Rainbow Theatre

167 Graham Avenue,
Brooklyn, NY 11206

Unfavorite 8 people favorited this theater

Rainbow Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Built by the Randforce Circuit at a cost of $240,000 (not including the price of the underlying land), the Rainbow Theatre was one of the few large theatres to be constructed in Brooklyn during the Depression era. Though the double-features were subsequent run for the Williamsburg area, Randforce seemed to be relying on architect Charles Sandblom’s ultra-modern style to draw crowds.

To suit its name, the Rainbow Theatre had a two-story space above the marquee that was built of translucent glass bricks with lighting machinery behind it that created rainbow effects in constantly changing colors. The rainbow motif was repeated in the auditorium, the ceiling of which had a central cove with multi-colored lighting. Each side wall had a tall, false window with real drapes but providing a painted view of lush countryside, with a rainbow in the sky background. Patrons were supposed to feel like they were sitting in a posh living room. All of the 1,746 seats, most of them on the ground floor, were the oversized ‘Opera Style’ made by Ideal Seating Co. The balcony, was was almost at the rear of the auditorium, had only a few rows of seats to provide for space for a lounge area and restrooms.

Due to the penny-pinching of the Randforce circuit, the Rainbow Theatre was rarely advertised in the daily newspapers, so it’s difficult to chart its history. I think that Randforce operated it until 1964, when the Rainbow Theatre closed. In 2002, I found the theatre still standing and being used as a evangelical church that was closed at the time of my visit. The glass brick area above the entrance was still there, but with quite a few bricks missing. Pigeons were roosting in some of those spaces.

In June 2012, work commenced to convert the building into apartments, and it was gutted internally and the roof was removed. The front entrance was demolished.

Contributed by Warren G. Harris

Recent comments (view all 98 comments)

ollyoxen on June 22, 2012 at 10:02 am

Sorry, I misspoke. The interior is all being destroyed, but the building is not being razed. It’s being converted into 6 story frontage on Meserole and 4 stories on Graham, with modifications to exterior ‘as needed’…The permit approves it for Residential R-2. Basically another condo. http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2012/06/williamsburgs-rainbow-theater-gets-a-major-gut/?stream=true

This should have been landmarked!!!

I don’t know how they got the zoning approved to convert from the movie theater/chapel into residential, ugh.

johndereszewski on June 22, 2012 at 11:18 am

Thanks for your response, ollyoxen. Given the current R-6 zoning of the area, I believe that the condo conversion of this property could probably go forward “as of right”. This is why the successful submission of a building permit was probably all that the developer had to do in order to get a green light from the NYC Building Department. The only possible issue here could concern additional parking space requirements. But this has apparently not stopped this project from advancing.

Regarding the exterior, one would hope that the Graham Ave. entrance to the old Rainbow – what will probably also be the entrance to the new condo – will remain as is – and hopefully be returned to its former glory. While this makes great real estate marketing sense, you never know how these short term bottom liners will approach this issue. Hopefully, rationality – and long term good business sense – will prevail here.

LuisV on June 23, 2012 at 7:51 am

Here is the link to the story announcing the interior demolition. Alas, It has been completely gutted.


Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on August 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm

John – I don’t know anything about the developers plans other than what’s been said already. I can confirm that there is nothing left of the Rainbow Theatre except for the shell.

johndereszewski on December 30, 2013 at 6:10 am

In looking at the very depressing pictures that Williamsburg 145 look last summer, it is certain that the old Rainbow is no more. The central facade, which could have been a grand entrance, was totally destroyed and what was constructed seems to be new work. So, I guess the “Demolished” label needs to be applied here. RIP.

If you want to feel sick, you can check out these pictures in the photo section. But be forewarned.

Bway on December 30, 2013 at 10:02 am

John, while I agree with you, it’s sickening….that said, it isn’t really “demolished”, as they are building the new construction within and above the shell of the old theater building, so while it’s been shelled to the bare bricks, and pulled back a little, the original shell of the base of the first few floors of the new building are in fact still the walls of the old theater. “Demolished” is not accurate…although if there was a setting for “semi-demolished”. It’s somewhat similar to the complete shelling of and partial destruction of the old Oasis theater on Fresh Pond Rd, although in that case, no new construction was built into the old building yet, even if the entire Fresh Pond facade, as well as the lobby half of the building were demolished.

johndereszewski on December 30, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Bway, it really is the same situation that would exist if they destroyed the Ridgewood’s facade – which, thanks to Landmarks Preservation, they cannot – and then built anything they wanted to build within the remaining shell. In this sense, the Rainbow presents the worst of both worlds.

Astyanax on December 30, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I couldn’t agree with John more. The shell that’s left bears no connection to the neighborhood gem that along with the Alba, the Commodore & the Republic afforded Williamsburg a respite from the hardships faced during the Depression & WWII. At least the twin spires of John’s alma mater, MHT remain in the background watching over the dwellers of remaining tenements and now the condos.

Bway on December 30, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Again, I totally agree with both of you….just that the above can’t be changed to “demolished”, as it wasn’t demolished in the same way the “Commodore” was. That said, it doesn’t make it any better.

johndereszewski on February 18, 2014 at 11:20 am

I visited the site over the past weekend. It looked dreadful. It appears that they have demolished most of the site and only the front area – which has already been separated from the rest of the mostly demolished building and may soon experience a similar fate – remains for the present.

This development, in short. represents the worst possible alternative that the old Rainbow could have experienced.

Sorry to be the messenger on this.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater