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Not so Shore: LPC rejects renovation plans for Coney theater, requests better replacement for old sign

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The builder planning to redevelop Coney Island’s Shore Theater into a hotel and spa must amend its plans to include a sign that better recalls the majesty of the storied vaudeville theater’s old placard, and more details that honor the history of the iconic site and its home neighborhood, demanded members of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“The building would benefit more from a more comprehensive look at the history of the district,” said commissioner Michael Goldblum. “It just feels like it’s missing the Coney Island-ness of the site.”

Architects tapped by builder Pye Properties — the firm behind the redevelopment of the landmarked venue — presented their proposed exterior renovations to the theater at a Jan. 15 public hearing, after members of the local Community Board 13 unanimously voted to support the designs in December.

The proposal called for refreshing the split-level site’s exterior by restoring its seven-story tower’s original limestone base, replacing decaying parts of its brick façade, swapping its decrepit top-floor balcony with a newly built replica, and hanging a fabric banner in place of the old venue’s iconic sign destroyed in 2012 by superstorm Sandy.

It also proposed removing the fire-escape stairway outside of the property’s four-story building, which formerly contained the theater.

But the architects need to go back to the drawing board and make their proposed 32-and-a-half foot red fabric banner more similar to the theater’s original neon sign, perhaps by illuminating it, according to the city preservationists, who included the iconic signage as part of their 2010 designation of the theater as an individual exterior landmark.

The Commission also recommended keeping the four-story building’s exterior fire-escape stairway, or replacing it with a mural or some other feature that would honor the former theater within that structure, because the current plans do not do enough to recognize that part of the site’s history, according to a member.

“At this point you don’t know that it was once a theater,” said Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron.

Another city preservationist suggested the architects embrace their creative sides and think about how they could use that side of the building to pay homage to both the former movie house and its
home neighborhood.

“My recommendation would be go back and be creative — not that there necessarily has to be a piece of artwork or even a stairwell in the place of what was there, but just think about the district and what it’s all about,” said Jeanne Lutfy.

There is no set date for Pye Properties to return with new plans for the Commission to formally vote on, according to agency spokeswoman Zodet Negron, who said its members must still coordinate with the developer to determine when the revised designs will be ready to review.

Still, a bigwig at Pye Properties — which scooped up the Shore Theater for $14 million in 2016 — praised his architects’ overall restoration plan, telling this newspaper the team did “an amazing job,” and that they plan to alter the designs accordingly to satisfy the Commission.

“We have some tweaks to work out, but the overall adaptive reuse and design for the project is on the right track,” said Eddie Yadgarov.

The Shore Theater — which opened as Loew’s Coney Island in 1925, and later screened X-rated movies in 1972 under the ownership of the Brandt Company — has been dormant for decades, ever since Kansas Fried Chicken mogul Horace Bullard purchased the property in 1978 and put it up for sale soon after, when the state squashed his plans to install a hotel and casino there.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 7:09 pm, January 30, 2019
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