Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Built as the Lido Theater, then the Rex Cinema, now Cobble Hill Cinemas
Address: 265 Court Street
Cross Streets: Corner Butler Street
Neighborhood: Cobble Hill
Year Built: 1925
Architectural Style: Not sure what you’d call this
The story: Back in the 1920s and early ‘30s, it seemed every neighborhood had not just one, but several movie theaters. In those days before many people had radios, and before television, the movies were the place to escape from reality, and live in the world of glamorous, exciting and often dangerous people. Like today, they enjoyed movies in genres high and low. Science fiction and westerns were as popular as detectives and star crossed lovers. Not all of these neighborhood theaters were huge, some, like this one, were rather small, but still showed the good stuff. In 1926, this movie house opened as the Lido Theater.
The Lido had a small lobby, but it held 600 people. The façade once had elegant arches around the entrance which were complimented by the Gothic arched running trim up by the roofline. Other than that, this theater was purely practical and down to business. In 1934, some alterations were made, resulting in the theater on the ground floor, a private gentlemen’s club, which had twenty members, on the second floor, and an apartment on the top floor.
The day after Christmas, in 1939, when the theater was full of kids and their parents, an explosion in the furnace of the pool hall next door to the theater caused a brick wall between the two buildings to collapse. Fortunately, the smoke from the furnace began seeping in before the explosion, and the theater was being evacuated when the stove blew up, so there were only minor injuries to the children and adults. To their credit, no one panicked and everyone was gotten out of the theater before the wall collapsed. Some people suffered from smoke inhalation and a few got minor burns. Neither building was heavily damaged.
The Lido lasted until 1967, when its name changed to the Cobble Hill Theatre. That only lasted a year, upon which the name was changed to the Rex Theater. The Rex showed “B” movies, science fiction, horror and kung fu movies until 1981, when the building changed hands again. Cobble Hill was becoming gentrified at this time, and the new owner turned the theater into a duplex theater called the Cobble Hill Twin Cinemas.
In 1989, he turned the venue into a triplex, and then, in 1992, it became a five-plex. In order to do that, he had to build two new theaters on the roof. Clearview Cinemas bought the place after that, in order to turn it into an art house to complement the new Regal Cinema 12-plex in Brooklyn Heights. But it was a failure, and the theater was sold back to the previous owner, who continues to show a combination of independent and foreign films, as well as first run movies.
Although it’s not sleek and new, the space is a bit cramped, and the climb up the stairs steep, the Cobble Hill Cinema remains a very popular movie theater, with special pricing deals, and movie nostalgia, a-plenty. I remember seeing “The Perfect Storm” in here. You could almost feel the water rising around you. That’s what one wants in a movie theater – to escape the boundaries of real life. GMAP
(Photograph:Ken Roe for Cinema Treasures)