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Posts Tagged ‘John Strong’

Strange Girls

John Strong's Strange Girls Sideshow at Cha Cha's of Coney Island. May 21, 2011 Photo © Diana Taft Shumate

Cha Cha’s Club on the Coney Island Boardwalk is already a sideshow and we mean that as a compliment. On Saturday, the longtime home of wild women and wise guys welcomed John Strong’s sideshow aka the “Strangest Show on Earth.” Starting this weekend, Cha Cha’s will feature a troupe of Strange Girls, including a totally tattooed leopard woman.

Around 5:30 on Saturday, John Strong and his crew were seen raising a couple of gorgeous banners on the rooftop of the club, which is adjacent to Scream Zone’s Boardwalk entrance. The banners tout a beautiful girl with the body of a snake, a double-bodied girl and other female freaks. As old-pro sideshow banner painter G.M.Caldwell famously proclaimed: “It’s the front of the show that gets the dough.”

Once the banners were flying, a girl with a Burmese albino python draped round her neck stood on John Strong’s ticketbox while the showman brought out another snake. The bally began. Cha Cha’s has hosted the Squidling Brothers and other sideshows as late night entertainment, but as far we know this is the first time they’ve had a bally out front, which is a time-honored way for sideshows to gather potential customers. Patrons paid $2.00, the price of a child’s ticket, to see the show.

John Strong

John Strong's Strange Girls Sideshow at Cha Cha's of Coney Island. May 21, 2011. Photo © Bruce Handy/Coney Island Photo Diary via flickr

The Strange Girls and Giantess banners were last flown in Coney Island in “Dreamland,” a temporary assemblage of amusements brought by Thor Equities to the former Astroland site in 2009. But Joe Sitt shut down the amusements and John Strong, whose Texas- based sideshow tours the carnival and fair circuit, has been trying to make a Coney Island comeback ever since.

Strong’s “World’s Finest Shows” with its 150-foot “world’s largest bannerline,” is currently playing Kings County Fair with Reithoffer’s carnival. The fair is at Aviator Sports in Marine Park through May 30. Strong is also eyeing two additional locations in Coney Island for his museum and freak animal show: 1109 Surf Ave near Jones Walk and another spot on 12th St. and the Bowery. The 12th Street location is the former site of the Coney Island Arcade, which was destroyed by a fire and is currently being demolished. We’ve heard of at least two other parties hoping to rent the site for rides and/or games, so Strong may have to make do with two locations in Coney island.

Last May, Strong’s on-again, off-again deal to lease the Grashorn Building, Coney’s oldest, from Joe Sitt fell through and he made a deal to set up on the north side of Surf Avenue across from the Cyclone. ATZ contemplated the possibility of Coney Island hosting a trio of rival sideshows in 2010, but it was not to be. Will Coney Island host a multiplicity of sideshows this season? The more the merrier school of thought is that a concentration of sideshow talent is good publicity for Coney Island.

Update, May 31…

Cha Cha’s stint as a sideshow with a Boardwalk bally was officially over on Saturday night. John Strong’s sideshow can now be found at the 1109 Surf Avenue location near Jones Walk. From the F train on Sunday afternoon, I could see he’d already gathered a crowd. Having the sideshow bally and ticketbox out front at Cha Cha’s drew onlookers, but Cha Cha’s bar lost business. People didn’t realize you could walk past the talker and just have a drink at the bar. Or they’d buy a ticket for the show, but not a drink. Now if you go to Cha Cha’s, there’s live music with a $5 cover which includes one drink.

Update, June 5th…

John Strong’s freak animal show, including live as well as mummified and pickled specimens, is set up at the corner of West 12th and Bowery, on the site of the now-demolished Coney Island Arcade. Both shows left Coney Island on June 12th and are on the state and county fair circuit.

John Strong

John Strong's Strange Girls Sideshow at Cha Cha's of Coney Island. May 21, 2011. Photo © Bruce Handy/Coney Island Photo Diary via flickr

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May 17, 2010: Will Coney Island Host a Trio of Rival Sideshows in 2010?

