A decaying Coney Island icon was designated a city landmark on Tuesday — but it remains unclear what will become of it.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the Shore Theater at Surf and Stillwell avenues worthy of permanent protection, a move that will end a long debate over whether to demolish the vacant building.
The seven-story, 85-year-old former vaudeville playhouse has been neglected for more than 40 years. Its owner, the Kansas Fried Chicken magnate Horace Bullard, opposed the landmark status because he said it would “hinder” his ability to convert the building for modern uses. He now says he will renovate the façade and try to sell it.
“There is no way that Coney Island can evolve as an amusement district when they keep landmarking buildings,” Bullard said on Tuesday. “They’re handicapping the entire area. But fine. We’ll have it up for sale, and if we can’t do that we’ll fix it up and put some offices inside and rent it out.”
Big shots like Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun have bigger ideas, like reverting it back to its original use — skin flicks and burlesque shows and musicals, oh my! — though it’s unclear who potential buyers or tenants are at this point.
Zigun said earlier this year that he envisioned a restored 2,500-seat theater that would serve as a concert venue for 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.
Bullard countered, arguing that the theater will become a lackluster money pit. Regardless, he’ll be required to restore and maintain the old theater’s aesthetic.
Bullard has presided over the Shore’s demise, but even until the 1960s, it was a prosperous venue. The legendary burlesque entrepreneur Leroy C. Griffith even ran a show there called “Stars and Strips Forever.”
No, that’s not a typo.
©2010 Community News Group
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