RKO Bushwick Theatre

1396 Broadway,
Brooklyn, NY 11221

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LuisV
LuisV on February 16, 2009 at 11:41 am

In today’s NY Times, there is a great photo of the ruined Bushwick in the bad old 70’s. The burnt out storefront is where the shiny new McDonald’s is today.

LuisV
LuisV on February 16, 2009 at 11:39 am

The Limelight’s transformation into a disco was truly amazing and incredibly well done. The Stained Glass windows were lit from the outside and so they were clearly visible to the dancers as they shimied where the pews once were.

There is nothing sacriligious about is. This church was deconsecrated before it became a disco and the church, now known as the Limelight and Avalon was able to be enjoyed by many more people over the decades then when it was a church. It is beautiful architecture that was adaptively reused when it was no longer able to serve its original purpose; much as many a theater.

The list of theaters that were spared the wrecking ball for many years in New York is significant: The Academy of Music (Palladium), Loews Commodore (The Saint), The Forum (Club USA), Henry Miller (Xenon), Gallo Opera House (Studio 54). Alas, the ball eventually came for all but Studio 54. But their use as clubs extended their lives, in some cases by at least a decade.

Panzer65
Panzer65 on February 16, 2009 at 10:05 am

Indeed Broadway..maybe that can fall into the “Only in New York” category.

Bway
Bway on February 16, 2009 at 9:51 am

Speaking of Churches converted into other things, while theaters convert well into churches, the opposite is not true, a church is a pretty specific building, and hard to comvert…….although there’s always the Limelight in Greenwhich Village, it became a club…even the stained glass remained. Something odd and almost sacrelidge over people clubbing in an old church and drinking, etc….it’s odd to see.

Bway
Bway on February 16, 2009 at 9:49 am

As for old movie theaters, they convert into churches pretty well, probably one of the best after theater uses a theater can find, as much of the theater is preserved. Just think of the Valencia in Jamaica (Tabernacle of Prayer), the 175th St Theater (United Palace Church/Theater), the colonial, Empire, Gates, Rivoli, etc in Bushwick are all churches and preserved.
The RKO Bushwick had the Pilgrim Church move into it when it closed, but when the Loews Gates became available, they for some reason moved there instead, where they are to this day, probably setting the fate of the Bushwick, as it began it’s 30 years into deterioration at that point, while the Gates is preserved and in great shape.

As for banks, they comvert to retail too often, and there are a lot of them. Some became churches, others stores. One of the interesting ones is the old Hanover Bank at the Flushing Ave el station and Broadway….it’s now ‘Fat Albert Discount" store, but inside, even the beautiful marble floor remains, although it’s quite sad to look at such a beautiful building now just having merchandise strewn through it. Even the old draperies hang on the windows!

LuisV
LuisV on February 15, 2009 at 12:57 pm

By the way, I say “some churches” because there is a wide abundance of architecturally significant churches today. If they can no longer serve as churches it will be hard to find alternate uses for all of them; just as the process has be difficult for obsolete movie palaces. The goal should be to save the most significant among them.

LuisV
LuisV on February 15, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Let’s not forget the third type of profound arhitecture most often found in vibrant important communities: Banks! One need look no further than downtown Williamsburg for a very impressive collection of early 20th Century Banking Halls full of Greek Columns, Chandeliers, Marble, wood panelling and brass rails. Churches/Synagogues, Banks and Theaters are what defined neighborhoods n the early 20th Century. While many churches remain, there are but a precious few Banks from that era and we all know that there are too few remaining movie palaces.

I often wonder, “What are we building today, that people 75 years from now will be mourning the loss of?” I have to admit that I really can’t think of anything significant. That makes the preservation of the Theaters/Banks and some churches of our past all the more important.

johndereszewski
johndereszewski on February 15, 2009 at 10:46 am

Good question Warren. I also cannot think of any movie theater to synagogue conversions. However, I would not at all be surprised if a moorish influenced theater was converted somewhere in the USA. This would be an almost made to order architectural opportunity. So this is probably the place to look.

Luis, while St. John’s is situated near Bushwick, it is actually located in northern Bedford Stuyvesant and has, to the best of my knowledge, always been considered to be a part of that neighborhood. Both communities did, however, suffer greatly in the 1970’s and the revival of this wonderous ediface would be a boon to all of North Brooklyn.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on February 15, 2009 at 9:55 am

What synagogues were turned into theatres, or theatres turned into synagogues? I don’t know of any, anywhere, but I suppose it’s possible.

johndereszewski
johndereszewski on February 15, 2009 at 9:47 am

Thanks Bway for the links to this fine old church. I am actually – albeit barely – old enough to remember when St. John’s Prep HS was still located here. I remember traveling there from Most Holy Trinity, where I was a student, to participate in a debate match and cheer on our basketball team. (The high school would move to Queens by the mid-1970’s.)

I guess churches and synagogues constitute the least “off topic” off topic items on these pages. Both these religious institutions and the great movie palaces were profoundly public architectural creations that had a most significant impact upon their host communities. While the great churches of NYC were largely constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the most memorable movie palaces came into existence during the following four decades. It was as if the same grand architectural tradition embodied by the former was passed on, in a more secular guise, to the latter. And, of course, we have those wonderful instances were old movie houses like the Woodside and Bliss, to give only two examples, were transformed into churches after their cinematic careers had come to an end.

So I guess this discussion isn’t that off topic after all.

LuisV
LuisV on February 15, 2009 at 9:42 am

This church reminds me of St Fancis Xavier in Manhattan; except it appears so much larger! New York is filled with hidden treasures.

