Despite its late 20th-century alterations, the Grashorn Building on Jones Walk and Surf Avenue is the oldest building in Coney Island’s amusement area. Behind the synthetic siding is a wood-framed building dating from the late 1880s. If one looks carefully, the building’s Second Empire mansard roof and dormer windows can still be discerned.
As early as 1898 and continuing for at least a half-century, the building was the home of Henry Grashorn’s hardwood store, which served the amusement industry. Coney Island in the late-19th and early 20th centuries was so dense with mechanical amusements and attractions that easily accessible hardware stores like Grashorn’s were a necessity.
Henry Grashorn was, however, much more than a local businessman; he was a community leader in Coney Island. He was a trustee of the Coney Island Hospital and director of the Coney Island Bank (another historic building remaining the Coney Island amusement area, on W. 12th St.). He also was a leader in efforts to maintain Coney Island as a popular, profitable, and safe amusement district. As a founder and long-time president of Coney Island’s Mardi Gras Association, he helped extend Coney Island’s summer season into the fall with the Mardi Gras Parade, which ran annually from 1903 until 1954.
Today, at first glance, the Grashorn building, which is currently vacant, is hard to recognize as an important historic resource. However, the building’s original wood clapboards and details are believed to be under the synthetic siding, and the building could be restored to be a wonderful showpiece of Coney Island’s historic vernacular architecture. It is remarkable that this building, which predates Coney Island’s first enclosed amusement parks and was built around the same time as Coney Island (and America’s) first roller coaster, survives in 2009. However, without landmark status, there is no guarantee that this piece of Coney Island history will be part of its future.
The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has been asked to designate the Grashorn Building as a landmark, along with other remaining historic structures in Coney Island’s amusement area.