This postcard was auctioned on e-bay in early May, 2001.
One of the most encouraging tendencies manifested of late years in building circles is the growing disposition of merchants to recognize good architecture as a distinct asset strengthening to the prestige of their business and increasing the volume of their patronage.
"Building for the Childs Co. at Coney Island," by F.S. Laurence begins with the sentence above. The article, published in The American Architect & The Architectural Review, (9/10/24) goes on to commend the efforts of Childs Restaurant Corporation to construct handsome buildings to house their moderately priced eating places for people of average means. The Childs in Coney Island "...stands as a milestone marking an enormous advance in the taste of what we are pleased to describe as the common people of America."
Photographs included in this material provide the reader with overview images and details of this unique building. Standing on an isolated portion of the Boardwalk, it was once a lively part of Coney Island, the world famous amusement park. The building now has a "FOR SALE" sign on it and, although its exterior is in good condition, it certainly must be considered ENDANGERED. Development pressures in the area are very strong and a new minor league baseball stadium has just been built a few blocks away.
Only a visit to the building, and possibly the color postcard enclosed, can reveal the richness of detail found in the ornament. Laurence writes:
This use of color, accomplished chiefly through the application of polychrome terra cotta for detail against wall surfaces of soft buff colored stucco of engaging texture, is perhaps the most satisfying feature of the whole visual effect...that the result reflects an achievement in collaborative [terra-cotta] manufacture of the highest excellence is of immense significance to the future of color in architecture in America.
The wonderful range of sea creatures includes: lobsters, fish, crabs, seahorses, clam shells, snails, octopus, and even fish heads ingeniously taking the place of the traditional egg in the egg-and-dart moldings (see the image on the right). There are four types of expertly modeled rondels by Maxfield H. Keck depicting:
It is hard to know whether the humor and whimsy of these creatures intertwined into all of the architectural elements or the astounding array of colored glazes is more arresting. Perhaps it is best summed up by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, the manufacturers of this glorious work. Their September, 1924 monthly publication titled, "The della Robbia School of Today," states:
The brilliant polychrome Terra Cotta, instead of following the conventional flower and fruit motive of the della Robbia school, is marine to the last degree - and even submarine in part.
The carnival spirit of Coney Island demands color; it permits almost anything. Childs Restaurant strikes a new note of beauty in surroundings that are naturally festive.
Interestingly, as the Childs Restaurant Corporation expanded into neighborhoods throughout the city, they developed a "signature style" used for many of the restaurants. Their one-story buildings were often clad in terra cotta and ornamented with a beltcourse of pairs of intertwined seahorses. The corners of these structures often featured a huge shell with a dolphin in the center. Two of the surviving examples can be found in Queens. One is in Sunnyside at 43rd Avenue and 45th Street (see photo below) and the other is in Woodside at 60th Street and Queens Boulevard.
Ethan Allen Dennison (1881-1954)
Frederic Charles Hirons (1883-1942)
Ethan Allen Dennison, born in New Jersey, studied architecture at the Godfrey Architectural Preparatory School and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He began his career in the office of Trowbridge & Livingston in New York in 1905, joining with Frederic Hirons to form the partnership of Dennison & Hirons in 1910. Their firm continued until 1929. Dennison 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, as well as the American Society of the French Legion of Honor. After the dissolution of the firm of Dennison & Hirons, Dennison continued to practice architecture in New York as the head of Ethan A. Dennison & Associates.
Frederic Charles Hirons was born in England but moved as a child to Massachusetts with his family. He worked as a draftsman in the Boston office of Herbert Hale from 1898 until 1901 when he began to study architecture at MIT. In 1904, he won the Rotch traveling scholarship, and went to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He won the Paris Prize in 1906, enabling him to continue his studies and travel in Europe through 1909. Hirons was always interested in drawing and the education of young students. He led his own atelier for several years after his return from Europe, taught architecture at Columbia University, was a founder of the Beaux Arts Institute of Design, and served as president of the Beaux Arts Society of Architects. He was named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in recognition of his services for architectural education. In 1929 Hirons formed a partnership with F.W. Mellor from Philadelphia for two years, and then practiced under his own name until 1940.
In addition to the Childs Restaurant in Coney Island they executed such buildings as the Delaware Title & Insurance Company, Wilmington, Delaware; the Federal Trust Company Building, Newark, New Jersey, the City National Bank, Bridgeport, Connecticut; the Home Savings Bank, Albany, New York; the State Bank & Trust Company, New York, NY, (on 43rd Street and 8th Ave.); Beaux Arts Institute of Design, New York, NY (304 East 44th Street, *NYC Landmark); and the Suffolk Title and Guarantee Company Building, Queens, New York (90-04 161st Street, *NYC Landmark as of January 2001).
Dennison & Hirons used terra cotta ornament with Art Deco motifs in most of these buildings. The Atlantic Terra Cotta Company published an explanation of the architects method for producing the colored terra-cotta panels:
This firm in the study of their Polychrome Terra Cotta, have 1/4 full size models made and then colored exactly like the ceramic glazes they propose to use. The models are then placed 1/4 their actual height on the finished building and with the exact exposure. As it has been found that the same colors will produce different effects with northern or southern exposures, a practical test under actual conditions is of value.
After these models were finalized, the terra-cotta companys glaze department would create glazes to achieve the desired shades. In this way Dennison & Hirons were able to produce colorful ornament which has continued to remained visually stunning.
* Some of this information comes from the Landmarks Preservation Commissions Designation Report (3/6/2001) on the Suffolk Title and Guarantee Company Building, prepared by Virginia Kurshan.