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Shore Theater

Coney Island’s Shore Theater in the days after Hurricane Sandy. November 5, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Can the Shore Theater, vacant for 40 years and designated a New York City landmark in 2010, be saved? On Monday, a group of people armed with bolt cutters cut the locks on a side door and went inside to find out. Sources on the scene told ATZ that one member of the group claimed they plan to buy and rehab the property as a hotel, restaurant and retail and need to find out if it is salvageable or beyond repair. Accompanying them was Kelly Floropoulos of Amiantos Environmental, whose firm does environmental site assessments. Reached by phone, Ms. Floropoulos told ATZ, “I can’t disclose any information. We’re still in the preliminary stages of assessment. It will take a few weeks.”

Shore Theater

Homeless encampment under the sidewalk shed at the Shore Theater. July 30, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

When the building was about to win landmark designation in 2010, we wrote “March 23: Rescuing Coney Island’s Shore Theater from 35 Years of Neglect” (March 8, 2010). However, five more years of neglect have followed. A sampling of complaints to the DOB since then has included homeless encampment residing on a regular basis on the sidewalk shed and inside the building accessing by a ladder, safety concerns for the homeless as well as the public, windows unboarded, doors ripped, scaffold area is dark and unmaintained, falling debris.

The mystery buyer said he was one of the owners of the lot on the north side of Surf across from the Cyclone. A phone call to PYE Properties, which has a sign up advertising Coming Soon Retail Stores for Rent on the undeveloped lot, yielded no additional info. “I don’t know what you’re referring to,” said a spokeswoman. “Call back in a month.”

Shore Theater

Shore Theater. June 13, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

September 29, 2015: Will 1938 Art Moderne Gem Become Coney Island’s Only Landmark Outside of Amusement Area?

May 4, 2015: Boardwalk Bunco: Milan Expo’s USA Pavilion Has Boardwalk from Coney Island, Brooklyn to Get Plastic & Concrete

March 11, 2015: In Coney Island, Two Stores and One NYC Landmark Mark 95th Year

November 18, 2014: ATZ’s Guide to Coney Island’s Honorary Walks and Places

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Pegasus

Pegasus statues from the Coney Island Pumping Station were removed to the Brooklyn Museum’s Sculpture Garden for safekeeping in 1980. Photo © Charles Denson via coneyislandhistory.org

Let’s bring the Pegasus statues home to Coney Island! The only way that can happen is if the long vacant Coney Island Pumping Station, which they once guarded, is landmarked and restored.

Today, October 22nd, is the last day to submit your comments to the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in support of landmarking the 1938 art moderne gem. The email address is backlog95@lpc.nyc.gov. “Anytime is fine,” Emily Rich, the LPC’s Public Information Officer told ATZ, so make sure to email your message before midnight.

If the city-owned building on Coney Island Creek wins designation, it would become Coney Island’s only official landmark outside of the amusement area, which has six official city landmarks–The Wonder Wheel, Cyclone and Parachute Jump, the two former Childs Restaurant buildings, and the former Shore Theater.

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Pegasus

Pegasus statues from the Coney Island Pumping Station were removed to the Brooklyn Museum’s Sculpture Garden for safekeeping in 1980. Photo © Charles Denson via coneyislandhistory.org

Your last chance to submit public comments to save the long neglected Coney Island Pumping Station designed by Chanin Building architect Irwin Chanin is just three days away. [Note: comment period was extended through Octover 22.] The city-owned building on Coney Island Creek would be Coney’s only landmark outside of the amusement area, which has six official city landmarks–The Wonder Wheel, Cyclone and Parachute Jump, the two former Childs Restaurant buildings, and the former Shore Theater.

