Capitol Theatre – New London, CT

Auditorium of the Capitol Theatre in New London, CT

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

George Burns and Gracie Allen are one of the most well-known comedy duos of the 20th century, and legend has it that they met at the Capitol Theatre in New London, CT. This isn’t true, but they were introduced by Allen’s roommate at the time, Rena Arnold, who went on to marry Walter T. Murphy, the owner of the Capitol Theatre. 

Stage, Capitol Theatre New London, CT

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The Capitol Theatre opened on November 21, 1921. Tickets for the opening day celebration went on sale three days earlier, and sold out in just a few hours. According to an article in The New London Day, “In beauty, comfort, equipment, construction, and other ways, it equals, if it does not surpass any theater of its size in the country.” Architect W. H. Lowe designed the interior, which featured a mural of cherubs above the proscenium arch. Like many other theaters of the time, the Capitol had an orchestra pit, and an organ. 

Lobby mezzanine, Capitol Theatre New London, CT

The opening act was Billy Sharpe and the 20th Century Revue.

Murphy sold the theater to the Connecticut Theatres Operating Company in 1942. Ownership and management of the Capitol between the mid-1940s and early-1970s is unclear, but we do know that the Capitol was closed on April 22, 1974 after a visit by the New London building inspector found multiple violations, including an unsafe marquee, eight feet of water in the basement, and a broken toilet in the projection booth. Its closing was made permanent after the projectionists union complained of unsafe working conditions. It was purchased by the City of New London for $55,000 in 1978 so that they could provide fire exits on the adjoining buildings — a tunnel was built under the theater’s stage that connected the buildings on either side of the theater to serve as their fire exit.

The ticket booth pictured here was not original to the theater.

Beyond housing this fire exit, the theater has been unused since 1978. Proposals for revitalizing the building have included a performing arts center, a disco, a mini-mall, a twin-screen theater, a flea market, a visitors center for a maritime heritage park, and a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting hall. Every plan has fallen through — one developer said “Physically, it’s just too big. There just isn’t the population in the area to fill that theater every night.” The City executed some general maintenance on the theater in 1995, including replacing the roof, removing the seats, and cleaning up the interior of the building, but no additional work has been done on the theater space since then. 

The South Eastern New England Theatre Organ Society (SENTOS) purchased the Marr & Colton Organ in 1977 and placed it in storage. The last time it had been played was in 1936.

Maxim Development Group (MDG) purchased the theater in 2006 for $1 in exchange for modest tax breaks, provided that MDG renovate and develop the theater into a live music venue within an agreed upon time frame. Before the deal was executed, local newspaper The Day revealed that the head of the company had defrauded investors of millions, and had been convicted of attempted armed robbery. The City of New London went through with the deal regardless, and within the year the company had broken its agreement with the City. It was seized by the City for non-payment of taxes, and auctioned to two contractors from New York for $20,000, who later sold the property for $68,000 to a local developer.  The theater is currently for sale.

In my opinion the Capitol is worth reusing, but it should become something other than a performing arts center. New London has a movie palace-turned-performing arts center, the Garde Arts Center, located less than a mile from the Capitol. A return to movies in the style of a place like the Nitehawk Cinemas, a New York City movie theater chain that offers food and drinks that can be ordered and consumed while watching a film, might be something that would work. 

Digital Theater Reconstructions

Mark Jabara, an artist from Australia, has been taking some of my theater images and restoring them in Photoshop. The Boyd Theatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s only art deco movie palace, opened on Christmas day in 1928.  It closed in 2002, and the auditorium was demolished in the spring of 2015.

Auditorium of the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia, PA

Digital Restoration of the Boyd with original colors.

The Madison in Peoria, IL was originally designed in the Adamesque style and was remodeled in 1936 in the simpler art deco style to ease the maintenance of the building. Mark restored some of the lost adamesque details near the stage.

Auditorium, Madison Theatre – Peoria, IL

A digital restoration of the madison theater in Peoria IL

Digital Restoration of the Madison Theatre with some original details restored.

The United Artists Theatre in Detroit, Michigan opened on February 3, 1928 and closed in August 1972. It’s one of the most dangerous and deteriorated theaters I’ve ever photographed.

Decaying auditorium of the United Artists Theatre in Detroit

Auditorium, United Artists Theatre – Detroit, MI

Digital Restoration of the United Artists Theatre with original colors.

