Despite being closed for 39 years, Coney Island’s Shore Theatre has never been forgotten. The theatre was one among numerous Brooklyn movie houses that died as a result of variegated technology and diminished audiences in the 1960s/ 1970s: high-tech televisions and multi-screen theatres replacing the stately with the dynamic.
Opened in 1925, the Shore Theatre was designed (reminiscent of an Italian Renaissance palazzo) by theatre architects Reilly & Hall and built by the Chanin Construction Company. An unusual construction for Brooklyn, the building combined a movie theatre with a six-story office complex; a design more typical of Manhattan’s Theatre District. The 2,387-seat Shore Theatre was stately in a day and age when “taking in a movie” was serious business; in fact, it meant going to the theatre in its most lavish and sophisticated sense.
The Shore was originally named the Loew’s Coney Island Theatre when Marcus Loew, theatre chain magnate, began operating the theatre soon after it opened; it was renamed the Shore Theatre in 1964. “The Sporting Venus,” a silent, was the first film screened at the Shore together with live performances by Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton. On August 11, 1949, according to one source, Al Jolson performed there. By the 1970s, the theatre came a long way from the like of feature films, Siamese twins and Jolson when it was reduced to showing X-rated films until finally closing down in 1973.
The defunct building is currently owned by longtime Coney Island entrepreneur Horace Bullard who owns the tottering Kansas Fried Chicken eatery. The Shore Theatre has recently been nominated for landmark designation; but, in spite of pleas and cajoling from Coney Island locals and historians to sell, Bullard stubbornly continues to hold on to his vacant property…awaiting the best of all possible offers, I would suspect.
Now that Coney Island is finally being revived (hopefully), the plan is to turn the Shore Theatre into a performing arts center featuring live concerts, circuses, and various other forms of entertainment; another effort to make the island an all-year- round destination. In short, to allow the Shore Theatre to live again in a Coney Island that’s experiencing a second life.
Check out Cinema Treasures for more detailed information on the Shore Theatre as well as the Gothamist for a related article containing some exterior/ interior shots of the theatre in better days.