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December 1, 2009: TLC’s Cake Boss Sweet on Marie Roberts’ Coney Island Sideshow Banners

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John Strong Worlds Finest Shows Banner © John Strong

The on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again saga of John Strong’s Freak Show returning to Coney Island for a second season is on again! Or so we’re told…

After losing his bid to rent Thor Equities’ Grashorn Building and Stillwell lots, Strong says he’s now made a deal to set up on the north side of Surf Avenue across from the Cyclone. The lot, which is not owned by Thor, is next to the West 8th Street subway exit and was cleared at the beginning of the 2010 season for parking cars. Having met John last summer and covered this story since January, we can’t say we’re surprised by his unstoppable efforts to make a Coney Island comeback. It’s telling that the logo of his show is Atlas carrying the globe on his shoulders. It’s quite a burden since Strong will have to travel all the way from Bossier City, Louisiana, where he is playing the fair at Harrah’s Lousiana Downs.

If the deal is indeed a go, the surprising thing is that Strong’s show would be the first amusement business on the north side of Surf since the B & B Carousell closed in 2004. The north side has long been considered the wrong side of Surf to make money since it gets very little foot traffic. People who’ve come for carnival fun aren’t about to cross the street for furniture stores galore. But John Strong intends to prove them wrong. Here is an excerpt from an email that he sent us yesterday…

It is with pride and pleasure to announce that the John Strong World’s Finest Shows will return to Coney Island and open across the street from the Cyclone on May 28th. Todd Robbins will warm them up and I’m going to take their money home. We have a giant 200 x 100 lot across Surf from the Cyclone. The bannerline will be the largest and the most beautiful in the world stretching from the Cyclone to Little Russia… 200 feet. I don’t give up too easily. I’m one of the very few in all of showbiz that has enough experience, flash and knowhow to get the people to cross in the crosswalk at the corner of Surf and 10th to our ticket box a mere 25 ft away on a lot that nobody else could utilize except me.

We may put a bellydancing snake charmer on the bally. We may put a live two headed cow on the bally or the six legged cow on display for free photos. We may have six live human oddities on display. We may have the Chupacabra breaking out of a crate….

Since I’m at a casino, I will be taking bets on how many people we can get to cross the street this summer. My show will turn heads and turn the tip into the greatest freakshow on earth.

Sincerely,
John Strong World’s Finest Shows
World’s Greatest Sideshow Showman
Savior of Coney Island
Director of the Coney Island Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center
Proud Producer of the Greatest Sideshows on Earth

todd robbins

Todd Robbins Banner by Johnny Meah via http://www.toddrobbins.com

If Strong’s sideshow returns, Coney Island will boast a trio of sideshow operators come summer. Coney Island USA’s world-famous circus sideshow starring Donny Vomit, Heather Holliday, and Serpentina will be operating 7 days a week with the addition of a new girlie freak show. Tickets cost $7.50 for adults, $5.00 for kids, and are well worth the price. New kid on the block Luna Park will feature two free sideshow performances on Friday and Saturday nights starring sideshow luminaries like Erik “The Lizardman” Sprague and Natasha Veruschka, the world’s only sword swallowing belly-dancer. The Lizardman, who performed at CIUSA as a guest artist last August told ATZ, “I’m just happy that reports of Coney Island’s death continue to be greatly exaggerated and I am looking forward to working there again this summer, both at Luna and Sideshows by the Seashore.”

The Luna Park shows are produced by Todd “Coney Island Wonder Worker” Robbins, former president of the board of CIUSA and current “Post-Modern Master of the Sideshow.” When Strong writes, “Todd Robbins will warm them up and I’ll take their money home,” he is referring to Robbins’s show in Luna Park. But we think a free sideshow is more likely to cut into the receipts of ticketed attractions than send them customers. Mom to kids: “But honey, we already saw the sword swallower!”