Prior to the Landmarks Preservation Commmission’s October 8, 2015 public hearing to address a backlog of calendared buildings, the LPC is asking speakers to register in advance and submit written statements by October 1st. The email address for comments is backlog95@lpc.nyc.gov. If you are unable to attend the hearing, your written submissions will be entered into the record and distributed to the Commissioners, according to the LPC’s website. A link to a pdf with information about the hearing, at which 29 buildings are on the agenda, is here.

If the Coney Island Pumping Station wins designation, the Pegasus statues, which were removed to the Brooklyn Museum’s Sculpture Garden for safekeeping 35 years ago, could return in triumph to their Coney Island home. After being proposed for landmark designation in 1980, the building was to be mothballed and protected for future use, according to a 1981 article in The Society for Commercial Archaeology News Journal.

Coney Island Pumping Station

Coney Island Pumping Station designed by architect Irwin S. Chanin, whose works include the Century and Majestic apartment houses and the Chanin Building

However, the city proved unable to protect the building from vandals who removed the nickel silver, steel, aluminum and granite trim, and chiseled away at the facade and the winged horses at the building’s entrance. “In an attempt to protect the sculpture from further vandalism, Charles Savage, director of the Commission’s salvage program, managed to have them removed to the Brooklyn Museum for safekeeping. Local press applauded the preservation of this portion of the so-called ‘off-beat Coney Island landmark.’”

Decommissioned as a fire pumping station in 1976, the long vacant structure is listed as a “non-residential structure with no use” in the database of city-owned property. Nothing ever came of a plan reported by the NY Times in 1990 to spend $23 million to revive the structure to connect two wings of transitional housing for homeless families.

“Numerous proposals have surfaced recently to repurpose the building for community usage including as a Coney Island ferry terminal, ecology center, or museum,” writes Charles Denson on the Coney Island History Project’s blog in a plea to save the building for future generations. “The Art Deco structure was unusual for Coney Island and much different than most municipal structures which were commonly utilitarian and devoid of ornamentation. Chanin commissioned a pair of winged horse sculptures for the entrance to the elliptical limestone and granite Moderne structure, creating a magnificent monument amidst Coney’s ephemeral landscape.”

In addition to submitting your comments to the Landmarks Preservation Commission by October 1st, we urge you to sign and share the Art Deco Society of New York’s petition to landmark the Coney Island Pumping Station, which will be submitted to the Commission.

Coney Island Pumping Station

Coney Island Pumping Station, Neptune Avenue. July 18, 2014. Photo © Charles Denson via coneyislandhistory.org

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May 4, 2015: Boardwalk Bunco: Milan Expo’s USA Pavilion Has Boardwalk from Coney Island, Brooklyn to Get Plastic & Concrete

April 13, 2015: Video of the Day: Century-Old Forest Park Carousel Awhirl After Off-Season Overhaul

March 11, 2015: In Coney Island, Two Stores and One NYC Landmark Mark 95th Year

November 18, 2014: ATZ’s Guide to Coney Island’s Honorary Walks and Places

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Childs Building

Childs Building, Proposed Elevation Boardwalk. GKV Architects, PC and Higgins Quasebarth & Partners via NYCEDC

Visitors to Coney Island frequently ask “What are those ruins on the Boardwalk?” From Steeplechase Pier, where the crumbling walls are not evident but the allure is unmistakeable, they simply ask “What is that building?” On Wednesday at 10:00 am, the City Planning Commission at 22 Reade St. will consider and is likely to approve the plan to convert the former Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk, a New York City landmark, into an amphitheater for live concerts and a restaurant. If the board votes yes, as expected, then it goes to the City Council on Dec 16

The project’s official name is “The Seaside Park and Community Arts Center” and it would also “provide the community with additional publicly accessible recreational and entertainment opportunities throughout the year,” according to the proposal. The application was submitted by property owner iStar Financial (AKA Coney Island Holdings) and the City’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

Anyone wishing to speak at the hearing is requested to fill out a speaker’s slip at the staff desk outside the hearing chambers. Remarks are limited to 3 minutes. The full agenda of the meeting –the Childs Building is “Nos. 9-14”– and information on submitting written statements can be found in the calendar[pdf].

