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Thread: Childs Restaurant Landmarked

  1. #1

    Default Childs Restaurant Landmarked

    February 5, 2003

    A Piece of Coney Island's Past Wins Landmark Status

    By DIANE CARDWELL


    The former crown jewel of the Childs restaurant chain in Coney Island is festooned with terra cotta ornamentation. City officials hope landmark designation for the building will generate further redevelopment of the boardwalk.

    On the ground floor, shelves of books fill the space. One flight up, the guts of a candy manufacturing business lie about.

    But once, the ornate building on the Coney Island Boardwalk was a crown jewel in the Childs restaurant chain, a haven for the throngs of working men and women relaxing in what was then known as the world's largest playground.

    Yesterday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission deemed all that, along with the structure and its terra cotta ornamentation, a heritage worth saving.

    "It's a very special place," said Robert B. Tierney, chairman of the commission. "It's different in February, but it's still quite striking as it sits there majestically evoking the past, looking out to the sea."

    Mr. Tierney, 59, like many New Yorkers of a certain age, remembers the clean white-tiled Childs restaurants from trips to the city as a boy, although he did not visit the Coney Island branch.

    But Arlene Simon, who grew up in a three-room apartment in Brighton Beach, used to walk along Coney Island's Boardwalk with her friends from Lincoln High School every Friday afternoon.

    "Other people go to the Hamptons; we would walk the Boardwalk," Ms. Simon, president of Landmark West!, an Upper West Side preservation group, said, chuckling. "We would stop at the library and go to Nathan's and get hot dogs, and then we would also go to Childs."

    Ms. Simon said she loved Childs. "There just was something about the building, there was something special about the aura of the place."

    Although few people near the deserted Boardwalk yesterday seemed to know much about the building ("It looks more like a bathhouse," one community advocate said), it has a storied history. It was built around 1923 by Dennison & Hirons in what the landmark designation report calls a fanciful resort style combining elements of Spanish Colonial Revival, rare in New York, "with numerous maritime allusions that refer to its seaside location."

    The building is festooned with elaborate, colorful terra cotta nautical motifs, including Neptune rising from the sea draped in seaweed, European ships and intricate crustaceans and other sea creatures.

    The terra cotta was manufactured by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company from models by a prominent sculptor, Max Keck, an approach that signified the importance of the project to the Childs chain and the manufacturer, said Susan Tunick, president of Friends of Terra Cotta, a national preservation group that focuses on saving ceramic surfaces.

    "There are at least six or seven colors in the glazing of the details," said Ms. Tunick, a leader of the effort to gain landmark status for the building.

    Although Childs had several restaurant buildings with similar terra cotta ornaments, like dolphins and seahorses, in the city, they are almost unrecognizable, she said. One is now a McDonald's in the flower district, with its ornaments obscured and painted brown.

    So, Ms. Tunick said, the Childs on Coney Island, about a block west of the Cyclones' minor-league baseball stadium, is "a unique example" because it remains intact.

    But in designating it a landmark, the commissioners recognized more than the vivid blues, greens, yellows and other colors that pop from the tan stucco facade, now chipped to show the brick beneath. They also recognized, with evident emotion, the social history the building evokes.

    Childs, which started in Lower Manhattan, grew to become one of the largest restaurant chains in the country and pioneered the self-service cafeteria.

    The restaurants were outfitted with white-tiled walls and floors and white marble countertops, and the employees dressed in starched white uniforms to convey a sense of cleanliness, the designation report said. A Childs menu from 1900 featured wheat cakes with maple syrup for 10 cents, creamed oyster on toast for 15 cents and roast beef hash with mashed potatoes for 20 cents.

    The chain ran into some financial trouble in 1927 when William Childs began serving only vegetarian meals, but the meatless policy was eventually reversed.

    A kind of early take on fast-food restaurants, they became icons of elegance and quality at reasonable prices, and Childs was awarded the food service contract for the 1939 World's Fair (more than 16 million hot dogs sold).

    Childs found its way into popular culture, with allusions in the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart song "Manhattan" and the Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman play "You Can't Take It With You." But some New Yorkers found it less than welcoming. Some blacks say that they were refused service.

    Eventually, the Riese Brothers acquired the chain, and the restaurants no longer used the Childs name.

