Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Worshipping in Movie Houses and Making Movies in Armories

A bike ride along Eastern Parkway furnished me with shots of three of the most impressive structures in Crown Heights. The first two pictured are a pair of once-mighty single-screen movie palaces that have escaped demolition and received a new lease on life as churches. The final photo is of an enormous armory that now does double duty as an indoor location for NYC's film and TV industry.

The Philadelphia Sabbath Cathedral (second photo), with a recognizably ornate movie-palace facade, opened as the Cameo Theater in 1924, and was later owned by the Loew's and Brandt chains. A friend who grew up in Crown Heights remembers spending entire afternoons watching karate flicks in the 1970s in one of the theater's 1,486 seats just before it closed for good. In its pre-air-conditioning heyday, the theater would sit even more (1,500) on the roof for summer screenings. There's a great shot of the interior as it looks today here.

However, the Cameo was only the largest theater in Crown Heights for two years, until the Fox Savoy Theater on Bedford opened in 1926 (first photo). Seating twice as many, the Thomas-Lamb-designed, 3,000 seat giant was the largest theater in Brooklyn and the flagship of the Fox chain until their downtown theater opened. It too hung on as a theater through the 1960s before being closed and reborn as a church. According to Cinema Treaures, the interior remains largely intact today, with the original stage curtains still hanging.

Movies might not show in the biggest buildings in Crown Heights anymore, but they're still made there. The National Guard Armory at Bedford and Union still serves its original function on a part-time basis, but it also provides a unique indoor space for building massive sets for film and television production. The same friend who grew up watching Bruce Lee at the Cameo (or Kameo, as it was later known) has worked on films in the Armory for which whole brownstone facades were built. In the past week, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, due out in 2010 ad starring Nic Cage, has been shooting there.

Many thanks to Cinema Treasures for their research--I first discovered their great site while trolling for information in one of my earliest posts. For more information about the remaining movie palaces in Brooklyn, check out this photoset on flickr, which seems to suggest that occasional walking tours are held for interested parties.


  1. Oh, mystery solved, that huge structure I can see from my window is on the roof of Philadelphia Sabbath Cathedral and it's what the Cameo built to project the rooftop movies against. I always wonder about that thing. What an enormous fascinating building. Thanks for keeping it coming - I really enjoy this blog.

  2. i think the one on eastern parkway and bedford was a catering hall at one point could be from the50's to the 70's