The Boyd Theatre is featured in my first book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater. The Madison and United Artists are featured in my latest book, After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters. Both are available on my site, Bookshop.org, and bookstores everywhere.

United Artists Theatre – Detroit, MI

An expanded version of this post on the United Artists Theatre in Detroit, MI is in my new book “After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters.” For more information visit: http://www.afterthefinalcurtainbook.com

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

Designed by famed theater architect C. Howard Crane, the United Artists Theatre in Detroit, Michigan opened on February 3, 1928. It cost $5 million ($77.8 million when adjusted for inflation) to build the 2,070-seat theater and 18-story office building. Crane was hired by the founders of United Artist PicturesD.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin — to design the theater based on castles that Pickford and Fairbanks saw while on honeymoon in Spain. The theater’s Spanish Gothic interior was very similar in design to the United Artists Theatre in Los Angeles, California, which was also designed by Crane and had opened a little over a month earlier. An opening day advertisement in the Detroit Free Press called the theater “Old World Luxury combined with New World Comfort.” The feature presentation on opening day was “Sadie Thompson” a silent film starring Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore. Swanson made an “appearance” via phone and spoke to the audience about the film. The United Artists was designed for feature films, though it did feature the occasional live show, and had a house orchestra as well as a Wurlitzer Opus 1824 theater organ.

The fire curtain can be seen in this close up of the proscenium arch.

The theater was closed for modernization in 1950; new projectors, a new screen and a sound system were installed in the auditorium, and a snack bar was installed in the lobby.  In January 1970, the United Artists switched to showing X-rated films. The first X-rated film shown was “Camille 2000”, an Italian movie starring Danièle Gaubert. The format change only lasted around three months and the theater returned to showing regular films on March 25, 1970. The United Artists changed formats a few times before closing on September 14, 1971 after a showing of “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song” starring Melvin Van Peebles. It reopened a few times over the next year — once as the Downtown Theatre —but closed for good in August 1972.

Decorative plasterwork covering one of the organ chambers.

Artifacts from the theater were auctioned off through DuMochelle Galleries on February 15, 1975; auctioned items included the lobby furniture, chandeliers, fountains, seats, and marble statues. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra began to use the theater as a recording studio in April 1978, but was forced to stop in 1983 due to the deterioration of the building. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places that same year. A number of plans, including demolishing the building to build a baseball stadium, were proposed over the years, but none came to fruition.

View of the auditorium from the stage area.

In May 2017, it was announced that the office portion of the building would be turned into 148 residential units with retail on the first floor. The developer intends to demolish the theater because according to Gershman Mortgage, who is providing $34.5 million for the project, a dilapidated theater or a restored one put the financing in jeopardy. Adam Hendin, a vice president at Gershman is quoted as saying “the theater building is dilapidated and not an attractive building to live next to” and “If the theater building gets renovated and becomes operational again, Gershman has concerns that this adjoining commercial, public use would disrupt the residential tenants and therefore make the project less attractive and less marketable as a going concern.”

Much of the first floor, as well as the stairs were covered in a thick layer of ice.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

A close up of some of the decorative plasterwork in the auditorium dome.

If you enjoy After the Final Curtain consider supporting me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain?fan_landing=true There are some exclusive benefits, and you’ll be among the first to listen to my podcast when it launches very soon.

Colonial Theatre – Laconia, NH

The Colonial Theatre in Laconia, NH is one of the 20 theaters featured in my new book “After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters.” For more information visit: http://www.afterthefinalcurtainbook.com

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

Advertised in the Laconia Democrat as “One of the handsomest play-houses to be found in New England and far ahead of anything which the average city of Laconia can boast”, the Colonial Theatre in Laconia, New Hampshire opened in April 1914. It was designed by George. L. Griffin, a local architect, in the Neocolonial style for owner Benjamin Piscopo. Piscopo was from Venice, Italy and commissioned a fire curtain with a mural depicting the city of Venice as seen from the water.

Fire Curtain, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

According to an account in the Laconia Daily Sun, the fire curtain dropped on its own during the renovation. It had been stuck up, and no one wanted to move it out of fear of damaging it.

