Building of the Day: 2102 Boardwalk

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Child’s Restaurant
Address: 2102 Boardwalk
Cross Streets: West 21st and West 22nd Streets
Neighborhood: Coney Island
Year Built: 1923
Architectural Style: Spanish Baroque Revival
Architect: Dennison & Hirons
Other buildings by architect: Beaux Arts Institute of Design, 304 E. 44th St, Manhattan, Suffolk Guarantee and Title Company Building, Queens, both landmarked.
Landmarked: Yes, Individual landmark, 2003

The story: Coney Island’s reputation was built on the concept of über, that over-the-top, on steroids kind of grandiosity that took people out of their everyday lives, and placed them in places they would never see, and experience things they would never experience anywhere else. Child’s Restaurants understood this well, as did this building’s architects, and they gave us a building to rival Neptune’s own palace on the bottom of the sea.

The Child’s Restaurant chain was founded in 1889 by brothers William and Samuel Childs. Their goal was to provide quick and inexpensive food in a clean and pleasant setting. They were innovators in the cafeteria-style lunch counters, and by 1925, they were so successful that the Child’s chain had 107 restaurants in 33 cities in the US and Canada. Rather than trying to replicate the same building and style wherever they were located, like today’s McDonald’s, they were flexible enough to sometimes incorporate the local environment into their stores. For example, one of their restaurants on 5th in Manhattan had streamlined curved glass windows and a sophisticated décor, an early project of William Van Alen, architect of the Chrysler Building. Here, they took the beach and the sea, and went crazy.

Ethan Allen Dennison and Frederic Charles Hiron were both graduates of the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. They opened their architectural practice in 1910, and their early works were mostly Neo-Classical banks and office buildings. They later designed many more buildings in the Art Deco style, also with lots of terra-cotta. Dennison and Hiron developed a close relationship with the artisans of the Atlantic Terra-Cotta Company, and for this and subsequent projects, had the ornamentation rendered in quarter scale models, which they could then glaze in the exact colors they wanted. Model-maker Maxfield Kleck and colorist Duncan Smith of the Atlantic Terra-Cotta Company were the artisans of record, and having their names and work known to us is a rarity, as these talented people often remained anonymous and unaccredited.

The restaurant originally had a rooftop pergola, as seen on an old postcard, allowing patrons ocean views. The wide arches were once glass filled picture windows, which also extended on the W. 21st St. side of the building. And then there was the ornament. Neptune rises from the sea, dripping with seaweed. Cavorting fishes, cockleshells, seahorses, sailing ships, as well as swags, garlands, classical urns and other ornament, crown the building. They all mix in a unique Baroque pattern of swirls, and shapes, in bright and fantastic colors. Most impressive were the mixture of glazes that mimicked a view from under the sea, as seen in the corner medallions. Even today, much of the ornament is still in fine shape, including the fish on top of the columns which once held the pergola, although a lot of the original stucco is gone. Originally, the boardwalk was higher, and another story was below, offering customers even more dining room.

Child’s Restaurant weathered the ebb and flow of Coney Island, and survived until the 1950’s. It was bought by the Ricci family, who were still running a candy manufacturing company there when the building was landmarked in 2003. They must have sealed all the huge windows, and totally enclosed the building. The property has changed hands several times since then, and now needs some serious TLC to restore it to its proper and deserved glory. GMAP

Postcard showing windows, pergola, and raised boardwalk.

12 Comment

  • Does landmark status carry with it some sort of provision for maintenance, or is it possible that a landmarked structure could just be ignored until it crumbles to the ground?

  • this is one of the most photogenic buildings around. The decay has reached that perfect level of near-ruin that is so cool. No matter where one points the camera, one gets wonderful play of textures and color and erosion.
    It can’t go on like this forever though, trouble is decay keeps going until the whole place collapses.
    If it is ever restored, it would be amazing. The pergola roof deck would be so, so beautiful, especially if they planted grapes or jasmine on the pergola to dapple the sun. It is/was a very artistic building.
    Last I heard it was a roller rink but I think now it is vacant.

  • Sadly, landmark status does not come with provisions for maintenance. Would that it did. There are possible tax credits, and low interest loan programs, and a grant or two, but that’s it. It’s not a perfect, or even fair system, but without it, buildings like this wouldn’t even be a topic of conversation, as they would have been long gone. At least there’s still the possibility of still saving this one.

  • without the private sector’s interest in rehabilitating a building, there is very little the landmarks commission can do. Keep in mind that the landmarks commission’s budget is the smallest of any mayoral agency. the commissioners themselves are not paid, they make zip-o.
    The whole agency is the little mouse that roars.

    • The chairman has a nice salary, though. Bloomberg pal Tierney. With him and Amanda Burden at City Planning the official preservation apparatus has been rather uh…accommodating in recent years.

      • The LPC would slack off (which it has in the past, getting it in some legal trouble in the past) if it weren’t for the determined efforts of several preservation/community groups throughout the city.

  • without the private sector’s interest in rehabilitating a building, there is very little the landmarks commission can do. Keep in mind that the landmarks commission’s budget is the smallest of any mayoral agency. the commissioners themselves are not paid, they make zip-o.
    The whole agency is the little mouse that roars.

  • What a treasure…I had forgotten it existed. Oh, for the glory days of Coney Island. Love the tag line on the old postcard: “Rendezvous of the Elite.” Thanks for shining a light on this one, MM.

  • What a treasure…I had forgotten it existed. Oh, for the glory days of Coney Island. Love the tag line on the old postcard: “Rendezvous of the Elite.” Thanks for shining a light on this one, MM.

  • In fairness, there is a ‘demolition by neglect’ law. Far from a provision for maintenance, at least there is a (clunky) mechanism for holding owners accountable.

  • As in many similar cases, it will never look better than it does now.

    c