Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Whitestone Multiplex


The Whitestone multiplex cinema has shuttered after 30 years in business. It was purchased for $30 million last year by real estate development company the Lightstone Group, who will be turning the site into New York City's first outlet mall.

For their final marquee, a goodbye note:

from South Bronx Network's facebook page

The Lightstone Group is best known these days for its massive luxury development of Gowanus, but they have developed a number of outlet malls--full of typical mall chain stores. The one at Whitestone will be a chain itself--in the Paragon Outlets chain of outlets--and will "feature an open-air racetrack design and showcase over 100 global brands."

Last year The Observer noted, "New Yorkers, secretly covetous of the bland, sprawling suburban malls that can be found in the city’s hinterlands, are ecstatic...incredibly enthusiastic about the prospect of opening more places in New York that feel exactly like the soulless suburban tracts they left behind."

Of course, the multiplex is also a suburban invention--like the drive-in theater that preceded it.

Whitestone Cinemas opened in 1983, when its owner, media magnate Sumner Redstone, decided that an indoor cinema, with lots of screens, would be more lucrative than his father's old drive-in. Mr. Redstone credits himself with inventing the word "multiplex," which he trademarked it in 1973. He describes the eureka moment in his memoir A Passion to Win:

"I was sitting in my office one day trying to think of a word for a theater that showed more pictures than the number of screens without any specifics. The word 'plex' was in the lexicon and I worked with that. I didn't want to say eightplex or nineplex... Then it came to me. 'Multiplex!' I jotted the word down and said it out loud. That's what we had, a multiplex."

(Today, multi is not enough, and we have megaplexes. I suppose googleplexes will be next.)

The Whitestone Multiplex had at least one murder, a fight over popcorn, and as far as I know, the Whitestone Drive-In had none. Opened in 1949, the drive-in kicked off with the two movies Suddenly It's Spring and Caged Fury.

In October of that year, the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" visited the drive-in (which they called "rather spectacular") and spoke to its manager, Mr. Harvey Elliott. He insisted that drive-ins were not a passing fad, saying, "This is a country on wheels. We like to eat on wheels, telephone on wheels, and listen to the radio on wheels. Why not see movies on wheels?"


Mr. Elliott also took on the "ugly rumor" that the drive-in was a hotbed of neckers. "No such thing," he said, "not real necking." A police officer regularly roamed the amber and green-lit parking lot, checking cars to make sure.

Before the drive-in was built, the land was used as a dump.

And before the dump, it was swamp land.


Anonymous said...

On a related note, the Clearview Cinemas on 62nd and 1st also just closed with a similar note left on their door. Not sure what will become of that space.

Anonymous said...

it started as swamp land, now with the "outlet mall" it appears to be returning to swamp land.

Space Pope said...

I remember it being the Whitestone Drive-in. My brother and I sat on the roof of the family car to watch Star Wars during its first run while my dad and whatever girl he was with at the time 'got busy' in the car. No serious necking my eye!

We also saw 'The Fog' there but we all fell asleep during it.

Anonymous said...

I remember going to the Whitstone drive in as a kid. Watching the guns of naverone or some jerry lewis films. And in summer you had to keep the windows rolled up because of the misquiteos.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Whitestone drive in
1968 to see the Odd Couple.
I was 7 years old. My grand parents lived close by and you could actually see the screen from their front porch and if my Aunt liked what she saw she would take us the next day!.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 8:45 am: the building housing the Clearview First & 62nd Cinemas, as well as Manhattan Mini-Storage, is slated to be demolished and replaced by a luxury high-rise. The closing of the theatre leaves Midtown East with just six currently active film screens (those at the Cinema 1, 2 and 3; the two at the Beekman; and the single at the Big Cinemas Manhattan).

Anonymous said...

NYC doesn't need its first outlet mall; NYC is or has become an outlet mall or a mall. When we buy junk, we become junk.

randall said...