When the 1,400-seat Colonial opened, it showed a mixture of stage shows, photoplays, and vaudeville. The opera “Il Trovatore” was performed at the theater by the Boston English Opera Company on April 6, 1915. In September 1916, the theater joined Charles H. Waldron’s Amusement Enterprises circuit, and was known as Waldron’s Colonial Theatre. Waldron advertised it as “Playing only First Class Attractions.” Vaudeville and silent film star Willie Collier Jr. performed at the Colonial on February 28, 1918. With the decline of vaudeville in the late 1920s/early 1930s, the theater switched to primarily showing motion pictures.

Ticket Booth, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The theater’s ticket booth.

The world premiere of “Return to Peyton Place”, a film set in a fictional New Hampshire town starring Carol Lynley and Jeff Chandler, was held at the Colonial in 1961. In 1983, the auditorium was multiplexed with the balcony and orchestra sections divided into four separate screens with a fifth screen in the former stage area. Fortunately, much of the original architecture, as well as the fire curtain, were preserved behind the new dividing walls. In August 2002 the Colonial closed after 87 years. It was last used as a combination pizza place and movie theater.

Projection Booth, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

This projection booth was added during the multiplexing in 1983. The door on the left leads to the original projection booth.

On June 15, 2015, the City of Laconia announced they had partnered the Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC) on a $15 million package to purchase, restore and reopen the Colonial Theatre as well as redevelop the retail space and the 14 apartments in the building. BEDC created a limited liability corporation, 609 Main Street, LLC, to run a capital campaign to cover some of the cost of restoring the building. The first part of rehabilitation began in March 2016 when the partitions that divided the auditorium into four screens was removed. When the restoration is complete, the theater will be a multi-use performing arts center with 750 seats, with 450 in the orchestra level and 300 in the balcony.

Orchestra level, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH.

View of the auditorium from the side of the orchestra level.

Lobby, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The lobby of the theater remained the same throughout its various incarnations.

Box Seats, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

View of the auditorium from the boxed seats.

Proscenium arch, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The strip of metal in the center of the mural is from when the balcony was divided in two in 1983.

After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theatres is here!

After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theatres

I received my copies of my new book After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters,  yesterday and it looks amazing! I’ll be shipping out the pre-orders starting today.  Each pre-ordered copy comes with a 5×7 print, ticket from Proctor’s Palace Theatre, and a USB drive with the After the Final Curtain logo courtesy of USB Memory Direct.  Here’s some more information from their website:

USB Memory Direct specializes in custom-printed and custom shape USB flash drives. Being in business for over 15 years, UMD has gained a reputation for being one of the premiere providers of wholesale USB flash drives across the country. With a wide variety of drive styles to choose from, you’ll be sure to find a drive that you can customize to perfectly represent you and your brand. You can also rest assured knowing that they offer a lifetime guarantee on any and all drives you purchase from them. Check them out today and request a quote from one of their friendly and knowledgeable account executives.”

The pre-order package will be available until I run out of tickets, prints and USB drives. You can order a signed copy at my site: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/store/after-the-final-curtain-americas-abandoned-theaters

Or a non-signed copy at:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/33bjLKl

Barnes and Noble: https://tinyurl.com/y3cxxb8j

Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9782361953485

Waterstones: https://tinyurl.com/yym686rf

 

Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace

I’m going to be in a movie! I was interviewed in the lobby of the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, NJ in 2016 for a documentary on the history of the American Movie Palace. I spoke with the director, April Wright, for at least an hour, and some of my ramblings made it into the finished film (and the trailer below.)

I was able to view a rough cut of the film at the Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles during the Theatre Historical Society Conclave in 2017, and really enjoyed it (I’m probably a bit biased.) If you’d like to see the film here’s some upcoming screening dates and locations:

Oct. 4: Mystic Film Festival, The Garde Arts Center in New London, CT
Oct 16 & 18: Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, IN
Oct. 20: Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA
Oct 23 – 27: Lake Placid Film Festival in Lake Placid, NY
Oct. 24: Los Angeles Premiere at Laemmle Fine Arts in Beverly Hills, CA
Oct. 25 – 31: Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, CA
Oct. 28 – 29: Laemmle Claremont in Claremont, CA
Oct 28 – 29: Laemmle Playhouse in Pasadena, CA
Oct 28-29: Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles, CA
Oct 28-29: Laemmle Town Center in Encino, CA
Nov 8-10: Centre Film Festival in Philipsburg, PA

I’ll be appearing at the Somerville, Lake Placid Film Festival, and the Centre Film Festival to promote the film. Some of my work will be exhibited, and depending on the location there will be a short talk/ Q&A.

