Bohemia Blog by Agent Michael Kenneth O\'Brien
As a new agent at Bohemia, I have spent a lot of extra time the past few months exploring every nook and cranny of Upper Manhattan. I, like many of my fellow Bohemians, have a background in the theatre and one thing has been catching my eye quite a bit on my adventures uptown lately … Theaters.
Quite frequently I find myself looking at a building and wondering, “Was that a theatre?”
Upon some further investigation, I have found that upper Manhattan is littered with these amazing relics of the past. Everyone is familiar with The Apollo Theatre in Harlem (Pictured Above), and many people know of the United Palace at 175th (Pictured to the Left) which is still a functioning performance venue, but not many people know about the beautiful performance venues from the past that have either been repurposed, or unfortunately sit abandoned waiting for a new life. Below are just a few of these beautiful buildings that you may or may not have known existed.
1. The RKO Hamilton (146th and Broadway)
This beautiful building is located on the corner of 146th and Broadway in Historic Hamilton Heights. It originally opened in 1913 as a 1,857-seat vaudeville house, and transitioned into a motion picture theatre in 1928. Built in the Renaissance Revival Style, the detailing of the building is hard to miss, including gargoyles that keep watch over Broadway. There have been talks over the past couple years of restoring the theatre and using it as a community space, with luxury homes built above the historic venue. Only time will tell.
Take A Rare Look Inside Thomas Lamb's Vaudeville Theatre: RKO Hamilton Here
Read More About the Possible Future of the RKO Hamilton Here
2. The B.S Moss Coliseum (181st and Broadway)
You can’t miss this giant building on the corner of 181st and Broadway. It was the third largest theatre in NYC at a whopping 3,500 seats. In the 1980’s it was transformed into a multiplex and closed permanently in 2011. Posters from its final year in business are still in the windows and on the marquee.
NY Public Library Gives Sneak Peek Into the Uptown Gem Here
3. The William Fox Audubon Theater (165th and Broadway)
Now part of the Columbia Medical School’s campus, this building has a beautiful façade but a very interesting past. Opening in 1912 it became one of the first theaters in the area to feature talking pictures. It became the Audubon Ballroom decades later, where the darkest part of its history begins. On February 21, 1965, while addressing a crowd in the ballroom, Malcolm X was assassinated. The building was closed very shortly after and taken over by the city. In 1992 Columbia purchased the property and began construction on a high rise building on the site. The façade and lobby of this once beautiful theatre has since been restored to its former glory.
4. Loew’s Rio Theater (160th and Broadway)
Across the street from the Bohemia Realty Washington Heights Office is this huge building on the corner of 160th and Broadway. Recent construction activity caught my eye and upon more inspection I discovered…you guessed it…another theatre! This 2,600-seat theatre was built in the early 1900’s and became a Loews movie theatre in the 1920’s. Due to competition from the theatres at 175th and 181st unfortunately this theatre closed in 1957. Who knows? Maybe whoever is moving into the space will restore some of this former movie palace’s glory!
5. The Claremont Theatre (135th and Broadway)
The Claremont was built in 1914 to be a moving picture theater. The building also featured a dance hall and a rooftop garden space for patrons to enjoy. It declined in popularity in the 1920’s due to the success of larger movie and entertainment “palaces” in Upper Manhattan. It has been the home to many types of business, currently ALL CITY, a community based health and arts collaborative. Check out the link below for a video of Upper Manhattan residents leaving the Claremont in 1915, produced by Thomas Edison himself!
So, next time you’re out exploring, keep an eye out for these beautiful buildings and the many more amazing pieces of history we have here in Upper Manhattan.