Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chopin Theater

Thanks to reader Grand Street for calling our attention to the New York Times' recent slide show of city movie palaces--after they've become chain stores.

For the second time in a week, the paper manages to find someone who loves chains so much they want more and more. The first time was a newcomer to Williamsburg, a woman who loves Duane Reade and begs the universe, “Please, can you bring in Dunkin’ Donuts too. I also want a Bank of America.”

Chopin Theater

In the movie palace slide show, the Times gets a quote from a 24-year-old woman in Greenpoint who said "she was glad the Chopin Theater had become a Starbucks. 'I’m terrified of movie theaters these days because people are getting bedbugs in them,' she said. 'I also like pumpkin spice lattes.'"

Let's take a look back at what she's glad has vanished. The good folks at Cinema Treasures give the history of the Chopin Theater. Formerly the American Theater, hence the eagle, it opened in 1914. By the 1930s there was a billiard hall--and bowling alley--on the second floor. Here it is in 1939 playing 1938's Prison Train.

NYPL, 1939

One commenter to Cinema Treasures recalls, "the American was Greenpoint's premier 'Dish Nite' venue. I do not know the number of plates, saucers and gravy bowls that my mother, grandmother and aunt collected during the 50's and 60's. People in my family are still eating off them!"

(If you don't know from Dish Night at the movies, listen to this lady.)

circa 1960s, American Classic Images

By the early 1970s the Chopin was playing Polish films and running some live shows, including performances by bands like Jay and the Americans. (See Miss Heather's before and after shot.)

from RobertR's photobucket

Before it was a Starbucks it was a Burger King. In the former billiard hall, there was a Polish disco called "Club Exit." The club became rowdy, sometimes violent, and closed in January 2010.

1972, American Classic Images

While undoubtedly many people in Greenpoint are happy to see a Starbucks here instead of the old Chopin, some in the neighborhood still want a movie theater. "Give us a movie house," begs one subway graffitist, a voice crying out in the wilderness.

Photo: New York Shitty


Teri Tynes said...

If the NYT went back far enough, I suspect they would find many more. For example, the legendary Bleecker Street Cinema (1960-1990) at 144 Bleecker, founded by On-the-Bowery director Lionel Rogosin, is now (at least half of it) a Duane Reade, of course.

Rachel said...

Thanks for this- so sad. I wonder from time to time what will happen to the old Eagle theater in Jackson Heights, where I took my kid to see his first Bollywood film a couple of years back. We were freezing, as the place was barely heated in the winter, but for f's sake, I'd take that over a Duane Reade any day.

Unknown said...

Also in Greenpoint further down Manhattan Ave was the Meserole Theater which closed in the 70's to become a roller rink, then an odd lot store (very junky) and finally a ...drumroll please...Duane Reade!

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Susan--here are some shots of the once-lovely Meserole:


esquared™ said...

starbucks, nowadays, are probably more likely to have bedbugs

ivanova said...

Thanks for this. These photos are amazing. I lived in Greenpoint during the Burger King/Club Exit era and always had a very unrealistic hope that the movie theatre would return. I *thought* that drugstore further south on on Manhattan Avenue had been a theatre from what the inside was like, but I wasn't sure before.

Ken Mac said...

sad beautiful history, that is repeated all over America in various forms..I can still visit NC and drive past the theaters of my youth, they're all used car lots now. Where did you first see The Exorcist?

Marty Wombacher said...

'I’m terrified of movie theaters these days because people are getting bedbugs in them,'

I never thought I'd live to see a day where someone was "terrified" of a movie theater. Weird times!

Morgaine Pendragon said...

I grew up in Greenpoint. I remember going to the Chopin to see Grease. I can remember when what used to be Genovese was a roller rink and I remember prior to that it was also a movie theater. All the former movie theaters in Greenpoint are now some sort of store. It's really sad.

Grade "A" Fancy said...

That Meserole theater is a Duane Reade? It was Eckert in the '90s and then (Sh)ite-Aid. Assuming the disco ball is still over the main part of the store.

RL said...

i went to the "midwood" theatre on avenue J & like e.13th. anyone else? there was another called the "elm"- i think it was on ave M. but maybe im imagining this one. what's up w/all these banks banks big mama drugstores burger burger...... its the same in central america. dosnt anyone have a life anymore? i mean aside from cash withdrawals, french fries & then buying shampoo or what ever is in there mile long drug monsters. i think they are buying DVDs @ duane reade, getting a burger & fries & going home. oh yes, they need the cash machine first. its all so gross...... shame on new york.

JakeGould said...

RL, actually remember the Midwood Theater on Avenue J. Pretty sure the structure for that building was torn down but it holds a special place in my NYC life: It was the first $1 theater I ever went to in my life! Not too sure if it was exactly $1. Might have been more. But it was definitely a discounted price for a film about to be sent back to the distributor kind of place.

It was the fall of 1982, and I was 14 at the time. And they were showing "Tron." Remember taking the B68 up their with friends, meeting more friends right at the theater and going in.

The film bored the living crap out of me even at 14. Heck, I didn't see it on wide release so this was more of a social activity for me and friends. But what I do remember very clearly is being bored around the "Solar Sailor" part of the film and seeing the theater cat running down the aisle chasing something.

Melanie said...

In Park Slope there was a Plaza Theater and Carlton Theater on Flatbush Ave. off 7th Avenue--and further downtown--the famous Paramount. Anyone remember these cinemas???The Plaza had a seasoned past from first rate flicks to porn and back again. They had a special discount matinee with a double feature.

RL said...

jake, i went to "midwood" like in 1953-1960 something. i saw "wolfman" in the 1050s. "god created women" played there, but it was off limits for children. i remember the ave J subway stop w/"cookies" resturant on the corner & the candy store & pizza place. i lived right there untill 1966, then we moved to linden blvd & flatbush ave. saw bergman films on flatbush, cant remember the theatre.