Here’s the synopsis for the film:

“Other countries built palaces for royalty, in the United States we built them to watch movies.

The 100 year history of how the American movie experience evolved so quickly from nickelodeons to the studio system and huge movie palaces of the teens and twenties and their eventual decline through present day including current preservation efforts.

What started as individual entertainment in penny arcades moved to a shared experience in nickelodeons.  Next, when movies evolved from a lower class entertainment to mainstream, large movie palaces were built and the studio system grew in the teens and twenties.  All of the grand movie palaces were built in a very compressed period of time between approximately 1915 with many converting from Vaudeville, through the early 30s. The addition of sound spawned the golden age of cinema in the 30’s in these architecturally gorgeous theaters in metropolitan areas which thrived as an escape from the great depression.

After World War II, television became popular and single screen theaters followed on main streets everywhere as a result of suburban sprawl and the baby boom.  This led to a sharp decline in the downtowns of American cities. The classic theatres were too large and expensive to maintain.  By the 70’s they tried to survive with exploitation films and alternative programming.  Often these palaces were split or multiplexed.  But more often, they closed, and were allowed to decay. In a country that is synonymous with the film industry, we have allowed our history to be lost as we’ve demolished many of our country’s palaces.

But many individuals have worked tirelessly to preserve, restore and maintain this piece of history so it can be enjoyed by future generations.  However, many still stand in the balance, waiting for the funds to bring these landmarks back to life. “

https://www.goingattractions.com

Queens Theatre – Queens Village, NY

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Queens Theatre opened on December 29, 1927 opened in the Queens Village neighborhood of Queens, NY. It was designed by architect R. Thomas Short, who also designed the nearby Prospect Theatre in Flushing, for the Century Theatre Circuit. Morris Rosenthal, who managed the Majestic Theatre in Bridgeport, CT, was brought on as the theater’s manager. The 2,500 seat theater opened with a performance by The Happiness Boys, a popular radio act, and for the first year showed a combination of vaudeville and silent pictures. 

View of the auditorium ceiling from the stage.

In January 1929 Vitaphone, an early form of talking movies, was installed. The switch from vaudeville and silent films did not go over well with the regular patrons, and they threatened to go to another theater. Rosenthal, the manager of the Queens, got a permit to hang a banner in front of the theater that said “Sound Talkies – See and hear!” along with a catchy phrase about the upcoming film to help drive traffic into the theater. On September 13, 1938 projectionist Solomon Schulman killed Nat Klein in the Queen’s projection booth during a screening of “The Devil’s Party.” Klein was a former projectionist’s assistant. Schulman claimed that Klein failed to get a job at a different theater, blamed Schulman, and attacked him with a fire extinguisher. Schulman was convicted of second degree manslaughter and sentenced to 5-10 years at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, NY.

The main floor of the lobby was almost completely gutted during the late 2000s.

The Queens closed on March 1, 1974 after a showing of “Last Tango in Paris” starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. According to Joseph Wickman of Century Theatres, the Queens had been losing money for years, and only filled 150 of the 2000 seats during the final showing.  Later that year, Louis Diaz reopened the theater as an independent house. He started showing first run films, then switched to Spanish language films, then Spanish language XXX films, and by 1976 English language XXX films. A Queens based group called the “Coalition for Decency” began to picket the theater, and eventually sat down with Diaz and asked him to stop showing XXX films. He declined, but did stop putting up posters for films outside the theater. In July 1976 Diaz was charged with promoting obscenity for showing the pornographic films “The Taking of Christina” and “Little Sisters.” He plead guilty and was fined $1,500. He was charged again the following year, and this time the films and the projector’s lenses were seized. The case was eventually dismissed, and the theater continued showing XXX films until it closed February 1989. 

The interior of the theater was very similar to the now demolished Prospect Theatre in Flushing, NY.

In July 1990, the Queens was renovated and reopened as a performing arts center. Marty Oser, who was behind the renovation, hoped that the lack of venues between Manhattan and Long Island would give the Queens a chance. Kool and the Gang, The Marshall Tucker Band, David Brenner, Waylon Jennings, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Ace Frehley, and Jerry Lee Lewis all performed at the theater during this time. However, it wasn’t very successful and it closed again in late December 1990.