When Strong came to Coney last year, the media played up the Battle of the Sideshows angle, just as they did years ago when Strong’s stepfather Bobby Reynolds had his show in the bank building on 12th Street and the tabloids wrote about “dueling sideshows.”

The more the merrier school of thought is that a concentration of sideshow talent is good publicity for Coney Island. The new Luna Park is expected to draw bigger crowds to the amusement area, too. It will be fascinating to see how this friendly rivalry plays out on the bally platforms and at the cash registers this summer.

New sideshow banners by Marie Roberts on Coney Island USA’s Building advertise this summer’s special guest freaks. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Sideshow banners by Marie Roberts on Coney Island USA’s Building advertise last summer’s special guest freaks. June 9, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

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May 4, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Major Debert the Tiniest Man’s Sideshow Banner

March 10, 2010: Coney Island Sideshow to Add Girlie Freak Show, Run 7 Days a Week

December 1, 2009: TLC’s Cake Boss Sweet on Marie Roberts’ Coney Island Sideshow Banners

May 29, 2009: At Cha-Cha’s of Coney Island, Squidling Rhymes with Ringling

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Will Thor’s lots be devoid of amusements again in 2010? Thor Equities lot at Bowery & Stillwell in Coney Island. August 22, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Will Thor’s lots be devoid of amusements again in 2010? Thor Equities lot at Bowery & Stillwell behind the Henderson Building in Coney Island. August 22, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Mark Lovell of Tennessee-based Universal Fairs flew to New York on Monday to sign a lease for Thor Equities’ lot on Stillwell behind the Henderson Building in Coney Island. But the deal turned out to be a no-go, just as it had for the parade of carnival and park operators who’d preceded him. The deal breaker was the fact that he was offered only a one-year lease, according to Lovell. Since it’s so late in the season, Lovell needed two years to recoup the $150K rent plus the $250K investment.

“I passed on the deal,” Lovell told ATZ in an interview. “The reason no one is renting is a termination clause without cause. If Thor thinks it’s too sunny, if they think the operator has bad breath. They don’t need a reason. They can kick you out. They said if someone comes in and wants to buy our property we don’t want to have our hands tied. We want to have total control of our property.”

It’s a loss for Coney Island and New York City because Universal Fairs is a successful promoter and producer of a variety of shows and expos across the country. Among their events are the Delta Fair and Music Festival, Austin Fair and Music Festival, Arizona’s Chandler Ostrich Festival and Louisiana’s Bossier City State Fair. The company whose motto is “World Class Fairs, World Class Results” was ready to invest $250K in capital improvements for sewers, restrooms, electrical, stadium lighting, and a go-kart track. Carnival rides, a petting zoo and John Strong’s sideshow and freak museum were also part of Universal Fairs’ proposal for Coney Island 2010.

Giantess Banner Painted for John Strongs Sideshow in Dreamland Park, Coney Island.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Giantess Banner Painted for John Strong's Sideshow in Dreamland Park, Coney Island. July 25, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

This piece of news means that the on-again, off-again, on-again saga of John Strong’s Five-Legged Puppy, Tripod the Three legged Duck and his dozens of other freaks returning to Coney Island in 2010 is off again. The deal-in-progress had been a rumor on various message boards for the past few weeks. Whether you’re a fan or foe of Strong’s freak show, the sorry fact is Thor’s Stillwell lots are looking to be dark and deserted come Memorial Day weekend.

John Strong, who lost his much publicized bid to lease Thor’s Grashorn Building, which is now slated for demolition, was resigned to the fact that his second try at a Coney Island comeback had fallen through. “I have a deal with Rob Zombie with my show for a month or more. I’m very excited with it, but we will miss you and Coney Island,” he wrote in an email.

Lovell told ATZ that with only two weeks left till Memorial Day Weekend, his discussions with Thor’s agent Sam Sabin at first centered on whether it would be possible to get all the permits in time. City officials said it wouldn’t due to the very tight time frame. Thor’s people introduced him to a permit expediter but “the guy didn’t know how to get a permit,” said Lovell. “Then I said, before we go any further, are you gonna give me a long term lease? No. Well give me a multi-year lease. Thor won’t give multi-year leases.”

