Bohemia Blog by Agent Esther Marie Acosta
When was the last time you saw a movie in a 3,400 seat Rococo style theatre? How about one with a Tony Award winning actor and composer as the night’s emcee? If you’ve been going to the Sunday Movies at the Palace with Lin-Manuel Miranda film series at the United Palace Theatre in Washington Heights you could say, “Oh, I do that every month.”
The United Palace was originally built by Lowe’s in the late 1920’s to be a vaudeville theatre. However, when vaudeville declined, movies became more popular and the theater was converted. It continued to serve the Washington Heights community as a movie theater until it’s final movie showing "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1969. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Frederick Eikerenkoetter bought the theater for use as a house of worship and over time had the ornate architecture restored. While still being used as a house of worship, the United Palace has recently become a cultural and artistic center for Washington Heights.
In February of 2013, film returned to the United Palace with the showing of an independent short entitled “Trouble in the Heights”. Afterwards a campaign was formed by the United Palace of Cultural Arts to return film to the Palace. Their efforts resulted in the November 2013 screening of “Casablanca” before an audience of over 1000 people. In an ongoing effort to continue improving the movie viewing experience at the Palace, there was recently a successful fundraising campaign to replace the movie screen.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s monthly film series of movies set in New York has included “Muppets Take Manhattan”, “Ghostbusters” and “King Kong”. All movies are shown with Spanish subtitles as a nod to the cultural heritage of the neighborhood. During the February screening of “West Side Story”, Rita Moreno was guest of honor and spoke of her experience playing Anita during the filming of the movie. Legendary film director John Landis was in attendance for the screening of the original 1933 “King Kong”. Lin-Manuel led him in a Q&A session before the movie where the various themes of the film were discussed. Mr. Landis also explained how technologically advanced the visual effects were for a film of it’s time.
As a cultural center, the building has hosted concerts by Adele, B.B. King and Gilberto Santa Rosa; a talk by Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz; and is the home to a variety of arts education classes, including Circus Arts classes, a Youth Drum Ensemble, as well as the Washington Heights and Inwood (WHIN) Music Project.
The United Palace Theater presents a unique opportunity to experience an historical and cultural gem in your own backyard. The next movie in the Sunday series will be the June 22nd screening of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” and tickets are available online.