BY Michael Lipkin and Erin Durkin
DAILY NEWS WRITERS
Wednesday, August 5th 2009, 4:00 AM
Siegel for News
Nathan's Famous at Surf and Stillwell Aves. in Coney Island has been an unofficial landmark for decades, and its supporters want it granted official status so it isn't replaced by high-rise.
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It's already a landmark for hot-dog lovers around the world - and now they want to make it official.
Advocates are pushing the city to landmark the building at Surf and Stillwell Aves., where Nathan's Famous has been dishing out dogs since 1916, to prevent it from being demolished as Coney Island undergoes sweeping redevelopment.
Under a zoning plan passed by the City Council last week, a hotel tower of up to 20 stories could be built at the corner currently occupied by Nathan's. It's one of four sites along Surf Ave. where hotels will be allowed.
Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun said landmark status is necessary to stop Nathan's from going the way of such mainstays as Astroland, which closed last year.
"To not have Nathan's would be insane," he said. "Even when you build new rides and businesses and hotels ... the appeal [Coney Island] is going to have is the history.
"You don't want the new Coney Island to be indistinguishable from a suburbanized, homogenized, standardized amusement park off the New Jersey Turnpike," Zigun said. "You want it to be special."
Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon said officials are still weighing the historical and architectural significance of the building.
Two other historic Coney buildings, the Shore Theater and the Coney Island USA building - home to the original Childs Restaurant - have been deemed eligible for landmarking, de Bourbon said.
Landmark status has already saved other Coney icons like the Cyclone and the WonderWheel from the wrecking ball.
Nathan's Famous CEO Eric Gatoff said the company has no position on the landmark proposal, but insisted the hot-dog emporium isn't going anywhere. He noted Nathan's - which doesn't own the building - has 18 years left on its lease.
"We expect to be in that building forever," Gatoff said. "Our expectation is there will always be a Nathan's on the corner of Surf and Stillwell."
The Handwerker family, which founded the original Nathan's and still owns the building, could not be reached for comment.
More than 125 people have signed an online petition launched three days ago to push for the landmarking - and most frankfurter fans were all for it.
"It should be a landmark already," said Bill Funk, 69, an upper West Side accountant who has visited the stand once a week all summer for the past 50 years. "There deserves to be change here. There should be better development, but this should stay."