overview

One of the most beloved and famous restaurants in New York City from the 1930s to the 1970s, this mammoth Spanish Colonial Revival restaurant building was owned and operated by gay proprietor Frederick William Irving Lundy.

Constructed in 1934, as part of the redevelopment of the Sheepshead Bay waterfront, it seated over 2,000 patrons, employed a staff of 385, and was thought to be one of the largest restaurants in the country.

Header Photo

Credit: Gale Harris/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2018.

On the Map

History

Frederick William Irving Lundy (1897-1977), who went by Irving, was born and raised in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. In the 1920s, he opened a seafood restaurant on a neighborhood pier off Emmons Avenue named F.W.I. L. Lundy Brothers, distinguishing it as a sole proprietorship but also tying it to his family’s long-established shellfish business that, at the time, had been operating on that same pier.

During the 1920s, Sheepshead Bay underwent a building boom that transformed it from an aging seaside resort to a residential community. To protect the area’s maritime businesses, the City of New York made plans to rebuild the waterfront piers and widen Emmons Avenue. In anticipation of this development, Lundy purchased a site on the north side of the avenue, between Ocean Avenue and East 19th Street, that was located opposite his existing restaurant. He hired the architectural firm of Bloch & Hesse, best known for its work for the Schrafft’s chain, to design a new, mammoth, Spanish Colonial style building. Its striking design features broad expanses of windows placed to take advantage of water views and ocean breezes. Many of the building’s surviving decorative details incorporate maritime motifs or the F.W.I.L. Lundy logo. The building originally incorporated indoor and outdoor eating areas, clam and liquor bars, kitchens, and other service spaces.

Lundy resided for several days of the week with Henry William Linker (1905-1959), his partner of over 30 years, in a top-floor apartment in the restaurant’s annex. By October 1926, Linker was working at the restaurant and living with Lundy at 625 Ocean Avenue in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. According to Robert Cornfield, who interviewed Lundy family members for his book on the restaurant, “the stocky, dashing, Linker was to remain Irving’s closest friend and associate.” During the 1920s, he accompanied Lundy on late-night outings to expensive restaurants and speakeasies.

To a certain extent Lundy remained closeted, spinning tales of a showgirl girlfriend to friends and claiming that he never married because he didn’t want to deal with a mother-in-law. Linker, who died in 1959, was spoken of as Lundy’s accountant and his friend, though at least one younger relative believed that Linker had left his wife for Lundy. (There is no evidence either ever married.)

Lundy’s Restaurant continued to thrive through the 1960s. On special occasions, like Mother’s Day, it drew 15,000 customers; on a typical Sunday it served about 10,000 and on a typical weekday 2,000. After the restaurant experienced a series of robberies in the early 1970s, Lundy mostly kept to his apartment. Eventually, he limited access to his apartment to one nephew and to a trusted employee, Ciro Autorino, who had begun working for Lundy as his chauffeur in 1965 and was also his lover. Following Lundy’s death in 1977, it was discovered that Autorino had conspired with four other men to steal over $11 million dollars from Lundy, of which all but $1 million was eventually recovered by his heirs. They kept the restaurant open until 1979, but sold the property in 1981.

This entry, written by project consultant Gale Harris, is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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