The Shore Theater is one of the most striking buildings in Coney Island. Its height (the tallest in Coney Island’s amusement area) and its location (conveniently across from both the Stillwell Avenue Subway Station and Nathan’s on Surf Avenue) also make it one of the most recognizable.
Nevertheless, like many of its historic neighbors, the theater’s exterior and interior lack landmark protection, and there is no guarantee that this beloved building will be part of Coney Island’s future. The City has been asked to designate this building, among others, as landmarks so that they can be an integral part of a revitalized Coney Island.
Constructed in 1925 to the design of noted theater architects, Reilly & Hall, the theater was originally known as “Loew’s Coney Island” and served as both a live performance vaudeville venue and a movie house. At the time of its construction, the Shore Theater represented the optimism for the future of Coney Island at the dawn of the “Nickel Empire” (i.e. Coney Island in the 1920s and ‘30s, so-called because it cost 5 cents to ride the subway to Coney, and 5 cents was the cost of all of the items on Nathan’s menu). Unlike many of the plaster and wood structures built on a small scale in Coney Island, the Shore Theater was tall, solid, fireproof, and a permanent fixture in the Coney Island skyline. Its theater sat nearly 2,400 people, and above the theater were several stories of office space intended for the entertainment industry, which the developers hoped would flourish in Coney Island.Like many structures in Coney Island, the theater suffered in the 1970s as Coney Island was ravaged by municipal and private disinvestment, crime, arson, and pure neglect. The theater, which had become known as the Brandt Shore in the 1960s, was an adult movie house for several years before it finally closed for good in 1973. It has sat vacant and unused ever since.
Over thirty-five years later, the building’s theater and office space provide a wonderful opportunity for a revitalized Coney Island. Although the interior has not been publicly accessible in decades, we believe that enough of the interior features, including its 66-foot-diameter dome, gold and cerise auditorium, and other details remain and could be restored. The Shore Theater could be a destination venue for Coney Island and could play a major role in bringing more people to Coney Island for amusements and entertainment. As a first step in fulfilling that goal, the building should be protected with landmark status.