Penn Newsreel Theatre
219 West 34th Street,
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I never knew of this cinema’s existence until yesterday, when I happened on a few old newspaper clippings in a file at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library. Catering to the many thousands who passed through nearby Pennsylvania Station every day, the Penn Newsreel Theatre occupied the ground floor of a two-story building that extended from 34th to 35th Streets.
Designed by the architectural firm of Roche & Roche, it first opened on September 7, 1938, presenting hourly programs of newsreels and short subjects from 9AM to midnight. Checking facilities were provided for train travelers' luggage and shoppers' packages. In the lobby, poster cases displayed schedules for all trains serving Pennsylvania Station, including the Long Island Rail Road.
A month after opening, labor problems erupted with the stage hands' union, which wanted the theatre’s management to hire two of its members, at a weekly salary of $68 each. When the union set up a picket line in front of the theatre, management countered with a spokesman costumed as William Penn, who told passers-by that the theatre was too small to require stage hands and that they would only be changing lightbulbs, a job presently done by the janitors. The Penn Newsreel Theatre was closed in January 1939 after only four months operation. I’ve not been able to find a listing for it in my collection of Film Daily Year Books.
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