Prospect Theatre

View of the remains of the Prospect Theatre.
View of the remains of the Prospect Theatre.

B.F Keith’s Prospect Theatre opened on September 7, 1914 in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. The 2,381 seat theater was constructed on the site of a synagogue and three apartment buildings. It was designed by architect William McElfatrick for the Keith Vaudeville Company. The Prospect was dubbed “the woodless and postless theater” while it was being built due to the fact that no wood was used in its construction and there were no posts helping to support the balcony. Woodwork was left out of the building so that the theater would be much safer if a fire broke out. The balcony was supported by a 65 ton steel beam, which eliminated the need for support beams that could have obstructed views during performances. Opening advertisements boasted that the balcony was strong enough to support the world’s ten heaviest locomotives.

Historic image courtesy of the Brooklyn Theatre Index.
Historic image courtesy of Theatre Talks

According to an article in the New York Clipper, a weekly entertainment newspaper, the Prospect originally presented shows from the Keith’s Palace Theatre in Manhattan, which was the flagship theater of the Keith’s circuit at the time. Brooklyn Borough President Lewis H. Pounds was unable to attend the opening celebration, but sent along a message that read, “By building one of the finest theaters in the United States in the heart of Brooklyn, the Keith interests have paid a tribute to the wonderful growth of the borough.” The Prospect opened with a stage show called The Bride Shop as well as performances from Sam & Kitty Norton, Nellie V. Nichols, Joe Jackson, Lyons & Yosco, The Great Asahi, Kluting’s Entertainers, Gliding O’Mearas, and Weber & Capitola. Vaudeville acts performed at the theater twice a day until May 15, 1916, when the theater switched to showing silent films in conjunction with the live acts. A Moller organ was installed in 1920, and replaced by a Wurlitzer Opus 1497 in October 1926.

The ceiling of the Prospect Theatre.
The ceiling of the Prospect Theatre.

In 1922 Ted Healy, a comedian from Brooklyn, was scheduled to perform at the theater but the acrobat in his act quit. As luck would have it, Moses Horwitz, an old childhood friend of Healy’s who was also a vaudeville performer, was backstage waiting to say hello to him. Healy asked Horwitz, better known today as Moe Howard, to temporarily join his act and Horwitz agreed. The show was a huge hit and soon after Moe’s brother Samuel (Shemp) joined them as Ted Healy and his Stooges. The temporary partnership ended up lasting over ten years before splitting up. In 1934 Howard, his other brother Jerome (Curly), and Larry Fine signed with Columbia Pictures as the Three Stooges.

 

The Proscenium arch was damaged in the 1980's when the stage house was converted in to condominiums.
The Proscenium arch was damaged in the 1980’s when the stage house was converted in to condominiums.

In October 1928, The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) combined with the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) vaudeville theater circuit, and the Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) to form Radio-Keith-Orpheum also known as the RKO Corporation. A little over a year after the merger the theater was renamed the R.K.O Prospect Theatre. Around the same time vaudeville acts had begun to be phased out in favor of motion pictures, and when they did perform it was as a short opening act for the feature films. However, vaudeville returned to the Prospect five years later on July 16, 1932. This was partially due to patrons writing the theater and promising to support vaudeville shows. Tap dancers Cherry Blossom and June, the Radio Rogues, comedians Bud and Jack Pearson performed during the opening night. The famous illusionist Hardeen, the brother of Houdini, performed at the theater on March 28, 1933, and escaped from a specially constructed packing case.

 

Mayor LaGuardia ordered the theater to close for one day on Thursday, August 9, 1934 as punishment for holding a “Shirley Temple Resemblance Contest.” Joseph Freytag, the theater manager, applied for a permit to hold the contest but was denied.
Mayor LaGuardia ordered the theater to close for one day on Thursday, August 9, 1934 as punishment for holding a “Shirley Temple Resemblance Contest.” Joseph Freytag, the theater manager, applied for a permit to hold the contest but was denied.

The Prospect played a very small role in the USSR/USA conflict known as the Cold War. On August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist Party member, testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities that he introduced Alger Hiss, who worked for the State Department, to a Soviet spy in the balcony of the Prospect Theatre in early 1937. On Sunday January 28, 1962, the Three Stooges, which at the time consisted of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly-Joe DeRita, returned to the theater while on a promotional tour for their film “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.” Accompanying them on the bill was Dave Ballard, an almost eight foot tall man known as “The Herculean Giant”, and DJ Clay Cole.

The projector room was added after the theater opened in 1914.
The projector room was added after the theater opened in 1914.