Childs Building

section Looking at Stage, Childs Building in Season. GKV Architects, PC and Higgins Quasebarth & Partners via NYCEDC

As previously noted (“Clock Ticking on Plan for the Landmark Childs Building,” ATZ, September 25, 2013), the City has the funds to bring the landmark back to life since Borough President Marty Markowitz will be able to use $50 million set aside in 2010 for a $64 million amphitheater in Asser Levy Park that was halted by a lawsuit. Since then, his free Seaside Concerts have been held on the Washington Baths site, a vacant lot across 21st Street from the Childs Building.

If the $50 million isn’t spent by the time the Borough President’s third term ends on December 31, 2013, it would go back into the public coffers and be lost to Coney Island. The landmark building’s deteriorating condition is also cause for concern. After Sandy, parts of the terracotta facade cracked and began falling off. A sidewalk shed was installed this summer.

Childs Building

Childs Building, Proposed elevation West 21st Street. GKV Architects, PC and Higgins Quasebarth & Partners via NYCEDC

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December 2, 2013: New Construction: Coney Island Area’s 1st Hotel in Decades

November 28, 2013: Photo Album: Parachute Jump Lights Way to Year-Round Coney Island

October 30, 2013: Photo Album: Four Transformations, One Year After Sandy

October 7, 2012: ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island

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Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk

Photographer and Model in front of Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The fate of the landmark Childs Building on the Boardwalk is in limbo as Brooklyn’s Community Board 13 voted 15-7, with 7 abstentions, against the City’s plan to convert the former restaurant into an amphitheater for live concerts. Noise, traffic, parking and infrastructure issues were some of the reasons cited for the “no” votes. In public testimony at Monday night’s meeting, some residents of Coney Island said the plan was rushed, they needed to hear more about it. Others brought up the idea of a Community Benefits Agreement. Community garden advocates protested the loss and relocation of the Boardwalk garden adjacent to the building, which has been active since 1998 and has between 35-50 gardeners.

Boardwalk Community Garden

Community Garden on the Boardwalk adjacent to the Childs Building. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The problem is with less than 100 days left in this administration, time is running out to use the funds allocated for the project. If some kind of compromise plan isn’t worked out, the chance to restore and repurpose the vacant building could be lost. The City has the funds to bring the landmark back to life since Borough President Marty Markowitz will be able to use $50 million set aside in 2010 for a $64 million amphitheater in Seaside Park that was halted by a lawsuit. Since then, his free Seaside Concerts have been held on the Washington Baths site, a vacant lot across the street from the Childs Building.

If the $50 million isn’t spent by the time the Borough President’s third term ends on December 31, 2013, it would go back into the public coffers and be lost to Coney Island. The building’s deteriorating condition is also cause for concern. After Sandy, parts of the facade cracked and began falling off. The sidewalk shed was installed this summer.

Childs Building Coney Island

Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The Community Board’s vote is advisory only. Their recommendation is being forwarded to the City Planning Department and the Borough President’s Office, which may amend the proposal before sending it the City Council. It is customary for the Council to vote with the council member from the district. In 2011, when the community board voted 21 to 7 against the Parks Department’s plan to make a section of the Boardwalk concrete and plastic, the City pressed forward with the plan and won the necessary approval of the Public Design Commission, which is comprised of Mayoral appointees.

Dreamland Roller Rink

In 2008 and 2009, the Childs Building was used as Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink. August 2, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The City’s plan to develop the former Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk and adjacent lot into an entertainment complex with a rooftop restaurant was first reported by NY1 in August 2012 but detailed plans were not made public until April of this year. The property and surrounding lots zoned for high rise condos became part of the portfolio of iStar Financial when Taconic Investment Partners defaulted on loans. The developer plans to sell the building to the City and partner with nonprofit Coney Island USA to manage the programming.

