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Men at work on roof of Thor Equities owned Henderson Building, morning of Aug 16, 2010

A Coney Island photographer took this set of photos around 9 am this morning of men at work on the roof of Thor Equities-owned Henderson Building. The former music hall where Harpo Marx made his stage debut is at the corner of Stillwell and Surf, directly across the street from Nathan’s Famous. What are Thor’s masked men up to? Asbestos removal or demolition? If it was not demolition work, but asbestos abatement, does yellow caution tape protect the public from inhaling asbestos fibers and dust? Look at the photos and decide for yourself. And check out a photo of the building taken two weeks ago when the brickwork was still intact.

When the demo crew saw the photographer taking pictures, they started scrambling around, hiding their faces, and calling on their cells. Fortunately they were too far away to make a grab for his camera, which is what happened to another photographer at the Bank of Coney Building in June.

Men at work on roof of Thor Equities owned Henderson Building, morning of Aug 16, 2010

Inspector #1027 from the City’s Department of Buildings responded to a complaint of “unsafe/illegal/mechanical demo” and had this to say in his report: “NO VIOLATION WARRANTED FOR COMPLAINT AT TIME OF INSPECTION. NO DEMOLITION WORK NOTED.” Okay, DOB, we get the message, you don’t have to scream at us in all caps.

Men at work on roof of Thor Equities owned Henderson Building, morning of Aug 16, 2010

Last time we posted about “Thor’s Coney Island: Demolition Under the Radar?” about Thor’s property at 12th St and Surf, the DOB’s assessment was frustratingly similar “NO VIOLATION WARRANTED FOR COMPLAINT AT TIME OF INSPECTION. NO DEMOLITION WORK NOTED AT TIME OF INSPECTION, NO WORK NOTED.” We were told the inspector has to see the violation happening before his own eyes, or there’s no violation!

Ironically, the demolition comes at a time when there’s fresh hope of saving these historic buildings. On August 12, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation wrote Save Coney Island that “the historic core of Coney Island appears to meet the criteria for listing to the Registers as a historic district.” State and National Register listing would make the buildings eligible for hefty tax credits, but unlike City landmarking, doesn’t protect them from Thor’s hammer. In a David vs Goliath moment, Save Coney Island’s Juan Rivero called on Joe Sitt to be a hero and redevelop Coney Island in the right way. We’re not exactly holding our breath, but after a hiatus of more than a month (it’s been an incredibly busy summer for those of us who work in Coney!), ATZ is back with a vengeance. On Aug 13, the DOB issued Thor permits to demolish the Bank of Coney Island as well as the Shore Hotel. According to the ominously worded documents: “This job is not subject to the Department’s Development Challenge Process. For any issues, please contact the relevant borough office.” Huh?

Men at work on roof of Thor Equities owned Henderson Building, morning of Aug 16, 2010

Save Coney Island posted a statement on their website: “Workers were seen and photographed this morning (Monday August 16) on the building’s roof using mechanical equipment to remove bricks from the top of the façade of the 1899 Henderson Music Hall, where Harpo Marx made his stage debut with his brothers Groucho and Gummo. Thor does not appear to have acquired any permits for this sort of work. According to the New York City Department of Buildings website, no new permits have been issued for the Henderson building in the past several years.Moreover, there was no scaffolding or sidewalk shed present to protect pedestrians during the demolition work.”

The building is slated for demolition this fall and asbestos abatement appears to be underway though the photographer did not see any permits posted this morning. The permits for this type of work are issued by the City’s Department of Environmental Protection, not the D.O.B, and are not listed on the City’s website. Back in June, when Thor did asbestos abatement on the Bank of Coney Island we wrote:

We’re shocked that the City has issued permits to Thor Equities for pre-demolition asbestos abatement during Coney Island’s summer season. Couldn’t Joe Sitt be persuaded to wait till October to get on with his dirty work of demolishing the historic buildings that he owns in Coney Island? Is the City monitoring the air around the doomed Bank of Coney Island or leaving it up to Thor’s team to keep us safe from inhaling asbestos fibers and dust? Here’s where we start to be concerned.

