Monday, April 24, 2006

116 Street Then And Now

The views are of 116th Street and St. Nicholas (7th) Avenue looking west. The top half of the picture was taken in 1899. The prominent building in the modern day half is the First Corinthian Baptist Church. It has an interesting history, from "One of the most ornate structures in Harlem, this church was built in 1913 as the Regent Theatre. The design is based on the Doges'Palace in Venice, evident in the thin columns and arches of the facade. Architect Thomas W. Lamb went on to design a series of Italian Renaissance-style movie theaters, including the Roxy, the Rivoli, and the Regent. Located in what was then a German-American section of Harlem, the Regent was architect Thomas W. Lamb's first large "all picture house" and first opened in February, 1913, with "Pandora's Box". Behind the Regent's Venetian palazzo exterior was a Spanish-Moorish auditorium, decorated in gold, blue and red, with satin wall panels and dark blue carpets. A ceiling mural above the proscenium depicted "The Surrender of Granada", as envisioned by painter Francisco Pradillo. Despite its opulence, the Regent was an almost instant disaster, causing owner Henry Marvin to summon up-and-coming impresario S.L. Rothafel to the rescue. 'Roxy's' innovative taste and showmanship had already helped to save unsuccessful theatres in other parts of the USA, but this was his first chance to prove himself in the "big time". He closed the Regent for several months while he changed some of the interior furnishings, installed potted plants, new stage lighting and curtains, and hired a symphony-sized orchestra to play music that was specially arranged to match the movies. When the Regent re-opened in December with "The Last Days of Pompeii", the 'Roxy'-produced programs became the talk of New York, and soon earned him a better offer to take over the direction of the Strand on Broadway in the midtown theatre district. But the Regent continued to flourish and benefited from a take-over by B.S. Moss, who added Keith-Albee vaudeville to support the movies. Due to that connection, the theatre eventually became the RKO Regent, and went through some minor "modernizations" in 1939 and 1944. Some sources say it closed in the late 1950's, but the RKO Regent was still listed in Film Daily Year Books as late as 1964. But in any case, the Regent was taken over by an evangelical church, and remains one to this day. In recent years, the church has tried to restore some of the Regent's original glory, and it probably looks better than it did under the neglectful RKO regime. To promote his new film "The Ladies Man," Jerry Lewis appeared on stage at this theater on July 12, 1961. "

No comments: