Thursday, August 13, 2009

Henderson's Dance Hall

As we continue our tour of doomed Coney Island, The Henderson's Dance Hall Building is another one owned by Thor and slated for destruction. The current building replaced the original Henderson's vaudeville house soon after it burned in 1899.

Blighted but not totally defunct, the building still holds restaurants, novelty shops, and games like this long-lived Basket Ball Game on the side, directly across from Nathan's.

It was at the Henderson, writes Michael Immerso in Coney Island, that "Harpo Marx first teamed up with his brothers Groucho and 1907." According to Charles Denson's Coney Island, it later "housed the Melody Bar, the World in Wax, and the Surf Hotel."

1924, NYPL

The World in Wax Musee, opened in 1926 by Lillie Santangelo, ran for decades and featured wax figures of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.--among other, more gory scenes, like the first woman executed in the electric chair. As late as 1981, Santangelo was still on hand at her dime museum for a "Tricks and Treats" special show that Dick Zigun recalls helped him to launch the Coney Island Sideshows.

See "World in Wax" right here.

Somewhere, there is a film by Tom Palazzolo called "Lilly's World of Wax," in which Santangelo "leads the camera on a tour of the museum with the lights and wires being dragged along before the eyes of the audience. The woman insists on looking into the camera as she delivers her absurd and touching stories about the figures."

1926, NYPL

It has always been the Surf Hotel's neon sign that draws my attention to this building. Shuttered by Thor, it was a fleabag joint, maybe an SRO, but I can't find out much about it--even though it was there, in the signage, as far back as 1926, above a chop suey dine-and-dance. Something must have happened at the Surf in all its years at Coney.

If you know anything more, please let us know. It, too, will be gone once Bloomberg's sickening plan goes through.


NYC Rhymology said...

If only there were as many Marx Brothers fans as Sex and the City fans, then Henderson's would never be touched. (And then the universe would make more sense.)

chris flash said...

If only the Landmarks Commission had some fucking teeth, areas of historic and cultural significance would be safe from maggots like Thor Equities that feed on our city.

Tony Avella is the only mayoral candidate who vows that he will protect such sites and staff the Landsmarks Commission with the very folks who've been trying to get the Commission to save buildings and areas like Coney Island.

None of the other candidates, all of whom are paid off by the real estate industry, will do anything to stop Coney Island from being demolished in anticipation of developers creating their gentrification fantasy monstrosity.

Even if they can't get the money needed for construction, they're hell bent on their mad rush to demolish. Why are they permitted to do this?

Even if significant sites can't be saved, developers should be required by law to prove that they have funds to complete their projects if they're allowed to demolish.

A pox on Thor's owners....

JakeGould said...

Well, the Landmarks Commission preserves buildings. Not life/character. Unless the building is a home someone lives in, chances are the landmark designation does nothing but save the architecture, but ignores the business. The body is saved. The soul is dead.

In the case of the Hederson Building, it could be revived by a real “mensch” of a developer. Truth be told, the interiors have been so cut up and changed it’s barely a shell of it’s Marx Brothers past.

Still doesn’t explain why places like the Shore theater right across the street are not preserved. That building is really barely changed from the early days. The one positive side of Horace Bullard sitting on the building to do something.

Cone is so mixed up. The ultimate dream? Someone buys up the property and refurbishes the old buildings AND builds new 2 story structures that can house small businesses on the first floor and housing in the second... That’s just like the old days when people would live literally above the businesses they owned.

Somebody doing that would truly revive the old character of Coney Island. Own your building, own a business and keep the spirit alive.

PeterF said...

nice pictures and a piece of history.