(Movie) Houses of God

posted by Patrick Crowley on December 7, 2005 at 5:49 am

On Sunday, the New York Times published a story about New York City’s remaining movie palaces and how the majority of them have been converted into places of worship.

With a little divine intervention, however, many of the Roxy’s contemporaries have survived the decline of the cinema age and the turnover of their neighborhoods gloriously intact, even if gospel-choir lofts have replaced orchestra pits and Bible verses have replaced “Coming Soon” posters in their opulent lobbies.

The article also includes a nice photo gallery with recent shots of the Hollywood, Regent, Loew’s Valencia, Loew’s 175th Street, and Rainbow theaters.

Cinema Treasures got a nice little mention, as well.

New York Times: Now Showing: God

Comments (8)

ERD on December 7, 2005 at 2:38 pm

The Mark Hellinger is the only building standing in the theatre district that was built(by Warner Brothers) as a movie palace (originally called the Hollywood). Many notable legitamate musicals
played here such as “My Fair Lady.” Perhaps someday it will again
return as an entertainment center-as it rightfully showed. When James Nerderlander sold this gorgeous theatre, it showed his greed, lack of creativeness and showmanship. The Broadway theatre district is now arts for money’s sake."

Patrick Crowley
Patrick Crowley on December 7, 2005 at 6:15 pm

Sorry for the duplicate story, folks!

TheaterBuff1 on December 7, 2005 at 8:43 pm

In my own experience, I felt far more inspired to “get with God” by seeing such films as “The Robe,” “King of Kings,” “The 10 Commandments,” “Ben Hur” and so on in regular movie theaters than I ever did by attending any church, the only possible exception being the sizeable Youth for Christ Auditorium in Kansas City, Kansas (where I went to every Saturday night in my youth). And that, of course, wasn’t a converted over movie theater, but designed specifically for that purpose. So for any movie theater to be converted into a house of worship really falls short in my opinion if “bringing people back to God” is the ultimate objective. For movie theaters themselves are designed specifically to be movie theaters, and from my viewpoint that is exactly what they should be, not a laundromat, shopping mall, church or any of the other obnoxious things they’ve been converted to. Let the movie theaters be movie theaters I say! And the houses of worship be only that specically designed for that.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 8, 2005 at 6:49 am

I’d much rather have a movie theatre converted to a church than have it chopped up, left to rot, demolished, or turned into some other use that doesn’t involve a stage and an audience.

Also, sometimes houses of worship get converted INTO theatres. Here in Boston, the Charles Playhouse (a live stage) is in a building that started out as a church and later became a synagogue. The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, one of the area’s most beloved Cinema Treasures, also started out as a church.

Trolleyguy on December 8, 2005 at 2:53 pm

The Cinema Paradiso is also a great example of a very beautiful church building in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that was converted into a movie house. On the other hand, the Rockne in Chicago went from a porno house to a church, which is a much better use of the space, I believe.

TheaterBuff1 on December 8, 2005 at 7:10 pm

In a “Schindler’s List” sort of way, I agree that it’s far better that a classic movie theater be converted to some other use for a time temporarily, such as a house of worship, than be chopped up, left to rot, demolished or turned to some other use that doesn’t involve a stage and an audience. And once in a blue moon, there do seem to be cases where buildings that didn’t start out as theaters — the State Theatre in Easton, PA being one excellent example — that work out so well as theaters that it’s hard if not impossible to imagine how they could’ve ever been anything else. And so, too, would this be true, I suppose, of buildings that started out as churches, but as churches go were never really best designed to serve in this way. Meantime, the fact that some theaters of the past became porno houses for a time I now find to be so hilarious, that classic one they showed in “Taxi Driver” being one excellent example. Alas, the ridiculous ‘70s. And all through the '60s they called them “art houses” in response to a totally misinterpreted Supreme Court ruling. So thank God home video finally came along to kill off that trend. For even for those who were into porno, such as Travis Bickle, classic theaters misused in that way never really worked out, as he abruptly found out the hard way.

As for which way things are heading in now, it seems that even the most staunchly religious would like to see classic movie theaters that for a time were put to other use become movie theaters again rather than churches if among the movies they show are such fare as “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” To which I say, why not?

