COCOA BEACH, Fla. – The building that once was home to The Surf, an iconic restaurant that became a well-known gathering place for astronauts, media figures and other celebrities during the heyday of the space race, is slated for demolition.
The building's owner, Luke Johnson, at one time planned to renovate and add to the structure and make it a centerpiece of what's considered "downtown Cocoa Beach." But in the end, it apparently made more sense to remove the structure and start something fresh there, reported Florida Today.
Johnson bought the shuttered property during foreclosure proceedings in May 2012 for $625,000, property appraiser's records show. Johnson is chairman and part-owner of Patisserie Valerie, a U.K. chain of more than 100 pastry cafés.
Johnson also owns or co-owns European chains Baker & Spice, Flour Power City, Feng Sushi, 3Sixty Restaurants, Gail's Artisan Bakery and The Draft House.
"I think making it a vacant space there will make it easier to sell," said Melissa Byron, director of marketing and economic development for the City of Cocoa Beach. "It looked OK from the outside, but over time the interior had really deteriorated."
The decision to demolish the property, which could begin in the next several weeks, comes as the city has made a considerable effort to improve the area at Minutemen Causeway and Atlantic Avenue. That area, along with other parts of Cocoa Beach, is a top tourist attraction in Central Florida.
Bernard Fischer opened the landmark eatery in 1948 as Bernard's Surf, and his family operated the dining venue for decades. Fischer's nephew, Rusty Fischer, started in 1965 at age 22. When his uncle died in 1965, he decided to keep it.
Fischer sold the restaurant in 2006 to two new owners. They unexpectedly closed their doors in October 2010, facing nearly $300,000 in state and federal tax liens. It has remained closed since then.
Byron noted with the building's demolition, some history and nostalgia also will disappear. But she added: "When Rusty left, a lot of that left with him."