19 Former New York City Movie Palaces — And What They Are Now

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Hundreds of movie theaters have come and gone in New York City since the grand era of movie palaces and 25-cent matinées. While many have sadly been entirely demolished or lie in ruin, others remain hidden in plain sight, now repurposed as a Starbucks, a Modell’s, or… another Modell’s. Scattered around the city are dozens of movie theaters that are living a second life as a chain store, a church, or a gym. Their marquees may be stripped and their interiors mostly gutted, but the outlines of an old theater can still be seen if you know where to look. Here are a few New York City buildings that started out their lives as movie theaters and have survived to accommodate the city’s needs for more Modell’s.

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The Flatbush Pavilion in Park Slope, Brooklyn was originally a silent film theater called The Bunny Theater, built by film star John Bunny in 1912. After several incarnations it became The Flatbush Pavilion in 2001. By the time it closed just three years later, it had become one of the oldest running theaters in New York City. Today, it’s an American Apparel.

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Paramount Theatre, Brooklyn

At Long Island University’s campus in Brooklyn, the Paramount Theater has been transformed into one of the most beautiful collegiate gyms in the world. The theater was built by Paramount Pictures in 1928 in the ornate Rococo style and sat over 4,000 moviegoers. It also functioned as a jazz venue in the 1930s, hosting the likes of Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie, and later as a rock venue where Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry once played. The theater was bought by LIU in 1960, but the giant organ is still used at games until today.

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Audubon Theater

The Audubon Theater in Harlem was built in 1912 by producer William Fox, who later went on to found Fox Productions. During its history it has served as a vaudeville house, movie theater, synagogue, and meeting hall, and most infamously, as the site of Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965. All but the facade was demolished in 1992 to make way for a Columbia University biotechnology research facility, which was built in exchange for saving and restoring the facade and creating the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Research Center inside. Today the building also houses a Chase bank and a BBQ restaurant.

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Kenmore Theater

This humble Modell’s was once the elegant Kenmore Theater, a fixture of Flatbush, Brooklyn. It changed ownership several times since it was built in 1928 as the Keith-Albee Kenmore Theater. The highly decorative interior, including a huge domed ceiling and mythical Art Nouveau murals, was gutted to make way for its current incarnation as a Modell’s sporting goods store.

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Chopin Theater

The Chopin Theater, originally the American Theater, was a local Greenpoint, Brooklyn favorite. In the 1930s you could see hours of films back-to-back for a nickel. It later showed Polish language movies and operated until the 1980s. Eventually, the theater was converted into a dual Burger King/Popeyes. Today that nickel will buy absolutely nothing at the Starbucks that currently operates in the space.

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Loew’s Oriental Theatre

Though it’s all boarded up, you can still see the marquee on the former Loew’s Oriental Theatre in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, which is now a very Deco Marshall’s.

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Oceana Theatre

The former Oceana Theatre is now a Brighton Beach live entertainment venue that hosts touring Russian pop acts.

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Paramount Theatre, Times Square

When the Paramount Theatre opened in 1926, smack in the middle of Times Square, it set city box office records, raking in $80,000 in one week. It was a massive movie palace seating nearly 4,000 moviegoers in its day, with elaborate murals and interior detailing. Throughout the 1930s, the theater showcased live music acts as well as movies. In 1959, “Love Me Tender,” Elvis Presley’s first film, premiered there. The theater closed in 1966 and was gutted and used as office space by The New York Times, as well as for retail space, and the marquee was removed. The fate of the Paramount Theatre took an absurd turn when it was leased by the World Wrestling Federation in 2003, who recreated the marquee when they opened a theme restaurant in the building called WWF New York, not to be confused with the World Wildlife Foundation, who promptly took them to court. The restaurant was then renamed The World (WWE), which eventually closed in 2003 making way for the Hard Rock Cafe that operates there today.

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Astoria Theater

Built in 1920, the Astoria Theater in Queens showed classic and foreign films until it closed in 2001. Today it is a Duane Reade and a New York Sports Club.

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Bliss Theatre

This Sunnyside Jehovah’s Witness Assembly Hall was originally an Egyptian-themed theater opened in 1931 and named after Neziah Bliss, a large landowner in what is today Long Island City. The theater was bought by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1965 and renovated in 1987. Today, the original Egyptian murals have been replaced by biblical scenes. The theater was a stand-in for Carnegie Hall in the 2006 documentary Knocking, about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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Crecsent Theatre

The Astoria World Manor is the self-proclaimed “finest Banquet Hall in all of Queens.” But it used to be the Crescent Theatre.

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Hollywood Twin Cinemas and Night Shift Theater

What is now a Gray Line Bus Tours information center in Midtown used to be two theaters in one: The Hollywood Twin Cinema on the ground floor, and the Night Shift Theater on the second. Five points if you guess which one was the porn house.

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Loew’s Valencia Theatre

The Valencia Theatre in Queens was one of five Loews’ movie palaces built in the New York metro area between 1929 and 1930. Miraculously, all five theaters are still standing, and all but the Valencia are currently or soon to be operating as some sort of venue for entertainment or the arts. The Valencia, however, is devoted to a higher power — it’s now home to the Tabernacle of Prayer. The architect, John Eberson, created a theater that can only be described as Extreme Spanish Colonial Revival. The building is made even more spectacular by the fact that it sits in all its exuberance in the unremarkable neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens.

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Embassy 2,3,4 Theater

This souvenir shop off of Times Square was once the Embassy 2,3,4 Theater. Originally the Columbia Theater, it passed through several hands and eventually became a BBQ joint and, most recently, the Phantom of Broadway shop, carrying New York and theater-themed souvenirs.

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Guild Theater

This building at Rockefeller Plaza was once the Guild Theater. Today it is an Anthropologie, but the Deco marquee remains.

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Hollywood Theater

The Warner Brothers Hollywood Theater opened in 1930 in Times Square. Although it was built as a cinema, it had a large stage, which also accommodated live acts. It was bought, renovated, and reopened in 1949 and also renamed the Mark Hellinger Theatre after the Broadway critic who had died the year before. The theater showed many successful musicals through the 1970s, including My Fair Lady and Jesus Christ Superstar. Since 1989 it has been operating as the evangelical pentecostal Times Square Church. The original Rococo-style interior is still intact, and you can see it for yourself by taking a tour of the church.

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UA Crossbay Theater

The UA Crossbay Theater in Ozone Park, Queens was a working cinema for just over a century, from its opening in 1924 until its closing in 2005. A Modell’s occupies the building today, with the marquee now covered over.

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David Cinema

David Cinema was a 1970s gay porn theater in Midtown. Today it is a fratty restaurant and bar called The Three Monkeys. How appropriate.

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RKO Keith’s Richmond Hill

The RKO Keith’s Theater was built in 1929 in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens. It’s now used as a bingo hall and a regular Sunday flea market, though some of the original interior and most of the marquee remain intact.