A 3 manual 11 rank Opus 1569 Austin Theatre Organ was installed in the theater when it opened. It was later moved to Chaminade High School in Mineola, NY.

On October 2, 1993, the New York Deliverance Gospel Temple began holding services at the theater before purchasing it in January 1995. They sold it to the All Nations Apostolic Tabernacle (ANAT) in September 2006. ANAT closed the building and began to renovate it into a 2,500 seat second location for their rapidly growing congregation . They completed work on the building’s facade, but the interior work stalled out. Despite a few attempts to complete construction, the building was put on the market in early 2019. 

 

Photo Workshops 2019 Part 2

Photograph of the Strand Theatre Auditorium in Boston, MA

View from the balcony, Strand Theatre – Boston, MA

I’ll be hosting my first Photo workshop at an active theater on August 17, 2019 at the Strand Theatre in Boston, MA. The Strand originally opened on November 11, 1918, and is currently used as a performing arts center.  For more information and to sign up visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/strand-theatre-workshop-boston-ma

Auditorium, Orpheum Theatre – New Bedford, MA

Next is a return to the Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford, MA on September 7, 2019. This is one of my favorite locations to shoot and attendees will be able to photograph the auditorium, ballroom and shooting range.

http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/orpheum-theatre-workshop

Auditorium, Everett Square Theatre – Boston, MA.

Then on September 21, 2019 a return to the Everett Square Theatre in Boston, MA. The Everett opened in 1915 in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It was designed by Boston architect Harry M. Ramsay for the Littlefield Trust, the original owner of the theater. It’s a great workshop for beginners. To sign up visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/everett-square-theatre-workshop

Auditorium, Imperial Theatre – Cincinnati, Ohio

The final workshop for 2019 (don’t hold me to that, I have a few others in the works) will be at the Imperial Theatre in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 19, 2019. The Imperial is a 700 seat theater that opened in 1913. it closed in the 70s and was used as a mattress store for until the late 2000s. The current owner is looking to restore and reopen it. To sign up visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/imperialtheatreworkshop

State Theatre – South Bend, Indiana

Auditorium, State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

The seats were removed from the auditorium when it was converted into a nightclub.

Billed in early newspaper advertisements as “The Pride of South Bend,” the 2,500 seat State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana opened on January 29, 1921 as the Blackstone Theatre. Construction lasted for 16 months and cost $500,000 ($6.7 million when adjusted for inflation). Henry L. Newhouse — an architect known for many theaters in the Chicago area — designed the building with a neoclassical exterior and a beaux-arts interior. Unlike many other theaters built during this time, the State did not have one traditional balcony; instead, it had tiered seating in the rear of the auditorium, and two small balconies on either side, beginning at the organ chamber and ending over the third tier seating section. Designed for silent motion pictures and vaudeville shows, the opening day feature was the silent film “Once to Every Woman,” starring Dorothy Phillips and a then-unknown Rudolph Valentino.

Auditorium as seen from the stage of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The Blackstone began to fall behind the times after the Colfax and Granda Theatres opened in 1927 and 1928, which both offered talking pictures. Rather than also show talking pictures and compete with the new theaters, the Blackstone Theatre stopped showing films and changed to burlesque. This was likely due to the cost of purchasing and installing the equipment required to show talking pictures. However, the City Government didn’t approve of burlesque shows, and Chester P. Montgomery, the Mayor of South Bend at the time, ordered the theater closed in early October 1929. It was taken over by the Publix (Paramount) chain who repainted the interior, reupholstered the seats, and reopened it on Christmas Day 1929 as the State Theatre. 

Exterior of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

The exterior of the State was designed in the neoclassical architecture style. A shootout between the police and John Dillinger in 1934 allegedly left bullet holes on the theater’s marquee and terra cotta facade.

Like many other theaters, the State was used for a range of events other than showing films including; school graduations, closed circuit telecasts and beauty pageants. The State closed again on November 3, 1977 due to declining attendance. In 1980, a crew from the Victorian Supply Company of Little Rock, Arkansas removed the 17-panel stained glass dome from the auditorium. The stained glass was taken back to Arkansas and refurbished for a prospective buyer — a restaurant owner from Dallas, Texas.

Auditorium as seen from one of the small balconies.

View of the auditorium from one of the small balconies.

