Utopia Theater

187-02 Union Turnpike,
Jamaica Estates, NY 11423

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Showing 1 - 25 of 69 comments

techman707
techman707 on June 22, 2014 at 4:11 pm

It’s just too bad that the former Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, had already got the city to commit to 90 million dollars with some “developer” that was supposed to put up 5 million, to restore Loew’s Kings.

While I’m certainly in favor of saving the Loew’s Kings (they are currently working on it now), the RKO Keith’s would have been an even better choice if I could only choose one.

You might also find this book DEMO for the RKO Flushing interesting: http://www.blurb.com/books/4315941-the-rko-theatre-of-flushing-n-y

pumpop201
pumpop201 on June 21, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Thanks, Bruce. I’ll look into this group.

techman707
techman707 on June 21, 2014 at 8:09 pm

I worked when Sam needed to take off. Although I worked at the RKO Flushing many times, in 1975 I took Century’s Prospect as my fulltime job.

The only reason the Commerce Department turned out to be right is because the Justice Department FAILED to enforce the anti-trust laws….like they did when they RUINED Loew’s/MGM )and the other theatre chains owned by film studios (Loew’s was the greatest chain of motion picture theatres there ever was or ever will be and they destroyed them). While the “consent decrees” were purportedly meant to PROTECT the independents, you can see what they caused. You be the judge – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v.Paramount_Pictures,Inc.

If you have any interest in saving the RKO Keith’s-Flushing, you might want to join this group that I’m a member of: https://www.facebook.com/groups/220242754654213/

Bruce

pumpop201
pumpop201 on June 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm

We may have met but the only projectionist i remember is Sam. My name is Jordan Marks. During my tenure with Lightstone I also did a part time paid internship with RKO Theatres. The president of RKO, Matty Polan, had me working in a different RKO theater each weekend. The most interesting was the Keith’s in Flushing. I got to walk through the old Vaudeville dressing rooms behind the screen.

It was the US Department of Commerce that made me decide to leave the business. I wrote to them asking their outlook for the motion picture exhibition business. Their outlook was bleak to say the least. They predicted that in 10 years there would no longer be any independent theater owners. I guess they were right.

techman707
techman707 on June 21, 2014 at 11:22 am

I know Lightstone WAS booking for Irwin Knowll, but I guess he was doing his own booking when he bought the third theatre. I can’t remember the name, but Knoll was operating the Nautilus and the Roosevelt Theatre.

I’m surprised that I never ran into you at the Utopia. Although I worked until around 1974 at the DeMille (until it burned in a fire), I lived close to the Utopia and was in there quite often to talk with Ruth.

The film companies have RUINED the business today for exhibitors. Digital projection equipment has caused hundreds of independent theatres across the country to shut down because of the high equipment costs.

pumpop201
pumpop201 on June 20, 2014 at 10:45 pm

Hi techman707,

After spending a couple of years as a booker for Warner Bros. and Universal I went to work as a booker/buyer for Morty Lightstone. Hank was his nephew and left the industry. I was with Lightstone Theaters for 11 years when I took some poor advice and left the business. During this period I worked a few nights a week for Paul and Ruth, two of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. I did indeed know Tommy Pozin. His office was in the Brill Building on Broadway between 49 and 50 streets as was Lightstone’s. Sometime in ‘74 or '75 (I’m not sure of the year) Lightstone moved his office to space above the Oceanside Theater. I don’t remember who was booking for Irwin Knoll, but it wasn’t us.

techman707
techman707 on June 16, 2014 at 10:11 am

pumpop201,

I remember the WAR BOND CERTIFICATE they received for selling war bonds. While both Paul and Ruth were really wonderful people, Ruth was particularly very special to me. Every time I think about what the landlord (Filderman)did to Ruth with the theatre at the end, it STILL makes my blood boil. He was essentially forcing her to twin the theatre or give it up. In the 1950’s, I can remember people coming out of the theatre on a Saturday night and Paul and Ruth addressing them by their first name. If you can believe it, they knew virtually every customer that came to the theatre by name back then! It was a TRUE neighborhood theatre.

