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Several life-long New Yorkers I knew in the 80s called it ‘da Keets'
never mentioning Flushing, and everyone knew what they were talking about.
I worked here as a volunteer usher in the late 70s when they were trying to save it from the wrecking ball. Warren’s seat count is correct for the time it opened in 1921. In the 70s when they were trying to raise money to save it, they were running a dinner theatre in the lobby (there were no seats in the auditorium at the time) and they could seat (in the lobby) about 500 people for dinner at tables. In this theatre there had not been too much damage from exposure to the elements, most of the damage had been done by Loew’s. The auditorium had everything but the dome spray painted black. The opera boxes on either side of the screen had been ripped out so they could install a Cinerama screen. The Cinerama projection booth was installed under the balcony and required the balcony structure above to be cut back several rows for the beam to properly hit the screen. When it closed Loew’s sold everything that wasn’t nailed down, and some stuff that was – chandeliers, paintings, furniture, seats, etc. This is a Thomas Lamb theatre in the Adamesque style. As mentioned above, the site was on the side street, and the auditorium was behind the Keith’s Palace Theatre – the back wall of the State auditorium was against the back wall of the Palace stage. In order to have the entrance on the main avenue the lobby was built along the full length of the Palace. The figure I remember was from the curb to the auditorium entrance was 500 feet. When it was restored in the 80s, they built a new stagehouse as big as the auditorium that can handle the Metropolitan Opera when they tour. The public areas have been restored to original and the electrical/mechanical/HVAC systems replaced. It is a beautiful theatre.
In the whole Bronx, there are only 4 operating movie theatres left – Concourse, Whitestone, American and Bay Plaza, or did I miss something.
The ceiling fell down during the run of Psycho 3, whatever year that was – I thought it was 85, but it could have been 86. The Almi people were running it at the time. My boss and I heard about it as we were closing the Cinema I-II for the night and we raced down there. Initially, they thought the balcony had collapsed, but soon discovered it was the ceiling over the balcony. The few customers who were there that night said there was a big cracking noise that gave them warning and they got down on the floor between the rows of seats and were pretty much protected. One male was seriously injured – he was intox and sitting in the orchestra passed out. He didn’t get on the floor. When the ceiling fell on the balcony, it slid down into the orchestra and the intox male got speared with a steel bar. A couple of days later the remaining ceiling over the orchestra also fell down during the night. The newspaper stated that the ceiling was 90 thousand pounds of plaster and steel. The theatre remained closed for 2 years, then we had to open it up for a short time to maintain the special occupancy status, and they were still getting the plans for reconstruction together. They put up a new ceiling, used seats only in the orchestra (the balcony was empty), rented projection equipment. We were only supposed to be open for about 6 weeks. It was during this time that we played Bull Durham. They put more used seats in the balcony for the opening of Batman, and planned on keeping it open indefinately because they changed architects and were back to square-one with the reconstruction plans. It was open in that configuration for about 2 years, then it was gutted to the 4 walls and roof and the interior rebuilt, opening in 1990 as the 4-screen house that completely demolished in 2002.
This block of 59th St was a regular porn alley at one time – this theatre, the Cine Malibu, plus the theatre that would later become the Manhattan Twin, and the Lido East which was on the north side of the street closer to 3rd Ave. were all porno joints. They were the reason that the local community board had the area re-zoned to prohibit any more theatres from being built, and the existing theatres could not add any more square-footage. And I think it also prohibited an existing theatre heavily damaged by some catastrophe from being re-built. They were trying to prevent the area from becoming another 42nd St/8th Ave. I’m not positive but I think that zoning restriction is still in effect.
The proceeds from the sale of the New York properties of City Cinemas/Reading Entertainment are probably being used to finance expansion of Reading’s circuit in Australia.
Of the remaining 4 sites, only the Cinema 1-2-3 is owned. The East 86th St. and Village East are both leased, and I’m pretty sure the Angelika is also leased. The Village East was and may still be a partnership with Ackerman, and the 86th St was and may still be a partnership with the previous operator, Town & Country.
I went around there a while after the Oriental closed, and found that the auditorium, lobby and other store-fronts on 86th St. had been stripped down to the brick walls and roof. There was a freshly poured flat concrete floor in the auditorium area. When I looked in from the side exit doors there was no balcony. The only thing from the theatre that was left at that time were the brass entrance doors.
The Embassy Theatre was a relativly narrow auditorium and looked to have about 2000-2500 seats all on one floor, there was no balcony or stadium. As I recall it was art-deco style, with tall narrow milk-glass lamps hanging in the auditorium. There were shorter, wider versions of these lamps in the lobby. There was a stage with the screen, but I don’t know if it was a working stage. The ceiling of the auditorium was flat plaster, no dome, with some minimal painted geometric design. The auditorium was not closed off from the lobby, there was a standee rail behind the last row of seats and was offset to the right from the lobby. The back 3 or four rows of the left side section of seats had been removed and a concession stand installed, separated from the auditorium by only curtains. When I was there last in about 1971 it was a grind house, and could not see a lot of the detailing of the auditorium.