The Prospect closed in 1967, and the main level was converted into a supermarket in 1970. The lobby, and orchestra sections were gutted, while the balcony and stage area were closed off. In 1986, two Brooklyn developers, Gary Rosen and Jacob Bouganim, bought the 16,000-square-foot stage area as well as the 100 by 700 foot lot beneath it for $500,000, and turned it into 15 condominiums. According to Bouganim, they were interested in the building because it’s much high than most of the buildings in the neighborhood, and has unobstructed views of Manhattan. The balcony is all that remains of the original Prospect Theatre.

The interior of the projector room is full of construction debris.
The interior of the projector room is full of construction debris.
Much of the interior decor was removed in the 1940's.
Much of the interior decor was removed in the 1940’s.

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Workshop Update

View from the main level of the Victory Theatre.
View from the main level of the Victory Theatre.

Hi Everyone! The blog is still technically on hiatus, but I wanted to announce that I’ll be co-hosting another photo workshop at the Victory Theatre in Holyoke, MA on June 27 with Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America. We’ve raised over $1,600 so far this year for the theater’s restoration effort.

The first session will run from 9am to 1pm, and the second from 2pm to 6pm.  The last two workshops we held at the theater sold out pretty quickly so get your tickets soon.

For more information and to purchase tickets: http://www.abandonedamerica.us/after-the-final-curtain1abandoned-america1.

Backstage at the Victory.
Backstage at the Victory.

As for After the Final Curtain – look for a relaunched site some time this summer! In the meantime keep an eye on the AFtC Facebook page for updates.

Hiatus

Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL

Hi Everyone – Just wanted to let you all know that I’m taking a short hiatus from posting while I finish my book on the Loew’s Kings Theatre. Don’t worry though – the site isn’t going anywhere. I have a backlog of 16 theaters that I haven’t posted yet and plans to photograph many more.  For updates during the hiatus check out the After the Final Curtain Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Afterthefinalcurtain

Here’s a quick look at some of the upcoming theaters that will be featured on AFtC later this year:

UC
UC Theatre Berkeley, CA
Varsity2
Varsity Theatre Evanston, IL
Warner Huntington Park
Warner Theatre Huntington Park, CA
Fox Theatre Fullerton, CA
Fox Theatre Fullerton, CA

Photo Workshops 2015

View from the balcony of the Victory Theatre.
View from the balcony of the Victory Theatre.

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll once again be partnering with photographer/founder of Abandoned America, Matthew Christopher for some photo workshops in 2015!

First, we will be returning to the Victory Theatre in Holyoke, MA on March 28, 2015.  The Victory Theatre opened on December 30, 1920 and closed 58 years late on December 15, 1978. It is currently owned by the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts, who plan to renovate the theater and reopen it as a performing arts center. A portion of the proceeds raised from the workshop will go to MIFA to help with maintenance and restoration.

More information as well as how to purchase tickets can be found at: http://www.abandonedamerica.us/after-the-final-curtain1abandoned-america1

View of the auditorium from the balcony.
Variety Theatre Cleveland, Ohio

Then we’ll be heading eight hours west to the Variety Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio on April 11, 2015. The Variety opened on November 24, 1927 and after a number of different uses (including a wrestling gym called the Cleveland Wrestleplex) closed in the late 1980s. The building was purchased by the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre on June 12, 2009, and they plan to restore the theater as a multi-use venue. A portion of the proceeds from the workshop will go to the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre to help with the maintenance of the theater.

For more information and to purchase tickets: http://www.abandonedamerica.us/the-variety-theatre-an-after

 

As always Matthew Christopher and I will be on hand during workshops to answer any questions you may have regarding lighting, composition in these spaces. We have a combined 20 years experience photographing abandoned buildings and welcome any questions. Both locations have lights that can be turned on, but are minimally lit so we recommend that you bring your own lights if possible.

Loew’s Canal Theatre

View of the auditorium from the balcony.
View of the auditorium from the balcony.
B&W Image from the Loew’s Collection, American Theatre Architecture Archive, Theatre Historical Society of America.
B&W Image from the Loew’s Collection, American Theatre Architecture Archive, Theatre Historical Society of America.

The Loew’s Canal Theatre opened in September of 1927 in New York, New York. The Loew’s Corporation contracted with Thomas W. Lamb, one of the foremost theater architects of the 20th century, to design a theater on Canal Street in Manhattan. The 2,314 seat theater was the second largest motion picture theater in the city when it opened. Even though it was a larger theater, it mostly showed “B” movies and serials. Loew’s sold the theater to the Greater M&S Circuit a little over a year after it opened, and bought it back when they went bankrupt in 1929.

Ceiling of the auditorium.
Ceiling of the auditorium.
Auditorium ceiling blueprint
Auditorium ceiling blueprint

On the morning of September 10, 1932, an explosion rocked the front of the Loew’s Canal, throwing the ticket booth into the street and shattering windows on a number of neighboring buildings. No one was injured in the blast, but Edward Brown, the theater’s night watchman, was thrown down a flight of stairs by it. A similar explosion destroyed the entrance of the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre an hour earlier. Both bombings were thought to be connected to the Motion Picture Operators’ Union Local 306, who were on strike at the time and protesting in front of both theaters, but nothing was ever proven.

A close up of the auditorium's chandelier.
A close up of the auditorium’s chandelier.

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According to an article in the New York Post, Comedian Jerry Stiller grew up going to the theater. Stiller says, “we used to go on Saturday morning at the Loew’s Canal. At nine in the morning, they’d show things like the “Fitzpatrick Traveltalk,” cartoons and serials like “Flash Gordon.” By the time you got to 10:30, they’d get to the double-header, two pictures in a row. What happened was, your mother or father would drop you off at nine, and they didn’t have to pick you up until three. That’s where we got our education.

The lobby has been empty since the store that was occupying it closed in the late 2000s.
The lobby was decorated with ornate terracotta ornamentation.

 

Ceiling of the lobby.
Ceiling of the vestibule.
Blueprints of the vestibule and lobby areas.
Blueprints of the vestibule and lobby areas.

Eddie Cantor, who also grew up in the Lower East Side, had the world premiere of his film, “Forty Little Mothers” at the Loew’s Canal in April of 1940. The theater closed in the late 1950s, and by the early 1960s the lobby was converted to retail space, while the auditorium was used as a warehouse. The last occupant of the lobby space was an appliance store and repair shop that closed in the late 2000s.

Parts of the mezzanine were blocked off and used for storage while the lobby was occupied by a retail store.
Parts of the mezzanine were blocked off and used for storage while the lobby was occupied by a retail store.
There are ornate water fountains on both sides of the mezzanine balcony entrances.
There are ornate water fountains on both sides of the mezzanine balcony entrances.

The terracotta façade of the theater was designated a New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Committee in 2010. Later that year, the Committee to Revitalize and Enrich the Arts and Tomorrow’s Economy (CREATE) teamed up with the building’s owners to conduct a feasibility study to convert the space into a performing arts center. They received a $150,000 grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., but ultimately the project never came to fruition. The building’s owners planned on converting the space into an 11-story condo complex, but the plan was rejected by the NYC Department of Buildings. Currently, the former auditorium is still used as a warehouse, while the lobby space is empty.

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Lamb designed the interior of the theater in the Spanish Baroque style of architecture.
The fire escapes were closed off when the auditorium was converted into a warehouse.
The fire escapes were closed off when the auditorium was converted into a warehouse.
The theater was only mentioned in the news for minor incidents, such as fires or movie premieres.
The theater was only mentioned in the news for minor incidents, such as fires or movie premieres.

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Lions were included in the design of many Loew's theaters.
Lions were included in the design of many Loew’s theaters.
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A close up of the theater’s proscenium arch.

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Another view of the auditorium ceiling.
Another view of the auditorium ceiling.
A look back at the projection booth.
A look back at the projection booth.
The chandeliers still hang in the theater's inner lobby.
The chandeliers still hang in the theater’s inner lobby.
A close up of one of the chandeliers.
A close up of one of the chandeliers.
Ornate plaster-work on the wall of the inner lobby.
Ornate plaster-work on the wall of the inner lobby.
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The contracting firm M. Shapiro & Son began construction on the theater in the fall of 1926.

If you’d like to help with my exploring/research efforts, please consider purchasing a print, all support is very appreciated.

 

© Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Holiday Print Sale 2014

Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL

Happy Holidays! From now until December 31, 8×12, 12×18 and 16×24 prints are 50% off when you use the coupon code holiday2014 at checkout.

http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/prints

Don’t have time to get a print framed during this busy holiday season? No problem! As an added bonus I’m including eight framed prints for 50% off, too. Just use the same coupon code (holiday2014) at checkout.

http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/framedprints

If you have any questions feel free to email me at matt@mlambrosphotography.com

Chicago Lecture

View from the stage Portage Theatre Chicago, IL
View from the stage Portage Theatre Chicago, IL

 

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be giving a lecture on abandoned theaters in partnership with the Theatre Historical Society of America, at the Portage Theatre in Chicago, IL on Thursday November 13, 2014.

Doors open at 6:30 and the lecture starts at 7:00. Admission is free.

The lecture will be an updated version of “The Fall of the American Movie Palace” with some of my more recent work, including some photographs of the Loew’s Kings Theatre renovation.

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Franklin Park Theatre

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.
View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Franklin Park Theatre opened on December 8, 1914 in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. Designed by Funk and Wilcox, who also designed the nearby Strand Theatre. The theater was originally operated by Jacob Lourie, who was a movie pioneer in Massachusetts and the original president of New England Theatres Operating Company (NETOC). NETOC was affiliated with Paramount Pictures, and many of the “famous players” performed at the Franklin Park. It cost $250,000 to build the theater, or $6 million when adjusted for inflation.

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