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Astoria Theater shuttered after 8 decades

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When the Astoria Theater opened in the early 1920s, its vaudeville performances were nearing the end of an era as movie pressure threatened to kill the circuit of live performers.

But when the aging cinema played its last film Dec. 26, it died from a different sort of revolution — that of the modern-day muliplex.

“It was preordained,” said Orlando Lopes, a member of the Theater Historical Society who lives on Long Island. “When the stadium theaters came in ... these theaters became antiquated.”

The property was sold by United Artists Theatres at the end of December. Over the summer UA had begun leasing the 14-screen multiplex cinema at 35th Avenue and 38th Street, now known as the UA Kaufman Astoria Cinema, which opened in 1999 and was operated by Regal Cinemas.

The shuttered theater at Steinway Street and 30th Avenue will reopen as space for retailers.

“There wasn’t room for two theaters,” said Charles Fogel, UA’s vice president for the Eastern region. “We owned the property at Steinway Street and someone made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we sold it.”

The Kaufman multiplex has become a great source of revenue for UA, ranking among the top of the company’s 240 theaters nationwide, Fogel said.

But after eight decades of adapting to the times, the Astoria Sixplex had lost so much of its historical character that even theater historians were not sad to see it go.

“The theater has no significant historical value,” Lopes said. “The original detail is all gone, and all you have is four walls with a lot of subdivisions in it.”

The theater had certainly seen better days.

The auditorium, which originally housed 2,736 seats, was split into four separate theaters in 1978 by dividing the balcony and orchestra into two levels and cutting each of them in half. Additional screens were carved out of the backstage area in the early 1980s.

“A lot of the original architecture was lost in the 1978 conversion,” Lopes said.

A far more precious theater resource was lost when the nearby Triboro — the last movie palace built in the city — closed in 1974, Lopes said.

The Astoria marquis no longer lists movie titles but instead acts as a somber death notice with “November 1920 - December 2001” beneath the theater’s name and an otherwise blank board.

The front doors are bolted with green and red fabric haphazardly covering the glass, revealing ceiling tiles, torn movie posters and empty coffee cops strewn across the tile floor. It bears little resemblance to the movie palace it once was.

“We’re basically gutting the property to create retail space,” said Cory Zelnik of Winick Realty Group in Manhattan, the agent representing the new property owners, whom he would only identify as “real estate investors with holdings throughout the five boroughs.”

The renovation will make available 38,000 square feet to retailers — 19,000 square feet on each of two floors. About a quarter of that is already slated to go to one company in a deal that is “well along” but not yet signed, Zelnik said.

A new store may open on the site as early as this summer, Zelnik said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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Reader feedback

Linda falgia from astoria queens ny says:
my mom was in a beauty contest in the 50s it's was at the old movie theater 30ave -Steinway st she came in second but never seen pictures or anything would love to know where I could find some more info
May 24, 2015, 8:37 am

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