9. Melrose Theatre

The Melrose on East 161st Street was originally a movie theater with a roof garden and was later converted into a ballroom. More recently it has housed a day care center, though it appears to be unoccupied now.

For a 1920s theater, its facade is not unusually elaborate, but it does feature two enigmatic panels. They show two griffin-like creatures grasping a chalice. The date “Mar. 19, 1921” is printed across the bottom. It seems like a cryptic clue out of Dan Brown novel.

What does this mean? There is no definitive explanation available and since Robert Langdon is a fictional character, the best we can offer is an educated guess.

Plans for this theater were first announced in 1916. But construction stalled in 1917 and the site was sold. With the United States’ entry into World War I that year, most construction projects were put on hold. Even after the war ended in November 1918, construction costs remained high. The Melrose Theatre was not completed until 1921.

Given the long delay, perhaps these panels were placed as a way of celebrating the building’s completion. In art and medieval lore griffins were symbols of strength and vigilance. Sticking with the medieval theme, the chalice could be the holy grail. So, in this interpretation, the griffins represents the builders who achieved the holy grail of project completion. A movie theater is a fitting place for a story with such a heroic ending.