Friday, October 31, 2014

Theaters of Port Richmond

Like Stapleton, Port Richmond was a major shopping district on the North Shore thru the mid-seventies. Like Stapleton, it once had several theaters gracing its streets, drawing people to to the area in great numbers. First the Plaza (Forest Avenue Shoppers' Town), then the Staten Island Mall killed Port Richmond dead.

The commercial strip staggered on for years, at one point trying to keep itself alive as a furniture store hub. Only the advent of Mexican immigration seems to have revived it, though not in a way I imagine anybody anticipated.

While I'm going to concentrate on the three theaters, this map provides a great sense of where Port Richmond's cultural hub was located. In addition to the theaters, there are several churches and fraternal organizations.



I've written several posts on Port Richmond's churches, but here's a recap. St. Philip's Baptist was (and still is) and African-American church. Today, it's located in the old Zion Lutheran Church. In keeping with Port Richmond's long history of immigrant residents, St. Philip's original location was purchased by an Indian Mar Thoma congregation. Zion was built by Norwegian immigrants, with their first building on Avenue B, then the building on Bennett Street, before moving out of the neighbor and into Westerleigh.

The Park Baptist Church was built on the corner of Vreeland and Park. The magnificent Dutch Reformed Church still stands watch at the foot of (Port) Richmond Avenue just a few blocks from the Terrace. Just off the top right edge of the map is St. Mary's of the Assumption Catholic Church.

I've written about the fraternal groups in Port Richmond in the past. Here you can see where the two largest were located in relation to the churches and theaters: the Masonic Lodge (which later moved a few blocks away to Anderson Avenue into a beautiful neo-classical building which in a wonderful, ironic turn, became the CYO's main building) and the International Order of Odd Fellows.

So here are the theaters. Follow the links to full histories and other cool photos from the very good site, Cinema Treasures.


The largest theater, and the one with the coolest history (because it served as a great rock venue), was the Ritz on the corner of Anderson Avenue. Built in 1924, it was a latecomer and only makes it on to the above map as a name in pencil. The building's still there, and apparently remnants of its glorious past linger on in the form of colorful murals.







The Palace Theater is gone. Opened in 1916, it only made it to 1950 as a theater. I have no idea when it was demolished. It was located at 108 Richmond Avenue, opposite Bennett Street. Sadly, in this first picture, it's showing The Cocoanuts, the Marx Brothers first full-length movie. It's not as bad as Go West or Love Happy but it's pretty weak. It does have the viaduct bit, so it's got that going for itself.







Finally, Leo's Empire Theater. It lasted as a theater from 1916 to 1978. That's pretty amazing, though it did go out pretty ignominiously. Even I can remember its notoriety in the late seventies when it attempted to survive as porno house. Community activists quickly put an end to that nonsense. After that, Farrell Lumber bought the building and used it as a storage site. Today it's a church. 









Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Capitol Theater - Broadway, West New Brighton

Here's a set of Yesterday and Today pictures. It's the Capitol Theater on Broadway just above the corner of Castleton Avenue. One of aunt's told me about going to the movies there and then getting ice cream at a shop next door. I'll venture a guess that it was in the building in the left of the picture.





You can see it had large windows and a striped awning. One of the most common changes to many old commercial buildings is their conversion to residential use. The large display windows are simply removed and space bricked up. 

Take a look around some day for similar buildings. It's interesting to realize how many neighborhoods had little stores sprinkled through them. The same sort of centralized shopping districts that killed the shopping districts (ex., Stapleton, Port Richmond, etc.) probably put the end to them as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

P.S. 17 Hamilton Park - Burned and Gone


PS 17, a fairly standard looking school once stood on the heights overlooking York and Jersey Streets. The bit of woods visible in the right of the picture, behind the school, represent the edge of The Cedars, businessman Shipley Jones' estate.

The school burned down in 1977 and Parks began the process of acquiring the land from the Board of Education in order to build what's now called Skyline Park. It's a great place and every time our nephews visit we try to get there at least once.


1874 Map - a school existed on the site but it's footprint differs from the photo/post card, implying it was a different, older facility.


1917 Map - That's the building in the pictures. The entrance faced Fairview Avenue (now Harvard). I wish there was a photo from a further away location so there'd be a sense of how the school sat on the land.



The streets today - Here's a shot up the little piece of Arnold off York. The school was on the rise to the right.





Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bay Street - Looking west toward Hylan Boulevard



To look at the buildings on Bay Street in the past and then today, it's as if they've melted. The intricate details that were just bits and pieces of the original construction but gave the buildings character have been stuccoed or covered with sidings. Attractive canvas awnings have given way to vinyl or plastic ones. I appreciate these are old buildings that need alterations if they're to survive as actual working buildings but it's a little sad.