The building passed through a number of owners in the 1980s and 1990s before it was purchased for $20,000 by the Watseka Theatre Corp. Watseka made $500,000 in repairs to the building, and reopened it as a second run movie theater on March 25, 1993. However, it couldn’t compete with local multiplexes and in October 1996, it changed formats and became a live music venue and nightclub. It closed again in 2005. The State was purchased by Banko Capitol, a real estate investment firm, and reopened as a performing arts center and cultural center in the Spring of 2013. After operating infrequently it closed again in September 2016 after the theater was sold at a county auction due to unpaid taxes. A grassroots organization called “Save the State Theatre SB” was formed by an Indiana University South Bend student in early 2019 to try and raise the funds to purchase and reopen the theater.

The Projection room of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

The projection room is full of equipment that was likely installed during the theaters stint as a second run movie theater in the 1990s. The film on the platform was 1997’s Starship Troopers.

The lobby of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

Like many large theaters of the era, the State had its own orchestra, the 17-piece Blackstone Symphony Orchestra, which was led by 21-year-old Angelo Vitale, one of the youngest band leaders in America at the time.

Organ Chamber in the auditorium of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

The organ chamber, which once held pipes for the theater’s Kimball organ, is now filled with a large speaker.

Loew’s Kings Theatre Part 3 – The Queen of the Kings

 

The exterior of the Loew’s Kings in the 1960s.

Several people served as managers of the Kings since it opened in 1929. The first was Edward Douglas who managed the theater until 1943. Clyde Fuller, who managed from 1943 to 1957, followed Douglas before moving to the Loew’s State in Manhattan. Daniel Cohen, who worked at the Kings from 1957 to October 1961 and left to take a job in the publicity department of the Loew’s corporate office, replaced Fuller. Joe Beck was transferred from the Loew’s Gates Theatre to replace Cohen. During his tenure as manager, Beck arranged for a local ice cream parlor to provide coffee and doughnuts to patrons waiting in line to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s on opening day. Beck managed the Kings for a little over a year before being transferred to the Loew’s Tower East in Manhattan’s Upper East Side in March 1962.

Dorothy Solomon Panzica sitting on the organ console at the Kings Theatre.

However, none of these managers were quite as unique as Dorothy (Solomon) Panzica. Born near Boston and raised in Brooklyn, Panzica began her theater career as an usherette at the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre in Brooklyn. By 1942, she had been promoted to manager. She had managed six other Loew’s theaters (the Kameo, 46th Street, Brevoort, Palace, Commodore, and Oriental) before being transferred to the Kings in March of 1962. When she found out she was going to the Kings, Panzica reached out to Nick’s Moving Company, one of the tenants at the Loew’s Oriental. She wanted to make the move a larger than life event and she convinced Nick to provide a moving van for an impromptu parade from the Oriental to the Kings. Panzica had a banner made that read “The Fun is moving to the Loew’s Kings” and had it hung from the moving van. She filled the van with empty trunks that were decorated to look like movie tickets and concession treats, and began the four-mile drive from the Oriental to the Kings. Local school bands marched at both theaters, each playing a synchronized salute to American composer George M. Cohan.



Panzica had a rather unorthodox way of promoting movies, and that lead to her becoming known as the “Lady Showman of Flatbush Avenue.” For example, if she didn’t like the film that was playing she’d put, “One of the WORST movies we’ve shown” on the marquee, and that caused people to show up to see just how bad the film could be. Another time, people were not coming to see a movie that was playing so she instructed the ticket taker to start selling tickets and making change very slowly. Before long, a line started to form and more people would join it thinking that the movie was one worth waiting for. Panzica also rented out the theater for other functions, such as school graduations and group meetings. She brought in so much extra money through the rentals that she often won contests held by Loew’s.

Panzica heard that Governor Nelson Rockefeller was going to make an appearance at the opening of the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge on June 28, 1969 so she sent four ushers to the bridge with signs promoting Mackenna’s Gold, which was scheduled to open at the Kings the following month.

Loew’s opened a modern twin theater in the Georgetown neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1968. The Georgetown Twin, as it was called, had one thing the Kings lacked – a large parking lot. Patrons flocked to the new theater, and eventually the Kings started showing films 20 minutes after they started at the Georgetown so they could get the overflow from the sold out showings.

Blueprints for the proposed division of the Kings Theatre auditorium by the John J. McNamara Architectural firm. McNamara was an associate of famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb.

