Building of the Day: 1396 Broadway

Bushwick Brooklyn -- 1396 Broadway History

The BOTD is a no-frills look at interesting structures of all types and from all neighborhoods. There will be old, new, important, forgotten, public, private, good and bad. Whatever strikes our fancy. We hope you enjoy.

Address: 1396 Broadway at Howard Avenue
Name: The Bushwick Theater
Neighborhood: Bushwick at Bed Stuy border
Year Built: 1911
Architectural Style: Beaux Arts
Architects: William McElfatrick, with later work by Thomas Lamb
Landmarked: No

This immense theater opened as a vaudeville house in 1911, and became part of the RKO movie theatre chain in 1930. It remained a movie theater until 1969, and was then a church for a while, and then abandoned.

While it was in operation, it was a very successful and popular theater, holding many memories for Brooklynites who lived nearby. My aunt remembers her high school graduation from Sara Barton HS being held here. When Bushwick imploded in the late 60’s and 70’s, this theatre suffered greatly, closing, re-opening as a church, and then closing again, now covered with graffiti.

Bushwick Brooklyn -- 1396 Broadway History

Photo via Forgotten New York

Fortunately, it was completely restored to reopen as the ACORN School for Social Justice in 2004. Today, there is scaffolding around the building, and protective netting around the massive cherubs, Greek theater masks, and other detailing.

The center medallion was gone a long time ago, and it’s a huge shame that the cherubs on the west side have been removed. Hopefully they are in storage and will be returned. This is an amazing building, cutting through the street like a large, ornate ocean liner.

Bushwick Brooklyn -- 1396 Broadway History

Bushwick Brooklyn -- 1396 Broadway History

Bushwick Brooklyn -- 1396 Broadway History

[Photos by Suzanne Spellen]

0 Comment

  • They took down the putti babies?
    that’s terra-cottacide!

  • This looks like two separate buildings — and your second picture seems to confirm that. Any idea when the back part was added?

  • Not as big as the Shubert Theatre (aka Monroe Theater, Century Theater) across the street that was built the previous year.

    It spanned the block from Madison to Monroe streets and could seat 1800 people. Had a cafe, restaurant, rathskeller, banquet room, offices and apartments.

    Torn down. HUGE as the picture shows.

  • Acorn School for Social Justice?
    It is too pathetic.
    Why didn’t they just take this poor old building out of its misery?
    This makes me sad.

  • got a look inside several years ago. before the conversion. the then owner had placed fencing around and the workers were literally hacking the cherubs apart. there was, inside the fencing, a 6 foot or so deep pile of terra cotta. those terra cotta pieces kept popping up at various antique yards for years. i have a few in storage we got when the contractors weren’t looking.

    the interior was fantastic. a state of decay and elegance completely unexpected in that section of brooklyn. i have to find the video and photos we shot.

    to get a feel for it… rent the mid 80s movie ” the believer” starring jimmy smits. this building figures prominently.

    and the back part wasn’t an addition. it held 2200 people. and it had incredible theatrical fly space. the topmost floor was added and the windows on the side of the rear are new.

  • bkn: I’m impressed.
    You were there and you saw.
    Sometimes it’s better that old beautiful buildings just get torn down.
    acorn school for social justice? I repeat, it is too pathetic.
    Ada Louise Huxtable wrote hat cities get the architecture they deserves. Tin horn architecture for a tin horn culture.
    That lady has class.

  • it really is sad.

    i prided my self on knowing more than anyone else about neighborhoods on the rise… but when this was for sale (for $750,000) I couldn’t see fighting what was then a very rough neighborhood and waiting it out.

    when we got our few pieces of terra cotta it was me and friend in a van at 5 am on a sunday morning.

    while we were hustling out the pieces(god were they heavy) i was in the van and heard gunshots. very nearby. thats what killed it for me. sunday at 5 am, two block from the precinct … gunfire.

    does Montrose do followups?

    maybe i could be persuaded to hunt down some stuff (negatives) tucked away in storage :)

  • I’ll do follow-ups. In fact, I’ll do a week of follow-ups at the end of the year to catch people up on new facts that have come in on buildings I’ve covered. Please contact me, bklyn4life, it’s a great idea, and I’d love to see more.

    montrosemorris at

    McKenzie, the only think pathetic around here is you. A fine building was saved, and is being reused for a school, one of the best examples of adaptive re-use around. ACORN or not, this is a good thing. If you can’t see that, that’s your loss.

  • Montrose:

    I’ve commented before that your knowledge and apprecation of the architecture of Brooklyn is not grounded in a proper understanding of the people and culture who built these great structures.

    Brooklyn today is a curious place. You have a beautiful city occupied by people who, if they were in they were in their native habitat and had not been imported here under a vast scheme of social destabilization, would be living in abject squalor or as stone age people. They survive only due to the temporary and increasingly tenuous strength of the US military which can extract wealth from foreign lands and redistribute a substantional portion of that booty to “voters”.

    ACORN exists as part of this process.

    What is sad is that there is little time remaining. Brooklyn will undoubtedly go to hell as the rabble will burn the place to the ground when the free ride ends and no one bothers listening to their cries. ACORN will be remembered as the last popular vestige of a discredited system of governance: democarcy. Unfortunately, civil unrest will likely consuming this building as it is now a focal point of the mob.

    It may be a fine adaptive re-use, but it will likely hasten the destruction of the building.

  • Wow, Polemicist reveals his/her true racist roots. That comment is just so wrong on so many levels I’m not even going to go further except to say that he/she should be banned from this site (and the ignore button is a lovely idea). Wow – I can’t believe there are even people who think like that in this day and age.