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Abandoned Coney Island -- Last Chance To See?

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When I heard the rumors that Satan's real estate division, Thor Equities, was allegedly planning to tear down some of the last remaining historic buildings in Coney Island in fear they might acquire landmark status (including the old Coney Island Bank below), I actually felt a chill run through me.

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For anyone that has ever visited Coney Island, I'm willing to bet that half of your memories are of the wonderful buildings that somehow still exist from bygone days. For example, the awesome Shore Hotel, whose balcony I someday hope to someday stand on...

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Seeing its iconic sign when I exit the subway station is always the first indication I'm in Coney Island:

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Across the way is the old Surf Hotel/Henderson Building, which now houses various fast food places, game booths, and stores:

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However, for those who look closely, remnants of its former days still remain:

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Hidden above a side entrance:

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And of course, Nathan's, which dates back to 1916 when it started as a hot dog cart:

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Nathan's back in the day:

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Over the years, Coney Island has suffered through a tremendous amount of destruction, losing incredible buildings, pavilions, and rides. One such building was the expansive Steeplechase Pavilion (formerly on the site of the Coney Island Cyclones baseball field), which was purchased in 1965 by Fred Trump, father of Donald.

Over the next ten years, Trump sought unsuccessfully to rezone the entire park for residential use. When word came of an impending Landmarking of the property, he quickly held a press conference announcing the demolition of the pavilion, after which girls in bikinis handed out rocks to reporters to be thrown through the windows.

(picture courtesy The Flat Joint)

Shortly after, bulldozers came in and tore it all down. Ultimately his residential plan never succeeded, and the whole thing wound up a vacant lot. The loss is tragic:

Though much of the golden age of Coney Island has vanished, incredibly, a number of buildings have managed to survive into the 21st century. Below is the current wishlist for a proposed Coney Island Historic District:

map

Naturally, Thor Equities and its CEO, Joseph Sitt, do not like the idea of an historic district or landmarking, as it means they would no longer be allowed to gut the soul of Coney Island at whim. Last year, they succeeded in pushing a rezoning of both the bank lot and the Henderson building lot for the construction of hotels of up to 27 floors.

However, if landmarking were to go through, they'd find themselves with a harder sell on their hands. Thus, according to rumors reported on AmusingTheZillion.com, they've approached a demolition company, who was asked for a quote to take down the bank building immediately, with others scheduled to be razed by October.

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I've never been in the bank building, but I know some scouts who have, and I asked them for pictures to show you what will be lost if Thor gets its way. Before we go inside, I warn you, the interior is not in pretty shape...

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...But were it to be refurbished, it would redoubtably become the gem of Coney Island.

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According to this in-depth article on AmusingTheZillion.com, the Bank of Coney Island was founded by William J. Ward in 1923, whose descendants still own land in the area dating back to 1870's.

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The bank ended operations in the early 1990's, and a sideshow moved in for a short time (literally - the troupe lived in the upper rooms and performed downstairs). Word is, they didn't treat the place so well, and after they vacated, owner Mike Weiss hired a salvage company to rip out everything, from doors to copper pipes. Amazingly, the building remains structurally sound.

I'm curious what this would have been, located in the front right area of the bank. A guard's booth? An office? A teller window? Or perhaps a safe built around the outer drop box?

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This is the rear of the bank. You can see the vault doorway in the back...

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The vault doorway...

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...and the vault door itself, lying on the ground. I can't imagine how they're going to move this thing without a forklift.

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Inside the vault:

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I think it's a safe bet that you won't find any glass remaining in the windows, yet the frames remain:

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The bank has an open second level, with a beautiful balcony:

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The view from the second floor. Note the chain hanging from the ceiling - a chandelier? Also note the clock:

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A view looking north. Note the rooms on the back left corner...

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I have no idea if this is original, but I love the beach wallpaper - exactly what I'd want to find in a Coney Island bank.

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A closer view of the wallpaper:

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The wallpaper continues into a neighboring room.

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Looking down the balcony:

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Toward the front of the bank:

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A forgotten hallway:

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A column:

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A rear room:

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Another room. Note the small hatch above the door, which can be opened to let in a breeze:

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Yet another small office:

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Hallway to the bathrooms:

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A former bathroom? They even took the stalls:

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The bank has an outdoor balcony...

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...Offering some great views of the area:

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Toward the cyclone:

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This could all go away with a phone call to the wrecking company.

Look, there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who look at the above pictures and see something priceless that should be preserved at all costs; and those who see a potential vacant lot waiting to be sold to the highest bidder. It's funny, because the latter types often tend to have the characteristics of the villains in just about every movie I've worked on. I always wonder if guys like Joseph Sitt sit in the theater rooting for or against the bad guys.

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One last note. I know it's easy to be cynical about the possibility of saving these priceless buildings, especially when you factor in the large amounts of money and powerful figures involved.

I grew up in a house dating back to the late 1700's, in a neighborhood where you'd be hard-pressed to find a home built in the last 100 years. When my parents bought the house in the 1970's, it was a wreck, as were the surrounding homes, and there were plenty of developers who would've been happy to bulldoze everything in favor of another generic suburb and some quick bucks. Guys like Joseph Sitt.

However, a group of locals fought hard to create an historic district, which ultimately saved dozens and dozens of properties. In the ensuing years, the neighborhood went through a major rejuvenation, and today, is the largest concentration of notable pre-1900's domestic residences in the United States. And I promise you, Joseph Sitt, the homes are worth far more than anything you could have replaced them with.

Special thanks to my scout friends for making this post possible.

-SCOUT
More articles: www.scoutingny.com.

PS - OK, I've been holding back. Feel free to make all the Joseph Sitthead jokes you want in the comments.

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