    The past appeared to be fully present in the imaginations of the commissioners as they voted to designate the building a landmark, the first designation under Mr. Tierney's tenure as chairman.

    Barely choking back tears, Meredith J. Kane described the importance of retaining reminders of the 1920's, the Depression and beyond.

    "It really evokes an era that is really so much passing into literature and film," Ms. Kane said.

    Sherida E. Paulsen, who was until recently chairwoman of the commission, mentioned the "moving testimony" that the commissioners had heard about "this building's place in the development of fast food." It was also important, she said, to be able to designate a building on Coney Island for a change: "Everything else is a ride."

    Laura Hansen, executive director at Place Matters, an urban preservationist group, said, "For us it's representative of a concept that was important to so many neighborhoods in New York, which is the cafeteria."

    Ms. Hansen described Childs as a community hub where older people could eat, teenagers could go to get away from their parents and children could learn how to eat out.

    Jeffrey Kroessler, a historian whose grandfather was a longtime Childs waiter, said the place had a civilizing influence.

    "All I can tell you is my grandfather grew up on the Liverpool docks and had kind of a rough-and-tumble youth, but he became a waiter at Childs and had the most perfect manners of any man I met," Mr. Kroessler said. "And I think it came from that experience. He was just evidence that good manners is not dependent on good breeding."

    Officials hope that the landmark designation will generate further redevelopment of the once-vibrant Coney Island Boardwalk. Minor-league baseball has taken root, and the city will soon announce a new local development corporation to devise a comprehensive plan for the area, said Domenic M. Recchia Jr., the neighborhood's city councilman.

    The building has recently been used as a chocolate factory and a book warehouse, but it could become a catering hall or a restaurant, Mr. Recchia said.

    "We just can't go around knocking things down," he added. "It brings back the days when people used to go to Coney Island and enjoy themselves."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
    Last edited by Kris; April 8th, 2006 at 09:38 AM.

  2. #2
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    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    I've stated this opinion elsewhere...

    Other than preserving a boarded up relic of the past, the actual benefit of this status will need time to prove itself.

  3. #3
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    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    As do many projects undertaken in this city throughout the years. *I recall that it wasn't until the late 1980s that the World Trade Center actually turned a profit for the Port Authority.

  4. #4

    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    This is great news - I love this buidling! So much of Coney Island has been destroyed or left to rot. It doesn't need another vacant lot (obviously) but any re-use of a building for pent-up demand is great. KeySpan Park has helped give the impression that Coney Island is coming back, and seeing this and the Stillwell Ave. Subway Station reconstructon is guaranteeing Coney Island's role viability in the 21st century.

    Anyone else interested in this wonderous place can check out "Coney Island - Lost and Found". Just came out and it's a gem. Wondorous book!

  5. #5

    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    What a unique piece of local NY history, I love this type of *historical knowledge and information. *This story kind of reminds me of the old automat.

  6. #6

    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    http://www.coneyislandusa.com/

    Large collection of 100 yr old postcards.

    Detailing on arches

  7. #7
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    Default Childs Restaurant, Coney Island

    This building was recently landmarked. It is now completely vacant. In the Astella redevelopment plan, it would become a nightclub or return to its original restaurant usage.



    There are small murals in between columns on the front of the building.




  8. #8

    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status


  9. #9
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    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    It'd make a nice visitors' center, I think.

  10. #10
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    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    I wouldn't mind it becoming the permantent home of CI USA, museum, etc. *This org. has done some good things in CI and deserves a nice space. *It will anchor the CI development. *Which, by the way, any word on ANYTHING - the nets/devils/olympics sportsplex, hotel, condos, new amusements, waterpark, etc??

  11. #11
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    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    Well, there's one new ride at Astroland this summer.

  12. #12

    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    What's the ride?

    Is it any good, is it fun?

  13. #13
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    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    Lol I'm a bit of a wimp, I don't do those things...

    It looks like some variation of a human inverter.
    Also not really rides but the minigolf thing opened this year as well as new multiuse fields.

  14. #14

    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status


  15. #15

    Default Childs Restaurant Gains Landmark Status

    I would love to see Childs become a beachfront restaurant. Coney needs more restaurants badly.

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