10 Forgotten Movie Theaters on Upper Broadway in NYC

Upper Broadway, which has been called that “ignored stretch of Manhattan,” contains the remains of a number of former movie theaters from the golden age of the silver screen. While none of these buildings are currently utilized as movie theaters, their facades (and a few of their interiors) serve as reminders to their prior uses. Their conditions, both interior and exterior, range from abandoned to restored and are  representative  of many of the city’s old theaters. Walking down Broadway from Washington Heights to the Upper West Side I encountered these theaters some of which were instantly  recognizable  as such by their architecture, while others I only discovered were theaters during the course of writing this article. The  theaters  are arranged  from North to South, beginning with B. S. Moss’ former Coliseum Theatre at 181st Street and Broadway and culminating with the former  RKO 81st Street Theater at 81st Street and Broadway.

1. B.S. Moss Coliseum Theater (181st Street and Broadway)

B. S. Moss’ Coliseum Theatre today
B. S. Moss’ Coliseum Theatre, located at 181st Street and Broadway, opened on  September 24, 1920, to rave reviews and a full house. (The New York Public Library  has an informative article on the theater including a copy of the opening night program, which features an image of the Roman Coliseum on its cover). It was designed by  Eugene De Rosa, who designed a number of Broadway theaters. In addition to Harold  Lloyd, who performed at the theater on opening night, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, and Gertrude Berg all performed there.


B. S. Moss’ Coliseum Theatre

The 3,500 seat theater was the third largest in the city and was built on the site of the  Blue Bell Tavern. The tavern had been in existence since before the Revolutionary War and George Washington spent a night there. According to Reginald Pelham Bolton, remains of the tavern were visible until the construction of the theater. The theater was taken over by RKO  (Radio Keith Orpheum) and renamed the RKO Coliseum Theater. By the  1980s, the theater was subdivided into a triplex and the ornate marquee was taken down. The theater closed and re-opened under new management as a quadplex in 1991. This reincarnation of the theater closed in 2002. In 2004, another theater opened in the space only to close in October 2011.

B. S. Moss’ Coliseum Theatre today

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2 Responses
  1. Gary Zaboly Reply

    When I was a boy I used to go to the Uptown many times, generally with my parents (we lived just three blocks away). I recall seeing many a colorful epic there, from DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS in 1953 to THE BUCCANEER in 1958. I clearly and unequivocally remember it closed around 1960, and by 1961 it had become a Sloan’s Supermarket. Some years later, long after we moved from the neighborhood, it was turned into a Gristedes. The Uptown was a second run theater; that is, movies generally arrived there after first debuting in other neighborhood theaters, such as the RKO Coliseum and the Loews 175th Street. The Uptown was small but always neat and clean.

  2. Fantastic round up on the status of uptown’s old theatres. Great research and photos. I see that the post is from 2012 – that is just before we launched the United Palace of Cultural Arts (UPCA), a new nonprofit arts and cultural center at the United Palace. Part of our mission is to return movies to this glorious movie palace. Beginning in a few weeks we’ll begin our first film festival, “The Women of Fox,” which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Fox Studios with selections starring Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, etc. Check it out at http://unitedpalace.org/film/661-the-women-of-fox-film-festival.

    Hope to see you back at the Palace as we continue to resurrect at least one of these fabulous uptown theatres.

    Sincerely,
    Mike Fitelson,
    UPCA Executive Director

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