The 1920s Movie Theater Hidden In A Rite Aid

Don’t let the squat little Rite Aid storefront on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint fool you…

002

It has a big history. A movie theater for most of its life, you can see it below in 1928 when it was known as the Fox Meserole showing silent films (the advertised Baby Mine was made in 1928 – more info here).


Picture courtesy BrooklynPix.com – Check out their site
for hundreds of amazing Brooklyn pictures

Later, the Meserole was purchased by Randforce/United Artists and showed first run movies, competing with the nearby RKO Greenpoint (long gone, sadly). Below, a picture from the 1960’s:


Picture courtesy BrooklynPix.com – Check out their site
for hundreds of amazing Brooklyn pictures

Though it looks small from the front, the theater was actually quite large, accommodating 2,000 people on ground level and balcony seating. Here, a bird’s eye view from above shows its full size – the main entrance is beside the white truck in the upper right corner, which leads to the theater building on Lorimer.

003 - map

The theater was named after the Meserole family, who were among the first settlers in the area. In fact, the original farmhouse may have been torn down to accommodate the theater, which is built on former Meserole land – Forgotten-NY speculates that this may explain the inclusion of cattle skulls in the exterior design work.

skulls

Originally known as the Garden Theater, it became the Fox Meserole in the 1920’s showing silent films, and later talkies. It continued as a theater owned by United Artists into the 1970’s, ultimately closing down in the early ’80’s. The space was then converted into a roller rink known as Laces for the first half of the ’80’s, and later a Liquidator’s Arena (a huge 99-cent shop).

It’s been an Eckard Drug for the entire time I’ve known it, only recently being converted into a Rite-Aid. Incredibly, despite all the renovations, much of the old theater still remains. In fact, this could be the weirdest and frankly most amazing Rite Aid you ever visit.

As you come in the doors, you pass through what would have been the original lobby.

003

After a short distance (where I imagine the ticket booth would have been located), the floor begins to slant downward for about 20 feet as you descend into the theater.

004

Here, where the floor levels out, is where you would have passed into the theater.

005

And incredibly, rather than raising the floor to one level, the entire main floor of the Rite-Aid exists on the footprint of the old theater – meaning you have to walk down the original theater ramps to get to the merchandise! Awesome!

007

As you’re walking down the ramp, you’ll immediately notice the tremendous black ceiling, featuring a huge white dome in the center.

008

The dome still has a ton of great detailing left on it…

009

…with the disco ball from its years as a Roller Rink still hanging! At least 25 years old, could this be the oldest disco ball in Greenpoint?

010

The movie screen was originally situated on this wall – you can see arches which probably once featured a ton of sick detailing, big red curtains, and who knows what else.

011

I’ve always wondered if the two side arches originally housed box seats:

012

Turn to face the opposite direction, and you’ll see the balcony seating area, still in place but obstructed by a black wall. The manager told me the balcony is now used for storage space, and that it has been completely gutted (nope, she wouldn’t let me take a look, sadly).

013

Detail work still exists along the perimeter. It amazes me that this hasn’t been painted to accentuate its beauty. Seriously, would you NOT want to shop in a store that proudly identifies itself as a former movie theater?

014

Head up the far aisle to the rear of the theater…

015

And you’ll find yourself in the current pharmacy department/upper-level rear of the theater. A concession stand once stood to the left.

017

This door takes you up to the balcony level (note that even here the ceiling has detailing):

016

Another small dome over the pharmacy…

018

With additional detailing on either side:

019

And more as you head out.

020

I challenge you to find a more interesting Rite Aid.

Neighborhoods in New York seem to have all gone through the same basic phase: a golden age of building and craftsmanship, a degradation in standards, decline, severe neglect, neighborhood rejuvenations, and finally appreciation of what has somehow managed to survive.

I don’t know Greenpoint’s history all that well, so I can’t say how it fits in to this cycle. However, I can say that Manhattan Ave is one of the more enjoyable and yet depressing thoroughfares in Brooklyn to me. At the same time lined from end to end with insanely beautiful buildings, the amount of ground-level gutting, aluminum-siding, thoughtless additions, and lack of care has reduced so many of them to shells of their former glory.

023

Call it gentrification or whatever you want, but it seems like people are starting to care again, and I’m really hoping we see buildings of the past get a facelift. Don’t be the Rite Aid that tries to be as generic as every other Rite Aid out there – be the Rite Aid that is proudly located in a freakin’ movie theater that dates back to the silent era of films; hell, to a time when there were farms all over the area. People LOVE this sort of history, because you can’t recreate or fake it. It’s why people pay big bucks to live in Soho, the meatpacking district, Tribeca, and every other historical neighborhood in Manhattan.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what has survived despite all the opposition against it – but why not show it off a bit?

