The Bronx, which had over 100 theaters showing movies and live entertainment in the years before World War II, now has only two multiplexes. Both were built in recent years and are sorely lacking in the architectural character that typified the earlier venues. However, many of those older theaters are not gone, but instead are being reused for other purposes, with varying degrees of preservation of original details.
We’ve rounded up eleven of these old theaters from across the borough, to look at their history and current condition. These old theaters include a historic landmark that was one of the five celebrated “Wonder Theatres.” There’s a theater whose namesake was arrested for staging an “improper” performance that put a spotlight on sexual exploitation of young women. There’s also a building with mysterious panels on its facade that may provide a hint of its past. Individually and collectively they provide a tangible link to a past filled with fascinating history.
Loew’s Fairmount Theatre: Then and Now
These former theaters have long outlasted vaudeville, silent films, and the era of grand movie palaces. Their survival is a testament to the resiliency and reinvention that is characterizing the Bronx of today. The movies no longer run at these theaters, but they still provide interesting stories.
And, with that intro, on with the show.
1. Loew’s Paradise
Loew’s Paradise, undated (likely 1929-1931). Via Cinema Treasures public domain
The Loew’s Paradise, located on the Grand Concourse at East 188th Street, is widely considered the grand dame of the Bronx’s former movie theaters. Long before the multiplex era, this single screen auditorium had over 3,800 seats, making it one of the largest in the city. It was one of the five famed “Wonder Theatres” developed by the Loew’s move chain in the late 1920s as movie palaces with highly elaborate details inside and out.
Loew’s Paradise, undated. Via Cinema Treasures public domain
The Loews Paradise was designed by John Eberson, who was the originator and leading architect of this style of “atmospheric theater.” Eberson designed theaters throughout the country and as far away as Australia.
Today known as the Paradise Theater, it is now home to World Changers Church. It is designated as both an exterior and interior New York City Landmark.
Paradise Theater Today. Photo by Larry Lederman via NYSID