Coney Island

Advocates rally round the Coney Island Pumping Station after Landmarks Preservation Commission’s diss

March 9, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
These handsome horses from the Coney Island Pumping Station are on loan to the Brooklyn Museum. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Eye on Real Estate

Coney’s Ponies are in exile. They have been since 1981.

Preservation advocates vow to bring them home again — despite a setback handed them by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

The ponies are Art Deco-style statues of Pegasus, the winged steed, attributed to artist Harry Lowe and carved out of limestone in 1934. There are four pairs of ponies.

The handsome horses’ home is the Coney Island Pumping Station at 2301 Neptune Ave. Or it was.

But nobody in the neighborhood has seen them in three and a half decades, unless they’ve trekked to the Brooklyn Museum in Prospect Heights, where the winged beasts are on loan.

The fine equine artworks are corralled in a brick plaza surrounded by a parking lot behind the museum.

Coney’s Ponies in exile

Until they were moved because of vandalism, Coney’s Ponies stood proudly outside the pumping station, a streamlined Art Moderne facility that opened in 1938 and was used to boost city firefighters’ water pressure.

The lozenge-shaped building on the shore of Coney Island Creek and the corner of W. 23rd Street was decommissioned as a fire pumping station in 1976. Its owner, the City of New York, has shamefully neglected it.

The long-vacant property, whose grounds are used for a community garden, had been on the LPC’s calendar for landmark designation consideration since 1980. On Feb. 23, the commissioners tossed it off their calendar.

Unless the pumping station is renovated, Coney’s Ponies are never coming home.

We visited the winged horses recently and snapped photos to share with Coney Island residents.

Irwin Chanin’s only public building

The LPC’s vote was part of its intensive process of clearing up Backlog95 — a list of 95 historic sites throughout the five boroughs that had been languishing in limbo on the commission’s calendar for as long as 50 years.

The LPC rejected the pumping station despite passionate spoken and written testimony in favor of  landmarking and adaptively reusing it, which was offered at an October LPC public hearing.

Dozens of community residents, architects and preservationists pleaded its case — including former state Assemblywoman Adele Cohen (D-Coney Island, Bay Ridge).

“Southern Brooklyn has long been overlooked — perhaps one could say neglected by institutions such as yours. Now is the time to start making amends,” Cohen wrote to the LPC.
The Art Deco Society of New York delivered a pro-landmarking petition with 371 signatures.

“It’s clear the community is interested in this building and its significance,” Roberta Nusim, the Art Deco Society of New York’s president, told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent interview. “It’s an important building. It deserves landmark status.”

The LPC’s February decalendaring vote surprised preservationists.   

“We went to that meeting with high hopes,” she said.

“There was such a variety of supporters with lots of different agendas. We thought the commission would respect the broad spectrum of support.”

The Coney Island Pumping Station is the only public building designed by the late Irwin Chanin, who is known for his monumental Century and Majestic apartment houses on the Upper West Side and the Chanin Building, a distinctive office tower near Grand Central Terminal.

“They’re not going to build another Irwin Chanin building. It’s worthy of preservation at a lot of different levels,” Nusim said of the pumping station.

‘The fight is not over’

“We were depressed when we first heard the news [about the decalendaring] because of the great effort everyone had made, but now we are refocused on turning this into a success story,” Nusim said.

Her organization will press for adaptive reuse for the pumping station.

“The fight is not over,” she said. “We’re a small group — we plan to collaborate with other organizations and the Coney Island community. We’re going to regroup and map out a plan.”

The society’s preservation committee will be in charge of the effort, which will get going in the spring.

“We believe the building has a place in the community,” she said. “Many groups will have to work hard for its preservation. It may be a marathon, not a sprint.”

It’s not too late to restore the pumping station as a landmarked structure, Nusim said: “We feel the alterations to the building can be reversed.”

As for the horse sculptures, they were not a permanent gift to the Brooklyn Museum. They could be returned to the pumping station if it is renovated and reused.

“They are gems,” Nusim said. “We’re grateful to the museum for protecting them.”

However, the horses have a real home waiting for them: “They belong by Coney Island Creek,” she said.