In the 1960’s I worked in ALL 3 theatres in Long Beach (Lido, Laurel and Nautilus). I see you worked for Lightstone from 1971 to 1982. Was Hank Lightstone still booking the Nautilus Theatre (formerly the West End Theatre), or was Irwin Knoll (County Theatres)doing his own booking at that point? Did you also know Tommy Pozin?

pumpop201
pumpop201 on June 15, 2014 at 11:27 am

I was the film booker and buyer for Lightstone Theatres wich booked the films for the Utopia from around 1971 to 1982. I also worked directly for Ruth and Paul as the night manager for the Utopia during that time. Does anyone remember the war bond certificate hanging in the lobby?

techman707
techman707 on March 20, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Jeff,

If you worked at the Utopia, you must also have known Paul Raisler, Ruth’s partner. Over the years, I worked as projectionist at the Utopia many times over the years. The regular projectionist for nearly 40 years was Sam Conte, who moved to Italy after he retired. After Paul passed away, Ruth ran the theatre alone for a number of years, but when the lease was up she was screwed over by the landlord (and/or his son)because they wanted a large rent increase, at a time when business was declining. He also wanted her to twin the theatre at her cost, which she didn’t want to do. After operating the theatre with Paul (and Sam as the projectionist) since the early 1940’s, the landlord signed a lease with a new tenant, an attorney named Epstein, who agreed to twin the theatre. Without any further negotiation or warning, it resulted in landlord literally pulling the rug out from under her. Because Ruth was one of, if not the sweetest person I have ever met, it was very upsetting to me also. After she lost the theatre, she was really never the same and shortly after, she became ill and not very long after that, she passed away. That theatre was her WHOLE LIFE and if you ask me, she died of a broken heart. I lived in the neighborhood for over 60 years. I used to go to the Utopia as a child, when the admission was only $.20 for children. After I was married in 1969, I bought a house nearby on 178th ST and 75th Avenue. Although the Utopia wasn’t my regular job, I was as the chief projectionist at the DeMille Theatre in Manhattan until 1973, because of where I lived, when it snowed, I would be sent to work at the Meadows, Utopia, Parsons and once even walked down Utopia Parkway in the snow to work at the Valencia in Jamaica. To the best of my knowledge (with the exception of the Valencia, which was saved as a church), virtually ALL THE THEATRES I’ve worked in over the years, have all been demolished. While I’m currently a member of a group that’s trying to save the RKO Keiths in Flushing, the theatre has been so badly destroyed (some of it intentionally over the last 25 years, in my opinion, the restoration would be nearly impossible. A recent article I read in the NY Times says that the restoration of Loew’s Kings in Brooklyn has begun and is going to cost 90 million dollars (somebody is going to wind up with heavy pockets before that’s done). How come they don’t think of saving these theatres BEFORE they are wrecked?

Unlike cities like Los Angeles, which appear to have respect for their old movie palaces, New York, despite having a Landmark’s Preservation Commission, which has watched while virtually EVERY theatre has been destroyed and/or demolished. New York once had more theatres per square mile than any other city in the U.S. …….and now, with one or two exceptions, there are none left.

JeffGreene
JeffGreene on March 20, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I lived around the corner from the Utopia on 80th Road and grew up seeing movies there. My dad was good friends with Ruth and we would stop in to say hello when walking our dog in the evenings. In the mid 70’s, while attending Jamaica High School, I worked as an Usher there. It was purely old school. I wore a white shirt, black bow tie and tuxedo pants while I escorted people to their seats, flashlight in hand. Back then smoking was on the right and we still showed shorts and cartoons. I would jingle as I walked around since I was the only source of change for the vending machines in the lounge. The Utopia was a last vestige of a bygone, simpler and kinder time. It is sorely missed.

