Building of the Day: 973 Flatbush Avenue

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Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Kingdom Hall, formerly Albemarle Theatre
Address: 973 Flatbush Avenue, corner Albemarle Road
Neighborhood: Flatbush
Year Built: 1919-1920
Architectural Style: French Renaissance Revival
Architect: Carlson and Wiseman
Other buildings by architect: by duo, Alpine Theatre, Bay Ridge, by Wiseman, former Kameo Theater, Crown Heights North, Pavilion Theater, Park Slope
Landmarked: No

The story: When the motion picture arrived big time in American culture, beginning in the late ‘teens and 1920′s, architects who designed theaters found themselves in huge demand. There were still plenty of commissions for vaudeville theaters, as vaudeville and variety acts were the most popular kind of entertainment at the time, and New York City, as a whole, saw theaters rising in almost every neighborhood. The smart theater impresarios could see the writing on the wall: the motion picture would soon be more popular than live acts (and much cheaper for them) and had all of their new theaters designed to accommodate both, or as time passed, just catered to movies.

Some theaters were huge palaces, like the nearby Loew’s Kings Theatre, while others were more modest affairs like the Albemarle Theatre, although it certainly wouldn’t be a small theatre had it been in a small town. The original theater space could seat close to 3,000 people, and had a separate banquet hall, accessible from a side entrance, above it. It was commissioned by John Manheimer, a seasoned theater professional, who was building several theaters in the city at the time.

Arthur C. Carlson and Harrison Wiseman were experienced theater designers. Carlson was lesser known and little information is listed about him. As Carlson & Wiseman, he is listed as the architect of seven Brooklyn theaters, including this one. Of those, only the Alpine Theatre, in Bay Ridge, still stands. Harrison Wiseman had a much larger and prolific career. He designed at least 22 theaters in New York City, some of them important pieces of New York’s cultural history. He did a lot of work for Yiddish theaters, and was the architect of the Jaffe Art Theatre (Yiddish Theatre) on Second Avenue, and others. His Brooklyn theaters included the Kameo, on Eastern Parkway and Nostrand, the Pavilion, on PPW, the Loew’s Oriental, on 86th St, and the Alpine, on 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge.

This is a very nice building, and quite modest and refined for your average theater, and could have easily been an opera or concert house, not an entertainment venue for the masses. I like the formality and elegance. From the photos I’ve seen of the body of Wiseman’s work, he did not have a specific style, but was very adaptable. This building has some great Classical detail, and the windows in the banquet hall on the second floor are most attractive. The theater remained a single screen movie house until 1984, best known as a venue for horror and suspense movies, although first run films like Star Trek: the Motion Picture, which previewed in the 1970′s had a great run there. A fire, which damaged both the movie theater and the banquet hall above, put an end to its career, in 1984, and it was purchased by the Jehovah’s Witnesses later that year, and converted into a Kingdom Hall.

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