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November 2020 update: The theater is gone for good, down to the last brick. The former balcony entrance and decrepit “Coliseum Cinemas” marquee were among the last portions of the theater to come down.
It endured a prolonged decay 9 years after closing, but the Coliseum now belongs to the annals of time.
I recently got to meet the owner of the now-closed Astral Mart Plaza, which succeeded the final incarnation of this theater. He vacated the space sometime last year due to rising rent, downsizing to a smaller storefront on St. Nicholas Ave.
He mentioned in passing that he’d been in business there since circa-1987-1988, and that the space required a lot of modifications as it was converted to retail.
Guess that puts the Astral Theatre’s end somewhere around circa-1986-1987.
October 2020 update: Less than a month after its centennial (September 23, 1920), DeRosa and Pereira’s intricate architecture can no longer be seen from the corner of 181st/Broadway. The former theater has been halfway demolished and remains as a gutted stump behind the scaffolding, roughly up to the level of the still-intact marquee (for now).
Inevitable, but heartbreaking.
@kidblast 1: To be fair, there was a push for the building to be granted landmark status, but it had been subdivided so many times since the early ‘80’s that it made it structurally ineligible for that status.
I did some digging of my own via Dept. of Buildings public records, and gathered that Lloyd Goldman (of BLDG Mgmt., owners of the property) has owned the building housing the Coliseum for quite awhile before it closed. Perhaps the theater’s perpetual troubles (closing in 1989, 2002 and finally in 2011) finally convinced him to go another route.
At least we still have the United Palace. The former RKO Hamilton remains vacant, occasionally used for fashion shows and pop-up stores, but it likely won’t be repurposed for a theater or art space.
There goes the neighborhood theaters….
November 2019 update: Passed by the (former) theater yesterday; almost entirely covered by scaffolding and sidewalk sheds from head to toe. Last remnants of the marquee are still visible by the former entrance. It looks as if they’re demolishing it brick by brick as the rooftop is starting to come down.
The building is 10 months shy of its centennial; not certain if they’ll be anything left by then. :/
As of July 2019, the 99-cent store that has occupied the former Nova Theater’s space has closed. This entire side of 147th/Broadway has been extensively leveled and re-developed at the behest of Columbia University (which owns the real estate), with the former theater space being the only remnant of what once were a collection of low-rise buildings.
Wonder if the space will get a new tenant or face the wrecking ball?
@ Al Alvarez: The Nova topped out as a three-screen theater; your theories may be right.
On another note, have been doing some research on Upper Manhattan theaters and stumbled upon a February 19, 1979 issue of New York Magazine. They wrote a one-page article on what was then NYC’s longest-standing movie theaters, one of which was the Nova. They mentioned the Nova family taking over the (former Tapia) theater the previous year (1978) and spending eight months and thousands of dollars refurbishing it. Should the overview be updated?
As of late December 2018, all of the businesses located in the former RKO Coliseum building have been vacated, leaving the property completely abandoned. Sidewalk sheds and asbestos removal notices have taken their place….tell-tale signs that the former movie palace might face the wrecking ball in 2019. :(
Yes, the Coliseum has been closed for a week or two now, and I’d also know like to know what’s going on, if anybody knows. Is it a temporary closing like back in ‘09, or is it closed for good?
AlAlvarez, where did you find out that tidbit of info? Any other info about the theater’s history you’ve been able to find out?
I’m guessing that the decorative facade is gone for good, as it’s been a year since it’s been removed. No other construction is occuring on that block as of late so yeah. Such a shame.
I’m guessing that at first, the triplex was the orchestra (1 screen) and the balcony (2 screens) right? If that’s the case then it was circa-1981 when they abandoned and gutted the orchestra section. The theater’s appeared to have had an up-and-down history. Thanks for the dates Alvarez! Where did you research to find these dates? My previous estimates were just that, estimates.
Thanks! I asked about the shadyness of the theater because I’ve heard stories about the theater myself from my parents, when they used to take me and my brother to both the Nova and the Coliseum when we were kids. My mother first moved to the neighborhood in 1982, and still lives here to this day.
So it used to be a single-screen before it was twinned (and later triplexed? Interesting. How big was the single-screen configuration?
If you haven’t already, check out photos of the Nova during its last days in an earlier post of mine. Did the interior look like that even back in the ‘80’s? Looking back I always enjoyed the neon-ridden, blue interior. It made me feel as if I were in a genuine movie theater, not some flashy, bland multiplex.
If you have an e-mail, I’d like to continue talking with you about the Nova and the neighborhood overall. I’m always hungry for history on this great, ever-changing neighborhood of Hamilton Heights.
Indeed. They might as well remove the rest of the historic facade while they’re at it. It just isn’t the same without the bunny heads and the “Bunny” name plate.
If its of any consolation to anyone………the 99 cent store is really nice. They’ve got virtually everything. Best one of its kind in the neighborhood. Very big. Makes sense considering 2-3 theater rooms used to be housed in there.
