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Warren, I realize now that when you wrote this…
“Unless the ABC store has been expanded since my last visit several years ago, it occupies only the entrance lobby. You would not be able to see the auditorium from there. It had been sealed off by a brick wall at the rear of the store”
…you were no doubt correct. What I saw when I got past the electronics counter and walked to the stairs that led to “Royal Music” (which occupied what presumably had been the balcony) was apparently just the lobby filled with metal shelves containing air conditioners and boom boxes, etc., so I never got to see the actual theater. That would explain why on my way out as I descended the stairs you could still see the stain glass “EXIT” signs. What I misinterpreted as the theater was the place between the EXIT signs and the exit — which means the theater proper must be gigantic.
You will be happy that you might be wrong on one point, however — apparently there is a not-for-profit organization in Chinatown looking for a performance space, and would be happy to consider the Canal if the current owners would cooperate.
— it occupies only the entrance lobby
That’s just the retain operation. Behind that the theater is used as warehouse for its wholesale trade.
It’s easy to see if ask to visit the hi-end audio component store, which is as fancy as the rest of the place is shabby, and is upstair in the back in what may have been the balcony.
www.royalmusicinema.com is the website of the audio store.
I was inside ABC United Trading Corp tonight — and I took a few photographs (hastily and at funny angles, but feel free to ask me for copies). The place sells all sorts of electronics and household devices (microwaves, boomboxes, toasters). Despite it’s card (“Wholesale distributors and exporters”) ABC United Trading Corp was eager to sell a $59 GE microwave to this bicyclist (they let me bring the bike inside).
Upstairs is a very neatly appointed high-end home entertainment, home audio equipment place www.royalmusicinema.com Been there for 8 years, I was told.
There are certainly are no seats, no balcony etc. that I could see. There are unpainted cinderblock walls next to perfect terracotta elegant toilets and mirrors and exit signs. A lot of the ceiling looks perfect dingy, but not damaged.
In short, there are many untouched bits, not from a preservationist urge as much as a lack of an urge for destruction. If the upstairs is any basis to judge, the building is structurally okay, despite the damp feel and parts of the lower-floor ceiling that look like plaster is missing.
Oh, just the store — I only got glimpses of the rest. Possibly what’s left to see is less than the glimpses suggest.
Loew’s Canal is real spooky inside (I visited in July 2004). A mostly elderly staff are at the counter, behind which are a few shelves sparsely filled with radios and other electronics. Exactly what they sell and to who is a bit mysterious (I was obviously not a serious customer, and the did not give me a product and price list); but there is a fair amount of activity going on (deliveries, telephones, staff wandering about).
But it’s WELL worth a trip. A lot of the original (terra cotta) is still on the walls, with splintered wood beams showing through. The ceiling has arches — hints of a very dignified and ornate past. There is the smell of death and the dampness of a neglect roof: one way or the other, I can’t imagine the place lasting in that dream state forever.