Advocates of landmarking a decrepit, 90-year-old Coney Island theater are pushing ahead — though the building’s owner is not on board.
The Shore Theater at Surf and Stillwell avenues has been neglected for roughly 40 years — a far cry from its glory days as a destination for movies, musicals, and X-rated skin flicks (hey, it was the ’70s).
And on Wednesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission moved toward designating the Shore — a move that boosters say would jumpstart a restoration that would fit right in with the looming overhaul of the once-glorious honky-tonk amusement area.
Kansas Fried Chicken magnate Horace Bullard has owned the building for years, but he thinks that the preservation of his building undermines any future tourist attractions as Coney Island enters a renaissance — if they city follows through on its vision.
“The minute you start landmarking buildings within an amusement district, you’re handicapping the future design of the area,” said Bullard.
But preservationists said that the process of making the theater a landmark didn’t require Bullard’s approval.
“It is possible for [the Shore Theater] to be landmarked whether Horace agrees or not,” said Dick Zigun, the founder of Coney Island USA, which runs the sideshow and the Mermaid Parade. “In the past, I have defended Bullard, but whether his conscience welcomes it or not, it’s time for him to cash out.”
Zigun said he envisioned a restored 2,500-seat theater that would serve as a venue for concerts and Broadway shows. He added that he would like to see non-profit groups occupy the offices above the theater that were once used by people in the entertainment industry.
“Even by Broadway standards, it’s large,” he said. “We need to activate this theater!”
But Bullard said it’s really not much of a theater — in fact, it’s a currently a bingo hall.
“It only resembles a theater in the sense that the dome is still there, and the mezzanine,” Bullard said. “The organs have been ripped out. It’s not what people think it is — their minds are back in the 1920s, but that is not what it is today. It looks like a theater that could have been in the Bronx or anywhere. You can’t say tourists are going to come see this building.”
If restored, the theater would mesh with the city’s vision for a Coney Island as a major tourist destination with year-round entertainment, hotels and an amusement park.
Zigun did hand out an olive branch to Bullard should he decide to go along with the landmarking process.
“I have no problem calling it ‘The Bullard Center for the Arts,’ ” Zigun said.
Regardless, Bullard wasn’t gearing up for a showdown and said he would try and bring entertainment to the building — though the situation was far from ideal.
“No, I’m not in the mood to fight. If they think it’s the right thing to do, that’s fine,” he said. “But once the city [landmarks] these types of buildings, they become a money pit.”
Along with the Shore Theater, the Landmarks Preservation Commission also moved forward with the process of designating the Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk.
A date for the vote had not yet been determined.
©2010 Community News Group
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