I was a latecomer to Coney Island. It was only 2002 that I finally made it there, on a Friday night with a friend and his daughter. I became entranced by the place and returned the next weekend with a camera. On that visit I came across a painted sign that pointed to the entrance of a museum, but it was obvious the museum had been closed for some time. I had no idea when the sign was painted but I was intrigued by it as a stylized yet decaying artifact of an earlier era. In subsequent visits in 2007, 2008, and this past summer I took additional photos from the same vantage point. The fifth photo shows the location of the sign in context (two similar “Museum” signs were located under the big red entrance arrows).
Although I’ve been curious all along about the history of the building and the museum it housed, it was something I never followed up on until now. Amazingly, there is extensive documentation of the building including photos of its interior on a blog, Amusing the Zillion. The building opened on Surf Avenue and 12th Street as the Bank of Coney Island in 1923. Although it was eventually absorbed by Manufacturers Hanover, it operated as a financial institution until about 1990. Then sideshow impresario Bobby Reynolds opened the International Circus Museum there. Thankfully The New York Times wrote about Mr. Reynolds and his museum in a 1996 article. Given the historical significance of the building and its striking architecture, it is distressing to learn that it is slated for demolition by Thor Equities, the property owner that has bought up large portions of Coney Island real estate. It is hard to believe that even the most avaricious of landowners would destroy a property like this. Even if further development is inevitable, it seems as if an inventive entrepreneur would have more to gain by integrating the old structure into something new. If you’re interested, you can read more about the building’s history and fate here, here, and here. The last link, to a Huffington Post article, has even more amazing photos.
Tags: Coney Island