But then, hey, it's why when a building gets landmarked it can bankrupt the owner. Too keep a building even looking like it used to, forget about using "period" repair items, tends to drive out owners without lots of extra cash on hand. Too many folks don't really care much about what happens to the owners of such properties, just that their perfectly imagined bits of history are preserved in amber.

Here's a great little detail for the transportationally minded: horse, cars, and trolleys, all living together.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Richmond Terrace and Heberton Avenue - March, 1927

One of the things I can never quite wrap my head around as I do my excavation of the history of Staten Island's North Shore is the amount of destruction that's taken place over the years. Now, I that word as a negative term, simply a descriptive one. Whole blocks of buildings have come and gone over the past centuries. Some commercial buildings have been demolished and replaced with apartments. Others have been torn down and the lots remain vacant decades later.

It's a little discombobulating to realize streets I have grown up on and lived on for nearly fifty years were drastically different once. Nothing in a city stays the same for long. Populations change and grow. Technologies advance and require different infrastructures. I used to get upset about the physical changes on the Island, but now I've come to understand they've always happened and will continue to forever.

So...Richmond Terrace and Heberton Avenue, 1927. First, looking toward (Port) Richmond Avenue. The changes here are the most extreme. I'm not sure any of the buildings in the old photo are still standing. Nothing of the buildings on the right (the waterside) remains at all.

Richmond Terrace and Heberton Avenue - looking west

The next picture is the same intersection (natch), facing toward Jewett Avenue. Here, the changes are as severe and you can even spot some of the same buildings today as in the 1927 shot.  The building that housed the Willy's-Knight Overland dealership on the right is still there being used for an auto repair shop. Several other buildings on both sides of the Terrace can be seen as well.


Richmond Terrace and Heberton Avenue - looking east

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Moving Right Along - Van Duzer Trolley Tracks Again


Looking north on Van Duzer Street from corner of Beach Street - 1926 vs. today

The building on the right side was still standing when I was a kid. On the Beach Street side (unseen) was a dry cleaners and a pet store. We'd always stop and look in the window on the way up from shopping in Stapleton.


northeast corner of Van Duzer and Beach Streets 1926 vs. today 
Roulston's was a Brooklyn based grocery store chain that collapsed when the owner died.



looking north along Van Duzer from the corner of Prospect Street
1923 vs. today
That large building on the right is indeed the long gone German Club (along with the Germans of Staten Island). I was told that the large hall was where the giant painting of Christ's ascension behind the altar at Trinity Lutheran was prepared there as it was the only available place big enough at the time.


Close up detail and 1917 map.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Midland Railroad Company Trolley Tracks - Van Duzer Street - part 1

I haven't posted much on this site over the past few years because it's become hard to find the sorts of things that interest me. I've used up most of the decent pictures on the NYPL site pertaining to the North Shore, and I'm too lazy busy to spend time going through the microfiche at the St. George Library of the WPA pictures.

That said, I've become invigorated lately to try and do more (thanks, Mr. Cancemi!). I don't want this site and it's attendant facebook group to die, so I was hit by a strong urge to do some research today.

I've discovered that entering a street name into the NYC Archives can lead to some exciting things. Today, I uncovered a huge cache of pictures showing the track of the Midland Railroad Company's Midland Beach Line along Van Duzer Street. They're from between 1921 and 1925 and show some remarkable stuff.

I'm going to put up the first batch today and the rest over the next few weeks. Zoomed in, there's some incredible detail and I want highlight that. I think one of them shows the German Club that I've read about but never actually seen before. Another has the original Staten Island Academy/Elk's Club. This is some great stuff.


Looking at Water Street from the foot of Wright Street

In the 1926 photo on the left you can see the bulk of the original PS 14 rising up above the library. It's interesting how much remains. In the contemporary picture you can't seen the abomination wrought on the Stapleton Library. Forget the hideous glass extension. The beautiful columned entrance with its heavy wooden door has been closed off. The disregard for the original structure is astonishing.


Looking up Wright Street 1. 1926   r. 2014

This is one of my favorite discoveries today. I had no idea what Wright Street looked like whatsoever. Even when I was a kid none of these buildings in the foreground existed. The left corner was occupied by an ugly box of a building that upstairs housed, first, the Golden Cue pool hall, and second, Wright Toy & Hobby. Later Ross Cosmetics used the space.


Van Duzer Street 
looking north from the top of Wright Street. l. 1926 r. 2014

The mansion on the left and many of the storefronts on the right still exist nearly unchanged. I wish the block didn't look quite as shabby as it does, but it's still one of my favorite. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention the trolley tracks visible in the roadbed in each of the old timey photos. 

So that's part one. The next posts will take us north along Van Duzer with stops at most of the cross streets along the way. I hope you enjoy the trip.