-SCOUT

PS – Huge thanks to Brooklynpix.com for allowing me to post the above pictures. If you’ve never visited, check it out now – their pictures of Brooklyn spanning over a century are incredible, and you’re sure to find something in your neighborhood.

PPS – I’m also really appreciative of CinemaTreasures.com, a site dedicated to preserving the memory of current and defunct theaters. Each page is a permanent message board of history and memories, and it is from numerous postings there that I was able to put together the Meserole’s history – check out its specific page for a lot of great reminisces.

PPPS – Finally, a great article on the Meserole from the Brooklyn Standard Union published June 5, 1928:

“Because she thought her cousin was being impersonated in the leading role of a western motion picture shown at the Meserole Theater, between Norman and Meserole ave., Mrs. Stella Skaozazciniski 34 years old, of 185 Huron st., rushed from her seat in the orchestra to the manager’s office and demanded that the film be stopped. Sidney Larschan, manager of the theater, helped the woman’s husband take her to the Greenpoint police station, where an ambulance was called. Dr. Drainick of Greenpoint Hospital treated the woman for hysterics after which she was allowed to go home with her husband.”

If you enjoyed reading this post, would you consider making a donation to help me make my first movie? Just $5 or $10 can make a difference - AND you get this snazzy Scouting NY sticker/magnet as a Thank-You gift! Click here to donate today!

try4

And hey, if you've made it this far, why not follow us via RSS, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr?

36 comments

  1. While not quite as nice, there’s another old movie-theater-turned-Duane-Reade I can think of. This one’s in Astoria: http://bit.ly/cGAOOf

    Cinema Treasures has one old photo from the same vantage point: http://cinematreasures.org/theater/2557/

    According to this article from when it closed, the theater even had a vaudville stage: http://www.qgazette.com/news/2002-01-16/Front_Page/Astoria_Movie_Theater_Closes_After_81_Years.html

  2. Thanks for the great post. I always look forward to new ones showing up in my Reader. It is absolutely tragic that we raze and cover up and these things, and even sadder that we can’t build anything nearly as beautiful.

  3. The Peter Pan doughnut shop next door is absolutely worth checking out as well if you haven’t been in. A little further north on Manhattan Ave just north of Greenpoint Ave is a Starbucks which must have been another old movie theater as well they seem to play hommage to this with a somewhat tacky marquee out front.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=greenpoint&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&hl=en&hq=&hnear=Greenpoint,+Kings,+New+York&ll=40.730548,-73.954024&spn=0.000348,0.000727&t=h&z=20&layer=c&cbll=40.73053,-73.954323&panoid=Rrik_e3k5yWNj_LFitDdBg&cbp=11,88.08,,0,-15.59

  4. After the roller rink and before Eckerd, it was a Genovese drug store. Eckerd bought out Genovese in ’98 and changed the name in ’03 before Rite Aid bought out Eckerd in ’06.

  5. Thank you so much for putting up these great photos. It sure brings back memories. The second dome over the pharmacy is where the concession was. And you’re right, about the box seat area. I don’t remember the box seats, but my father used to talk about the box seats where he used to enjoy live performances such as Jerry Lewis. There’s an explantion for the disco ball overhead. After the Meserole closed down, the building was used for roller skating.

  6. Yes. Been in there a few times. Used to be a Duane Reade—hence the odd location.

  7. The skull ornament is actually a traditional Roman architectural ornament called a bucranium that depicts a sacrificial ox. However, it could also be used in this instance to symbolize the farm – it definitely makes a better story.

  8. that’s awesome, now bring back the theater.

  9. amazing. i love reading all about your finds (i even read them twice).

  10. It reminds me of this theater in Detroit – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Theater_%28Detroit,_Michigan%29

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/snweb/36049285/in/set-302324/

    Unlike the Rite-aid, many details are still visible, but it’s a PARKING GARAGE. We convinced a door man to let us enter to look around and take pictures. Tattered wisps of the red velvet curtains are still hanging around the stage. I agree, it really makes you sad.

  11. cool post, not gonna bother writing much more. look forward to more discoveries

  12. I’ve been frequenting that Duane-Reade for years, and as soon as you step inside near the dome, you can sense the former grandeur of the space (even behind the rows of pills and feminine hygiene products).

