It looks like an abandoned building today, but at the corner of Surf Avenue and Jones Walk, a boarded up wooden clapboard house is all that remains of the oldest building on Coney Island. Built sometime in the early to mid 1880s by Henry Grashorn, the Grashorn Building is a Victorian style building with a mansard roof that was allegedly built originally as a hotel. Grashorn quickly transformed it into a hardware store around 1898 and was responsible for furnishing the nuts and bolts for the major amusement parks on Coney Island–Luna Park, Steeplechase and Dreamland. There was once a porch that wrapped around the building and its neighbors, under which household wares and candy were sold.
The Grashorn Building on Coney Island. Photo from Coney Island Island: Lost and Found
Henry Grashorn was also a prominent Coney Island resident, serving as the Trustee to the Coney Island Hospital, director of the Coney Island Ban and founder and President of the Coney Island Mardi-Gras Association, of which the famous Coney Island Mermaid Parade “is a direct descendant,” contends The New York Times.
Today, the Grashorn Building, like many other properties along Surf Avenue, is owned by Thor Equities. The detailed metal trimming at the top of the roof is now lost, along with the chimneys but it is possible that other original details and the dormer windows still exist under the current synthetic siding that covers the original facade.
The Grashorn Building, circled in red amidst its neighbors in 1885. Photo from Coney Island Island: Lost and Found
Until 2009, the bottom floor housed skeeball games and other amusements, similar to those on the rest of Jones Walk. The tenant told the website Amusing the Zillion that rent had tripled to $24,000 and he would not renew. Since then, the building has only been rented for a smattering of short-term uses, including a film location for the HBO Series Vinyl, produced by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter, and for the show Bored to Death, and as an office for the production team of Men in Black 3.
Fearing demolition, preservation organizations such as The Municipal Art Society and the New York Landmarks Conservancy have been advocating to landmark the Grashorn Building since at least 2009 without success. For now, it’s still listed for lease by Thor Equities.
See this building and much more in our Secrets of Coney Island: Past, Present and Future tour:
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