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No idea why they ditched the expansive, lighted marquee, but all that is left of what is seen in the picture above is what looks like a crude painted board with the big letters AMC covering the original marquee. No film titles are displayed. The original FRESH MEADOWS neon sign on the top of the brick north facing wall is only partially lit with the letters ADO dark. It truly has gone down hill while the prices, as noted here, have soared.
This Century Fresh Meadows and the Skouras Bayside Theatre were my two theatre haunts as a kid growing up in Bayside. The Bayside was a second run house while Century’s Fresh Meadows was first run and they made no bones about claiming it was a Century “Flagship Theatre.” And indeed it was.
Like Michael K, my mom took me to see THE HOUES OF WAX in 3D with stereo sound; my first 3d experience. If movies were magic and indeed for me they were, then 3D was magic on steroids. I was mesmerized by the feeling of depth of 3D just as much as I had been listening to my first stereophonic recording (an experimental simulcast on WQXR on their AM (right ear) and FM (left ear) stations. For me 3D was as enthralling for my sight as stereo sound was for sound; I have been a fan of 3D ever since THE HOUSE OF WAX — having the new 3D BluRay THOW release now available to play at home, well, it’s just come full circle.
Back then I couldn’t for the life of understand what I considered totally insane complaints about “the glasses” (they still seem insane — people wear sunglasses all the time with nary a complaint); as far as I was concerned, these people were just wusses — my complaining parents included. As I kid I knew I would wear a space helmet if it would give me the incredible experience of 3D space. I forced my poor mom to sit thru THOW twice and then I went back Saturday and Sunday to see it over and over. I remember saying to my mom, “Now all movies will be like this…in 3D?” She said she didn’t know and seemed to care less, while I, on the other hand sought out everything I could find about 3D and how it worked, all due to that experience in the Century Fresh Meadows Theatre, Queens NY circa 1953.
Anyway, the Meadows was my home away from home and when it closed for more than a week to install CinemaScope, I would go down to the theatre every afternoon after school to see if I could sneak in. The workers would leave the side doors open, and I got my first look at what this “Miracle You See Without Glasses” was all about. This was Fox’s obvious ploy to make people think it was, in fact 3D.
The workers were constructing the screen frame; usually I’d get shooed away, but not before I got a glimpse of the new CinemaScope installation. When they finally opened with THE ROBE, this time my Dad took me and yes, when it hit the screen, that beautiful new cream colored satin curtain opened wider and wider and the sound fill the theatre all around me. It was impressive, but it WASN’T 3D. I kept pull at my dad’s jacket, “Daddy, this isn’t 3D.” Finally he told me to shut up and watch the move. I wan’t a happy pup.
Then again, I was impressed with CinemaScope, just cheated by the marketing nonsense. And I LOVED that new curtain.
Later in life, when I designed the cinema installation at a performing arts center in Brooklyn, I insisted that we have a white cream satin curtain with the same blue and red lighting that the Meadows used along the top and bottom of the curtain to catch the light and mix into various hues of blue and purple and red. A tribute I suppose to my youth and those wonderful formative years and hours spent in the great single screens of a time gone by, what I call the Golden Age of the Movie Palace.
When the Fresh Meadows as butchered into a 7 screen plex, I went there one time only; the rooms were small, dank, holes-in-the-walls, characterless, lifeless and hurtfully depressing — movie theatres by assembly line. That was the first and last time went. Now I just pass it on the LIE and I give it a nod, remembering what it used to be and my connection to it.
When you think of what the movie experience was like going to those great ladies — the Fresh Meadows, the RKO Keiths, the Paramount on Main Street, the Loews Valencia in Jamaica and on and on…even the lowly Bayside Theatre which, even when it had gotten a bit worn around the edges, it had it’s own unique style; it had class. They each even had their own unique scent — you knew you were in a theatre the minute you walked in the lobby. When you think about those days, it is easy to understand how much has really been lost….quite literally, an era Gone With The Wind.
The theatre had faux art deco lighting fixtures on the side walls which were aqua tones and it had something you hardly ever see nowadays — a crying room in the rear of the orchestra. It had a balcony — probably around 150 – 200 seats. And although it was in a small town (at the time I was there that road you see in the picture was not paved — it was gravel), we still ran it with very high presentation standards. It had a main gray velour curtain that we used between the cartoons and attraction reel as well as amber curtain warmer lights. I grew up in Brooklyn so I knew how they did it in the flagship theatres in NY and we emulated that level of showmanship.
We ran first run and a lot of hold-overs — I remember we ran WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF and BLOWUP for three weeks, maybe more. To this day I can tell when a change-over is coming up without even looking for the cues. We did very good business because this, after all was BV (Before Video) so the only place the entire Texas A&M population could see a movie was at the Campus Theatre (the were “theatres” back then, not “cinemas.”)