BTW 80th Rd, is in Jamaica Estates, 11432.

FredC
FredC on October 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm

My name is Fred Cantor and I wanted to let everyone know we have a photo of the Utopia Theater taken from across the street in 1977 in a new book, “Fresh Meadows,” from Arcadia Publishing. (You can also see Rogers Luncheonette in the picture.) We are donating 100% of the authors' royalties to the Fresh Meadows public library. There is also a photo in the book of the Century Meadows taken in 1977 that I think captures the marquee and glass lobby from an angle not seen in other photos of the theater. I grew up in Fresh Meadows and loved going to both theaters. This is a wonderful site, by the way, that brings back great memories.

techman707
techman707 on August 5, 2011 at 10:31 am

The picture posted for the Utopia is a view as though you were in the theatre looking across the street at the library.-LOL

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on August 5, 2011 at 6:19 am

The only minor correction I would make to the opening description is to note that the theater was gutted for the drug store (as were the other storefronts that ran along its length on Union Turnpike) and not torn down. The auditorium structure still stands behind the street front facade – no doubt stripped down to the bare bricks before the drug store was layed out within.

robboehm
robboehm on August 5, 2011 at 6:01 am

Wow, the opening description of the theatre just blew me away.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on May 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Great story aquarianick, we were family no matter where your theatre was more so, than say, working at a Burger King.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 8, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Thanks for confirming that, Nick

aquarianick
aquarianick on April 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Hey Ed and Techman – Those shots of the booth ARE in the Utopia.

techman707
techman707 on March 31, 2011 at 8:42 pm

It has the Simplex XL projectors and XL soundheads like the Utopia had, but it’s hard to see anything in those pictures. There was virtually NO pitch or keystone at the original Utopia, it was a very shallow throw. In the posted picture it “appears” steeper than it was, but the picture was also taken tilted. As for the platter, after Ruth Wright lost the theatre and was taken over by the lawyer, Epstein, I never went back into the theatre after it was twined and a 5 tier platter installed.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on March 31, 2011 at 8:25 pm

More screen shots from that RZA video:

Ticket taker

Box Office window

Is this the Utopia projection booth?

Platter

I assume the shots in the projection booth were also done at the Utopia and not mocked up in a studio somewhere?

techman707
techman707 on March 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Nick, I’m sorry, but sadly I don’t believe I have any pictures. It the type of thing where it’s always there and you think it will ALWAYS be there. You just don’t think about things like pictures.

aquarianick
aquarianick on March 31, 2011 at 11:14 am

Techman, do you have any old pictures of the theater, inside or out? I’d really love to see them, if that’s at all possible. Thanks!

-Nick ()

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on March 31, 2011 at 7:04 am

Correction to my last post, as aquarianick originally posted, the video was also filmed using the interior of the Utopia (except for the shots of the fantasy “stage production”). I’ll try to get a couple of more screen grabs that may be interesting to post here when I get to my home computer.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on March 30, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Grabbed a screen shot from that video by RZA that aquarianick posted a few years back. Nice view of the old marquee just as I remember it:

Utopia Screen Shot

The video takes place in and around the theater – although, I have no way of knowing if any of the interiors were also shot here. The long shot of the marquee is the very last in the video, but there are some opening bits where you can glimpse the ticket booth, part of the entrance and an outdoor display case or two.

techman707
techman707 on March 24, 2011 at 10:33 am

Bloop, I don’t where the letter is presently and because I’m becoming a little senile I can’t tell you verbatim what it said at the moment. However, basically it said what a good friend I’ve been to her and Paul over the years and how whenever they had a problem I always came quickly to help her. It also said a few other things that I just can’t recall. If I find it I’ll scan it and post it.

As I think about the Utopia, I really miss Ruth Wright and Paul Raisler. They were the last of the “real” showman (and show women)theatre owners independent theatre owners.

Bloop
Bloop on March 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Techman; what was in the letter ???????