This is probably the earliest known photo of the Coliseum. It dates back to 1922, and most notably features B.S Moss' name on the vertical marquee, which indicates that its prior to RKO’s decades-long ownership. Note that at first, a different, smaller marquee was used before the large, ornate marquee the theater was known for was installed. Its certainly a treat to see the theater untouched and in pristine condition. Enjoy:
That’s an amazing photo! Thanks for posting it up! Equally amazing is that big marquee! Interesting to see the location of what’s the modern-day entrance to the theater today…….that is, there appears to be no entry at all! I can only imagine the marvel that place was back then.
Here’s a photo of the theater circa-1986:
I’m old enough to remember the Lerner retail store which appears to have replaced the former main entrance. Guess this indicates that, by the mid-‘80’s at least, the orchestra section was gone.
Thanks for the links Lost Memory! Those photos are great! The appearance of the Nova in that circa-1983 photo is identical to how it looked it its brief cameo in “Death Wish 3” (1985). As previously mentioned, “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984), along with two other movies I believe, were listed on the Nova’s marquee, and a location on the corner of 147th & Broadway at the beginning of that block was used more than once during filming.
Looking at the images, I’m not sure if the marquee used by the Tapia is the same as that of the Nova’s, as it looks wider and more detailed than both incarnations of the Nova’s marquee (the circa-‘80’s and circa-'90’s) look. I found another photo of the Nova in that same website, from 1986:
Guess there’s now photos available of every incarnation of the Nova with the exception of the Dorset, right?
K.L Davis, hope you can update us with the latest on the site……I’d also like to hear more about this old map you’re talking about.
Going by DOB documents and certificates of occupancy, it seems like the theater was converted into a mixed-use building of retail and dance hall/cabaret by 1957, therefore it probably ceased being a movie theater by then. The former theatre still functions as a mixed-use building to this day.
A scene from the recent Denzel Washington/Russell Crowe movie “American Gangster” was filmed inside the Claremont Theater. Seeing as the story it set back in 1970’s Harlem, all filming locations were set up to mimic the time period. In the particular scene featuring the Claremont, Frank Lucas (played by Denzel) and his mentor/boss Bumpy Johnson (played by Clarence Williams III) are having a conversation while walking down to the corner of 135th and Broadway (the Claremont’s entrance). They then enter the Claremont (set up to be a circa-‘70’s electronic store with old-school TV’s and furniture) through double glass doors. That’s all I saw from the preview unfortunately. Looks like they decked up the inside of the Claremont real nice to film that scene, but I never caught when they were filming it. Subsequently the Claremont was obviously shuttered again and returned to being used as storage space.
Wow, what an influz of new information! Good job guys. I thought things had dried up around here……….
Interesting story on the “Tapia” name, and how the Nova inherited it’s marquee. As far as the neighborhood itself, the theater was and is located on Hamilton Heights, which at the start of the 20th Century was apparently occupied by Whites until they began leaving in the ‘30’s and '40’s as African-Americans began moving West into Harlem. Beginning in the '50’s Hispanics and Latin Americans gradually began moving into the area until it became a predominently Hispanic area by the '80’s (which is when Jesus Nova took over the Tapia). I dunno exactly about the history of the demographics in this neighborhood, but I’m guessing that’s about right.
Also interesting is how the Bunny incarnation of the theatre had a rooftop theater during warmer weather. Very novel idea. Don’t know if it survived into it’s later incarnations, I doubt it did.
Alvarez, I wrote to you a couple days back. Hope you got it.
Wow, I’d really like to see a scan of that photo if you guys get your hands on the book.
Looking at the photo of the Nova at the top of the page, I also wonder if that was the facade’s original paint scheme. I bet it was (considering the New Coliseum has never been painted) and the new proprietors painting the facade entirely tan only added insult to injury.
Yeah, I’ve been aware of that for awhile now, but I find that the info on the theater from that website clashes a bit with what I’ve heard around here (such as when the theater was split, then twinned and whatnot)
My fault, the guy who claimed to have been behind all of the Coliseum’s renovations among many (says he was a pioneer in twinning theatres back in the ‘70’s) posted in the Loew’s Plaza page (another theater which he twinned). His name is “wobbly”.
Great photos KenRoe! Looking at them the memories are slowly starting to come back to me. Both the inside and outside of theater look considerably better than my time frequenting the theater in the ‘90’s.
So, going by the info I’ve gathered all over:
Autumn ‘89: The theater was closed and eventually twinned. (Specifically: How so? Balcony/Orchestra or just the balcony?
July 1991: The theater reopened as a quad in the configuration present to this day.
I’d like to know more of how the theater was chopped up from its original configuration until now. When were the corner marquee and vertical signs eliminated? I read in one of the posts here that one of the vertical signs were still around up until a couple of years ago, but I never saw it (perhaps because I was so oblivious back then)……