When I was there, Doc, we were running Simplex Supers. I don’t know if you were there before me or after, but the heads definitely were Supers. Yes, Peerless Magnarcs and DC generator, but it was a single generator, not the usual two. When you struck one arc, it would light, but you would see the outgoing machine’s light dim a bit. Trick was to get that other lamphouse out as soon as possible so the incoming projector would get full power.
If you want to know scary, at that time we were still using the old Tushinski Superscope variable anamorphic lenses. However the booth was constructed in such a way that it prevented the projectors from being moved any farther back from the port windows to accommodate the very large and bulky Superscope lenses which were much larger than the standard lenses. On Projector #1, you could maneuver the Superscope lens into the projector by carefully holding it at a certain angle. But for Projector #2, you had to hold the lens with your right hand, pass it OUT OF THE BOOTH thru the view port and with your left hand thru the projector port, pull it back into the booth and into the projector. My deathly fear was that one day doing this maneuver, I would drop the very heavy cast metal contraption on some patron sitting below and kill them.
Our second projectionist who was a woman named Peggy (I am embarrassed that I can’t recall her last name) was the only woman projectionist in Texas, at least that was what I was told, so I can’t verify it for sure. She would leave me sandwiches and soup when I would come in for the night shift. It was a great place to work.
We also ran a special midnight show on most Friday nights “for the boys,” as the boss would say. It was soft porn; today it wouldn’t even be rated NC-17. They were originally skin flicks, but a company in Mexico would edit them and ship them as soft versions.
All the Aggies knew what would play Friday midnight so there was never any advertising or promotion of any kind, just an A-frame out front all day announcing “Midnight Show Tonight.” The place was always packed. These edited version were cut in such a way so that as soon as anything salacious was about to happen on the screen, —SNIP!— and the scene would jump to something less exciting. The all-male audience, at least 90% A&M lads, would hoot and holler and stomp on the floor, but would come back every Friday night. Mr. Schulman said with that one show we would made up for any other slow night.
It was a wonderful experience and working with warm, generous people and SHOWING MOVIES — what more could a kid want?!
Sometime in the early 80s, the then President of Brooklyn College and a team from the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts visited the closed theatre in the hopes that it might be acquired by CUNY to take some of the performance load off the Center’s four theatre complex. Their theatres were having a hard time servicing all the events that they hosted every year. A fifth theatre would be able to ease the bottle necks they often ran into.
This theatre would have been perfect as it is directly adjacent half a block from the large U shape building and can be seen in the aerial view to the left of the theatre building on the next corner. All at that meeting, including President Hess, agreed the theatre would be a perfect addition to the Performing Arts Center.
Unfortunately CUNY in its wisdom would not purchase the property and now, decades later when the Center is pushed beyond its physical limits, CUNY and the City are forced to spend between 75,and by the time it is done, 85 million dollars do build a theatre exactly the same size of the College Theatre. Ironically, the PAC is designed with faux art-deco elements and so the College Theatre would have been a perfect match.
Gary C. is mistaken; the theatre had some wonderful and yes very distinctive art-deco elements including the lighting fixtures and structural lines made with aluminum plating. The stand-alone external box office itself is a very unique structural design indicative of that period and almost never seen today. Many times we can look directly at things and not realize how special they are.
The College Theatre didn’t close because it was unremarkable, it closed, just like so many others, because of the slump caused by commencement of the video age. Also because Century Theatres by this time had become nothing but a real estate company with little interest in operating theatre; they were making profits by selling off it property holdings before dissolving their east coast operations. They were letting all of their theatre simply run into the ground. An independent operator who knew (and loved) the theatre business could easily have made this or any of the other Century Theatres operate profitably.
Why didn’t anyone else take up the gauntlet on these theatres with great locations? Because Century had in its sale contract an encumber that stated the property could not be used as a movie theatre. This lovely, modest theatre should not be faulted because of the stupidity of greedy corporate types.
The closeing of this dive was a mercy killing. The place was a horrid place to see a film. The lobby was dark and dank; the auditoria were even more forboding. The film presentation was beyond bad. In a day and age of 6 channel digital sound, this place was still sporting a mono system in both rooms.
It was a scouting exhibition just to find a seat that wasn’t broken, and even those that were in decent shape were very uncomfortable.
The screens were placed much too high making the viewing angle very hard on the neck muscles. Because it was twined, the rooms were long and narrow, giving you the feeling that you were in a tunnel. This shape was detrimental to speech intelligibility, which sank to near zero; it was a good thing they ran lots of foreign films so you could read the dialogue.
This abomination is an example of just how terrible a movie theatre can be when it is tortured into more than one screen, even though it was designed as a single — a sorry practice in the rush to multiplex. It is no wonder it drove patrons away.
Sadly, there are many, many theatres that should have been saved; this is not one of them.