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.
©2009 Community News Group
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