Iconic Coney Island Theater and Restaurant Designated

Coney Island Theater

Interwar buildings recall Coney Island’s era as a family-friendly destination. Landmarks unanimously designated the Coney Island Theater at 1301 Surf Avenue and the Childs Restaurant Building at 1208 Surf Avenue as individual City landmarks. Landmarks held public hearings on both buildings in March 2010, and designated the Coney Island Theater on December 14, 2010 and the Childs Restaurant Building on January 11, 2011. Both buildings are within the area recently rezoned as part of the City’s Coney Island redevelopment plan. 6 CityLand 104 (Aug. 15, 2009).

The firm of Reilly & Hall built the Coney Island Theater in 1925. The seven-story neo-Renaissance Revival building was leased to Loew’s theater chain, which retained control of the theater until 1964. Later occupants included a live theatre, a burlesque revue, a gay bar, and a bingo hall. The building is currently vacant. According to Landmarks, the theater’s elegant design was meant to convey legitimacy to a place that was transforming from a “seedy” area into a wholesome, family-oriented destination.

Child’s Restaurant Building.

At the March hearing, Dick Zigun, founder of Coney Island USA, a not-for-profit arts organization, spoke in support. Zigun noted that the building represented “the dreams, aspirations, and wishes” of Coney Island’s Chamber of Commerce when the area was “opening up to the masses” in the 1920s. He said the new Coney Island needed the building and urged Landmarks to consider designating its interior as well. Representatives of several citywide preservation organizations also testified in support.

At the theater’s December designation meeting, Commissioner Michael Goldblum asked if Landmarks had considered landmarking the interior. Chair Robert B. Tierney replied that the interior was not currently accessible to Landmarks staff and that its condition was unknown.

Samuel and William Childs established the Childs Restaurant chain in 1889 when they opened their first restaurant on Cortlandt Street in Manhattan. The Surf Avenue Childs Restaurant building dates to 1917 and was designed by John C. Westervelt in the Spanish Revival style. After the restaurant closed in 1943, it was occupied by the Bluebird Casino, various nightclubs, and David Rosen’s Wonderland Circus Sideshow. The Childs opened a second Coney Island restaurant along the boardwalk in 1923, which Landmarks designated in 2003 as the (Former) Childs Restaurant Building. Coney Island USA currently owns the building, which is occupied by the Coney Island Museum.

At the hearing, Dick Zigun and the museum’s director testified in support of designation. The New York Landmark Conservancy’s Andrea Goldwyn suggested that landmarking the building should be a “first step” towards creating a new historic district along Surf Avenue.

At Landmarks’ January meeting, the commissioner’s described the importance of preserving Coney Island. Commissioner Libby Ryan noted the importance of preserving “bits and pieces” in the area, stating that she found some of the changes in Coney Island “a little disturbing.”

LPC: Coney Island Theater, 1301 Surf Ave., Brooklyn (LP-2408) (Dec. 14, 2010); Childs Restaurant Building, 1208 Surf Ave., Brooklyn (LP-2401) (Jan. 11, 2011).


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