I hope that doesn't mess with one of the finest tricks for bypassing traffic on the Hutch leading up to the Whitestone Bridge. Then I will really be pissed. Multiplex for Shopping's just a minor step down.

dash said...

There's so much talk about the "squeezing out of the middle class." I can't help think that the middle class is responsible, at least in part, for their own demise. Every time there is something shiny and new, the middle class rushes towards it like lemmings. They left cities in the middle of the last century, to realize the American Dream. The first businesses in the suburbs were largely mom and pops, with a smattering of regional and national chains. Now every suburb (and city and the country, for that matter) has the same cluster of multi-national chains. People had the choice, and always have the choice, to vote with their wallets. So what did people think would happen when ever-expanding chains took over? Did they not realize the money would rush to to the top and stay there? No, they didn't. They were only interested in how these stores would benefit them, with their large selections and (sometimes) lower prices. And this is what we have. We're seeing a bit of nostalgia for the suburbs of the 50's and 60's. I feel it too. I would trade my home town of that era for the one of today in a heartbeat. But people have to realize that their actions (no matter how passive they believe them to be) have consequences.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dash,

People buy what they like and make choices based on what they know is good and comforting. People loved the things they experienced growing up in the suburbs and want them back in the city. If you have the choice between some strange doughnut shop and Dunkin Donuts, you go with what you know. Same with coffee, or an Italian meal, or clothes, or anything else. It's about branding, which is what our culture and country are all about.

If you're adventurous and have made it, then you wait in line or pay someone to do that and you can try the Cronut or go to a 4-star Michelin restaurant or fly to Paris and have real French food or buy really expensive clothes you know the poor and others can't afford. That's also what America is about, choice.

Americans like regularity, security, the things they grew up with. Things that are comforting. New York used to be different from the rest of America, but slowly it's joining the rest of the country and becoming a place that anyone from any suburb feels comfortable in. Some might say that's a bad thing. Others like Mayor Bloomberg and Council President Quinn might say they like it a lot, and millions are voting with their feet and dollars. You see the results.

randall said...

@Anon - 11:56

I disagree with you somewhat. I think that people like what they are told to like so the people with the most money to spend telling people what to like are the ones that are going to proliferate. I think that people are programmed to like the "shiny and new" like Dash says so that they can always be sold something "shiny and new" so that when something becomes old and dull, they'll rush to throw it out and get the new thing. I think you're right to the extent that people associate familiarity and comfortability with what they are told are familiar and comfortable but the opposite that comes with that is an almost fear of things that are not what they are told to like, things that are a little more original, that have a little bit of soul to them, the store where someone actually remembers you or interacts with you more than just saying "can I take your order" people I think are uncomfortable with that level of familiarity, because it interjects some sort of humanity into what they are programmed to believe is an impersonal transaction. I think this is intentional, because when two people interact on a more than simply transactional level, community is created and community is antithetical to the consumer model, because you might learn that you can rely on someone besides a merchant for something, that not all transactions need to be money or credit for goods or services. With community comes the exchange, not only of money, but ideas, and ideas, that are not dictated, that are organic can be potentially dangerous to status quo so need to be quelled. If you can keep people holed up, physically through television or practically through idevices and the like then they are more apt to listen to the messages being peddled and less likely to formulate and exchange organic ideas.
You should not have to have "made it" to be able to experience something French if you don't happen to live in France. I might be shading into "conspiracy theory" territory here, but I don't believe the choices are really freely made. People are specifically and incessantly targeted and marketed to to keep the process rolling, the choice of "opting out" would grind the process to a halt so shit tons of money is pumped in to make people choose their shiny new thing, and mom and pop's simply cannot compete with multinational, pin pointed ad they rely on community...which as I said above runs contra to what consumerism wants...because people would realize that a dunkin donut is shit or jack daniels is lousy whiskey and that someone within reach might actually make a better product but can't inundate them with the message to buy buy buy. I could go on, but this is getting kind of "ranty," so in the end, I don't think it is a question of preference so much as it is programming.

Pat said...

"THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRON FOR THE PAST 30 YEARS" - They had to bring them Tequila?

laura r. said...

randell: well said, agree 100%! how many people are true indivuals? have their own tastes. a lower class person can go to the neighborhood diner, or 7/11. he can go to bestbuy on black friday & be trampled to death because thats what you are SUPPOSED to do. or have the dignity not to expose himself to that. he may know that the sales will be on all thru january! middle class can go to tacky applebees or maybe a nice traditional family restaurant. the upper classes can either go where the "stars" go, (wait for the reservation, be humilated, eat weird food by some superstar chef) or have their own 4-5star UN trendy choices. i grew up in new york, hated the suburbs. i was middle class but went everywhere. the high end the low end, the middle. if it appealed, i shopped there, ate there. i didnt care of it was the hip trend, if i didnt like it, i didnt go. most people ARE like sheep. that is what marketing is about. this is for shopping, vacations, dining. the mall thing in new york is not catering to the "suburan" person. it is TURNING new yorkers into suburanites! when there are few choices....well you go to the CVS, or grab a coffee @ starbucks, or use a chain dry cleaner. i try not too, it looks like mom/pops may not be available. do you know that these big chains are all over the middle east, south america?

Claribel said...

Thank you Dash and randall. Anon 11:56pm, I'm anesthetized by your "things of comfort." If they were genuinely comforting, it doesn't explain why suburban mall shoppers easily discard or consume them for more new things to buy. You're also creeping me out with the idea that individuals are pod people who are comforted by the generic sameness of things made familiar simply due to branding. I wouldn't call that American. I'd call that corporate and I'd call that global. You're not getting choice when the uniqueness of any town, large or small, is diluted by the same chain stores that have access to debt financing and small businesses can't compete with that scale.

So this Lichtenstein guy who runs the Lightstone Group bought $8 billion of hotels with borrowed money, bombs, but files for bankruptcy, his lenders lose ridiculous amounts of money and our city officials are allowing his company to build this outlet mall and rental housing on Gowanus Canal? Nice message to taxpayers that our city officials reward those who risk and lose big.

Carol Gardens said...

When I was a kid we loved that when you went over the Whitestone Bridge you could briefly see the movie playing on the screen at the Drive-In.

Kevin Scott said...

Another theatre in the Bronx bites the dust.

At one time, there were many movie theatres and one drive-in in the borough. Now there are only three, and they show the same damn movies! Perhaps this is a wake-up call for someone to start a small theatre to show art-house and indie movies.

And said...

well the writer pointed out the irony that drive-in theaters and multiplexes are suburban in character themselves.
as to complaining about NYC losing it's character....well the fact is that many many city dwellers go to outlet malls out of town every year. is it not better to keep those sales tax revenue within the city...??? Though - I don't want to see a Wal-Mart at all.

Anonymous said...

This could be a real opportunity.

I just hope they do not attempt to repeat their typical mall offerings at this location. Most New Yorkers do not drive, so it's important to create a mall appropriate for an urban environment with terrific mass transit access, bicycle parking, and a diversity of things to do beyond luxury items to keep customers around. An express bus to and from the nearest subway station (Westchester Square?) is a must or maybe even a special service from Grand Central or the potential Ferry Point Ferry service we may see.

If they copy-paste a suburban offering, chances are this mall will not nearly perform as well as it could.

Anonymous said...

This would be the perfect location for an Ikea. There is a Home Depot not too far. It's within the winding freeways of the Cross Bronx Expressway, Bruckner Expressway, the Whitestone bridge for residents of Queens. A shopping outlet would be nice, the city of New York and the Bronx borough would benefit greatly from an Ikea.

Kevin Scott said...

There is a rumor that AMC is looking into re-opening the Whitestone, as I have heard nothing was done about this so-called outlet.

Re-opening the theatre would be a boon for the community, but my grievance is that those who do the booking should also show a fair balance of independent and art films as well as first-run commercial features, either at the Whitestone or Bay Plaza. The Bronx needs a third and, possibly, a fourth movie house.