Freak Bar renovation completes

Amid the uncertainty of the future of Coney Island, a new renovation for Surf Avenue

by Philip M. Tusa, AIA 22 October 2008 Interior
Set in the Child's Surf Avenue Restaurant historic building that was built in 1917, the space was most recently a U.S. Army Recruiting Station. Coney Island USA is a not-for-profit arts organization that presents Sideshows by the Seashore, the only remaining "ten-in-one" live sideshow in Coney Island and several other notable programs and events annually. The most famous and public is the Mermaid Parade that has drawn as many as 500,000 participants & spectators.

The project at hand was initiated when CIUSA was awarded a grant to purchase the Child's Building. CIUSA rented part of the first floor sideshow amusement arcade and the entire second floor housing the Coney Island Museum. After inheriting the prominent Surf Avenue storefront spaces, the planning challenge was to incorporate the new spaces to connect to the existing spaces. The existing Freak Bar in the West 12th Street Sideshow entry is expanded into the corner space and a New Museum Gift Shop is relocated from upstairs to form a New Museum Entrance Lobby on the sidewalk level. Together, the new spaces form an interconnected whole that functions as CIUSA's "Front Door on Coney's Surf Avenue".

Architecturally, this transformation is achieved by "perforating" the existing dividing partitions with large-scale oculus & archway openings. Of historical note, hidden underneath aged plywood signs are the beautifully graceful arches of the historic facade that are now revealed and incorporated in all their splendor. Decoratively, the "Coney-esque" style is employed. Historically, CIUSA has sought to evoke an atmosphere that signifies the nostalgia that Coney is to all people worldwide, whether they remember it personally or have just heard of it. "Coney-esque" is colorful, bold, graphically abrasive, and is meant to be spectacular night and day. As one can see (attached are photographs by famed architectural photographer, Paul Warchol), the New Freak Bar & Museum Gift Shop is a colorful revival to add to Coney's staying power.

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