What, in their great wisdom, are they going to build on this site to replace the theatre? Wasn’t this site originally the backlot of one of the studios, possibly Fox? [20th CENTURY Fox = CENTURY Plaza]
Wasn’t there a second screen here that Cineplex didn’t use, with the entrance on 42nd Street?
Wasn’t this built by General Cinema?
The apartment building that the theatre is/was in was Gimbels Dept. Store, and was built in the 60s. Gimbels went out of business in aprx. 1986, and the building put up for sale. It was stripped down to the steel frame and re-built as an apartment building.
The property that the former Gimbels is sitting on was previously occupied by the RKO Proctors 86th St., a huge palace designed by Thomas Lamb, demolished in the early 60s.
The situation here was similar to that of the Loew’s 72nd St/Loew’s Tower East: the palace replaced by another type of building, which included a tiny cinema as a supposed replacement for the lost palace.
The Beverly Center Cinema has 1879 seats.
According to the December 1999 Loews directory, the Universal City Cinema had 5504 seats and 18 screens (this is before the Imax was installed. Was the Imax an add-on, or a conversion of an existing auditorium?
The address of the former Loews North Versailles 20 is: 200 Loews Drive, North Versailles PA 15137.
Loews announced this theatre, but had to wait for the municipality to make changes to the surrounding roads and other infrastructure adjustments before they could begin construction. As with most government projects, they moved at a snails pace. In the meantime the 24-screen plex down the street, which was announced after the Loews was announced, got built and opened long before the Loews and had captured the audience.
The Loews theatre had a total of 4172 seats. When it closed, all of the equipment was removed and most of it re-installed in the new Loews 34th Street in New York, which was just being completed at the time the North Versailles was closing.
The RKO-CW people sold this theatre just days before they sold the rest of the company to Cineplex. When The Grand Pooh-bah of Cineplex found out he went to the guy who bought it and offered him the sun, the moon and the stars to buy it back, but was refused. While I generally view Cineplex and The Grand Pooh-bah with contempt for ruining so many decent theatres New York, I will admit that on these big old palaces they did do a decent job of restoration [e.g. the lobby of the Loew’s Met in Brooklyn]. This would have been one that I would have been glad to see him take over.
It’s a shame that the slimeball who let the Keith’s deteriorate wasn’t jailed years ago for his disregard of the landmarks law. And the City of New York is culpable for letting him get away with it. The City could have declared eminant domain and bought it from this guy and sell it to someone committed to restoration, like Cineplex.
Nope, wasn’t Ralph…. it was above him. Although I never heard him say so, I don’t think he agreed with certain things that were done there. If he’d had the last word on things, there would have been less radical changes. The Cinemas had a reputation for both programming and design, and nobody was more aware of that than him – he was the one who brought in the original architect to maintain the character of the theatre. However, once the design-phase was underway, higher-ups from out-of-town had other ideas. It used to be a very special place, but with the general-release dreck they play there now, it’s just another plex.
BTW, it was built at a cost of $750,000. in 1962, and it was sitting on rented land. The 1988 ‘adjustments’ cost $3 million. In the past few years they finally bought the land underneath it.
When they get the photo function working on this site, I have architects photos of it both when it was completed in 1962 and after the 1988 ‘adjustments’ and will post them.
Although I worked there at the time, I would agree with ‘fornasetti’ that the place was ruined with the 88 renovation. All it needed was new carpet, wallpaper, new seats and the restoration of the artwork. But the guy in charge at the time just had to have a third screen and one common lobby like a real triplex. Aside from that his only concern was ‘how big is the screen?’ and ‘how many seats?’ If someone is trying to get it landmarked I would suggest they continue their efforts – these people who run it now would sell their mothers for fifty-cents – after all, look what happened to the Murray Hill and the Sutton…..
The floor in the Festival was flat – the back 3 or four rows were built up only slightly, like 2 or 3 inches max. It was an adapted space. Before it was the theatre, the entire building had been Milgrim Dept. Store. The only major structural work done for the theatre was removal of the columns from the middle of the auditorium.
Wasn’t the divorcement to seperate the MGM Studios from Loew’s, Inc., which left Loew’s with only the theatres?
The neighborhood there was ok in the 50s, and then went downhill real quick in the 60s.
Wasn’t Dan Talbot/New Yorker Films (of the Lincoln Plaza and the late Cinema Studio) running the Metro for a few years before Cineplex blew into town?
I used to see the figures for this theatre in 2000 and 2001 – in a seven-day period there were 10 or 12 customers all week and grosses of under $100 – for weeks at a time – I’m surprised they didn’t close it sooner than they did.
Those ridiculous amoeba-shaped sofas in the lower lounge came from the Beekman – cliche 50s modern furniture that I’m sure looked better uptown in it’s original setting – it was too big for that small room at the Gramercy. Perhaps MOMA added them to their cliche-50s-modern architecture and furnishings collection.
When MOMA gets through with it, isn’t it going back to off-bway productions with Roundabout? I thought they sub-leased it to MOMA.
When the Commodore first closed in 1971, it was made into a roller-skating rink….