Over all, the trend towards well-run movie theaters — particularly restoring classic old movie theaters to again serve as such — appears to be very hot right now, but with Hollywood seemingly being the last to get it. And so some classic theaters are being forced to suffice as churches for a time until Hollywood finally wakes up to this it seems. And when Hollywood does finally wake up to it. I hope those churches that have made camp in the classic theaters won’t put up too much a fuss when told the temporary role they served is no longer needed.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 13, 2005 at 4:58 am

The problem with that last sentiment, TheaterBuff1, is that “Hollywood” doesn’t own any of those buildings! In many cases (probably the overwhelming majority, but I’m not sure) the church is not a tenant but the actual owner of the former theater. So, should the industry miraculously decide to radically switch gears on the manner of theatrical presentation – moving away from mega-plexes and the concept of “universal release” and back towards the single screen first-run palaces and neighborhood showcases – they’d have to either build from scratch or launch a massive reclamation project and start negotiating with these churches to purchase the old theaters back. And it wouldn’t be the “industry” per se (since anti-trust legislation divested the studios from theater ownership) but the theater owners who would have to mount the effort. And where would all these congregations go for services?

The way things seem to be going with the film industry, I seriously doubt that we’ll see a widespread movement towards a single screen paradigm, TheaterBuff1. The fight for movie palace restoration and preservation will continue to be played out one theater at a time and will focus on those edifices facing the most immediate threats of demolition. Those that are currently being preserved to varying degrees as houses of worship are safe from immediate danger and – better still – can be still be appreciated by anyone willing to pay the small price of attending a Sunday morning service. And some of those churches even run the occasional movie, from time to time (see the Loew’s 175th Street).

I’d love to wake up one morning in a world where spacious first-run Broadway palaces and smaller neighborhood gems proliferate. I don’t think it’s particularly cynical to consider that little more than a pleasant fantasy.

TheaterBuff1 on December 13, 2005 at 5:18 pm

At this moment I have to fully agree with you, I see no other choice……yet. But I’m a strong believer in the “we the people” concept, and what it is the people ultimately want.

I know that here in Philadelphia, PA where I reside, back when Beatlemania first broke, all the powers-that-be that dominated the Philadelphia airwaves had very much had their minds fully made up that Bobby Vinton was to be the new hot teen idol, so sorry Beatles, but that was just the way it was to be. But boy, were those who dominated the Philadelphia music industry at that time — keeping in mind that Philadelphia was at the vanguard of the rock & roll scene (ABC’s “American Bandstand” was being broadcasting from here) — in for one rude awakening!!! As Bobby Vinton puts it today as he looks back, it was like a freight train coming through. In brief, “we the people” spoke.

“We the people” doesn’t raise its voice very often. But when it does, there are no forces in Hollywood, or government, or any other oligarchy we can think of that’s going to tell “we the people” no and make that no stick.

And it’s interesting you should mention “antitrust legislation,” for in a sense the Beatles were in full violation of this in that they both wrote and performed their own material. And they later expanded on this even further when they created Apple Corp so as to have full control over the recording process as well. So why would the idea of Hollywood owning theaters be any different? Keep in mind that legislation is not written in stone. And that this is America, not a dictatorship. Our laws are flexible. We put Prohibition in place for a time, and we later got rid of it. And that’s what makes America so great is that we can change our legislation when it proves bad. And I see no conflict of interest whatsoever, or anything that can be described as “monopolistically unfair,” when movie studios are able to have ownership and control over theaters as well. Rather, right now what I’m seeing is conflict of interest and monopolistically unfair. For if I’m a Hollywood director, I want audiences to see my work at its absolute best. And if the only way I can do that is by owning the theater so as to be able to control that end of things, but the government is saying no, I can’t, due to antitrust whatever, then let it be said that my First Amendment right is being violated.

So often nowadays we tend to forget that the U.S. Constitution is the highest set of laws we have. And that any lower court rulings that conflict or interfere with it are invalid. Meaning that today, this very minute, the Hollywood studios could start buying up theaters if they wanted to, and all antitrust legislation be damned.

For looking to the other side of the equation, the “we the people” side, how many everyday Ameicans do you know right now who are saying, “No, we don’t want well-run single screen theaters back in our neighborhoods again”? Right now, in addition to this Cinema Treasures website, there’s many more where people can also sing praises of the classic theaters of yore. But how many websites are you aware of where Americans rant and rave about how much they hate the old style theater? And furthermore, staying on the topic of this particular Cinema Treasures' web page, how many Americans do you know of who are saying, “Oh thank God they old movie palace everyone used to love so much is now a church”?

For what I’m saying is that we have to focus on what it is that we the people want once more. And what I’m hearing right now, and with a voice getting louder with every passing day, is that we the people want to have the great movie theaters back again. This is not to say we don’t want houses of worship around, mind you, as that’s protected by the First Amendment, too. And nobody’s disputing that. But if it takes trashing the antitrust legislation you refer to to get great theaters back in top form once again, I say why not? And let it be like a freight train coming through if need be.

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