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Coney Islanders decry demolition of nabe’s oldest remaining building

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The developer who ordered the demolition of Coney Island’s oldest remaining building should have committed to keeping the structure standing, according to distraught Coney Islanders, who charged that Joe Sitt — the founder of real-estate firm Thor Equities — employed a strategy of ‘demolition by neglect’ in order to justify tearing down the Grashorn Building.

“It should’ve been saved — he should’ve restored it. It’s a beautiful building,” said Community Board 13 member Orlando Mendez. “It was completely neglected, it was kept vacant, it was in disrepair — they didn’t do any kind of maintenance on that building to keep it in good shape.”

Demolition on the rear of the more than 130-year-old building — which is located on Surf Avenue between Jones Walk and W. 12th Street — began weeks ago, according to Mendez. The Department of Buildings in January approved a demolition application that a rep for beleaguered local demolition company Breeze National — which the New York Daily News in 2013 reported had a deadly safety record, and for years was run by an alleged mobster — filed to tear it down.

Sitt scooped up the property for $1.4 million in 2005, and the building has sat vacant since then, according to local historian Charlie Denson, who first reported news of the demolition in March, on the Coney Island History Project blog.

But the building has a storied history, and was buzzing with activity for most of its lifespan: entrepreneur Henry Grashorn first erected the three-story structure in the late 1880s, opening a hardware store on the ground floor where amusement-park operators purchased tools to make repairs on their nearby rides, according to Denson, who said Grashorn also operated the top two floors as a hotel.

And in 1903, the establishment survived a devastating fire that incinerated many of the surrounding buildings, making its endurance all the more remarkable, Denson said.

“Everything on both sides of it burned, so the fact that this survived is pretty amazing,” he said.

In 1971, amusement operator Wally Roberts purchased the property, refashioning the ground floor into an arcade, and using the top two floors as an apartment and a workshop, according to Denson. The historian added that the building was in pristine condition when Sitt bought it more than a decade ago, and claimed that the developer chose to neglect the structure and let it fall into a state of disrepair since then.

“When they bought the building from Wally Roberts, it was in perfectly good condition,” Denson said. “But he has not maintained the property; he just let it deteriorate. There were squatters in there, there was garbage, he didn’t shovel the snow, didn’t clean up…it seems almost intentional.”

Reps for Thor Equities did not respond to repeated inquiries about locals’ allegations of demolition by neglect, why Sitt decided to demolish the building, what he plans to do with the property and whether or not he regularly maintained it, if he ever sought landmark status for it, or ever considered restoring it to full or partial use.

Sitt was the neighborhood’s largest landowner until he sold a large portfolio of his Coney Island holdings to the city’s Economic Development Corporation for $95.6 million in 2009, when the Council passed the neighborhood’s sweeping rezoning, according to a Real Deal report.

Shortly thereafter, the real estate honcho demolished three other historic, century-old neighborhood structures that he owned, which local preservationists tried to save to no avail: the Bank of Coney Island, at W. 12th Street and Surf Avenue; Henderson’s Music Hall — where comedian Harpo Marx made his debut — at Surf and Stillwell avenues; and the Shore Hotel, at Henderson Walk and Surf Avenue. The developer installed candy emporium It’s Sugar at the site of the music hall, and the other two lots sit empty.

Last fall, Sitt attempted to shed even more of his local land when he put 21 of his remaining area properties — which allegedly occupy nearly 12 football fields’ worth of space — up for sale, the Real Deal reported at the time.

The district manager of Community Board 13 said the latest demolition amounted to a tragedy, and that Sitt failed to adequately maintain the property during the time that he owned it.

“It’s a shame that it’s going to be demolished,” said Eddie Mark. “If you don’t put money in it, it’s not going to improve by itself. It’s a shame that it’s gone to that level of disuse.”

Denson added that razing would enshrine Sitt as an unsavory character in the neighborhood’s history.

“If he really cared about Coney Island, he could have restored the building — he could’ve been a hero instead of a villain,” he said.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 1:38 pm, May 6, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

Joey says:
It's sugar, applebees, IHOP, real Coney Island. Might as well ad JC Penny, and call it the mall of Coney Island.
May 6, 9:51 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
The Shore Hotel is the long forgotten crown jewel of Coney Island. The final results of the renovation will have a huge impact on the future of the neighborhood.
May 6, 10:24 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
Coney is a dump, too much white trash. You can't have a nice time without some drunks fighting or loud music blasting.
May 7, 9:16 am
Thomas says:
Look at the bright side, after this building is demolished, a new building will hold the title of Coney island's oldest surviving building.
May 7, 4:59 pm
Richard seagal from Coney island says:
Delete my comment but leave negative ones up there smdh... awesome paper
May 7, 6:11 pm
Court from Coney island says:
Stop watering down coney island and destroying its history.... stop trying to make it Disney land, that's not what coney island stands for..loud music, unique people, grittyness and happy drunks are all a part of its charm...I'd rather be around them then these uptight hipsters....ps...if you want to run a real comments section, you have to leave all comments, not just what suits you. Everyone that takes the time out to comment is an asset to your blog.
May 7, 6:51 pm
Anna from Coney says:
Hipsters are well welcome to this community, they will be the ones bringing the awesome food spots and a cool culture to this low income & senior community. Coney is currently dominated by fast food and trash bodegas, along with poor quality and selection of produce for those who enjoy pesticides in there food. This is all In process to change or gentrify :) So it’s a bit too late *court. I do agree with you about disneyfying it, I prefer gentrifying it, building less bs rides and more market rate luxury housing, more commercial space and nicer well lit streets. More policing to make the further parts of coney safe again and awesome graffiti murals to signify an art resurgence in CI.
May 7, 11:50 pm
Court from Coney island says:
Anna...I disagree with you on a lot of points...I'm for the average family, and every day people of all races, not the hipsters. Yes, too many unhealthy food places and the graffiti murals are fantastic...a throw back to what coney island really represents. Theres already too many apartment complexes eating up our playground and destroying what coney island once was and should remain
May 8, 7:09 am
Anna from Coney says:
Court, if you would to keep Coney island as it once was then please see its history. At its peak, it was a resort peninsula for the wealthy which slowly transitioned to a middle-class neighborhood with a thriving amusement park culture. As of 2010, it was at the forefront of poverty thanks to the developments put forth by Mosses/Trump which was part accident/part convenience at the time of implementation. Over time, those with steady incomes were encouraged to leave, to make room for people on public assistance. What followed the prosperous years of CI was a legacy of badly misguided urban planning. Read the articles now and see that the ocean fronts are prime real estate, ocean views and the fresh smell of seawater are luxurious. In turn CI and other areas which were previously cheap to purchase (ex. sunset park) are now slowly transitioning into middle and hopefully luxury neighborhoods. So when you say let’s keep Coney what it once was, I couldn’t agree with you more...lets restore a few historic locations, let’s get rid of low income housing and nycha, lets turn it into a once thriving property with educated middle-upper class families who do not exploit the governments assistance programs due to their laziness by enforcing stringent policies on qualifications for these programs. If anything the current towers like Neptune 6th, Ryabak and Ccean dreams are what will make this area beautiful as opposed to the griddy Nycha and Luna park towers.
May 8, 11:13 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
If you are so intent on keeping it standing, then go buy it yourself. Don't tell someone else what they are allowed to do/not do with something they bought.
May 9, 11:56 am
Richie Hart from Bensonhurst says:
Sorry... I'm still laughing at the comment where someone said "Hipsters will bring culture to Coney Island" How will a bunch of 20 year olds from the midwest bring culture to a neighborhood that already its own culture??? The hipsters have Far Rockaway... is that not enough? How is raised rent and gentrification a good thing?
May 9, 9:20 pm

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