Thor Equities  in Funworld Magazine

Thor Equities ad in February's Funworld Magazine

The fact that it would cost $10K to take down the framework of Thor’s tents from last year’s failed flea market was seen as yet another obstacle by the promoter. Although the sidewall and tops have been taken down since we wrote about the tattered tents, the framework remains standing. “They won’t take it down. It costs 10 grand to take it down,” Lovell said. “I don’t understand why they have signs up and advertise the property for rent, then they put obstacles in the way of renting it for $150,000—that’s chump change to them.”

Despite all that, Lovell says he would like to come next year and that the people he met in New York City and in Coney Island were super nice. Mark Lovell struck us as a nice guy, too. Hey, come back anytime! Preferably after Joe Sitt flips the property to the City. As ATZ reported last month, with the grand opening of Luna Park and the return of Ringling Brothers Circus, Coney Island’s stakeholders are busy planning an exciting summer season. Thor Equities has yet to announce any tenants or plans for Sitt’s remaining Stillwell parcels, though plans to demolish four historic buildings were released to the media. What kind of game is Joe Sitt playing in his Coney Island sandbox this season? We’ve been mulling it over, so stay tuned. Or if you have a clue, please let us know!

New Sign on Stillwell. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

January 7, 2010: New Sign on Stillwell. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

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

April 12, 2010: Evicted by Thor, Coney Island’s Zipper Ride Thrills in Honduras

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

January 31, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Freak Museum to Lease Coney’s Oldest Building

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Museum of Cryptozoology Banner on the front of John Strong's Freak Museum, Coney Island, July 12, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Museum of Cryptozoology Banner on the front of John Strong's Freak Museum, Coney Island, July 12, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The five-legged Yorkie puppy and dozens of other live and preserved freaks in John Strong’s Oddity Museum will soon take up residence at 1104 Surf Avenue, Coney Island’s oldest building. The Texas based sideshow operator plans to arrive in Coney Island by Easter weekend. “The lease is for three years,” Strong tells ATZ. “I can’t discuss the price. Thor specified that one thing. The price is simply just agreeable for all parties involved.”

As first reported by ATZ in January, Strong flew to New York and made a pitch to lease the Grashorn Building at Surf Ave and Jones Walk. Strong says the on-again, off-again deal has finally been approved by Thor CEO Joe Sitt.

A multi-year lease for seasonal tenants in Thor Equities’ Coney Island properties would be a first. One year leases and doubling of the rent have been the norm. It’s a clear sign that real estate speculator Joe Sitt is indeed going to “sitt” on his Coney property until the City’s infrastructure work is done and Coney Island is on the road to revitalization before he sells.

The Freak Museum’s tenancy is great news for the long vacant Grashorn. Last month, Coney Island’s oldest building was flooded by a spiteful squatter and had to be put on 24-hour security watch. The building fronts Surf Avenue and extends along the west side of Jones Walk. Yet this prime location remained vacant and devoid of activity in 2009 due to Thor CEO Joe Sitt’s soaring rents. Last summer, a business owner who had leased a small stand on the Walk from Thor in 2008 told us the 2009 rent had tripled from $8,000 to $24,000. He declined the space and left Coney Island.

ATZ will be happy to see the building fixed up and open for business again. We’ve worked a game on the east side of Jones Walk and can’t tell you how depressing it is to face the shuttered gates of Thor day after day! Vacant and shuttered buildings are bad for business on Surf Ave and the Walk. It makes the Walk look uninviting. This part of Thorland hasn’t gotten as much attention as Stillwell, but it’s another example of deliberate blight.

