Monday, December 18, 2017

Save Lincoln Plaza Cinemas

On Friday, Deadline Hollywood broke the news that the art house Lincoln Plaza Cinemas will be forced to close in January. It opened in 1981. Operator Toby Talbot said that she and her husband, Dan, “did everything we could to ask for the lease to be extended.” But the building owner “is looking to get everything he can. He’s looking to make money.”

On Saturday, the theater’s regular customers were all talking about the news. Ivan, the young assistant manager, stood in the doorway of the small office across from the concession stand and commiserated. The clientele of Lincoln Plaza is made up mostly of local senior citizens--people on fixed incomes--and mostly women. It is, in many ways, a gathering place for midtown and uptown women over 65.

All day Saturday, they gathered around Ivan.

Interior. Movie theater lobby. Day.
The lobby is busy but not overcrowded. People sit on benches and stand in line. They read the paper and do the Times crossword puzzle. Some buy popcorn and rugelach from the concession stand. A wall fountain gurgles, but the basement room is otherwise quiet.

In the doorway of the Manager’s Office, a young man in a blue sweater stands talking in a relaxed way to three older women. LOIS wears black horn-rimmed glasses and a black pageboy haircut. She holds a cane. HILDA is blonde and quiet. NANCY wears a knit winter hat and paces back and forth, fired up about the closing.

NANCY: We need to do something. We need a petition. Everything good is vanishing.

LOIS: This place is my lifeblood. I’m limited (she taps her cane) and this is accessible. I come from the East Side. I come for intelligent movies. And it connects me to the area. After a movie, I eat in the restaurants and shop in the stores nearby. I come every week. It makes you feel secure.

HILDA: It’s comfortable and welcoming. Not like the multiplex. The physical space of a large multiplex? It’s like a warehouse. It’s yucky to go into. But this is a cozy space. It’s not fancy, but it feels good. It’s a neighborhood place.

NANCY (pacing): We need to start a petition. We should plead elder abuse.

HILDA: It really is a connection for seniors. It gets us out of the house.

LOIS: Where else can you go where you’re familiar with the ushers’ faces? They know us. It’s a community. We’re New Yorkers here. I’m not a tourist.

NANCY: Why are they doing this?

IVAN: It’s not about business being bad. It was a landlord decision. The Milsteins own the building. The old man died and the kids took over.

LOIS: They don’t care about people or the quality of life. They just care about the money.

IVAN: The theater owner’s never been about the money. He just wanted people to enjoy the movies.

CORINNE walks in and greets her friend LOIS. They meet here every Saturday. She is blonde and red-cheeked from the cold.

CORINNE: I was shocked when I heard the news. But I was always afraid this day would come. What’ll they put here?

LOIS: Probably a health club.

CORINNE: It’ll sit empty. Like everything else. This is a cultural institution.

HILDA: It’s terrible. Just terrible. Everything else is going downhill in the world. And in this country. This just adds to it.

The USHER, a young man in a gray suit and necktie, stands up and calls out the next movie to the waiting crowd.

USHER: Wonder Wheel! Wonder Wheel! Wonder Wheel!

The women join the crowd and head into the theater to see their movie.

Soon after, the general manager, EWNETU, walks in. He wears a Lincoln Plaza Cinemas cap and complains about the traffic as he takes off his winter coat and settles into his office.

IVAN (to EWNETU): About 50 people came to your door today. Ready to cry. Every 3 to 5 minutes.

EWNETU: This is a bad news for our customers, bad news for our staff, and bad news for the neighborhood. It’s as bad as it can be.

This place is unique. What nobody can replicate is that we handpick every film we show. They have a quality value. We don’t get tempted by box office receipts. We have customers who come regardless of reviews because they trust our judgment. Very familiar faces. Customers come from all over—Philadelphia, New Jersey—we even have one guy from Nebraska.

When I started working here I had an afro. Now I’m bald. (He takes off his cap to prove it, and then puts it back on.) I’ve been here over 25 years.

We lost our lease. Business is not bad. It’s not phenomenal, but it’s good enough for us to stick around. The landlord has a different idea. It seems he doesn’t want to renew the lease. It’s very upsetting.

As a society, we should be more than about money. Landlords included.

Fade to black.

The building that houses the theater is owned by Milstein Properties, run by Howard Milstein. On Saturday evening, they sent a statement about the closing to the New York Times:

“'We are long-term members of this community and have played a central role in nurturing this special theater,' the statement said, adding that 'vital structural work' was needed to repair and waterproof the plaza around the building. 'At the completion of this work, we expect to reopen the space as a cinema that will maintain its cultural legacy far into the future.'"

The Times added, "A Milstein spokesman said in an email that it was yet to be determined if the cinema would reopen with the Talbots in charge."

If it's true that a new cinema will reopen here, it could be a multiplex or, more likely, something like a Nighthawk or Alamo Drafthouse that will attract and cater to a younger, more affluent crowd. But Lincoln Plaza is a bit of old New York--and people like it that way. It's affordable and accessible and it should stay that way.

I started a petition--please sign it and share it.


Emma said...

Thanks's Jeremiah Moss! Have major Petition signing going on up here on the UWS! Hot topic for sure. This theater is much beloved and an iconic landmark. It simply cannot be lost.

Susan Simon
CPW Neighbors Association

Brian said...

Yes, Lincoln Plaza showed more of an art house line up of movies you can't always find elsewhere in the city. But architecturally it is dumpy and 70s suburban dull and the screens were very small.