In early 1969, Loew’s hired John J. McNamara, an associate of well-known theater architect Thomas W. Lamb, to convert the Kings from a single screen theater to a triplex. The plans called for the orchestra level to be divided into two screens with a third screen in the balcony. The balcony floor would have extended to the proscenium, and much of the ornamental plaster, including the columns would have been removed. Since the balcony of the theater is very short, the cost of extending it and dividing the orchestra would have been excessive. Dorothy Panzica paid a visit to Loew’s Corporate Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan as soon as she heard about these plans and convinced them to preserve the theater as a single screen.

The Kings 40th anniversary cake was donated by Ebinger’s, a Brooklyn bakery known for the “Brooklyn Blackout” Cake

1969 was also the 40th anniversary year of the Kings, and Dorothy Panzica made sure there was a huge celebration. Together with the Flatbush Merchants Association, the theater celebrated the occasion with a month of contests and prizes culminating in a gala event at the theater on October 3, 1969. The Purple Wood, a band that has since faded into obscurity, entertained crowds in front of the theater. Eventually the crowds grew so large that police had to cordon them off from the arriving guests. Ebinger’s, a local Brooklyn bakery, baked a special cake that read “Congratulations Loew’s Kings 40th Anniversary – Donated by Ebinger’s” just for the occasion. Among the people attending the event were: Brooklyn Borough President Abe Stark, Jack Rosenberg (president of the Flatbush Merchants Association), Bernard Diamond (VP of Loews Theatres), Harold Graff (Loews Division Manager), and Daniel Cohen (Loews Eastern General Manager and former manager of the Kings).

Panzica’s promotion for The Way We Were was inspired by an article in Flatbush Life titled “Filthy Flatbush Avenue.”

Flatbush experienced a shift in demographics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of the Italian, Irish, and Jewish families that once made up the neighborhood moved to the suburbs, and businesses began to follow. In early November 1973, Panzica picked up the theater’s copy of Flatbush Life and saw the front-page article titled “Filthy Flatbush Avenue.” She was outraged and immediately set up a meeting with a number of local merchants, who, like Panzica, were angry at the article because it would drive customers away. The group brainstormed a number of ideas before deciding that they should organize a neighborhood cleanup. Panzica, ever the show-woman, used the cleanup to promote an upcoming film – The Way We Were starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. She had signs made that said, “Flatbush is beautiful. We are polishing up ‘The Way We Are’ for ‘The Way We Were.’ See Streisand and Redford Together at the Loew’s Kings starting Wed Nov. 14th.” Ushers and volunteers carried those signs as they swept and picked up trash along Flatbush Avenue. Panzica was awarded first prize in the Columbia Pictures The Way We Were showmanship contest for her efforts in promoting the film.

Employees of the Kings Theatre cleaning up Flatbush Avenue.


In January 1974, the “Mighty Morton” organ was played for the last time at the Kings by Lee Erwin for an audience of around 200. The 3,000-pipe organ had been largely unused, only being played during graduation ceremonies and special events. The Loews Corporation donated the organ to New York University, as the Tisch Brothers, who owned a controlling interest in Loews, were alumni of the school. Panzica said, “I’ll miss the beautiful old thing. I’m sad, but in a happy sort of way.”

Panzica shutting the power to the marquee and upright sign on her last day at the Kings Theatre in 1975.

Panzica announced her retirement in September 1975. She was so beloved that the week of her retirement the Loew Down, Loew’s weekly newsletter, was entirely devoted to her career. Martin Brunner, who previously managed the Loew’s Gates in Brooklyn, replaced Panzica as manager. Brunner was used to programming for a different demographic and began bringing in a lot of kung fu and “B” films to show at the Kings. According to Paul Lepelletier, Brunner did not promote the films like Panzica and also failed to bring in outside groups to rent out the theater. Attendance began to decline and, at the same time, the cost of keeping the theater open was going up. Rumors began to circulate that Loews was going to sell the Kings.

Dorothy Solomon Panzica looking at photographs of the restored Kings Theatre in her nursing home shortly before the theater reopened.

 

Material from for this post was taken from the first three chapters of my book, Kings Theatre; The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theater.  If you’d like to buy a copy they are available on Amazon, and on my website.

Historic photographs and blueprints are from the archival collections of the Theatre Historical Society of America, and the Goodman family.