Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Goodbye Sunshine


The Sunshine Cinema closed this weekend. It wasn't landmarked--though it should have been. Soon it will be a pile of bricks.

1930, via NYPL

It was built as a Dutch Reformed Church in the 1800s. In the early 1900s, it became the Houston Athletic Club, for boxing matches.

In 1909 it transformed into the Houston Hippodrome, an affordable vaudeville and Yiddish movie house frequented by Jewish, Italian, and other immigrants of the Lower East Side.

In 1913, the Hippodrome was the site of a deadly stampede. During the movie "Daredevils Species," while robbers held up a western train, a flash came from the camera, causing someone to yell "Fire!" Panic ensued. People trampled each other as they clamored for the exit. Crushed to death were two women--Mrs. Margaret Corsa of Chrystie Street and an unidentified woman whose dark hair was "tinged with gray," and who wore on her finger a wedding ring with the initials P.M.

In 1917, the Hippodrome became the Sunshine until it closed sometime in the 1940s and became a warehouse for hardware supplies.

photo by Judith Thissen

In 2001, it was renovated and reopened as the Sunshine Cinema. Its crowds boosted sales at Yonah Schimmel's next door. Said the manager to the Times, "Now, I get a lot more people buying knish and sneaking them into movies. I bet that theater will soon smell all of knish. I bet nobody minds."

Last year, the building was sold to developers East End Capital and K Property Group. As The Real Deal reported at the time, "Landmark Theatres co-owner Mark Cuban initially planned to buy the building with his partner Todd Wagner and build a dine-in movie theater, but their plan fell through in 2012 after the local community board rejected their liquor license application."

The developers filed plans to demolish the building. They will build another soulless piece-of-shit office tower.

Said developer Jonathon Yormark to the Times, “We’re big fans of the Lower East Side. It really needs more 9-to-5 activity and it tends to be very active, obviously, on a night life basis. We believe there is a real demand for office space and for people to work there during the day.”

(There will be a developer victory dance party. We're all invited.)

So we're losing another beautiful building for something hideous and dead. We're losing history for emptiness. We're losing culture for corporate culture.

And don't let anyone tell you the Sunshine closed because "No one goes to the movies anymore." Don't let them tell you it's "Because of Netflix," like they say "It's all because of online shopping" and "No one buys books anymore. No one goes to diners anymore. No one eats hot dogs anymore." Don't let the creeps get away with dodging the rent issue.

The Sunshine closed because of hyper-gentrification. Because the rents are too high. The Sunshine closed because it wasn't protected.

As Tim Nye, the Sunshine's co-owner, told the Times this week, "the theater 'was doing incredible' financially. But they were paying $8,000 in monthly rent, which they expected would skyrocket at the end of their 25-year lease on Jan. 31. 'It’s the economics. We cannot pay market rent.'"

The Small Business Jobs Survival Act could have saved the Sunshine. The return of commercial rent control would have saved the Sunshine. Landmarking would have at least kept the historic building standing, instead of the soulless piece of shit that's to come.

And what will that soulless piece of shit do to Yonah Schimmel's? The knishery opened in 1910, one year after the opening of the Houston Hippodrome. Surely, it benefited from the crowds going in and out of the theater, just as it benefited from the crowds of the Sunshine. Will the new people who work in the soulless piece of shit want knishes? Will the presence of the glass box pressure a sale?

Will the creeps soon be saying, "Oh well, no one eats knishes anymore"?


Cosmo said...

"We're big fans of the Lower East Side." Then why are you destroying this LES landmark cultural institution?!

This one really depressed me, more than the loss of others. Everything wrong with this city is encapsulated in this failure.

Scout said...

Many records (not all) state that the Houston Hippodrome was not the same building as the Sunshine; the Hippodrome was torn down completely in 1916, and the Sunshine was a new building erected on the site in 1917.

Bo said...

I’ve been a fan of this blog for a long time and recently started my own. It’s a block-by-block look at a film of a walk through Manhattan in 1968. Hopefully it will be interesting to you and your readers. https://1968nyc.wordpress.com/

kingb said...

"local community board rejected their liquor license application"

no one to blame but the "community"
these things dont pay for themsleves

enjoy your the office building

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah, your blog got me through college when I thought I was losing my mind I was so isolated. Now that I have lost it, it keeps me going. Bless your heart. I hope to see you on the other side.

KingOfDorkopolis said...

"Landmark Theatres co-owner Mark Cuban initially planned to buy the building with his partner Todd Wagner and build a dine-in movie theater, but their plan fell through in 2012 after the local community board rejected their liquor license application."

Sure, disallow a local movie theater to serve alcohol with their meals, and now instead the neighborhood gets to have yet another towering glass and steel monstrosity instead.

Mikema Reape said...

The list of this theater and Lincoln Plaza Cinema breaks my heart. Left NYC 3 years ago and before I moved to Atlanta I saw films at both theaters. The closure of both theaters makes no sense to me. Sunshine Cinemas was a beautiful theater that I enjoyed going to on my days off from work. Going there during the week was the best because it was so quiet and peaceful. Guess when I come back to the city in the spring I will have to go to the new location.

Mikema Reape said...

The Lower East Side looks like midtown now. SAD! And they better not get rid of Katz’s Deli. I would lose my mind if the day ever comes. (Praying)

TJ DeRinger said...

I remember the LES and Houston corridor back in the mid-1980's was the seediest and scariest but most exhilarating place in Manhattan. Even into the 1990's it was still fun, although when they closed The World on C and 1st St in 1990 because of "noise complaints", the worm was already turning. The Sunshine was cool, only went there a few times, but a great location. When my band used to gig at Arlene Grocery, a visit to Katz's or Yonah's was always in order. I barely visit the area anymore, but I don't live in Manhattan anymore either.

Anonymous said...

"their plan fell through in 2012 after the local community board rejected their liquor license application."

What the heck was the community board thinking?? Are they crazy?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthias Hess said...

Such a disgrace--it could be kept as a theater even with offices on top. It's such a unique space, particularly the quiet balcony looking over Houston Street through that iconic window. The Dutch-style facade should be absolutely be landmarked at the very least--it's this incredibly unique architecture (among many other things) that makes the neighborhood so special. The LES must not become another ugly office district.

I can't believe the developers are throwing a party to introduce their monstrosity to the neighborhood. I hope everyone goes and boos them--I certainly would, but I'll be out of town.

Please sign the petition to save Sunshine: https://www.change.org/p/nyc-landmarks-preservation-commission-save-the-lower-east-side-s-sunshine-cinema?recruiter=843751783

meesalikeu said...

i was told by cory johnson, now council president, and others at a protest when our grocery store closed that commercial rent controls, should they ever be tried, would be shot down by the courts.

The Seditionist said...

Ever-so-slightly ironic: The Sunshine came into existence as a result of the story of the gentrification of the area. And now it falls to yet more gentrification.

RJJ said...

Habitually post this video in Sunshine threads as it's the only footage I've seen of the inside of the building before the conversion into the cinema: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gocu9N6k6as

Salt-N-Pepa partly shot this inside in 1994, I was subletting an apartment next door at 145 East Houston at the time. You get some glimpses of a sun rising logo on the back wall (e.g. the 1:21 mark), which is maybe consistent with the idea that Sunshine was new building that came after the Hippodrome.

Horrible that it's going to get torn down.

Mitch Golden said...

As anyone renting an apartment in the city can tell you, $8000/month is a tiny rent for that amount of space. My question is, if they had a 25 year lease, and the theater went in in 2001, why didn't their lease last until 2026?