Classic Movies return to the Heights!

I received a text from a friend a couple of weeks ago letting me know that The Palace Theater located in upper Manhattan was bringing back classic film.  That may not mean much to most people, but it’s very exciting news to me.

The Palace Theater, which I’ve known all my life as “Reverend Ike’s,” is located in the neighborhood where I grew up – Washington Heights in the Northern end of Manhattan.  My moniker for the theater was due to the fact that since 1969 the theater, which originally opened in 1930, was owned by Reverend Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter (Rev. Ike) and used exclusively as a place of worship.  I remember passing Rev. Ike’s on many a Sunday and seeing long lines of the faithful waiting to get in to hear the Reverend’s message.  Upon Rev. Ike’s death in 2009, his son took over ownership of the space and has since decided to use the historic theater as a cultural arts center.

As part of its “new” arts programming, The United Palace of Cultural Arts, Inc. (UPCA) as the 3,400 seat theater is officially called, will begin screening films on a regular schedule in 2014.  According to Mike Fitelson, Executive Director of UPCA who was kind enough to give me a tour of the theater and answer a few questions, the plan is to screen two films a month starting in January.  The schedule will include a classic film and a Spanish film chosen by prominent members of the Washington Heights community, which is predominantly Hispanic.  All classic films will likely be screened with Spanish subtitles. Mr. Fitelson stated that the goal is to make each screening “an event” with the addition of special introductions, q & a sessions, musical accompaniment, era-appropriate music and even era-specific costumes when possible.

I took a few pictures during my tour of the theater and am posting them here, but know they do not do the place justice.  You’ll do a lot better by taking a look at this short fundraising video, which covers the theater’s history and offers a much better view of its glorious interior.

As you view the following images, pay close attention to the picture of a red room.  This was a men’s smoking room when the theater first opened.  Rev. Ike used it as his personal library.  It’s gorgeous – perhaps the crowned jewel in a place where time has stood still for over eighty years.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s understandable why it took Rev. Ike no time at all to decide to purchase The Palace in 1969, he instantly fell in love with its majesty.  The decision was made so quickly that the Reverend’s widow, Mrs. Christian, has stated she remembers watching the last film screened at The Palace, Stanley Kubrick’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey one night and attending Rev. Ike’s first service the next morning.

As one takes in the beauty of The Palace, there is no doubt whatsoever the Reverend took all necessary measures to ensure it remained in pristine condition. To say I was really impressed with how well-kept this theater is a gross understatement.  Nearly every last detail in its interior can still be enjoyed today – from the magnificent ceilings, to the ultra-ornamented walls to the elephant-graced newel posts on the staircase in the grand lobby.  The spectacle this theater must have been in 1930!  And the wonder it is today in the age of the multiplex.

By the way, when the theater opened in 1930 its slogan was, “Loew’s Brings Times-Square Entertainment Nearer Your Home,” referring to locals not having to travel downtown to watch the latest film releases.  They were now available in their own neighborhood in grand style.  The film that inaugurated The Palace (Loew’s) in February, 1930 was E. Mason Hooper’s, Their Own Desire starring Norma Shearer.

Robert Montgomery and Norma Shearer in THEIR OWN DESIRE

This Sunday, February 22nd marks the 85th anniversary of this majestic theater and I thought I’d share this brief dedication, which I initially submitted in late 2013 again in tribute.

Since I first published this more than a year ago, the United Palace Theater has remained true to its promise to feature classic movies on a semi-regular basis.  In fact, there are several classic screenings of note coming up including Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW with a special introduction by film historian and chief film critic for the New York Post, Lou Lumenick on March 8.  Be sure to visit the theater site to stay current with upcoming events.  And if you’re in the neighborhood do yourself a favor and stop in for a look at the United Palace.  It’s breathtaking.

I’ll be seeing you IN THE HEIGHTS!

15 thoughts

  1. Wonderful story . It really is a Palace. There can’t be too many of these movie palaces that have survived in America. I hope it is a great success.

  2. This is great news. Too bad they couldn’t keep the Loews name though.

    If you think this place is impressive, though, you should come out to Queens one day and check out the former Loewstheater we have. It’s a church now, but it too has been well preserved through the years.

  3. Wonderful news! Now let’s move farther uptown and bring back my old stomping ground, the RKO Marble Hill! ;-))

  4. How fabulous – and what a stunning theater, a real “movie palace.” And Rev. Ike…I had no idea his church was once a grand movie house. Next time in NYC, I’m goin’ to the Palace.

    1. Yes do!! It’s stunning. Well, I think I said that already. If you’re here when they’re playing a classic then we’ll take it in together!


  5. How exciting! I remember those Sunday crowds and wanting to go in the theater because I knew there were amazing things to see inside. So glad you got to go and wish I could be there so that we could go to the screening together in our gowns!!! What a night that would be!!! 🙂

  6. So glad (really jealous) that you got to go and see it! I remember those Sunday lines too and, always wished I could go in because I knew there were amazing things to see in there. Am very excited that the old hood gets to taste the wonders of classic films. Sooo wish I could be there on the 17th so we could go to the screening together in our gowns!! What a night that would be!!!

  7. The pics are great. I always wondered what it looked like inside. I knew it had to be grand because it is so ornate outside. Its going to be great for The Heights. Let’s plan a trip.

  8. Oh, those pictures are amazing! Only a few blocks away for decades, and have never been inside! I recognize every BRICK of The Heights when it appears in any movie, and I’m pretty sure that this theater is in the opening scene of 2 Weeks Notice (S.Bullock and H.Grant). Bullock’s character is trying to save the structure from a wrecking ball…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s