Recently, I found myself back up on Times Square, loitering inside the Playland Gifts souvenir shop, hoping to scout more remnants of its XXX past and to get another glimpse of the forgotten porn theater in its basement.
It's been a few years since I sneaked down the stairs of the shop to stumble upon "Theatre 3 & 4." Once again, I lingered by the staircase. The clerks watched me closely. No way I could get down there, as much as I'd like better photos than my one hurried, blurry shot.
I've often wondered since then which porn theater this place used to be. Now, thanks to some Internet digging, I can say that this was once the Show Follies Center. Owned by Richard Basciano, it was a cousin of the great Show World over on 8th Avenue, a multi-tiered extravaganza of smut.
This photo is from 1993--it doesn't seem that long ago, but that's a very different city. A close-up of the doorway shows the diamond-mirror pattern that can still be found, in remnants, on the souvenir shop today.
Photos by Richard Levine show the Show Follies spent some time partially as a Peep Land, perhaps in its final days. The one below (and another like it) are dated 1989, but they've got to be more recent--maybe from the late 1990s? Once again, there are those mirror diamonds framing the doorway.
Show Follies survived well into the 1990s, though it eventually became more of a flophouse than a porn theater. In 1997, The New York Times reported, "inside the Show Follies Theater, on Seventh Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets, around 25 men were leaning in their seats, bedded down until morning... the Show Follies Theater remains as one of the last artifacts from a time when there were many pornography theaters and many people spent the night in them."
In 1998, Guy Trebay wrote in the Village Voice, "They've put bathing suits on nudie dancers at Show Follies." It was the beginning of the end.
At some point, the Follies moved out and the Playland Gift Shop moved in. Curiously, they left a lot of the decor intact. Inside the shop, all along the ceiling, where T-shirts hang next to portraits of the Statue of Liberty, mirrored tiles arranged into diamonds shimmer with memory of their original purpose.
Another glass diamond reveals itself on the exterior beneath the cover of green paint, the red of the old nudie joint showing through.
And, of course, there's that theater downstairs, which makes me think there's probably much more hidden away, upstairs and down. Maybe a glittering stage or a wall of peep booths. If only some more intrepid urban archaeologist could do the digging.
Show World 2