Coliseum Cinemas 4260-4261 Broadway, New York, NY 10033

Plagued by financial difficulties, the Coliseum Cinemas quietly closed its doors at the end of October 2011. A rumor circulated in the neighborhood that J.C. Penny’s would move into the space.  A poster, on one of blogs, suggested that the area would be best served by replacing the historic theatre with an apartment complex including stores.

The Washington Heights Arts & Movies (WHAM) formed in late December to rescue and restore the theatre. It now boasts 654 members on Facebook.

Coliseum 2006 (photo copyright Betty Sword, all rights reserved)

Excerpts from the New York Clipper. September 29, 1920:
“When more than 3,100 people, or, as the official tabulator announces it, “3,500,” are sheltered under one roof in a new theatre, that house is a mighty big one. Which is what the new B. S. Moss-Keith Coliseum Theatre, at Broadway and 181st Street is; an excessively large and beautiful theatrical edifice, the construction of which, including the land, entailed an outlay of upwards of $750,000. Its opening last Thursday night with a combination vaudeville and motion picture program, tended to more closely cement the recent absorption by the Keith interests of the B. S. Moss theatres.”

“The Coliseum is the largest of  all the Keith houses.”

“With the great financial resources of the Keith interests at his command, Moss finished the new house in record time. And last Thursday night, those who attended the initial performance, did so in a beautiful edifice, the interior of which is finished in ivory, gray, old rose and gold. The walls and the ceiling are filigreed and on the ceiling, over the proscenium, there is a beautiful group in relief which is patterned like a huge cameo.

“The interior of the house extends in width from the front like a triangle, and despite its extraordinary hugeness, that portion of the orchestra floor extending in front of the balcony suggests coziness.

“The large balcony extends upward until it almost reaches the ceiling. There is a promenade above the orchestra floor which contains, besides retiring rooms, a special sort of salon writing room done in yellow with yellow brocade curtains to match. The furniture in this room is French of the Louis XIV period. Mezzotints by American artists adorn the walls.

“The dressing rooms, backstage, have every modern convenience, including pier mirrors. The stage itself has the most modern electrical equipment. Eugene De Rosa was the architect.”

“The orchestra pit, built to accommodate twenty-five musicians, contained nineteen men on opening night.”

Cezar Del Valle is the author of the Brooklyn Theatre Index, chosen 2010 Best Book of the Year by the Theatre Historical Society

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