Since 2002, Williamsburg-Greenpoint has lived without a movie theater. The absence is especially surprising given the area’s history of film exhibition: At one point, the neighborhoods boasted six movie theaters in less than five square miles. But since the 1950s, the theaters have been slowly disappearing, converted to other uses or demolished.
“If you’re making some amount of money showing movies there,” said Patrick Crowley, the co-founder of CinemaTreasures.com, a Wikipedia-like site devoted to cinema preservation, “and a developer says, ‘I can give you a ton of money to have development on top of the theater,’ then it’s hard to say no to that.”
Vestiges of the old movie houses remain. The American Theatre at 910 Manhattan Avenue, later renamed the Chopin, became Greenpoint’s first Starbucks. The building still bears the original marquee. The Meserole Theatre, further along Manhattan, transformed into a roller rink and then a Rite Aid (hence the disco ball hanging over the diapers and shampoo). The last theater to fall was the Commodore, at 329 Broadway, which closed its doors in 2002 and was torn down in early 2007.
But, fear not! Relief comes in the form of the Cassandra Cinema, an entertainment complex currently under construction in Williamsburg. The Cassandra’s launch was already pushed back once, but program director Jamie Hook said that an opening has been tentatively scheduled for the spring. (Mr. Hook was not aware of a press release that circulated online in January of 2007 announcing a spring 2008 opening.)
“There’s a very palpable sense on the street that one of the great things that’s lacking in Williamsburg is a cinema,” he said. “As people have gotten wind of this, they’ve thanked me on subways.”
The Cassandra occupies the first two stories of a retrofitted warehouse at 136 Metropolitan Avenue, “in the heart of a cinema Dead Zone,” according to the Web site. The three stories above will house nine condominiums, with a custom zinc and cut glass facade, said Stephen Lynch, the principal of Caliper Studio, the project’s architectural firm. A cabaret, a café, and three screens–a 168-seater marquee; an overflow black box theater; and a squareish screen that will show repertory films one floor below–round out the rest of the facilities.
“We are trying to do a cinema in a different way,” wrote the artistic director, Mason Rader, in an e-mail. “A place that it is many things to many people. Food, drink, music, art, talks as well as film. A place to meet up as well as take a date. We think this will be a winning formula.”
The project is the brainchild of Mr. Rader and executive director Cassandra Lozano, who moved to Williamsburg in 1989. The couple has long been active in New York’s artistic community, although they no longer live in the neighborhood.
Mr. Rader has worked in real estate development since 2001, but this is his first attempt at building a cinema. Revenue generated from the sale of the condos will go toward the complex’s infrastructure, and the developers will use private money to finish the project.
Still, opening a cinema remains a risky proposition in the era of Netflix, high-definition television and pirated DVDs. Mr. Hook, the program director, recognized that some consider the Cassandra “a foolish proposal,” but he added that, unlike multiplexes, this venue will cater to local tastes. He characterized it as “a mom-and-pop theater for the 21st century.”
“The Third Reich mentality of the hipsterdom of Williamsburg would chew alive and rip apart anything it didn’t approve of,” he said. “So, a crass, commercial venture that shat itself out on the streets of Williamsburg, I think would very quickly be wiped under the surface and boycotted and rejected.”