We’re still concerned. The issues we brought up in “Thor’s Coney Island: Caution! Asbestos Removal at Doomed Bank” (June 14, 2010) and “Thor’s Coney Island: Demolition Under the Radar?” (July 1, 2010) have been ignored.

UPDATE August 22, 2010:

In a dicussion about one of the above photos posted on our flickr photostream, flickr member Asbestorama, who has an archive of asbestos abatement-related photos, writes:

Looks like they’re removing roof mastic or sealant from the parapet coping. The usage of HEPA-filtered respirators and disposable coveralls give the impression that these activities involve removal of asbestos (mechanical removal, dry scraping ?)

The concrete block, bricks, equipment, tools, or even the hazardous material itself could fall, creating additional issues. The yellow caution tape below does seem inadequate for the potential risks associated with these activities. Also, doesn’t appear that the workers are being monitored for possible contaminant exposure (asbestos?) which is usually required for OSHA compliance, even for outside roof work.

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

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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 What's behind the newly erected tarp atop Bank of Coney Island? Asbestos removal in progress!

What's behind the newly erected tarp atop Bank of Coney Island? Asbestos removal in progress! June 14, 2010

We’re shocked that the City has issued permits to Thor Equities for pre-demolition asbestos abatement during Coney Island’s summer season. Couldn’t Joe Sitt be persuaded to wait till October to get on with his dirty work of demolishing the historic buildings that he owns in Coney Island?

Joey Bulldozer Sitt, who has ZERO rides and attractions on his Stillwell lots this season, contributes ZERO to the Coney Island community. While Coney Island’s stakeholders are busy working to make this summer the best in decades, the only thing Joe Sitt is busy doing is turning the rest of his Coney property into empty lots asap. Too bad New York City is not ancient Athens, where citizens considered dangerous to public welfare were banished!

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The permit from the City’s Department of Environmental Protection is dated June 1, 2010 and runs through January 2011. Is the City monitoring the air around the doomed Bank of Coney Island or leaving it up to Thor’s team to keep us safe from inhaling asbestos fibers and dust? Here’s where we start to be concerned…

Workers have been doing asbestos abatement at the bank building on weeknights for the past two weeks. Last week another Coney Island photographer was threatened by a thuggish worker who made a grab for his camera as he was snapping photos. Did they have something to hide or were they merely camera shy? Today for the first time the crew worked daytime hours. Early this morning some kind of white covering appeared on the rooftop, but caution tape did not materialize on the street until 1 pm. Sounds of heavy machinery in bank. Observers tell ATZ it looked like they were cutting and removing pipes and metal. While some workers wore hazmat-type gear, others were seen working inside the building in street clothes, no hard hats. Around 3 pm, they put garbage bags full of material in the back of a closed unmarked truck.

Uh, do we have to point out that asbestos is considered dangerous? Since there is no known safe level of exposure, all asbestos exposure should be avoided. Anyone who is exposed to asbestos can get mesothelioma. “Workers who deal with this deadly material often carried microscopic asbestos fibers home with them in their clothes and hair, which caused secondary exposure to their families and friends. Over time, these innocent victims can develop mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other fatal conditions.”

NPU ducts protrude from second story of Bank of Coney Island.  Photo by Capt Nemo.

NPU ducts protrude from second story of Bank of Coney Island. Photo by Capt Nemo.

See “A Rare Peek Inside Endangered Bank of Coney Island” (ATZ, Oct 9 2009) for a look at a building that is not long for this world. The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected Save Coney Island’s proposal to landmark the bank building and three other historic buildings. The other three –the Grashorn and Henderson and the Shore Hotel — are probably next on the abatement list. One day last week when we passed by the vacant Shore Hotel, we saw the shuttered first floor open. A man was inside taking notes. Since the Henderson and Bank of Coney were doomed by last year’s rezoning for 30 story hotel towers, it’s doubtful that Save Coney Island’s continuing efforts to save them will succeed. So what’s your hurry, Joe?

UPDATE August 14, 2010:

We’re sorry to report the demolition permit for the bank building was issued yesterday– Friday the 13th. It was no surprise because on Wednesday the sidewalks around the Thor-owned building were being dug up to disconnect sewer and water lines in preparation. How inexpressibly sad to see the potential here and what will be gone forever in a matter of days. Don’t bother calling the DOB to complain either. It’s final! According to the permit: “This job is not subject to the Department’s Development Challenge Process. For any issues, please contact the relevant borough office.” Joe Sitt will soon have another empty lot to add to his collection of empty lots.