John Strong's Freak Museum 2010 Location: Thor Equities Shuttered Grashorn Bldg, Surf Ave & Jones Walk, Coney Island, August 15,  2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

John Strong's Freak Museum 2010 Location: Thor Equities Shuttered Grashorn Bldg, Surf Ave & Jones Walk, Coney Island, August 15, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

John Strong’s Freak Museum will certainly improve the view from our stand…

“You’re going to see 13 feet of brand new banners and 250 attractions in circus wagons,” says Strong “The 130′ will wrap around to Surf Ave. This is going to be the biggest, the finest, the greatest attraction in Coney Island during the 2010 Season. We’ve got four other shows going up on other Thor parcels. We haven’t secured Stillwell yet.”

Last week, the Coney Island Rumor Mill was saying that Sitt was asking $500,000 for both sides of Stillwell and he wanted all of the money up front! Amusement park operators from the Jersey Shore were set to bring in go karts but the deal fell apart due to onerous lease clauses and the $250K rent for the east side of Thor’s Stillwell parcel. Various carnival operators have come and gone from talks with Thor Equities. If Strong manages to secure Stillwell, it won’t be all circus sideshows. He plans to bring in go karts and carnival rides. Essentially he’d be putting together a midway made up of rides and attractions from various amusement operators.

“I’ve got to pull rabbits out of a hat to get spectacular rides and other attractions to fill Stillwell at this late date,” Strong tells ATZ. “I’m good at doing that. I know everyone in the amusement business. Because there are so many shows and so many parcels, I’m not sure which parcel will have which show. Also, with Stillwell not being nailed down or not nailed down as yet, I may or may not have additional parcels to play with.”

Rumor has it that Strong will put his Strange Girls Show, a live show which was on the former Astroland site last summer, on the lot across from Coney Island USA. The last time anything like this happened was in 1996 when Strong’s stepfather Bobby Reynolds had his oddity museum in the former Bank of Coney Island building. Will 2010 be the summer of duelling sideshows on West 12th Street?

Security guarding the Thor-owned Grashorn Building, Coney Island's oldest, on the west corner of Jones Walk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Security guarding the Thor-owned Grashorn Building, Coney Island's oldest, on the west corner of Jones Walk. February 16, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

UPDATE April 29, 2010:

John Strong’s deal to rent the Grashorn is off! We’re sorry that rumors of Joe Sitt’s plans to demolish historic buildings which we reported in last week’s post “Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings” (ATZ, April 21, 2010) have turned out to be true. This is one time we would have preferred for the rumors to have remained just rumors.

Today, in response to a flurry of queries from reporters about Sitt’s still unleased empty lots and vacant properties, Thor Equities pr flack Knickerbocker SKD issued a press release announcing Sitt’s intention to begin demolishing the buildings and to replace them with other structures by May 2011. According to the release, “These structures will be replaced with more attractive, retail-friendly and up-to-code shops for the type of retailers Coney is famous for.” See “Thor’s Coney Island: Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt Is Baaack Playing Games!” (ATZ. April 29, 2010)

Translation: More Bull-Sitt from Thor Equities. More deliberately created empty lots.

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

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

February 5, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Burst Water Pipes & Onerous Deal at Grashorn for Freak Museum

January 13, 2010: John Strong Sideshow Aims for Coney Island Comeback

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Grashorn Building

Burst Water Pipe in the Grashorn Building - The Oldest Building in Coney Island. February 4, 2010. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Yesterday a water pipe burst on the second floor of the Thor Equities-owned Grashorn Building, Coney Island’s oldest building. Water poured down the front of the vacant building, covering it in a sheet of ice and leaving an icy pile on the sidewalk by the end of day. We are of course worried that the leaking water may have done a significant amount of damage to the interior of the historic circa 1880s building. According to Coney Island: Lost and Found, the former Grashorn hardware store served Coney Island’s amusement businesses for more than 60 years. Will water damage plus onerous lease terms put the kibosh on John Strong’s deal to rent the building?