As we noted last summer, it’s been sad to see Coney Island’s terracotta palace by the sea boarded up for the past few years after being enlivened by the Mermaid Parade Ball and Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink. Yet it’s hard to pass by without taking photos of its ornamental ships, seashells, fish and King Neptunes. When a tourist recently tweeted a photo describing the Childs as “the ruins,” we didn’t have the heart to respond. The 1923 Spanish Colonial Revival style building was designated a City landmark in 2003.

UPDATE December 20, 2013:

The City Council approved the development of the Seaside Park and Community Art Center, an entertainment complex and public park at the site of the Childs Restaurant Building. The approval by the City Council was part of a public review process that also involved approvals by the City Planning Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Public Design Commission.

The project will be developed and operated by a partnership between an affiliate of Coney Island Holdings LLC, and non-profit Coney Island USA, Inc., with $53 Million in city capital funds to develop the project, which involves the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Childs building as well as the development of a 5,100 seat amphitheater with a neighborhood park and playground overlooking Coney Island beachfront. Completion of the project is slated for June 2015.

UPDATE October 21, 2013:

There’s a public hearing on Wednesday, October 23rd, at 10:00 AM in Spector Hall, at the Department of City Planning (22 Reade Street, in Manhattan) to receive comments related to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Seaside Park and Community Arts Center project. According to the posted notice:

Comments are requested on the DEIS and will be accepted until 5:00p.m. on Monday, November 4, 2013. The Applicant, Coney Island Holdings LLC, is proposing a number of land use actions to facilitate the development of the Seaside Park and Community Arts Center (the “proposed project”) in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn. The proposed project involves the development of approximately 2.41-acres of publicly accessible open space, which would include an approximately 5,100-seat seasonal amphitheater for concerts and other events. The proposed project also includes the landmarked (Former) Childs Restaurant Building, which would be restored for reuse as a restaurant and banquet facility and renovated for adaptive reuse to provide the stage area for the open-air concert venue and use as an indoor entertainment venue during the off-season months. The Seaside Park and Community Arts Center would be a temporary use of the development site for a term of ten years from completion of construction.

The New Childs Restaurant

The New Childs Restaurant on the Riegelmann Boardwalk, August 1924. Eugene L. Armbruster Collection, New York Public Library

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January 24, 2013: Occupy Sandy’s New Warehouse in Coney Island Landmark

October 7, 2012: ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island

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The New Childs Restaurant

The New Childs Restaurant on the Riegelmann Boardwalk, August 1924. Eugene L. Armbruster Collection, New York Public Library

Earlier this week, NY1 reported the excellent news that the City plans to develop the former Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk and an adjacent lot into an entertainment complex. It will be the new home of Borough President Marty Markowitz’s popular Seaside Summer Concerts. First we felt surprise, since the building was not on the market, and then a mixture of elation and relief.

It’s been sad to see Coney Island’s terracotta palace by the sea boarded up for the past few years after being enlivened by the Mermaid Parade Ball and Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink. Yet it’s hard to pass by without taking photos of its ornamental ships, seashells, fish and King Neptunes. When a tourist recently tweeted a photo describing the Childs as “the ruins,” we didn’t have the heart to respond. The 1923 Spanish Colonial Revival style building was designated a City landmark in 2003.

Terra-cotta

Detail of terracotta ornamentation on Childs Building. July 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Luckily, the City has the funds to bring the building back to life since the Borough President will be able to use $50 million already set aside for a $64 million amphitheater in Seaside Park that was halted by a lawsuit. This is great news because if the money wasn’t spent by the time his third term ends in December 2013, it would go back into the public coffers and be lost to Coney Island.

