Posts Tagged ‘Loews Delancey Street Theater Lower East SIde’

This empty shell on Delancey Street was once a movie palace

September 19, 2022

It’s a forbidding warehouse of a building, with its ground floor carved up decades ago into unattractive (and since the pandemic, often empty) commercial outlets.

But a closer look at this mystery space on the corner of Delancey and Suffolk Streets offers clues about what it used to be in its glory days: the few strangely spaced windows (now filled with concrete), the Art Deco-style ribbon of ornamentation near the roofline that hints at something imaginative and exciting.

The grim fortress at 140-146 Delancey Street is the remains of Loew’s Delancey Street Theater—a vaudeville theater and then movie house opened in 1912 that was “a cornerstone of life on New York’s Lower East Side,” according to Cinema Treasures, a website that tracks defunct theaters across the U.S.

The Loew’s Delancey in 1936

The Loew’s Delancey, with about 1,700 seats, occupied the block with another legendary business: Ratner’s Dairy Restaurant, per Cinema Treasures. It was one of over 40 Loews theaters in the New York area at the time, states the 2007 book Jews and American Popular Culture.

In its earliest days, the theater reportedly booked vaudeville acts and showed short films between them; a 1929 Brooklyn Eagle article notes an act that took first prize on amateur night. But by the 1930s, the Delancey was exclusively a movie house, as images of the the old-school marquee attests (My American Wife!).

Another view of that magical sign and marquee, 1939-1941

The end of the Delancey echos the end of so many popular, thriving businesses on the Lower East Side after the first half of the 20th century—with a mass exodus of people to the suburbs following World War II, then the decline of the surrounding neighborhood, explains Cinema Treasures.

By 1977, the theater was closed. Though a sign on the facade says that “corner stores and upper floors” are available for rent, the space remains empty—the interior likely gutted of any old movie house magic.

The end of the Delancey, 1978

A new theater has opened across Delancey called the Regal Essex Crossing. Too bad it lacks the enchantment of the former Delancey, with its three-story vertical sign and blazing marquee inviting the public inside to watch a “picture,” as they called it, that you could only see on the big screen.

[Second image: NYPL; third image: NYC Department of Records & Information Services; Edmund Vincent Gillon/MCNY, 2013.3.2.2183]