86th Street Grande Theatre

160 East 86th Street,
New York, NY 10128

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86th Street Grande Theatre exterior

Viewing: Photo | Street View

History is difficult to find about this theatre, but its original name seems to have been the 86th Street Winter Garden, and it might have started out as part of an entertainment complex that also included a restaurant, ballroom, etcetera.

By 1936, the name had changed to 86th Street Garden Theatre. In September of that year, it became a showcase for German imports, starting with UFA’s “Schlussakkord”, a musical starring Willy Birgel, Lil Dagover and Maria Tasnady. German films continued into the 1950’s, and were even shown during WWII (revivals approved by the U.S. government).

After that, the theatre switched to subsequent-run Hollywood movies under the name of 86th Street Grande (the letters of “Garden” re-arranged) into the 1960’s, until demolition for new buildings.

Contributed by Warren G. Harris

Recent comments (view all 16 comments)

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 11, 2005 at 6:02 am

Yes, that address seems possible. As I said earlier, the Winter Garden may have originally been part of a leisure-time complex that also included the theatre that became known as Loew’s 86th Street. What is the 1929 “record?” Just that a theatre existed there, or that one had just been built or renovated?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 11, 2005 at 7:20 am

The 1929 alteration might have been for the installation of sound equipment and any renovations required. Loew’s must have taken over the theatre somewhere between that 1914 photo and 1920, as it’s listed as Loew’s 86th Street in the 1920 FDYB, which is the earliest volume that I have of that series. Loew’s Orpheum is also listed, but not the Yorkville, which must have been closed or sold by that time.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 11, 2005 at 8:18 am

I think it might be in the 1914 photo, but without a marquee. It could have started as a penny arcade/peep show, and then expanded into a small theatre. But that’s only a guess.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 11, 2005 at 12:31 pm

On October 18, 1948, the theatre was known as the 86th Street Grande and showing a revival double bill of “Drums” and “Four Feathers,” according to the Movie Guide of PM Newspaper of that date. Loew’s 86th Street is absent from the listings, which might be just an oversight. But Loew’s Orpheum had “Dream Girl” & “So Evil My Love,” while the RK0 86th Street was showing “The Velvet Touch” & “Race Street.”

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 11, 2005 at 1:58 pm

I think that the 86th Street Garden name should stick, as the theatre was famous throughout the city as a showcase for German-lanugage films, many in their American premieres. When it switched to conventional late-run movies under a different name, the theatre quickly faded into insignificance.

granddaughter on May 4, 2009 at 10:02 pm

My grandfather, J. Louis Geller, operated this theatre from around 1917 when he took it over from his father. (When my great-grandfather owned it, it was a caberet, the Schwarzer Adler, which had Viennese Operetta.) There were several theatres on the street, but I’m told it was the first one with a marquee. The theatre was owned by my grandfather and his siblings, but he ran it. I found an obituary from the publication “Boxoffice” of May 26, 1958 which calls it the 86th Street Garden Theatre.

TonyV on June 12, 2009 at 1:12 am

Lived right up the block from the Grande at 150 E 86th St which was torn down in 2007. if you missed a movie at “Big Loew’s”, the (Orpheum) and at Little Loew’s (Loews 86th St). you could catch it some months later at the Grande. One thing I noticed as a kid, the Grande was not cooled by an air-conditioning unit, instead a big ice truck (was it Consolidated Ice??)would show up in the AM on summer days and they would unload and slide big blocks of ice down into the theatre’s basement. Tons of it actually. Must have blown the air over the ice to cool the house. It was something to grow up on a block with three movie houses on it, plus another on the next block west (RKO 86th) or still another 1 block east (the Schwartze Adler: spelling). I could sleep through all the traffic noises, the Salvation Army singing outside Martin’s Bar across the street but when they turned off the big Howard Clothes sign outside my window, it would wake me up. Go figure.

TLSLOEWS on December 14, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Big low Little low, how low can you go?Cool history.

AlAlvarez on February 25, 2010 at 12:15 am

In 1942 it went from Garden to Grande.

AlAlvarez on February 25, 2010 at 12:46 am

In August 1963 it was still open.

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