Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Former Mardi Gras Theater, now empty
Address: 1295 Nostrand Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Clarkson Avenue
Neighborhood: East Flatbush
Year Built: 1908
Architectural Style: Tudor inspired
The story: As you may have read here in this column on numerous occasions, Brooklyn has a wealth of theaters. Some were built as grand palaces of entertainment, both live, and later, on screen, and some had more humble beginnings, and never pretended to be more than what they were, a venue for popular neighborhood entertainment, a small getaway for hard working neighborhood people. This building was the latter. Its history was short, and leaves us with this mysterious building sitting on the corner of busy Nostrand Avenue and Clarkson Street. It turns out it was the Mardi Gras Theater.
According to Cezar Del Valle’s excellent guide, The Brooklyn Theater Index, Volume 2, the Mardi Gras was built back in 1908 by Henry Fettel, a Flatbush real estate agent and developer. He was a former insurance agent who parlayed his income into a nice nest egg through real estate development. He lived on nearby Linden Boulevard. According to his 1940 obituary, the Mardi Gras was the first theater of its kind in the area.
Cinema Treasures, also an invaluable guide to NY’s theaters, tells us that the Mardi Gras was always a movie theater, and must have shown silent films to an audience of about 350 to 400 people. It opened in 1908 and had a really short run as a theater, only surviving until 1915 or 1916. A newer and larger theater opened a block away, taking away this venue’s audience.
A period photograph shows the theater as it originally looked, with the half-timbered façade, and, for a theater, a very laid back marquee and entrance. You can see the large smokestack of the Brooklyn Almshouse/Kings County Hospital in the background, further along Clarkson Avenue. The theater became an automobile showroom right after that, and then later, an automobile repair shop. Most recently, the stage and much of the auditorium were being used for storage for a plumbing supply shop, and the front of the building, facing Nostrand, was a bodega. Today, it appears to be completely empty.
The building is an amazing little survivor, not lasting long as a theater, but remaining a neighborhood fixture for over one hundred years. Long may it stand, hopefully with new life as a performance or art space. I first saw this building last week. In investigating it, I discovered that it had also recently been spotted by Kevin Walsh at Forgotten New York, with a shout-out by our own commenter, Brenda of Flatbush. Great minds think alike! GMAP