Monday, February 1, 2010

The Charles Theater

Charles 1
The last three images from the pdf above are from evgrieve
next, below from
the nytimes from Victor Washkevich
Dear Diary:
Growing up on 16th Street between Avenues B and C before Stuyvesant Town was built meant that respite from summer’s heat was available only if you went to the upscale movie theaters like the RKO Jefferson or the Academy of Music, both farther west on 14th Street. No such luxury could be found at the local movie house, the Bijou Theater, on Avenue B between 11th and 12th Streets.
This two-story theater was strictly a no-frills neighborhood flick house. But when the summer temperature inside became unbearable or cigarette smoke blurred the screen, the ceiling of the Bijou began to ever so slowly slide open from the center toward the edges to provide egress for both heat and Lucky Strike’s blue vapors.
For a 10-year-old like me it was magic — until a sudden thunderstorm came up and the rain began pelting the seats. The roof’s closing speed was also ever so slow, and people scrambled in all directions like it was a fire drill. When it finally closed, we all went back to our seats, gave them a swipe with a handkerchief and never took our eyes off the screen.
The Marx Brothers had their “Night at the Opera.” We had our nights at the Bijou.
Victor Washkevich

separate entries from cinema treasures
I suspect that this was originally the 595-seat Bijou Theatre, which was situated at 193 Avenue B, according to many editions of the Film Daily Year Book. The owners may never have bothered to report a name change because there is no listing for the Charles in any FDYB. But the name was being used at least by 1949, as evidenced by a photo of the Charles marquee at the New York City Housing Authority website. The theatre was a late-run "nabe" and may have even closed before it became an avant-garde showcase in the 1960s. About five years ago, I found the building still standing, but converted to non-theatrical use (partially as an Hispanic church, if I recall correctly).

In research yesterday at the Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, NYC, I discovered that this was definitely the Bijou Theatre before being re-named the Charles. In 1961, Daniel Talbot, who ran The New Yorker Theatre, took over the Charles, which was then showing Spanish movies, and converted it to a policy similar to that at The New Yorker, but with more emphasis on "new" filmmakers, who were given one night a week to show their latest works to the public at a reduced admision price. In 1969, the Charles was taken over by Radley Metzger, who also owned Audubon Films. He might have been the last person to operate the theatre before it closed.

During the 60's when the neighborhood was hispanic/puerto-rican and hippies, my loving, now deceased aunt and her frisky handed boyfriend took me to the Charles theatre to see " the Killing of Sister George". I guess I was about 6 or 7, strange movie, I do remember breasts and murder, but mostly what I remembered was that my aunt and boyfriend only watched a quarter of the movie (lol). It was a small theatre, sat about 500, and a big " CHARLES" on the marquee. Thanks Aunt Dolores.

I also believe the Charles Theatre opened as the Bijou Theatre with the name change occuring around 1945.

In June of 1968 the Charles had a double bill of "Guess Whos Coming to Dinner" & "Luv".
I believe Radley Metzger's steamy "Camille 2000" got audiences hot and bothered there for a while in 1969.

I re-call seeing "Claire's Knee", "2001", and perhaps "Satyricon" there circa 1970. I can't rememberwhen it actually closed but must have been shortly afterwards, perhaps 1972-73

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When we moved to Jacob Riis Housing Project in 1951 the wonderful adventure on Saturday afternoon was the Charles Theatre. My mother would send me, the oldest with my 3 younger siblings for the entire day. Probably cost a quarter to see 3 movies, ten cartoons, several coming attractions, a superman flick, or news from around the world. Yes, many of great memories I have from the Charles Theatre.