White).
• Latex gloves (2 pair)
• Goggles, chemical resistant with indirect vents.(1)
• Respirator (1) (half mask)
• HEPA cartridges (2)
• 6 mil poly bags 3’ x 5’ (4) bags/kit with asbestos warning (not shown)

Related posts on ATZ…

July 1, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Demolition Under the Radar?

June 14, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Caution! Asbestos Removal at Doomed Bank

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

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

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RIP Win Win Win Big! Big! Prizes, September 12, 2009. Demolished on June 18, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

RIP Win Win Win Big! Big! Prizes, September 12, 2009. Demolished on June 18, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

In New York City, especially in Thor’s Coney Island, if you see a building being demolished without a posted permit, say something. Call 311 right away. Don’t dawdle. There appears to be a loophole in the law that allows property owners to get away with demolishing structures whether or not they have a permit, as long as the DOB doesn’t actually catch anyone in the act of demolition. At least that’s what appears to have happened at Thor Equities-owned property at 1124 Surf Avenue and 12th Street in Coney Island on June 18. “NO VIOLATION WARRANTED FOR COMPLAINT AT TIME OF INSPECTION. NO DEMOLITION WORK NOTED AT TIME OF INSPECTION, NO WORK NOTED,” wrote Badge #2425 in his report. What about the fact the buildings were there on June 17? Show us the permit, please.

Demolition in Progress: Surf Ave & 12th Street, Coney Island.  June 18, 2010

Demolition in Progress: Surf Ave & 12th Street, Coney Island. June 18, 2010

On Friday, June 18th, around 1 pm, ATZ learned of the demolition of Thor Equities-owned buildings at the corner of Surf and 12th Street, which took place in the early morning hours. By the time a tipster arrived on the scene and sent us the above photo, the former balloon dart game, Pina Colada stand and tattoo parlor were in the dumpster. The DOB inspector turned up later in response to a Coney Island resident’s complaint. But the inspector, who said he was not allowed to give his name, told a bystander that he had to catch them in the act of demolition to issue a violation. The report which is now online on the DOB website corroborates this point.

The inspector also mentioned the building was “not on the map.” What’s that supposed to mean? No demo permit required? The buildings have been there for years! The balloon dart game and pina colada stand hadn’t operated this season since the business owners had gotten the boot from Thor last year. If you have any photos of the operating businesses such as the one posted below, please send along and ATZ will post them under “RIP Win Big! Big! Prizes for the Family!!!”

goodnight astroland. September 7, 2008. Photo © brainware3000 via flickr

Photo of the now-demolished Surf Ave balloon dart titled goodnight astroland. September 7, 2008. Photo © brainware3000 via flickr

The demolition was carried out by crews working the graveyard shift at a time when everyone else in Coney Island was getting ready for the big weekend–the first Friday Night Fireworks, Mermaid Parade, Brooklyn Cyclones season opener. A fence went up to secure Thor’s property. Now it’s an empty lot to add to Thor’s collection of empty lots. On the Coney Island Message Board, Capt Nemo called it “Sitt-struction begins, there yesterday gone today” and posted before and after photos.

Before the Demolition: Win Big! Big!  June 12, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Six Days Before the Demolition: Win Big! Big! It looked like a Rehab! June 12, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Some of you may look at the photos and agree with the poster on the CIUSA board thread who wrote sarcastically, “Maybe that gorgeous structure should have been landmarked.  It looked like a dump I always thought.  Looks better as a lot frankly, c’mon seriously?” Our response would be you’re missing the point. Letting a property owner get away with demolishing a structure without a permit sets a bad precedent. What’s next on Thor’s hit list? The doomed Bank of Coney Island adjacent to the newly empty lot, where pre-demolition asbestos abatement is in progress? In fact the early morning demolition of the concession stands reminds us of Rudy Giuliani’s early morning bulldozing of Horace Bullard’s Thunderbolt roller coaster in 2000, which ended up in court.

No one has suggested these concession stands should be landmarked. We’re sad to see another vestige of Coney Island’s vernacular signage and old school carnival games bite the dust. As someone who grew up working behind the counter of our family’s carnival games, we see a stand that was a fellow concessionaire’s business. Today he is driving a cab. One of our favorite photos of his vanished balloon dart is titled “goodbye astroland” (posted above) because the photographer shot it on Astroland’s last day in 2008. But for the operator of this game and other individual operators in Coney Island evicted by Thor Equities, a more apt title would be “Goodbye Amusement Business.” While Coney Island’s revitalized amusement area is booming, Thor Equities property is kept vacant. Last July, the Surf Avenue site owned by Thor Equities was rezoned for a 30-story hotel.

