The recent demolition of Sunshine Cinema on the Lower East Side has a particular sadness to it. It’s no secret that small movie theaters are struggling, especially without a creative new offering like Nitehawk Cinema or Alamo Drafthouse. Still, the closure or potential closure of many theaters recently has hit a nerve for New Yorkers, who are seeing the loss of many locations that have been formative in not only their exposure to art house and independent film, but also pivotal for the film industry. Some of these places inspired and were frequented by notable New York City directors, like Martin Scorsese and Susan Sontag. Some of these theaters frequently launched movies that went on to become Academy Award winners, offering a chance for foreign or little known films to make it to the New York City stage.
Read on to see some of the theaters that have recently closed or at risk of closing:
1. Sunshine Cinema
From the book New York Nights
A month ago, Bowery Boogie reported on the on-going demolition of the former Sunshine Cinema, at 141 Houston Street between Forsyth and Eldridge streets, next to Lower East Side institution, Yonah Schimmel’s Knish. Yesterday, Curbed NY reported that the building was completely gone.
The loss is particularly poignant for New Yorkers because the Sunshine Cinema was a great story about adaptive reuse, surviving for 175 years “first as a church, then as an athletic club, and later as a nickelodeon that drew hundreds of attendees a day to its Yiddish vaudeville performances,” reports The New York Times. Its architecture reflected that mish-mosh history, with two symmetrical church towers, a central arched span punctuated by windows, and theater marquee with neon sign. The building began as a Dutch Reformed Church in 1844. Its last chapter as a movie theater began only in 2001, operated by Landmark Theaters and showing independent and art-house films. It closed in 2018.
Site of the former Sunshine Theater
It’s possible the neon sign may reappear in the new development that’s about to be constructed — a 9-story glass-facade office building — but it’s not much consolation to long time Lower East Siders and film buffs.