The sad decline of an Art Deco movie theater

Metrotwinmidtown1933nyplIt started out in 1933 with great promise in the cinema-crazed Depression.

The auspiciously named Midtown was a gem of a movie house on Broadway and 99th Street that played first-run films (Ann Harding! William Powell!)

By the 1950s and 1960s, it had switched to foreign movies, showing European flicks like Belle de Jour, Breathless, Repulsion, and other non-mainstream fare.

Fast forward to the 1970s. The neighborhood was still rebounding after decades of decline, and the Metro took on second-run films, then porn flicks, according to Cinema Treasures.

Metrotheaternyarchimges

After a resurgence as an art house venue in the 1980s (and a name change to the Metro), it served as a first-run theater in the 1990s, only to shut its doors in 2004.

MetrotheateremblemSince then, it’s been abandoned, a shuttered eyesore in a neighborhood of higher-end development.

Over the years, new tenants were announced—including retail outlets and a movie theater chain that serves beer—yet never moved in.

Metrotheater2014At least the unique facade, with its Art Deco emblem representing comedy and tragedy amid two female figures, scored landmark status back in 1989.

A piece of another era, the theater haunts the upper Upper West Side, a reminder of something lovely that entertained the community.

A word about the theater’s original name, the Midtown: I suppose the owners thought that this corner at 99th Street and Broadway would soon be the city’s new midtown?

[Photos: top, New York Public Library Digital Collection; second: New York Architectural Images]

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9 Responses to “The sad decline of an Art Deco movie theater”

  1. me Says:

    didn’t even realize it was still intact, more or less. Couldn’t a store move in and preserve the front? It would be a good name for a store, anyway.

  2. mid-c Frank Says:

    The interior was gutted when they built that hideous tower next door — in theory to make the space more marketable. Stupid, because it was in pretty good shape and featured some wonderful art deco details.

    • Neighbor Says:

      While I hate Ariel also, the interior was gutted many years before that building was built (using the Metro’s air rights) and actually operated as a twin movie theater for many years before being shut down almost nine years ago.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    What a shame. I wonder why they couldn’t get a tenant in there to preserve it, like a Symphony Space.

  4. Neighbor Says:

    I believe Midtown refers to the fact that it is almost exactly the mid-point of the island — 13 miles either direction.

  5. meechybee Says:

    I want a Trader Joe here so badly…

  6. UWSter Says:

    Love that emblem.

  7. Tom Rinaldi Says:

    A little history on that marquee, here:

    http://www.nyneon.blogspot.com/2014/05/luminous-advertising-sketches.html

  8. Eric Says:

    This was planned to be one of three new Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters in New York City, but they scrapped the plans last fall :(

    http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/01/alamo-drafthouse-scraps-plan-for-upper-west-side-movie-theater

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