Coney Island

A privileged peek inside the Shore Theater

Eye on Real Estate: No, we didn't trespass — Coney Island historian Charles Denson was invited in

July 16, 2014 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
All the world's a stage …. inside Coney Island's shuttered Shore Theater. Photo by Charles Denson
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Surely the ghosts of vaudeville players past are here, just out of sight behind the faded curtain.

After all, the great Al Jolson himself performed on this Coney Island stage.

This haunting photo of a rubble-strewn yet magnificent auditorium was taken inside the late Horace Bullard’s long-vacant Shore Theater by Coney Island historian Charles Denson.

Denson, who’s the executive director of the Coney Island History Project, was permitted to snap these poignant pix in 2006 by his friend, the late Andy Badalamenti, who was the Shore’s caretaker.

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The auditorium has a dome 150 feet in diameter, which is visible as a glow at the top of the photo.

Badalamenti had rewired the empty Surf Avenue building with electric lights so it wouldn’t languish in perpetual darkness.

Another photo Denson shared with us reveals ornamental detailing with a real wow factor, which survived down through the decades. It shows the Half Moon, explorer Henry Hudson’s ship, sailing above a decorative mermaid’s head on the theater’s magnificent mezzanine.

Mermaids are all over the place in the landmarked theater, which was built in 1925. A third photo allows a closer look at another fish-tailed glamor girl. Is she dancing to her own siren’s song?

Bullard’s daughter Jasmine, who inherited the property at 1301 Surf Ave. after his April 2013 passing, has not made public what her plans for the iconic theater might be. Denson, who went to the movies at the Shore in his youth, hopes good things are in the offing.

“It would be wonderful to see Horace Bullard’s dream fulfilled and the theater built and restored,” Denson told Eye on Real Estate. “It would be a fitting memorial to him and his vision for Coney Island.”

Seen from the street, the Shore stands tall but has a sad, sad air of abandonment.

Visitors heading to the beach for those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer (remember the Nat King Cole song?) walk beneath forbidding sidewalk sheds that cover its façade.

Those who linger and look through the security gate covering the Surf and Stillwell Avenue corner of the building discover a wrecked-looking Kansas Fried Chicken restaurant. Its menu board has yesteryear’s prices, like a two-piece chicken meal with fries and a biscuit for $3.23. The fast-food chain belonged to Horace Bullard.

When passing pedestrians give the Shore a backward glance, they see pigeons perched on open upper-floor windows. What they don’t see is the iconic neon blade sign which bore the theater’s name. It was removed after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

The grimy but grand building was designated a city landmark in 2010.  

It was designed by Reilly & Hall, who were among the leading theater architects of their era, according to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report about it. The original owner was the Chanin Construction Co., a prolific builder of movie houses, which leased it to Loew’s.

The seven-story structure, constructed of brick, terra-cotta and stone among one- and two-story buildings, had upstairs offices intended for use by the entertainment industry. It was a symbol of Coney Island’s aspirations to become a year-round amusement resort, according to the designation report.


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