The Parthenon, at Wyckoff and Palmetto, was a respite for the area’s working-class families. The building is now a bingo parlor and other businesses, and little of the original detail remains.
New photos by Devvon Simpson for BushwickBK | Above photo courtesy of | Click to view slideshow>>

Like other communities in the pre-TV era, the Bushwick area was home to many local movie houses that provided a place to take in a double feature, see a few cartoons or a weekly serial and – on "dish night" – help to accumulate a full dinner serving set. None of these cinematic centers exist any longer, and locals now have to trek into Manhattan to pay mucho bucks to view twenty commercials and "upcoming" trailers – and, by the way, also see a single feature. However, the ghosts of the old Bushwick theaters still remain and are worth a visit.

While Bushwick’s major movie palaces – the RKO Bushwick (now a high school); the Loews Gates (Pilgrim Baptist Church); the RKO Madison (a discount store); and the Ridgewood (now vacant, but hopefully not for long) – figure most prominently in the minds of Bushwick’s long-time residents, we’re going to explore a few of the less-exalted movie houses. These were where people who either could not or did not wish to pay the "first-run" price waited until the films of the day passed into the second- and third-string circuits. This was also where generations of kids spent their Saturdays viewing dozens of cartoons or triple-bill "B" picture westerns – all under the watchful eyes of the theater’s trusty matron, who wore a white uniform and wielded a very large flashlight.

The Parthenon – 329 Wyckoff Ave., at Palmetto St. 

This forlorn and graffiti-covered building was once the proud home of a beautiful theater patterned after one of Rome’s most beloved relics. When it opened in 1921, the Parthenon showed first-run films in competition with the slightly older Ridgewood Theatre, down the block on Myrtle Avenue. Once the far more opulent Madison opened in 1928 or so, the Parthenon faded into second-run status, but continued to show films until around 1960. It then became a bowling alley before assuming its current role as a bingo parlor. A visit now would reveal only a drab space with a drop ceiling — but if you were ever to pierce that ceiling and look above, traces of the old movie house probably remain. 

The Parthenon is also the subject of a quirk of political geography that occurred shortly after it opened in 1921. At that time, the Brooklyn/Queens boundary was not at Wyckoff Ave., but crossed mid-block between Wyckoff and St. Nicholas. This placed the Parthenon clearly in Brooklyn. However, once the lines were re-drawn in 1925, the Parthenon switched boroughs. You could say that the old theater has a foot in each borough – assuming, of course, that buildings have feet.

The Imperial – 157 Irving Ave., at DeKalb Ave.

This old warehouse was the home of the Imperial Theater, which occupied this site from the mid-1920s to around 1941. It then became a Robert Hall’s, a chain clothing store that provided inexpensive suits to several generations of working and lower-middle class men. (Until I was in my late 20s, all of my "good" clothes came from either Robert Hall’s or "magnificent" Alexander’s.)  It served as such until the late ’60s or early ’70s, when it assumed its current function.

The Imperial on Irving and DeKalb retains its brickwork detail. This 1938 advertisement touts the “Best German Pictures,” later branded Nazi propaganda and withdrawn from US theaters.
Right photo by Devvon Simpson for BushwickBK | Click to view slideshow>>

About a year ago, the old Imperial came on the selling block and, for a hot moment, its possible sale to a theatrically oriented buyer loomed as a possibility. Alas, it was sold to another warehouse company and will probably continue to serve in that capacity for the foreseeable future. However, some photos were shot at the time that reveal enduring traces of the old movie house.

The Alhambra – 783 Knickerbocker Ave., at Halsey St. 

In the early 1900s, the area around Irving Square Park must have been a pretty classy neighborhood, what with its Bloomsbury-styled recreation retreat, the lovely brick houses, St. Martin’s Church – and, in 1918, the community’s own movie theater and vaudeville hall. With its wonderfully evocative name, the Alhambra served as an entertainment mecca for a number of years. In 1928, its interior was substantially redecorated by the great Thomas Lamb, who also designed the recently landmarked Ridgewood Theatre’s façade. Unfortunately, the good times did not last forever and, in the 1940s, the picture palace closed for good.

The Alhambra, on once-fashionable Irving Square Park, retains little of its Spanish-Arabesque detail in its current life as a child-care center.
Right photo by Devvon Simpson for BushwickBK | Click to view slideshow>>

The Alhambra has, however, enjoyed a valuable afterlife. After being converted into a supermarket – and losing most of its exterior adornments – it became a day-care center and has served Bushwick in that capacity for many years. The staff there says that while most of the old theater has been gutted, an old ceiling light still remains.

The Eagle – 431 Central Ave., between Madison and Putnam 

This theater, also once known as the Luxor, began its life in the 1920s but did not survive the impact of television and shut its doors sometime in the 1950s. It then became a church. A couple of years ago, the church closed and it appeared that the building was being demolished. However, only a portion of it was razed and the building’s shell has been retained, possibly to form the basis of a new construction. The better part of two years have now elapsed and the shell remains; unless the economy improves substantially, the walls will probably collapse before anything else occurs. In the interim, however, the pigeons love it.

The New Ideal – 151 Knickerbocker, between Flushing Ave. and Melrose St. 

This old movie house, which has now been replaced by a one-story factory, began its life in the silent era and, after closing on at least one occasion, continued to operate until sometime in the 1930s. Next to the factory is a two-story residential building that must, at one time, have been a synagogue or a yeshiva. Some Hebrew script appears in the crumbling façade. It’s not clear if this building had anything to do with the New Ideal.

The New Ideal’s very existence in what now seems an out of the way spot underlines the fact that, at one time, far more people lived in this vicinity. Until after WWII, what is now called Morgantown was a gritty but stable mixed residential and manufacturing area. During the next half century – and particularly after the City’s 1961 zoning resolution cast the area into a Manufacturing district — the residential population plunged drastically. It only has only begun to recover during the last decade.

The Rogers – 835 Broadway, corner of Park St. 

This old place, which started life in the nickelodeon era, was very spartan. It had sawdust on the floor, cats roaming the aisles and featured an almost exclusive program of old grade-B westerns – or, as the overused crossword clue would describe them, "oaters." This type of theater died out quickly after the advent of the feature film moved customers to the movie palaces.

The Rogers is long-demolished; in its place was built a single-story commercial building that now houses a laundromat.
Right photo by Devvon Simpson for BushwickBK | Click to view slideshow>>

The G&M – Bushwick and Flushing 

This location, which has hosted a gas station for over sixty years, was once home to a silent-era movie theater. Many, many years before that, it was the site of a revolutionary-era blacksmith’s shop. Passing by this very forgettable intersection, remember – it was very different, and far more interesting, at one time.

Bushwick’s movie palaces are long dead, most of their ornament stripped away in a fit of late-century expediency. Some of them have even been bulldozed. But with documentation and a little imagination, we can still conjure an idea of what it must have been like to line up under the dazzling marquis of one of these glamourous monuments to the masses.

Much of the research for this article comes from the users of movie-nostalgia forum Cinema Treasures.