    Because of the dome, that are spots at the edge near the walls where sound echos and bounces throughout the building. Try stomping your feet down near the two ramps next time you’re there.

  13. You’re right about brooklynpix.com. I found a picture of my building in Greenpoint showing my living room windows in 1915!

  14. Here’s the Esquire theater in Cape Girardeau, MO, my home town.

    http://www.capecentralhigh.com/cape-photos/cape-girardeaus-art-deco-esquire-theater-2/

    I would have loved to have gotten inside.

    We had a newspaper bureau in an old movie theater. I had to do the floor plans for it. Dealing with the curved walls from the projection screen area were a construction nightmare.

  15. i been to this store…. its really weird inside…..and creepy… another theater is in bergenline cvs store 48 street union city.

  16. I lived in Greenpoint from 1970 to 2006. The second theater where the Starbucks is now was the Chopin Theater. That closed down around 1983 or so. The only memory I have from going to the Meserole was a Planet Of The Apes film festival (“Go Ape!” was on the billboard) my mother took me to back around 1976. Bless her, she and I sat through half of the third, all of the fourth and fifth films in that series. When the theater closed and the roller rink took its place, there were quite a number of neighborhood kids with their arms in slings shortly thereafter. Good times.

  17. My favorite reuse of a movie theater, The Chateau Theater Rochester, MN. Exterior:
    http://img2.photographersdirect.com/img/21621/wm/pd1358317.jpg Here’s a view of the top of the proscenium arch:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/j_m_wetherington/1430006681/in/photostream/ Great pictures in the rest of the photostream.

  18. Thanks for the amazing blog!
    I may have missed it in your post or the comments, but has anyone mentioned that the dome over the pharmacy (in front of the concessions) is actually a whisper dome? If you have one person stand at each end of the oval and whisper, the sound carries right to your ear.

  19. I was about to reply since i didn’t see anything about it being a Genovese until i saw the comments.I lived in Brooklyn until ’92 or so and i remember sneaking into the city from Driggs Ave. with my older brother and sister..I’m real glad i found this website i remember walking around this place a few times, and oddly enough i’ve worked for Eckerd,now RiteAid for 4 years now.

  20. Join the fight to tell the story of these great, lost, theaters and celebrate the ones that still shine! Theatre Historical Society exists to do just that. http://www.historictheatres.org Our quarterly magazine, MARQUEE, is full of photos and information. Our archive and museum in Elmhurst IL is there to serve professional and amateur researchers alike. Check us out!

  21. I fondly remember watching the Disney Film Festivals every Saturday afternoon (Witch Mountain, Fantasia, Bad News Bears films, etc.) in the mid to late 70s at the Meserole…the box office back then was in the same location as the ticket booth in your photo from the 70s…

    in the early 80s it was “the place to be” to go roller skating…the ramp to the far left (facing the back wall/screen area) was the way on to the rink and the other side (skating in a counter-clockwise fashion) was the way back up. The concession was where the actual pharmacy counter is located now; to the left and right were the lockers.

    every time I get a chance I go into the Rite Aid to see the old disco ball…it brings back such great memories…I hope they NEVER take it down!

  22. I never was in a theater that old, like the Meserole, I which to find a piece of art like this one, where is a hole history behind it.

  23. This is really amazing. I came across your website today and I have been looking through the places you scouted in all through Brooklyn. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I’m not a fan of all the gentrification that has been happening here but I am happy that all of these old beautiful buildings are getting the attention they deserve.

  24. Wow! How incredible! You have a good eye for these things.

    There is a Modells on 86th Street between Fifth Ave and Fort Hamilton Parkway in Brooklyn which I believe once housed a movie theater as well. It is only speculation on my part (I know absolutely nothing about architecture) but the concrete exterior is kind of similar to that of the Rite Aid location above and the interior of the Modells has a dome as well. I’m guessing that the entire building which, in addition to Modells also includes a Radio Shack and New York and Company, was once a movie house.

  25. It was also a roller rink after it was a movie theater.

    On Manhattan Ave. and Greenpoint Ave. right behind the McDonald’s was the Chopin Theater which closed either in the very late 70’s or early 80’s.

    I used to go when I was a kid. I wish it were still there!!!

  26. There was a Roller Skating Rink there before the drug store. The Meserole once featured GO APE All 5 Planet Of The Apes movies. The place was packed ! I sat through it twice.

  27. Before it was a Genovese it was a liquidation store for a while.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>