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Is this a landmark? For ‘Shore’ it is!

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Landmark status awaits — at long last, some say — at least two historic buildings in Coney Island, including the derelict Shore Theater, but possibly not the most famous site in the amusement area, Nathan’s Famous hot dog restaurant.

Preservationists nominated the façade and interior of the 1920s vaudeville playhouse on Surf Avenue for protective status in 2005, but Mayor Bloomberg’s vast redevelopment plan for Coney Island, which the City Council approved last week, jumpstarted the lingering review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“The architectural quality is every bit as wonderful as Broadway theaters that have received landmarking,” said Dick Zigun of Coney Island USA, the group that made the request. “The city let us know they’re sympathetic to our request.”

Zigun said it was urgent for the landmarks commission to evaluate the Shore Theater, owned by fried chicken magnate Horace Bullard, and other iconic structures now that the mayor won the passage of his plan to rebuild a sweeping cross section of the People’s Playground.

The Shore Theater, formerly the Loew’s Coney Island, was built in 1925 in a neo-Renaissance style. In addition to staging musicals, it served as a movie theater and has six stories of offices above it.

The auditorium still showed live entertainment through the 1960s, according to Charlie Denson, author of “Coney Island Lost and Found,” But a seedier fate awaited the stalwart.

In Coney Island’s darker days in the 1970s, it was an X-rated movie house.

By the time Bullard acquired the building in 1978, it no longer showed smut. Bullard briefly operated a branch of his Kansas Fried Chicken chain there, though it’s been boarded up for decades and the auditorium’s seat have been ripped out and replaced by concrete slabs.

Denson said that despite the neglect, the Shore represents a key piece of Coney Island’s legacy and should be salvaged.

“All those buildings that went up in the 1920s have a major symbolic value because that is the last time Coney Island had a major redevelopment,” said Denson.

Yet the city’s apparent willingness to save pieces of Coney Island’s glory days, also including a likely designation for Coney Island USA’s home on Surf Avenue, may not extend to the beloved Nathan’s Famous stand opposite the Shore Theater at the intersection of Stillwell and Surf avenues.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has yet to wrap up its analysis of the classic fast-food joint, even though it was part of the application submitted by Coney Island USA earlier this decade.

Although Nathan’s neon light and unmistakable signage are beloved, the squat building might not have the architectural or historical clout to make it onto the list of local protected sites that also include the Cyclone roller coaster, Deno’s Wonder Wheel ride and the Childs restaurant building, now the Dreamland skating rink.

Indeed, the existing Nathan’s days may be numbered, thanks to the mayor’s redevelopment plan.

A report from the Department of City Planning released in January said the frankfurter Mecca, which dates back to 1916, could be replaced by a hotel, retail or new amusement.

Its possible demolition unleashed an online petition drive on Sunday to save it from the wrecking ball. The petition’s organizers want to obtain 50,000 Internet signatures, though through Tuesday, they had 128.

The future is uncertain for the Shore Theater, too. Once, it was part of the core amusement area, but now it’s in the area targeted for potentially lucrative residential development. If it’s deemed a landmark, its upper floors could be converted to apartments, but the exterior would be unalterable and the theater would be restored.

A landmarks commission spokeswoman said that no hearing is scheduled for the Shore or Coney Island USA buildings, but said the city is interested in conserving both.

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Reader Feedback

Kelly from Old Coney Island says:
Coney Island's history is reknowned and Nathan's is part of that magnificant history. When you think of Coney Island, you think of the wonder of the world's best hot dogs, french fries and the beauty of memories of a special place and time. Redevelopment and renovation is good...to a point. Replacing Nathan's with a hotel, retail, or even a amusement would be a slap in the face of those of us who treasure the wonderful Coney Island that has survived the tests of time. Its not all amount dollars and cents, its about a dream that Nathan Handwerker had in 1916 that still exists today.
Aug. 5, 2009, 8:38 am
al pankin from downtown says:
the shore theater should be a landmark..that's where everyone registered for the draft, it was a truly unremarkable event.
Aug. 5, 2009, 8:58 am
Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
The fact that there's even debate about whether or not Nathan's should be landmarked shows what a crock the whole landmarking process really is.

