There once was time when movie theaters ruled the entertainment business. Lines formed around street corners for a chance to be inside these palaces with enormous marquees and art deco designs looking to see starts of the silver screen. But as the glamour of the movie business began to shift to other forms of entertainment and televisions began to garner audiences similar to those for movies the business slowly began to decline. Home video was the next wave of entertainment to remove a level of grace to the movie theaters, and with the computer and the option of streaming films the movie theater has become nearly obsolete.
With this recent decline in film exhibition I started wondering about the simpler times when going to see a movie was a once a weekly affair for the country. I attend the cinema on a bi-monthly basis, but the theaters I go to have multiple screens and the exterior ornamentation is minimal. It got me wondering about how the multiplex replaced the palace, and what was once a single screen sculpture became an interior conscious multifaceted labyrinth. The majority of these palaces were demolished as the industry declined, but some are still are standing while operating under a new guise, and a few have retained their roots as a movie theater. What if they were all still in operation and competing with multi-screen theaters throughout the country? How would their placement and design affect their competition?
I propose to document the history of movie theaters in New York by creating a map of the city with every theater that was ever in operation. Starting with the Union Square area by researching both existing and extinct movie theaters I will incorporate the years of operation, photos, text about the theater size/screen size, changes a theater made which affected how others operate, background information on the company name attached to a theater, and anything else that surfaces which could be relevant to this project. Upon completion of the Union Square mapping I will expand from the same sources and begin plotting the major theaters past and present throughout Manhattan, again incorporating information about the theater. Depending on the photographs available I may incorporate my own to help with the documentation as well as include a present day photograph to contrast where a movie theater once stood.
To gather this information I plan to research databases, libraries, and archives for relevant photographs or text about current and former movie theaters. Newspaper and magazine databases will have a lot of historic information relevant to this project, and visiting New York City’s Department of Records for proposals of movie theaters could prove fruitful as well. I have looked up a number of books documenting the history of movie theaters and will be tracking them down over the course of this project. Archives are another possible source of information, but this will remain as plan B for the time being as the actual research is still underway and time allotment for the project is running thin. There is also a wealth of information on the internet regarding this subject, but this will be more for reference than for documentation purposes. Information on the internet will primarily function as a connection to the theaters and companies behind the theaters. This is the profile the theater wants to represent itself with and what is says, or omits, speaks well beyond the information presented. This will act as a starting point for the project, expanding from the information given to explore what is not available.
Ideally this project will show how theater proximity reflects its success or demise. Pinpointing the old against the new will show how these locations were essential for the success of film exhibition over the years in New York and they will be documented with photographs and text that place each theater in its correct historical timeframe.
Alleman, Richard. New York: The Movie Lovers Guide: The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie New York. New York: Broadway Books, 2005.
Fuller, Katheryn. At the Picture Show: Small own Audiences and the Creation of Movie Fan History.
Gomery, Douglas. Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States.
Margolies, J., Gwathmey, E. Ticket to Paradise: American Movie Theaters and How We Had Fun.
Melnick, R., Fuchs, A. Cinema Treasures: A New Look at Classical Theaters. St. Paul, MN: MBL, 2004.
Morrison, Craig. Theaters. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006.
Naylor, David. American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy.
Naylor, David. Great American Movie Theaters.
Valentine, Maggie. The Show Starts on the Sidewalk: An Architectural History of the Movie Theater. Yale UP, 1994.
Walter, Geroge. Movie Going in America: A Sourcebook in the History of Film Exhibition. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002.
Theater Websites to star with around Union Square
Other relevant websites