UPDATE June 14, 2010:

Soon after our post, we received an email from contributing photographer Bruce Handy with links to his flickr photo set of asbestos removal signs at the Shore Hotel, seen during Save Coney Island’s Historic Walking Tour on June 13. We bet the other two buildings have permits, too. Too bad the DOB doesn’t list these permits on the Bank of Coney’s and Shore Hotel’s pages on the DOB site, where people have been keeping an eye out for news! According to the DEP’s website, the City’s permitting process for asbestos abatement has been moved from the DOB to the DEP’s office in Lefrak City.

Shore Hotel Asbestos Set, June 14, 2010.  Photo © Bruce Handy via flickr

Shore Hotel Asbestos Set, June 13, 2010. Photo © Bruce Handy via flickr

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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Call to Action: Rally for Preservation on Wednesday, May 12

WHEN: Wednesday, May 12th at 10am SHARP

WHERE: City Hall Steps – 4,5,6, N or R Trains to City Hall

Tomorrow morning, Save Coney Island joins the Historic Districts Council and other preservation groups at a citywide rally at City Hall.

“Save Coney Island believes this summer should be about REVITALIZATION (with the opening of the new Luna Park) and PRESERVATION – NOT about “DEMOLITION,” said an e-mail from the grass-roots group. “Please join us. This will be a perfect opportunity to put Coney Island’s preservation battle in the citywide spotlight. We need you to make your voice heard.”

ATZ is sorry that rumors of Joe Sitt’s plans to demolish historic buildings which we reported in “Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings” (ATZ, April 21, 2010) have turned out to be true. On May 3, Thor Equities spokes-tool Loren Riegelhaupt told the Brooklyn Paper: “This summer is going to be about the demolition.” The reference is to the planned demo of four historic buildings in Coney Island owned by Joe Sitt.

Shore Hotel Nature's Paradise by the Sea. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Shore Hotel Nature's Paradise by the Sea. April 26, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The endangered buildings are the Grashorn, Coney Island’s oldest; the former Bank of Coney Island; the Henderson Building; and the Shore Hotel. The Grashorn and Henderson were nominated for landmark designation by Coney Island USA and all four buildings would be part of an historic district proposed by Save Coney Island. Stefan Friedman, another Thor spokes-tool, told the paper: “These buildings were thoroughly reviewed by the city [before] last year’s rezoning and determined to have no significant historic value whatsoever. Some of these buildings are asbestos-infested ramshackle buildings that pose a very real risk to the local community.”

We’ll counter Thor’s disinformation campaign by referring you to “Destined for Demolition? Historic Buildings Owned By Thor Equities” in the right column of our blog for articles by the Municipal Art Society, Vanishing New York and ATZ on the four buildings in question and Save Coney’s list of historic landmarks. As for Thor’s empty lots, check out “Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt”

The Historic Districts Council is hosting the rally…

We will be having speakers from neighborhoods across the city talking about their efforts and giving voice to the fact that people want preservation. For the past four years, HDC has helped organize a preservation day at City Hall that dozens of neighborhood preservationists have attended to show the strength of the preservation community. Through our efforts, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has grown in staff and has designated more properties in all five boroughs than ever – they designated more properties in 2008 than they had in any year since 1990. This record of accomplishment needs to continue; dozens of historic neighborhoods throughout New York City are still unprotected and prey to tear-downs and unregulated development. If we’ve learned one thing in 45 years of preservation practice in New York, it’s that landmark protection is good for the city. Without landmark protection, SoHo and Tribeca wouldn’t exist, the theater district would be an office park and Brooklyn Heights would be filled with high-rises. But as much as the LPC has accomplished, there’s still much more to do.

Coney Island’s Shore Theater and Coney Island USA’s Building (the former Childs Restaurant on Surf Avenue) are being considered for landmark designation by the LPC.

Thor-owned Henderson Building Being Cleaned Out, May 8, 2010. Photo © Capt. Nemo/Magical Theme Parks

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Related posts on ATZ…

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

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

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