The Real Deal New York

Midtown on the UWS: the decay of an Art Deco cinema

A look at the history of an inexplicably named depression-era cinema that was once an NYC gem

May 24, 2014 01:00PM

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The Midtown theater at 99th and Broadway on the Upper West Side

The Midtown theater at 99th and Broadway on the Upper West Side

WEEKENDEDITION The Midtown theater played everything from Buñuel, to popular flicks, to pornography from the time it opened in 1933 until it shut its doors in 2004. And the decline of the cheekily-named landmarked theater – located at Broadway and 99th Street on the Upper West Side – is a rather sad loss to the city.

In its heyday, the richly decorated theater played first-run films. But by the 1950s and 1960s, it had shifted its focus to foreign art house cinema, showing European directors like Louis Buñuel, Jean-Luc Goddard and Roman Polanski, according to the blog Ephemeral New York.

As the city continued to decline into the 1970s, so did the theater, following the seemingly inevitable path from art house to porn palace.

The theater saw new life, again as an art theater, in the 1980s, changing its name to Metro. And for a moment the 1990s, when it began showing mainstream Hollywood first runs, it seemed like its troubles might be over. But in 2004, the theater shut it doors for good.

Since then, it’s been abandoned and become somewhat of an eyesore. In recent years, there has been some talk of retail tenants or even a high-end movie theater that servers beer taking over the space, but today the once majestic theater remains vacant. [Ephemeral New York]Christopher Cameron

  • James G

    NYC landmarks has created the eyesore by imposing heavy demands that no retail tenant will do because of huge costs and red tape. The new movie theater that was ready to go in walked away after realizing this was an impossible task. They opened instead in Brooklyn and Yonkers, NY to great fanfare. This theater as it stands now is a disgrace to the community and NYC and Landmarks should open their eyes and figure out how to make it easy for a tenant to come in and revive this horrible block…

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