Classic Movie Theaters # 1

As some of you may know I am a photographer of sorts. One of my pet projects is photographing old movie theaters. Whenever I travel I try to find  old movie theaters wherever I go.  I actually photographed my first theaters back in the 1970’s when I lived in New York City. Of course, back then these theaters were not old classic movie theaters, they were the theaters you visited every week. That all said, I thought I would share some of these photos I have taken over the past few years in a short series, six in all, I will occasionally post. These are no great works of ‘art’ here, just a look at days gone by. I will provide any information on the theater that I am aware, some personal memories and links to the theaters that are still active today in some form.

First up are those New York City theaters.

Loew’s Oriental

The Loew’s Oriental was the local theater in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn where I spent most of my youth. Many Saturday afternoons were spent in this grand theater watching films like “Thief of Bagdad,” “Visit to a Small Planet,” “The Wackiest Ship in the Army,” “Exodus” and many more. Jerry Lewis toured the Loew’s movie chain during the release of one of his movies, I think it was “The Nutty Professor” and I got to see him there live. The theater was twinned in 1977, the same year this photo was taken. Today the theater is a Marshalls Department Store.

Baronet/Coronet

The Baronet/Coronet Theaters, along with the Cinema I and Cinema II were located on the same block with just a Bookmasters store in between. These four theaters were once the primo theaters for big movie releases during the 1960’s and 70’s. Foreign films like Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers” and Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” to domestic works like “The Exorcist” and “The Graduate” had their premiere engagements at one of these fours theaters located on the Upper East Side. One personal experience I had happened one weekday afternoon in September of 1976 . I took a half day off from work to go see Woody Allen’s film “The Front” which opened that day and was playing at the Coronet. The theater was fairly crowded for a weekday afternoon. After the film was over and everyone began filing out I suddenly noticed walking out right in front of me were John Lennon and Yoko Ono! Growing up in the 60’s, and a Beatles fan, I pretty much stood there stunned. I never saw The Beatles in concert but over the years I got to see Paul, George and Ringo separately in concerts and I got to go to the movies, well sorta, with John.

Loew’s State 1 and 2

The Loew’s State opened on Broadway in 1926. Over the years its marquee has gone through several reconstructions and in 1968 the theater was twined. “Ben-Hur,” had its World Premiere here as a road show engagement and ran for 74 weeks. Other major films to premiere at the Loew’s State include “Becket,”  “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Some Like it Hot” and “The Godfather.”

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7 comments on “Classic Movie Theaters # 1

  1. These are gorgeous. My fave is the Loew’s State 1 & 2, only because I love the fonts they’ve chosen.

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  2. David Greene says:

    I feel forever privileged to have been able to enjoy several screenings of William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” at Loew’s State on Times Square. Subsequent to a recent remodeling, the interior, in 1959, had a grand, elegant simplicity, lacking the gilded cherubs and baroque trappings of 19th Century opera houses that one might still have found in many of the larger movie palaces. Beside the massive gold curtained front of the hall, the only really gaudy feature was the enormous round chandelier that glittered over the heads of the audience. Despite the immensity of the room, the acoustics seemed extraordinarily clean, clear and rich as the multi channel soundtrack of that movie washed over the auditorium. From the first mighty sting in the overture, Rosza’s amazing score sounded as if a huge live orchestra was right there, performing the whole vast composition. All of the house light cues, the atmospheric use of two curtains, the gold one that rose in a scalloped arch, followed by a sheer curtain that parted to reveal an enormous still of the M-G-M lion as the picture started, everything contributed to a sense that the showing was a truly major event. The people that handled the presentation of that picture in that venue did their jobs so well that, more than a half-century later, this particular movie buff still looks back fondly on their magnificent finesse and a theater the like of which we may never see again.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks David for these memories.I was there one or twice after the 1959 remodeling and much more often after the twined the theater later on. My own memories of BEN-HUR were at the Loew’s Metropolitan in Brooklyn.

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      • David Greene says:

        Hi John, In the 50s and 60s, I lived a one-hour bus ride from New York. Whenever possible, I’d get over to Times Square and go to one movie after another at those amazing theaters. Once a filmmaker, and a lifelong movie buff, I was forever spoiled by seeing films presented that way. The first-run “Ben-Hur” experience was such a milestone in my teenage life that getting back to Loew’s State several times to enjoy the rich combination of a grand epic and all the finesse that the theater put into the screening of every show was an unforgettable thrill. Some visitors to the Cinema Treasures site urged me to post a lengthy reminiscence about this awhile back. As nothing like that phenomenon survives today, right down to the amazing publicity build-up they gave that movie, I thought it would be worthwhile to summon up as many details as possible. The wonderful black-and-white still of the theater in late ’59 which is featured in the book that accompanies the new Blu Ray restoration really conjured up a world of fond memories. Recently, I built a screening room, expressly designed to handle ultra-widescreen movies, complete with curtains and dimmable house lights. The new high def edition of “Ben-Hur” provides a supreme highlight for a long list of friends and neighbors who drop by for a show now and then.

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      • John Greco says:

        David, I lived in Brooklyn but I use to make my way into Manhattan to catch new releases all the time (this is back in the 60’s and 70’s) The Loew’s State, The Criterion and the Rivoli on Broadway along with others . I did get to see WEST SIDE STORY at the Rivoli during its 2 show a day run. It was still a fabulous theatre back then before it began to get run down. Spent a lot of time at the East Side theaters like the Plaza, Fine Arts, Coronet, Cinema 1 & 2, The Sutton as well as in the Village. Sad those kinds of theaters are all gone. Do you have the link to what you wrote in Cinema Treasures? I would like to read it.

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      • David Greene says:

        Google “Happy 50th Ben-Hur” and scroll back through a couple of years worth of entries (There aren’t that many.) until you see a big long post with my name at the top. It’s a highly detailed piece. By the way, I saw both “West Side Story” and “Cleopatra” (among other shows) at the Rivoli. Heaven’s what a sad mess that Taylor/Burton “Cleopatra” was…..so promising at the start, and then it collapses like a grand, gaudy balloon into a sad, tedious heap long before the overdue closing curtain. One has to be so sorry for the director of that one. It surely took years off of his life.

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  3. John Greco says:

    Thanks David! Will check it out. Totally agree about CLEOPATRA.

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