As first reported by ATZ on Monday, Texas-based sideshow operator John Strong came to New York and made a deal with Thor to rent the building at Surf Ave and Jones Walk for his freak and oddity museum. Sources told ATZ that when John Strong learned about the burst pipe, he phoned Thor Equities, which had already been notified of the problem. Strong also indicated that he might walk away from the deal because he had just received a copy of his lease from Thor and it contained a 30 day vacate clause. This clause means if Thor wants Strong out he’d have to leave within 30 days though he has offered to pay the entire season’s rent up front.

Can anyone explain the reason for a 30 day vacate clause on this seasonal lease? We’re told this clause was also in the leases that Thor gave to the Boardwalk businesses last year. Thor Equities onerous leases are infamous in Coney Island. But John Strong has a lot of work to do on both the interior and exterior of the vacant building to prepare it for his freak museum. The extra added attraction for Strong is the apartment on the upper floors of the Grashorn. Strong reportedly said he’d been told it would be up to him to get rid of the squatters and the garbage in the building!

Grashorn Building

Leak is from the second floor, dribbling down the front gates. Note Private security guard in Jones Walk. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

All we can say is if this is the way Thor Equities makes a deal with John Strong, who was instrumental in bringing rides and attractions to Sitt’s Dreamland last summer and has been one of Joe Sitt’s biggest boosters, newcomers beware. Oh yeah, that’s right: business is business. We hope that Thor Equities works out a more equitable lease agreement with John Strong so that the long vacant Grashorn Building will be “Alive!” and open for business this summer.

UPDATE 6:20 PM…ATZ has learned that Thor Equities had the water turned off in the Grashorn Building, salted the icy sidewalk and sent a locksmith to change all the locks. A security guard is now parked in front of the building keeping watch 24 hours a day. Our source speculates that instead of a burst water pipe, squatters who had been occupying the apartments on the upper floors turned all the faucets on and left the water running out of spite. If that’s the case, perhaps they got the idea from “the wet bandits” in the movie Home Alone. Their trademark was to leave the water running after they’d pulled a heist. Anyway, ATZ is glad Coney Island’s oldest building has its own personal security guard while we wait for it to be calendered by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. UPDATE FEB 6: A Little Publicity Doesn’t Hurt Dept: In response to ATZ’s email, John Strong writes: “As of today my concerns have been met and changed on the lease. I am moving forward coming to Coney Island.”

UPDATE April 29, 2010:

John Strong’s deal to rent the Grashorn is off! We’re sorry that rumors of Joe Sitt’s plans to demolish historic buildings which we reported in last week’s post “Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings” (ATZ, April 21, 2010) have turned out to be true. This is one time we would have preferred for the rumors to have remained just rumors.

Today, in response to a flurry of queries from reporters about Sitt’s still unleased empty lots and vacant properties, Thor Equities pr flack Knickerbocker SKD issued a press release announcing Sitt’s intention to begin demolishing the buildings and to replace them with other structures by May 2011. According to the release, “These structures will be replaced with more attractive, retail-friendly and up-to-code shops for the type of retailers Coney is famous for.” See “Thor’s Coney Island: Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt Is Baaack Playing Games!” (ATZ. April 29, 2010)

Translation: More Bull-Sitt from Thor Equities. More deliberately created empty lots.

Aerial view of Grashorn Building and 24 hour security guard. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Aerial view of Grashorn Building and its 24 hour security guard. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

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March 9, 2009: Thor’s Coney Island: Wanna Lease Stillwell? That’ll Be $500K Up Front!

January 31, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Freak Museum to Lease Coney’s Oldest Building

January 13, 2010: John Strong Sideshow Aims for Coney Island Comeback

January 8, 2010: Coney Island 2010: Good Riddance to Thor Equities Flopped Flea Market, Hello Rides?

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Thor Equities Shuttered Grashorn Bldg, Surf Ave & Jones Walk, Coney Island, August 15, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Thor Equities Shuttered Grashorn Bldg, Surf Ave & Jones Walk, Coney Island, August 15, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

ATZ has learned that sideshow operator John Strong has made a deal with Thor Equities to return to Coney Island for the 2010 season. In lieu of last year’s location in the former Astroland arcade, which was sold to the City, Strong’s freak museum will occupy Thor Equities’ owned 1104 Surf Ave at Jones Walk. Known as the Grashorn Building after Henry Grashorn’s Hardware store, which was in business in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the building is Coney Island’s oldest. The Texas-based showman flew into New York last week for a meeting with Thor Equities.

