‘Childs’ play! City designates Coney restaurant as landmark

‘Childs’ play! City designates Coney restaurant as landmark
Photo by Christopher D. Brazee

An iconic former Coney Island restaurant that’s now home to the freaks of the Coney Island Sideshow was designated a city landmark on Tuesday, a move to save a key site from ongoing redevelopment that is paving over the area’s glory days.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to grant permanent protection to the former Childs Restaurant at Surf Avenue and W. 12th Street, a move that gives Coney Island its sixth landmarked site.

“We’re delighted to join landmarked icons like the Wonder Wheel, the Cyclone and Parachute Jump,” said Dick Zigun, founder of Coney Island USA, which purchased the building in 2007.

Childs Restaurant, a nation-wide chain known for its cafeteria-style service, opened in the amusement district in 1917. It operated in the Surf Avenue building for 26 years before closing and consolidating the chain’s operations in another Childs eatery on the Boardwalk and W. 21st Street.

The building later became the Blue Bird Casino and Restaurant and David Rosen’s Wonderland Circus sideshow before becoming the home base of Zigun’s Sideshow and his Coney Island Museum and Mermaid Parade operations.

Commission members said that Childs’ Spanish Revival design — with a red tile roof, arch openings and white façade — evokes memories of Coney Island as a booming vacation destination.

“The unusual design recalls a resort typically found in Florida or the Caribbean,” said Commission Chairman Robert Tierney. “It helped set the tone for the millions of visitors who flocked to Coney Island each summer, and contributed to the amusement area’s aura of fantasy.”

Ironically, the building’s beloved white façade was recently revamped with the help of a contribution from Joe Sitt, the developer that defied preservationists by tearing down the Coney Island Bank Building in October and is also demolishing the former Henderson’s Music Hall.

Zigun downplayed the donation towards the $70,000 he needed for exterior renovations last fall.

“I ask everybody for money, and he happened to donate $16,000,” Zigun said. “We’re restoring buildings while he’s tearing them down.”

The vote in favor of preserving Childs is the second victory for Zigun in less than a month, as he also advocated for the Dec. 14 vote that landmarked the decaying Shore Theater at Surf and Stillwell avenues.

Childs Restaurant was constructed on Surf Avenue in 1917. It is now home to the Coney Island Museum and Sideshows by the Seashore — a freak-filled circus act.
Photo By Alex Rush