This isn’t so much off topic as St John’s was a vital part of the fabric of Bushwick, as were its major theaters. They certainly were the major historic markers and by preserving them you keep a vital link to the past while at the same time creating a new neighborhood for a new generation who don’t remember the days when whole blocks went up in flames, the subways were a disaster and crime was rampant.

Here’s to hoping that St. John’s and its illustrious stained glass windows can one day be restored to Bushwick!

Bway
Bway on February 15, 2009 at 8:58 am

Actually, our friend “jayar” has added a great many photos of St Johns on his site. There’s a wonderful historic photo taken inside the church in happier days. Sorry for the “off topic” post, but there seems to be enough people interested:

View link

Bway
Bway on February 15, 2009 at 8:52 am

Luis, here’s a link to a little about St John the Baptist Church. Click this link, and about half way down it has an exterior photo of the church, as well as an interior view of a closed part of the church.
It’s a shame that only a small corner of the church is used, but it’s all still there.
I have read elsewhere that it’s priceless stained glass windows dipict the life of St John the Baptist, although unfortunately, most are covered.
Perhaps one day….

http://www.keelysociety.com/churches.htm#church4

LuisV
LuisV on February 15, 2009 at 7:55 am

Thanks for the update Bway. So, am I correct to assume that the stained glass is still there? This fascinates me. From a distance, it truly looks like an abandoned cathedral; emblematic of the Bushwick of the 70’s. Was this ever truly a cathedral? I know that the current Cathedral is St. James in downtown Brooklyn. A reopening of this building would be a wonderful symbol of the rebirth of Bushwick. I know there is still a ways to go, but I know that the neighborhood has progressed dramatically from those days when Bushwick (along with the South Bronx) was known mainly for burning.

Alas, I really don’t see the need for a larger church since they seem to be alienating more and more people by the day. The only time I set foot in a church is as an architectural fan and nothing else. That said, I also believe the best examples of church architecture, like those of theater architecture, need to be preserved for the same basic reason: They are beautiful, they don’t build ‘em like this anymore, and they never will again.

Bway
Bway on February 15, 2009 at 5:23 am

Jayar, it’s nice that they are all together. As for the RKO Bushwick, it has to be one of the most photographed buildings in the area, it’s one of the few buildings that it’s quite easy to find historic photos of.

Luis, St John’s is a Catholic Church, and it is still an operating parish. The place is HUGE. it’s also the church where St John’s University began (yup, “that” St Johns).
In the 70’s when the neighborhood there went to hell, to save money, they closed a huge part of the church up to save money, and made a small church area within the old church, and closed that part off. This I guess saved money on maintenance, heating, etc. But that leaves much of the Cathedral unused right now.
Perhaps as the neighborhood continues to imporove as it has been, they will one day be able to reopen closed parts of the church. The building is not in shambles, even though the windows are boarded up. The covered them to protect them when they closed the upper part of the church.

Jayar1
Jayar1 on February 13, 2009 at 4:35 am

Bway

I have collected many of your photographs over the years on this web page. If you go to the Brooklyn page please credit yourself to your work in the comments. I lived on Kosciusko Street and attended all the schools posted and have been to many of the theaters in the area. You have been the inspiration for my gathering as many photographs as possible and putting them on a site all can enjoy.

PeterKoch
PeterKoch on February 12, 2009 at 10:02 am

Yes, LuisV, it’s a Catholic church. There’s lots about it on the Bushwick Buddies website.

LuisV
LuisV on February 12, 2009 at 9:40 am

Is St. Johns a catholic church? Is it the huge church that can be seen in the distance while you are riding on the J train looking south? I’ve often wondered about this building. It looks ginormous! I thought it was totally abandoned. Is this building a shambles? um….I should just google this info. This is Cinema Treasures after all! :–)

Bway
Bway on February 12, 2009 at 8:22 am

Yes, the St John’s photo is one I haven’t seen yet. I think it’s an absolute shame that they don’t use the whole building of St Johns anymore, they only use a small part of the cathedral, and the upper part is boarded up to protect the windows.
It’s also quite a shame that they allowed homes to be built in I guess the 80’s, which butt right up to the original front door of the church, now making the church’s front doors (which they don’t use) open up into an alley.

Im any event, yes, I enjoyed the historic photos of the Bushwick Theater, one of which I have never seen. About four or five of the current photos of the RKO Bushwick ones are ones that I have taken, and posted here. But that’s okay, it’s nice to have them all together in this set.

PeterKoch
PeterKoch on February 12, 2009 at 7:12 am

It’s also a picture of the Bushwick before it was the RKO Bushwick.

johndereszewski
johndereszewski on February 11, 2009 at 7:41 pm

These are wonderful pictures – and not just the first shot of the Bushwick. There are actually two other vintage Bushwick pictures in this set as well as one of the Gates movie house. Beyond that, there are a number of great photos of local churches and schools. I particularly liked the vintage shot of St. John the Baptist on a very rural looking Lewis Ave.

Thanks so much, Jayar1!

Panzer65
Panzer65 on February 11, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Outstanding photo!

LuisV
LuisV on February 11, 2009 at 10:17 am

Jayar1…Thanks for that photo link. That is the most beautiful photo of the RKO Bushwick that seen so far. Truly spectacular!

PeterKoch
PeterKoch on February 11, 2009 at 7:01 am

Thanks, Bob F.

Thanks, Jayar1, and welcome.

Jayar1
Jayar1 on February 10, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Check this site for some RKO photographs

http://www.topix.net/city/brooklyn-ny