Astoria, Real Estate
Jul 06, 2016

Updating You on the Childs Restaurant Building Preservation Progress

The building at 36-01 Broadway, originally home to a Childs Restaurant, may be preserved after all. No guarantees yet, but it has promise.

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Photo credit: GAHS

Last week there was a big hullaballoo surrounding the potential destruction of the decorative facade of the building at 36-01 Broadway. Most recently it was home to a Rite Aid but its origins are as a Childs Restaurant, a national restaurant chain that started in 1889 and was sold in 1961. It’s not the fact that it was a restaurant that makes the building valuable to preservationists, but the terracotta ornament displayed on the exterior. The fear is that it would be destroyed; but that may not be the case anymore.

A Light At the End of the Tunnel?

The uproar reached the building’s owner, Morris Dweck, after numerous articles were published about his plans, as well as many discussions on social media and online forums, and he received calls from preservationists expressing their concerns. He says he’d like to “do the right thing” and “come up with a solution,” for preserving the exterior, according to an article on DNAinfo. He’s talked to his architect about making adjustments, and of course there is all the additional DOB paperwork to consider and what a headache that would be.

Dweck says, “We are going to try and result with a win-win for both ourselves and those community residents. We might be able to come up with a solution, we might not. I don’t know, it’s too early to tell.” Personally, I hope they come up with a solution.

Criticism came raining down on our councilman, Costa Constantinides, too, for perceived indifference. On June 30, a day after the GAHS-led town hall meeting, Costa wrote this letter in response to a local constituent, republished on the GAHS Facebook page:

“Recently it came to my attention that the owner of DII Discounts purchased the former Childs Restaurant space with the intention of combining it with the current store. As soon as this was brought to my attention I reached out to the owner to determine what steps could be taken to preserve the Childs facade. As a result of our conversation, DII is now reconvening their architect and contractor to assess what can be done to preserve the facade while also expanding the storefront.

“Even though the building is private property and was not landmarked before renovations began, I have reached out to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and other architectural preservationists to secure separate protections for this building. These renovations are already permitted and compliant with current zoning, which means the scope of my authority as Council Member is limited in this instance. I will, however, continue to do everything in my power to protect this piece of Astoria’s history.”

More On Landmarking the Childs Restaurant Building

An earlier DNAinfo article mentioned that Bob Singleton of the Greater Astoria Historical Society (GAHS) would submit a request to the Landmarks Preservation Committee to see if the building could be evaluated for eventual preservation/protection; after all, two former Childs locations in Coney Island were landmarked in 2003 and 2010, so why not this one? A section of that application was posted to their Facebook page, which gives you an idea as to why they are pushing so hard to preserve the facade, both for its looks and the important people behind the design.

“Childs used the finest materials and expert talent. The 1928 building at 36-01 Broadway, Astoria (Queens Block 649 Lot 5), is a classic example of their method. This former restaurant was likely designed by the partnership of Dennison & Hirons, as it was built within their period of collaboration (1910 -1929). It is designed in a fancitul terra-cotta Spanish Colonial Revival style with numerous polychrome ornaments in whimsical motifs including images of urns, caducei, fish, seashells, and the ocean god Neptune.

“Architect Ethan Allen Dennison (1881-1954) studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and began his career at Trowbridge & Livinqston in New York In 1905. He won the Medal of Honor of the Society of Diploma Architects of France and was a member of the Beaux Arts Society of New York. His partner, Frederic Charles Hirons (1883-1942), taught architecture at Columbia University, was a founder of the Beaux Arts Institute of Deslqn, and served as president of the Beaux Arts Society of Architects. Individually and collectively they designed an impressive building portfolio including the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in New York, the (Former) Suffolk Title and Guarantee Company Building and the Childs Restaurant on Coney Island – all NYC Designated Landmarks.

“The Dennison & Hirons firm assembled a wealth of talent to satisfy the Childs account. Decorative Terra-cotta panels were done by architectural sculptor Rene Chambellan (1893-1955) who studied With the Borglam family (of Mt Rushmore fame) HiS work can be found at the Chanin Building, Beekman Tower, and Williamsburgh Savings Bank. Model maker Maxfield Keck (1880-1943) IS known for hls architectural sculpture on grandly-scaled public and private commissions, including the Riverside Church, New York Telephone Building, and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Coloration was done by muralist Duncan Smith (1877-1934), a graduate of the prestigious American Academy in Rome who later went on to teach at the equally respected Art Students League of New York.”

If you’d like to sign an online petition to voice your support to save this building’s facade, you can go here.

More Childs Restaurant History

A while back, the great site Forgotten NY wrote about the Childs restaurant chain in NYC. I found his background on the chain pretty interesting, especially the vegetarian part:

“The Childs restaurant chain was the creation of Samuel and William Childs. They revolutionized the American restaurant chain by creating a uniform look to each of their branches in order to make their restaurants recognizable. Their “brand” relied heavily on the portrayal of their establishments as sanitary, clean, and modern; the interiors were outfitted with white tile floors and walls, and even the waitresses and other workers dressed in white uniforms. The Childs brothers were also the fathers of the modern cafeteria, influencing another bygone NYC chain, the Horn & Hardart Automat. They would probably bristle if you compared them to McDonalds or Burger King, as the fare was more upscale than that, but it wouldn’t be outlandish to compare them to, say, the old Howard Johnson’s chain.

“Child’s Restaurants peaked in the 1920s and 1930s, and William Childs lost control of the company after a revolt from investors after he imposed his own vegetarian preferences on the menu. Child’s became the Hotel Corporation of America in 1955 and was acquired in 1961 by the Riese Organization, which today operated restaurant chains like T.G.I. Friday’s and Applebee’s.”

In an old NY Times article, it describes Childs as a place, “intended for middle class people who wanted a good meal in nice surroundings.” As the Astoria restaurant scene changes to $15 burgers and $14 cocktails, we hear fairly often these days that Astorians would like to see more affordable food (RIP Doral Donut Shop) in a nice atmosphere. I bet Childs would do well here if it was still around.

So what do you think—should this building be saved? Is the historic facade worth enough to be landmarked? Is the concern warranted? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.

About Meg Cotner

Meg Cotner was trained as a harpsichordist and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Queens," and is a skilled and avid home cook, baker, and preserver.

2 Comments

Bob Singleton

Thanks for posting this Meg.

That the owner has listened to the community and is trying to find a solution is something that should be applauded. Are we there yet? No, for the building could be sold tomorrow and that wonderful part of our community can still be lost forever!

The only option to protect this is Landmark Designation. People who live in these areas are happy they landmarked the area.

And yes, there are tax credits and the like for commercial properties that have, for example, gone on the National Register of Historic Places.

May we suggest having a community information session about landmarking where businesses and neighbors could get together to learn more about these issues

Would you help us to publicize it?

Reply
Sarah-Beth White

I was at the original meeting about this at the Historical Society and numerous attempts were made to get Costa Costantinides to support the preservation, including personal discussions with his aide. Everyone was completely rebuffed. It’s a joke that he has issued a statement making it appear that due to his intervention this landmark may now be saved!

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