Thor Begins Demolishing Historic Henderson Building Without Permits (UPDATED)


Thor Equities appears to have begun demolition work on Coney Island’s historic Henderson Music Hall building, apparently without receiving any permits and without taking appropriate safety measures.

Workers were seen and photographed this morning (Monday August 16) on the building’s roof using mechanical equipment to remove bricks from the top of the façade of the 1899 Henderson Music Hall, where Harpo Marx made his stage debut with his brothers Groucho and Gummo.

Thor does not appear to have acquired any permits for this sort of work. According to the New York City Department of Buildings website, no new permits have been issued for the Henderson building in the past several years.

Moreover, there was no scaffolding or sidewalk shed present to protect pedestrians during the demolition work.

While no permits appear to have been issued for the Henderson Music Hall, Thor did receive demolition permits on Friday, August 13, for two other historic Coney Island buildings: the Bank of Coney Island (a 1923 classical revival building that testifies to Coney’s past prosperity) and the Shore Hotel (built in 1903 and Coney Island’s last operating hotel).

Thor’s demolition work comes only days after the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation issued a determination that Coney Island’s amusement district meets the criteria for inclusion on the State and National Register of Historic Places. The State’s August 12th Determination of Eligibility explicitly named these endangered structures as being among the historic district’s “key buildings.”

While this Determination of Eligibility does not protect the buildings within the district from demolition, inclusion on the Registers of Historic Places could make grants and tax credits of up to 40% available for redevelopment projects that rehabilitate and reuse historic properties in the amusement area.

“We urge Thor to immediately halt its demolition work and preserve these historic buildings, and we urge the City to make sure that Thor abides by the law,” said Save Coney Island spokesman Juan Rivero.

“Preservation and reuse make economic sense,” Rivero added. “Rather than squander Coney Island’s unique historic assets, let’s find a way to take advantage of the economic incentives for the rehabilitation of these structures, which are vital to the successful redevelopment of the area.”

The Municipal Art Society, the Landmarks Conservancy, the Historic Districts Council and Borough President Marty Markowitz have all supported the preservation of these endangered buildings.

UPDATE: Amusing the Zillion reported on August 19:

This morning at 5:30 am, Thor Equities work crew continued demo and asbestos abatement work on the doomed Henderson Building across from Nathan’s in good old Coney Island. A few courageous photographers ventured out to document the worksite, despite the fact that one was threatened by a worker who tried to grab his camera on Tuesday. Now it’s safety in numbers! The above photo of the Bowery side of the Henderson Building arrived via email just after 6 am. We asked the photographer: what were they doing to the awnings? The answer was “they were tearing them down.” This appears to be the case if you look at the photo below taken 3-1/2 hours later of the same scene. Unfortunately the DOB has to see the violations happening and photographic evidence seems to count for nothing.

Since photos of Thor’s workers hammering away at the Henderson Building were posted on Monday, Coney Island’s Community Board 13 has questioned the Dept of Buildings (no permits have been issued for demolition) and Dept of Environmental Protection (a permit for asbestos abatement has been issued, though it was not displayed at the worksite). It appears that public scrutiny has led the crew to beef up their asbestos safety procedures. In the first photo, for example, there’s a sheet of material covering the sidewalk, which was not the case on Monday.

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