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I began seeing flicks at the Riverdale Cinema in 1968, after my family moved to Riverdale from Washington Heights late that year. It was a small theater, but its atmosphere was cozy and generally quiet—-no rowdy kids. Some early memories: THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S, WATERLOO, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, LAST SUMMER, MANHATTAN, many more, even Chaplin’s THE GOLD RUSH. Went there with many a date, too, as well as my wife; I believe the last film we saw in the Riverdale was MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS, in 1996. The theater’s clientele was, as I have said, a quieter crowd, mostly a lot of mature couples, so I assume kids went to the more “happening” theaters in the Westchester malls. But in terms of providing a couple hours of escapism, the Riverdale Cinema, and later the Twin, did its job very well. It is much missed.
I’ll never forget seeing the huge billboard ad, at the southeast corner of Dyckman Street and Broadway, for HERCULES starring Steve Reeves, just a stone’s throw west of the Alpine Theater. I lived further south in those days (1959), so my usual movie theaters were the Loews 175th, the RKO Coliseum, and the Empress, but in later years I sometimes went to the Alpine because a particular film was being screened there (e.g., THE SAND PEBBLES in 1966, or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which was the last film I saw at the Alpine, in 1971). It was one of the smaller theaters on the Heights, but that was an area with very few movie theaters after 1960 or so.
Al, most red-blooded American boys are pretty normal in that respect! On the other hand, even though there was unprecedented nudity in such films as the Czech film CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS (in 1967 anyway), often the films, such as that one, were extraordinarily unforgettable. I saw that on TV last year and it holds up as effectively as it did—-lo those 43 years ago!—-in story, acting, direction and cinematography. A true cinema classic. Thank you, Heights Theatre.
My brother and friends would sometimes go to the Heights Theatre in the mid-late 1960s primarily BECAUSE it generally showed foreign films. That was a time when onscreen nudity was very scarce, unless you were old enough to see an “adult” film, but very often an “artistic” foreign film gave a young teenage boy an eyeful! Nowadays, of course, nudity in a PG film is no big deal, but let’s not forget what things were like 45 years ago!
ALAlvarez, YES—-that’s what was once the old Empress, then the Cinema 181, then the Astral.
The Empress Theater at 181st Street near Audubon Avenue gave me some of the greatest moments of my moviegoing childhood. For one thing, a kid could get in for 25 cents and see THREE movies, not to mention a cartoon, newsreel, or short feature on the lumber industry haha. It also showed older films, from the 1940s, like DeMille’s NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE, which my brother and I saw in 1958, I believe (along with FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE and a horror flick). Sometimes the films were 5-10 years old; e.g. I recall seeing THE FAR HORIZONS and SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD (both from 1955) there around 1961. Generally, however, the films were recent releases, often after making their initial runs in the major theaters. From Elvis in GI BLUES to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, from HERCULES UNCHAINED to other foreign films, it was always a treat to go there, although the hot dogs were terrible and the place was small and not well kept. Around 1962, however, it was cleaned up and refurbished, and became the small but classier “CINEMA 181.” I remember seeing there such films as THE MAGIC SWORD, THE 300 SPARTANS, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, THE YOUNG SAVAGES, SODOM AND GOMORRAH, HATARI, many many others. By that time, however, I had to pay the exorbitant adult admission of 75 cents, as I recall. It only lasted as the Cinema 181 for a few more years, I believe, then becoming a Spanish language theatre. But all I can say in retrospect is, it may have become a forgotten theater, but I will always remember the wonderful films seen there, and in such generous quantity!
I was a frequent moviegoer at the Uptown Theatre in my boyhood, and I recall seeing there, among other films, DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, THE SILVER CHALICE, THIS ISLAND EARTH, THE LAST COMMAND, HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (Anthony Quinn version), THE BUCCANEER, DAMN YANKEES, many others. I distinctly recall that around 1960 or early 1961, to the chagrin of everyone in the neighborhood, it was turned into a Sloan’s Supermarket. Years later, as mentioned in these posts, it became a Gristedes market. It was indeed a small theater, but it had a handsome lobby where there was always a large standee cutout or poster of the films being shown. I took a walk through the old neighborhood last year, and did see that the low building itself was still there, but I can’t seem to find any photograph of this theater online.