Taconic Investment Partners, which owns approximately four blocks west and north of MCU Park, also holds a 99-year lease on the Childs building. The NY1 report didn’t say whether the City would acquire the lease from the development company or buy the building from the owner. Back in 2007, Brooklyn’s blogfather Bob Guskind described Taconic as “Coney Island’s Sleeper Megadeveloper” and it’s still an apt description. The developer began buying property in 2005 but has yet to develop anything in Coney Island.

“Taconic is in the process of evaluating the economics of a planned development for some or all of our holdings,” according to a web page about their “Coney Island, North and South Ventures.” That’s been the message for the longest time, probably because the economy and inadequate infrastructure put a dent in their plans. The 2009 rezoning allows Taconic to build nearly 2,000 residential units and more than 200,000 square feet of retail west and north of MCU. A restaurant and catering hall were part of the original plans for the Childs building. Dreamland Roller Rink operated rent-free for two years until 2010, when the high cost of insurance caused Taconic to shutter the space.

Dreamland Roller Rink

Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink. August 2, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

According to NY1, the lot west of the building will also be developed as part of the entertainment complex. The City-owned lot is the community garden pictured below. Right now it’s filled with tomatoes and sunflowers. Taconic owns the land east of the building, the former Washington Baths site. Thor Equities bought the vacant lot from Horace Bullard for $13 million and then flipped it to Taconic for an exorbitant $90 million because both parties were sure the City would rezone it for residential.

The Washington Baths site has been the temporary home of the Seaside Concert Series for the past two summers and for the Ringling Circus in 2009 and 2010. During the rest of the year, it is used as a school bus parking lot.

UPDATE September 26, 2013:

The City’s plan to convert the former restaurant into an amphitheater for live concerts is now working its way through City Planning and the City Council approval, though it was voted down by the community board. “Clock Ticking on Plan for the Landmark Childs Building,” ATZ, September 25, 2013.

community garden

Coney Island Community Garden adjacent to Childs Building. July 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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January 24, 2013: Occupy Sandy’s New Warehouse in Coney Island Landmark

August 2, 2012: New Building Breaks Ground Next to Coney Island’s Stillwell Terminal

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February 17, 2011: New Construction: Coney Island’s 1st Private Beachfront Condos on Boardwalk

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Just watching this video of Coney historian Charles Denson climbing the 270-foot tall Parachute Jump gives us vertigo. Ten years ago, when the landmarked Jump was about to get a $5 million refurbishment, we did a story for Preservation that featured a striking portrait of Denson standing atop the tower. Denson’s 10-minute film of the climb, released today via his “Coneyologist” Channel on YouTube, features video footage by Seth Kaufman and his own exquisite photos.

The Coney Island native, who came of age riding the Parachute Jump with his dad in Steeplechase Park, told us: “That ride—there was nothing like it, before or since. Just when you thought, ‘It can’t go any higher,’ the chute hit the top and exploded. You were flying in a free fall. Then it billowed open and you sailed down.”

Originally designed by a retired Naval commander to train military paratroopers in the 1930s, parachute towers were modified into amusement attractions when civilians clamored to ride. Denson last soared from the Jump’s tower in 1962, two years before the great granddaddy of vertical-thrill rides, along with the rest of Steeplechase Park, closed forever.

In 2002, Denson fulfilled his childhood dream to once again see the view from the top.  He writes:

The Jump was a nature preserve. The motor room base was filled with pigeon nests and covered with muddy footprints of the raccoons who fed on the eggs. A raptor circled us at the top as we disturbed its perch, and the feet of the many small birds it had caught and devoured were spread out across the catwalks. I grew up a few blocks from the Jump and have documented it since it closed. When the city decided to dismantle and renovate the Jump ten years ago, my engineer friend Seth Kaufman had the only copy of the original plans. The city needed them so we made a deal: We got to climb it legally.

If you think it would be crazy fun to scale Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, keep in mind Denson has issued a warning remarkably similar to that of a sideshow sword swallower: “Do NOT try this on your own. It is extremely dangerous and chances are that you will die.”

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