238 E. 3rd Street,
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The American Photoplay was on E. 3rd Street on the lower East Side of Manhattan situated in the middle of the block among tenement buildings in a low-income area. It was opened by 1922. By 1931 it had been renamed American Movies.
In 1957, I worked a Summer job as a day camp counselor for Christadora House, a non-sectarian organization that helped out the needy and provided day care for children 6 to 10 years old for working parents or single parents. In August of that year, we had been having rain for three days straight and the kids were getting cabin fever, so to get them out of the basement area of the building the Camp was housed in on Avenue D, my cousin Rose who was the receptionist suggested we take them to the movies. The closest was the American Movies on Third Street, plus the most afforadable at about 20 cents a head. My cousin called the manager of the American Movies and told him to clean out all of the “bums” as we were bringing about 70 kids there, with rain-coats, umbrellas, we walked from Avenue D to 3rd Street and saw, “Sign of the Pagan” with Jeff Chandler.
The theatre, while being small, was bigger then some of the low price movie houses in my old neighborhood of Brooklyn, such as the Rogers Theatre. One thing remains in my mind, is that the screen was a painted brick wall, the size of a CinemaScope screen, and we were about the only humans in the place. That night I mentioned that movie house to my father, who was born on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy in Manhattan, and he told me he went there as a kid to see Tom Mix and Harry Carey westerns. My father was born in 1911, so I realized that the theater was very old. But to my surprise, “Sign of the Pagan” was a color-scope film, and here it was being shown on a painted brick wall on the lower East side. Apparently it showed a better class of films than the old theaters in my old neighborhood did.
It was still operating as a movie theatre known as the American Theatre in December 1969, when the seating capacity was given as 299. In September 1991 it was converted into an adult physical culture club. The last years of its existence saw a use as a nightclub and live performance venue. It was demolished on March 28, 2019.
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