By KEVIN WALSH and DAVID S. ALLEE
One by one, the venerable institutions of old Coney Island are vanishing. Ruby’s, the last of the boardwalk-facing bars, has served its final drink; Shoot the Freak, one of the most popular game booths, won’t reopen in the spring. And this week, demolition began on the Shore Hotel, pictured below. It’s all part of a development plan to replace the area’s old (and historic) buildings with retail stores and entertainment facilities. In addition to the Shore, destruction is imminent for a number of other structures, as local preservationists have run out of options in court. Below are some sights that will soon be just memories.
The blocks around the Stillwell Avenue subway stop were once lined with hotels and rooming houses. Most are gone, but evidence of them remains: faded signs for the Terminal and the Surf mark the places where vacationers and, later, derelicts and prostitutes once laid their heads. The most visible relic is the Shore Hotel, a three-story brick building constructed in 1903 (in the middle photo above, it’s the boarded-up building in the middle of the block). The ground floor has been home, over the years, to a restaurant, a frozen-custard stand, a beer garden and, in its last iteration, a fried-chicken joint. When I first noticed it in the 1990s, it was the sort of grungy hotel that invited you to imagine what went on inside. I’d see curtains rustling in a window, or people coming in and out, and wonder what brought them to a place like this. I never got the chance to find out: the place was closed in 2007. On Thursday a wrecking crew completed the demolition of its top floor; the rest of the building will fall in the coming weeks.
In the 1970s I spent hours on the pinball machines at Faber’s Fascination, situated in the storefront of this formerly grand music hall. Harpo Marx made his stage debut here in the 1920s. The music hall closed long ago, but Faber’s, one of Coney Island’s few year-round businesses, shuttered in September. Until just a few months ago, Faber’s incandescent sign shone every night, and you can still see the faint outline of where it used to be. Henderson’s was built with impressive facades on both Surf and Stillwell Avenues in 1899, but its west end was shaved back to make way for the widening of Stillwell in the 1920s. Until 1984 the building was home to another boardwalk beauty, Lillie Santangelo’s World in Wax Musee.
According to Charles Denson, a Coney Island historian, this plain maroon building is the oldest on Surf Avenue, erected at the corner of Jones Walk in the 1880s by Henry Grashorn as a hardware store. The shop did a brisk business, as the neighborhood’s amusement rides were always in need of repair. Grashorn, in his day, was a neighborhood bigwig and the director of the Bank of Coney Island. He was also the founder and longtime president of the Coney Island Mardi Gras Society, which held an annual parade from 1903 to 1954 (today’s Mermaid Parade is a direct descendant). Of the building’s original features, only the mansard roof remains; its shingles, clapboard siding and dormer windows were removed in the 1980s.
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