Borough President Markowitz revealed his new dream for a Coney Island amphitheater at his final state of the borough address, bringing new life to the legendary Childs Restaurant and giving a permanent home to his long-running Seaside Summer Concert series.
Out is the controversial “potato chip” plan in Asser Levy Park. In is a new proposal with private developer iStar Financial that calls for building the 5,000-seat performance space in a part of the Childs Restaurant space on the Boardwalk and an adjoining lot — and reopening the landmarked building as an eatery.
The announcement was cause for applause among People’s Playground nostalgia buffs, who hoped to see the majestic restaurant-turned-abandoned warehouse — which, in recent years, served as home to Coney Island USA’s Mermaid Ball and Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink before safety concerns forced them to vacate — restored to its early 20th century glory.
“It will really become the bookend for the amusement area, and it’s good to see the amusement area extended that far into the west end of the neighborhood,” said Charles Denson, founder of the Coney Island History project on W. 12th Street, adding that the stately structure has long provoked visitors’ curiosity. “There’s always two questions when people come into the History Project: ‘where’s the bathroom’ and ‘what’s that building out on the Boardwalk?’ Everybody wants to know what it is. It’s like some ancient ruin.”
Denson said he hoped the plans would involve the beautification of the building’s distinctive terracotta medallions and its marble columns.
The Childs Restaurants chain was “the Applebee’s of its day” in Denson’s words, but instead of calorie-bomb artichoke dip and faux-Americana kitsch, the cafeteria-style eateries were known for their dairy-heavy menu and gasp-worthy architecture. The first location opened in the Financial District in 1889, and the Boardwalk spot started serving milk-laden fare in 1923. At its peak, the company had 125 locations across America — including the spot at the corner of W. 12th Street and Surf Avenue that is now the site of unofficial Coney mayor Dick Zigun’s Sideshows by the Seashore.
Opponents of the Beep’s passion project defeated Markowitz’s Asser Levy Park plan when a judge ruled the decades-old concert series violated the city’s restraining order on amplified music near houses of worship. The Beep moved the concerts to a lot on W. 21st Street, but clung to his amphitheater dream.
“I’ve got one more thing on my agenda,” the beep told members of the Alliance for Coney Island business group in December 2012. “We will have an amphitheater!”
Markowitz — who leaves office next January — said his partner in the venture will be iStar Financial, a lender that notably filed to foreclose on the skyline-redefining Madison Park One building in Manhattan in 2009.