Airdromes

During the sweltering New York summers, in the days before air conditioning, the legitimate theatres would close their doors until the end of August. The early movie houses remained open or moved to an outdoor space nearby or on the roof. Known as airdromes (sometimes spelled airdome), these outdoor venues were part of the silent era of movie going.

The owner of a movie house may have started with an outdoor space. Once that proved successful, a building would be constructed or converted to cinema use. On Staten Island (circa 1904-05), Rodney Powell painted a wall at Broadway and Richmond Terrace, showing movies on that screen to an audience seated on benches. He would show the same films on Sunday afternoons under the  Picnic Shelter  at the Ocean Grove in Graniteville.

 

Comedy Theatre, Jamaica, Queens, advertises “open air” movies

Restaurants and  public halls often operated airdromes as a seasonable venue.  Fred Winter’s Summer Garden, 1097 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, associated with Consumer Park Hotel and Cafe.

An ornate screen and a fountain helps provide the  Summer Garden with a bit of decoration. No record survives of the Cafe presenting movies indoors.  The listing in  American Motion Picture Directory 1914/15 may refer to the Garden.

In addition to its three stages, Feltman’s sprawling Ocean Pavilion, on Surf Avenue at Coney Island, also had Sea Side Garden, “featuring superb motion pictures.”

The theatre trade publication, New York Clipper, July 11, 1914:

“In the rear of the park [Feltman's Ocean Pavilion] there has just been erected one of the largest  and finest open air moving picture theatres in the country. The theatre seats over two thousand people and only first run pictures are shown. While admission to the park is free, there is a charge of ten cents to enter the picture theatre.”

The coming of sound and air conditioning brought an end to the airdrome in New York.  By the early 1930s, the outdoor movie theatre was fading into history with attempts being made to convert the old spaces.

In 1933, Loew’s hired their favorite architect, Thomas Lamb, to enclose the Kameo Theatre’s roof garden at 530 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn. Nothing came of the project.

The Carlton Theatre, on Flatbush Avenue, announced plans for a cabaret in the old rooftop airdrome. After some initial publicity, with  Jimmy Durante mentioned as a possible opening attraction, the new venue failed to materialize. Possible problems with sound, and the surrounding neighborhood, (same as with talkies) may have brought a halt to the project.

Above photos from the collection of Theatre Talks LLC (Cezar Del Valle)

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