Here is a copy of the DOB’s complaint report for your reading displeasure…

NYC Department of Buildings
Overview for Complaint #:3345602 = RESOLVED
Complaint at: 1124 SURF AVENUE BIN: 3245151 Borough: BROOKLYN ZIP: 11224
Re: DANGEROUS DEMO CONST W/O PERMIT POSTED;

Category Code: 12 DEMOLITION-UNSAFE/ILLEGAL/MECHANICAL DEMO

DOB District: N/A
Special District: CI – CONEY ISLAND

Assigned To: BEST SQUAD Priority: A
Received: 06/18/2010 14:36 Block: 8696 Lot: 37 Community Board: 313
Owner: WEISS SURF AVENUE,LL

Last Inspection: 06/18/2010 – – BY BADGE # 2425
Disposition: 06/18/2010 – – I2 – NO VIOLATION WARRANTED FOR COMPLAINT AT TIME OF INSPECTION
Job Number:
Comments: NO DEMOLITION WORK NOTED AT TIME OF INSPECTION, NO WORK NOTED

Thor Equities property on Surf Avenue between Jones Walk & 12th Street.   Photo © Jim McDonnell

What the block looked like before demolition: Thor Equities property on Surf Avenue between Jones Walk & 12th Street. Photo © Jim McDonnell

Related posts on ATZ…

May 13, 2010: Scoop: Deal to Rent Thor’s Coney Island Lots a No-Go for Fair Producer

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

April 29, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt Is Baaack Playing Games!

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

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Feltman's Kitchen on Astroland - Scheduled for Demolition. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Feltman's Kitchen on Astroland - Scheduled for Demolition. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

The old Feltman’s kitchen building on the Astroland site is among the structures set to be demolished to make way for new amusements on the City-owned parcel. This humble building is the last remnant of the fabulous block-long restaurant and entertainment empire owned by Charles Feltman, the inventor of the hot dog.

According to Ric Burns’s movie about Coney Island, Nathan Handwerker worked in Feltman’s kitchen and slept on the floor for a year before he went on to found Nathan’s Famous! Since Feltman’s consisted of nine restaurants, a beer garden, a maple garden and much more, we can’t be sure where Handwerker bedded down. But we think the phrases “Nathan Slept Here!” and “The hot dog was invented here!” have tourism potential. Shouldn’t the City be renovating Feltman’s Kitchen as a little museum and hot dog stand instead of tearing it down?

Asbestos abatement has already started according to“Capt Nemo,” who posted photos of the work site on the Coney Island Message Board. A notice lists the owner of the historic property referred to now as “Parcel A” as “NYCEDC, New York City Economic Development Corporation- Coney Island Amusements.” The Amphitheater building (site of Astroland’s Diving Bell), Westside building (Feltman’s kitchen), an electrical shed and a trailer are on the list of locations to be abated.

Tile floor in historic Feltman's kitchen on Astroland property, Jan 31, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Tile floor in historic Feltman's kitchen on Astroland property, Jan 31, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The photos reminded us that last January we took pix of the tiles in the old Feltman’s kitchen for our friend “Coney Islander.” It was the last day of Astroland before the property was to be turned over to Thor Equities. “Coney Islander” wanted a tile as a keepsake, but we couldn’t find a loose one. Our friend said the tiles were not only Coney Island history, but American history too: “The first hot dog might have fallen on that floor!” Of course “the first hot dog” was invented by Charles Feltman in 1867 when he was pushing a pie wagon. But the building is all that remains of Feltman’s in Coney Island. The floor definitely has character. It has a story to tell. We just had to figure out what it was. Sometimes if the full story isn’t known, an apocryphal one fills the vacuum. The floor looks so old it’s easy to imagine the original hot dog falling on it.

One year later, we have the full story. It’s titled “Nathan Slept Here!” In 1915, Nathan Handwerker, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, went to work for Feltman, who was by then the proprietor of a palatial sit-down restaurant at Surf Ave and 10th Street. Handwerker’s job was slicing hot dog rolls and delivering the franks to the guys who toiled at the grilling stations. The young man lived on free hot dogs and slept on the kitchen floor to save his $11 per week salary. At the end of the year, he’d saved $300 and opened a competing stand–5 cents a hot dog instead of 10 cents. That was the beginning of Nathan’s Famous and the downfall of Feltman’s, which went out of business in 1952. The property was sold to the Albert family and became the space-age Astroland Park in the early 1960s. For nearly 50 years, Feltman’s kitchen has survived as a workshop for Astroland’s rides.

Mural on west wall of Feltman's Kitchen Seen from Jones Walk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Mural on west wall of Feltman's Kitchen Seen from Jones Walk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

January 21, 2010: Demolition Alert: Dreamland Artist Club Mural on Feltman’s Bldg

January 11, 2010: Steeplechase Pool, Zip Coaster Sites to Be De-Mapped for Housing

December 18, 2009: Ciao Coney Island! Will Ruby’s, Shoot the Freak, Astrotower & Other Oldies Survive?

October 9, 2009: A Rare Peek Inside Endangered Old Bank of Coney Island

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