Monday, March 10, 2008

A Taste of History: Coney's Childs Building

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The Childs Building in Coney Island, which will host a roller rink this summer operated by Lola Staar, is one of the most significant surviving structures from the "old" Coney Island. Taconic Development has a long-term lease on the landmarked building and has pledged to restore it. It was built in 1923 to house a Childs Restaurant at the Boardwalk and W. 21st Street and was described as adding "refinement in the bizarre surroundings of Coney Island." It was opened for the Mermaid Ball last year and last summer Kinetic Carnival offered a wonderful photo tour of the whole building. Here's some history, courtesy of the landmarking report on the building:
Constructed in 1923, this restaurant building on the Boardwalk of Coney Island was designed by Dennison & Hirons in a fanciful resort style combining elements of the Spanish Colonial Revival with numerous maritime allusions that refer to its seaside location. This spacious restaurant building originally had a roof-top pergola and continuous arcades on two facades to allow for extensive ocean views. Clad in stucco, the building's arches, window openings and end piers feature elaborate polychrome terra-cotta ornament in whimsical nautical motifs that include images of fish, seashells, ships, and the ocean god Neptune...

Architects Dennison & Hirons usually designed their buildings in either a restrained classical or Art Deco style. At Coney Island, however, they created a building in a style that was quite different from their other work, but appropriate for this setting. The Childs Restaurant on the Boardwalk was designed in a resort style to go along with the existing “unique fairyland environments for dreamers.”21 In an area filled with an eye-popping array of shapes, colors and lights, a building had to be unusual to attract customers. The amusement parks set the tone, with huge plaster figures, large structures with unexpected shapes, and thousands of twinkling lights beckoning patrons. Other businesses sought to create their own sense of uniqueness, adding towers and turrets, colors, and roof gardens. On the Childs Restaurant building, the colorful terra-cotta ornament in unique maritime motifs, as well as its large size and fine design helped it stand out from the many flimsy shacks nearby which accommodated the area’s various entertainments.
Childs maintained it as a restaurant until the early 1950s. After it closed it was maintained as a facility to store books and as a chocolate factory. There's more info here.

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