Before acting, the LPC needs to check with the Mayor, so he can check with his developer buddies, to see if anyone has designs on that plot of land. Only if all the developers decide to pass will the site then receive landmark status.

Protect Nathan's now!
Aug. 5, 2009, 10:37 am
Cynthia from Coney Island says:
I agree with you Eric. Nothing gets on the calendar of the LPC unless the almighty Mayor and the local councilman say so
Aug. 5, 2009, 12:39 pm
Mazz from Coney Island says:
The Shore Needs to be renovated and turned into a Year Round music venue and the Commercial building turned into a Hotel. All major development like Hotels, Residential and Retail spaces Need to Be placed North of Surf Avenue. If the City places Any Large structures like Malls, Condos or Hotels south of Surf Av., between the Cyclone and Keyspan Park you will Kill Coney Island. "The Playground of the World" Needs to fill the Entire space, from the Cyclone to Keyspan Park, with no Malls or condos. A indoor / Outdoor water park no taller than four stories would be Perfect worked into a larger Amusment Park. Anything less and everyone will lose Money!!
Aug. 5, 2009, 1:07 pm
phil from brooklyn says:
well if everyone wants to landmark everything old, then put up some money or shut up. it costs money to own real estate and you need to make a return from it. nathan's is old yes, but maybe it is time to go, the dinosaurs went bye bye, maybe it is nathan's time. or they could move into the new building built on the site there.
Aug. 5, 2009, 7:07 pm
tom murphy from sunset park says:
Mike! 'Smut'! There's word I haven't read/heard in a long time. Has the meaning changed in the 21st century. It was popular with politicians long ago. Today with Facebook or Tweeter who knows.
Aug. 6, 2009, 6:04 pm
joann from bensonhurst says:
phil i dotn live in brooklyn any more but i did for 11 years of my life and come back alot to visit i hada aunt that lived on west 16th street so iwas always in coney island and yes at the beach alot also
so phil coney island should be preserved
and ifu dotn like it
go to russia with your w ay of thinking
they would love u there i said it
any one bad mounth brooklyn is a jerk
and nathan's and coney island are brooklyn
it is the hub of it
Aug. 7, 2009, 11:48 am
joann from bensonhurst says:
stick it pal
Aug. 7, 2009, 11:51 am
deborah matlack from bay ridge says:
Nathan's to me is the spiritual center of Coney Island, it's older than the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel and the Parachute Jump. It should NEVER be destroyed. If a hotel is built on that site, it should be built OVER Nathan's. Why can't Nathan's be in the lobby? Combine the old with the new, it can be done.
Aug. 7, 2009, 4:09 pm
artichoke from Brighton Beach says:
It's high time renovations have taken place, and are still in the works. I've grown up here most of my life, so I have seen it all. With that said, the bottom line here, is that unfortunately, the people make the place. I do not go as much, because I am appalled at what I have seen at the animal freak show. Myself and several others have called the ASPCA, etc, to report what we have seen. They will say they are beeing treated fine, but it's disgusting. It's hard to even walk past it without my heart breaking for this unfortunate animals. The owners of this establishment should be treated as such. Putting aside all of the negative, all in all, Coney Island itself is a Landmark and great fun. I still and will always go on the Cyclone and Bumper cars. It's a huge adrenalin rush and natural high releasing those endorphins. I highly recommend to all. For families, you can easily stay there all day, and the parking is great and cheap! For couples, Friday night fireworks, which now seem to start at 10pm, rather then 9:30pm. Would have been great to know this! oh well. ;o)
Aug. 19, 2009, 12:06 pm

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