The building fronts Surf Avenue and extends along the west side of Jones Walk. Yet this prime location remained vacant and devoid of activity in 2009 (see photo above) due to Thor CEO Joe Sitt’s soaring rents. Last summer, a business owner who had leased a small stand on the Walk from Thor in 2008 told us the 2009 rent had tripled from $8,000 to $24,000. He declined the space and left Coney Island.

John Strong was mum on the cost of his lease for the Grashorn but is said to be happy with the deal. His museum of live and preserved freaks and oddities will occupy a prime location between Zamperla’s new Luna Park on the former Astroland site and Coney Island USA’s Sideshow and Museum at Surf Ave and 12th Street. The extra added attraction for Strong and company is the apartment on the upper floors.

Grashorn Building, April 19, 2003.  Municipal Art Society via flickr

Grashorn Building, April 19, 2003. Municipal Art Society via flickr

As ATZ reported in “John Strong Sideshow Aims for Coney Island Comeback” (Jan 13, 2010), Strong also proposes putting his ten-in-one sideshow as well as a circus on Thor’s Stillwell property. But several carnivals and amusement operators, including the also rans for the City’s RFP, are vying to lease what remains of Thor’s lots on Stillwell. A decision is expected by mid-February.

In Coney Island: Lost and Found, historian Charles Denson writes that the building at 1104 Surf dates back to the 1880’s and the Grashorn hardware store served Coney Island’s amusement businesses for more than 60 years: “The clapboard façade, dormers, cast iron resting, chimneys and fish-scale shingles were removed when the building was renovated in the 1980s but the mansard roof retains its shape.”

Grashorn Building in 1969. Photo © Charles Denson via Coney Island History Project

Grashorn Building in 1969. Photo © Charles Denson via Coney Island History Project

The Grashorn is one of six historic structures proposed for city landmark designation by Coney Island USA, the Municipal Art Society and Save Coney Island. In 2004, Coney Island USA received a grant from the JM Kaplan Fund to hire an architectural historian and research old buildings in Coney Island. The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has delayed calendaring the buildings during the rezoning process.

MAS’s Melissa Baldock makes a plea for the Grashorn Building’s landmark designation: “The building could be restored to be a wonderful showpiece of Coney Island’s historic vernacular architecture. It is remarkable that this building, which predates Coney Island’s first enclosed amusement parks and was built around the same time as Coney Island (and America’s) first roller coaster, survives in 2009. However, without landmark status, there is no guarantee that this piece of Coney Island history will be part of its future.”

UPDATE April 29, 2010:

John Strong’s deal to rent the Grashorn is off! We’re sorry that rumors of Joe Sitt’s plans to demolish historic buildings which we reported in last week’s post “Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings” (ATZ, April 21, 2010) have turned out to be true. This is one time we would have preferred for the rumors to have remained just rumors.

Today, in response to a flurry of queries from reporters about Sitt’s still unleased empty lots and vacant properties, Thor Equities pr flack Knickerbocker SKD issued a press release announcing Sitt’s intention to begin demolishing the buildings and to replace them with other structures by May 2011. According to the release, “These structures will be replaced with more attractive, retail-friendly and up-to-code shops for the type of retailers Coney is famous for.” See “Thor’s Coney Island: Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt Is Baaack Playing Games!” (ATZ. April 29, 2010)

Translation: More Bull-Sitt from Thor Equities. More deliberately created empty lots.

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March 9, 2009: Thor’s Coney Island: Wanna Lease Stillwell? That’ll Be $500K Up Front!

