Interior shot of the Albee. Image via nycago.org.
Located along Dekalb Avenue, an area that once had a theater presence comparable to Times Square, the Beaux-Arts Albee Theater opened in 1925. It was established by Edward Albee and Benjamin Franklin Keith, who both sought to promote a more highbrow form of vaudeville. Along with the Metropolitan and Paramount Theaters, The Albee was a part of the Subway Circuit–a group of theaters easily accessible by subway, which played shows passing out from Broadway. In the first years after its opening, the Albee exclusively played vaudeville, but the program was eventually dropped around 1935, when the Depression forced it to discontinue the tradition.
The lobby of Albee Theater, which was ornately decorated. The theater also contained the world’s largest rug, a 40 x 70 ft Czech Maffersdorf piece. Image via nycago.org.
From then until its closure, it played mainly RKO and 20th Century-Fox films. But with the decline of downtown Brooklyn’s shopping district, the Albee Theater was demolished in 1978 to make way for the Albee Square Mall in an attempt to revitalize the area. The mall was itself demolished in 2008 for the construction of the City Point highrise.
The Albee Theater around 1974, when they were playing “The Education of Sonny Carson.” Image via Frank Tilelli and William Gabel.
Theaters all over the city met the same fate as the Albee: Flatbush Theater is now a carpet store, Oceana is now a Russian nightclub, and the abandoned RKO Hamilton Theater has been used for multiple other purposes. Other areas in downtown Brooklyn, such as Duffield Street, were once hotspots for the abolitionist movement and housed several underground railroad stops. Despite their historical significance, however, only one of them is being converted into a museum while the rest have unfortunately been demolished. While the Atlantic Yards project is transforming Brooklyn into a trendy shopping destination, the commercialization of local neighborhoods and places of cultural significance points to the ambivalence surrounding the issue of redevelopment— the most prominent example currently being the demolition of 5 Pointz.