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Texas-based sideshow operator John Strong has launched a new website replete with photos to announce he’s booking his 2010 season. Coney Island is clearly at the top of his wish list. A one-page proposal on the site outlines Strong’s pitch to return to Coney Island in 2010 with shows similar to his “Strangest Girls in the World” ten-in-one circus sideshow and his Oddity Museum.

July 2, 2009: John Strong Sideshow in Coney Island. ©2009 Norman Blake. All rights reserved by NB Photo Flash via flickr

July 2, 2009: John Strong Sideshow in Coney Island. ©2009 Norman Blake, All rights reserved by NB Photo Flash via flickr

The flamboyant showman’s traveling museum boasts dozens of live and preserved freaks of nature, including Double Trouble the Two Headed Rattlesnake, a Four Tailed Iguana and a Five-Legged Puppy. Nope, it’s not the adorable-looking, headline-grabbing 5-legged Chihuahua mix that was “saved” from being sold to Strong’s freak show last year. It’s a Yorkie and she’s looking forward to being in Coney Island and written up in the New York Times.

Strong’s two shows were booked into Thor Equities-owned Dreamland Park on the former Astroland site in 2009. Now he hopes to be able to book the same locations with the City’s soon-to-be designated amusement operator. At the end of 2009, the City paid $95.6 million to purchase 6.9 acres of Thor’s property in Coney Island and issued an RFP for an amusement operator for the parcels. “Contingent on the award of the NYC Contracts and negotiation with the Amusement Operator, the current John Strong Shows Proposal for Coney Island 2010 has three primary components,” according to the proposal on Strong’s website.

Night Shot of Banner Painted by Jorge Rivero and Takeshi Yamada for John Strongs Strange Girls Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Night Shot of Banner Painted by Jorge Rivero and Takeshi Yamada for John Strong's Strange Girls Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The third part of Strong’s pitch is “A Cirque-style/Las Vegas class, choreographed, Circus Sideshow production…. with fire eaters, family friendly dance revues and similar live amusements with a definite plot and thematic development.” Strong and his friend Butch Butler of Butler Amusements jointly own the equipment (seats, lights, etc.) for the 2000 seat, 1-ring circus. Last summer Butler brought four rides all the way from California to Coney Island’s Dreamland, including Michael Jackson’s Dragon Wagon from Neverland Ranch.

The proposed site for the Cirque is Thor Equities tented property on Stillwell Avenue where “For Lease” signs went up last week. “Joe Sitt, Digna Rodriguez and Sam Sabin of Thor Equities have been very supportive of this use of Thor’s tents and properties on Surf,” Strong says in his proposal.

ATZ has already committed to hoping for rides and more rides and even more rides on Stillwell to replace the demolished Bumper Boats and bulldozed Go Karts and the long vanished Tornado roller coaster and Bobsled ride. But we do look forward to seeing John Strong’s drop-dead gorgeous Strange Girls and Mermaid and Giantess sideshow banners once again.

UPDATE April 29, 2010:

John Strong’s deal to rent the Grashorn is off! We’re sorry that rumors of Joe Sitt’s plans to demolish historic buildings which we reported in last week’s post “Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings” (ATZ, April 21, 2010) have turned out to be true. This is one time we would have preferred for the rumors to have remained just rumors.

Today, in response to a flurry of queries from reporters about Sitt’s still unleased empty lots and vacant properties, Thor Equities pr flack Knickerbocker SKD issued a press release announcing Sitt’s intention to begin demolishing the buildings and to replace them with other structures by May 2011. According to the release, “These structures will be replaced with more attractive, retail-friendly and up-to-code shops for the type of retailers Coney is famous for.” See “Thor’s Coney Island: Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt Is Baaack Playing Games!” (ATZ. April 29, 2010)

Translation: More Bull-Sitt from Thor Equities. More deliberately created empty lots.

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Related posts on ATZ…

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

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

January 31, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Freak Museum to Lease Coney’s Oldest Building

August 24, 2009: Coney Island-O-Rama: John Strong Packs Up, Geren’s Rides “Sitt” It Out

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