Name: Former Meserole Theater, now Rite Aid Pharmacy
Address: 723 Manhattan Avenue
Cross Streets: Norman and Meserole Avenues
Year Built: 1921
Architectural Style: Neo-Classical Georgian
Architect: Eugene DeRosa
Other Buildings by Architect: Brooklyn — Terminal Theater, Park Slope, Kenmore Theater, Flatbush. Manhattan — 8th Street Playhouse, Times Square Theater, Broadway Theater, Apollo Theater (42nd Street).. Also St. George Theater on Staten Island, and other theaters in NYC and around the country
The story: The Meserole family was one of the five founding families of Greenpoint. Jan Meserole came to this area in 1663 and settled in. The family homestead was centered here, and the family mansion stood on the site of this former theater. In 1919, when plans for this building were announced, the old mansion house was home to the Young Women’s Hebrew Association. It was quickly torn down, and Sol Brill, a well-known theater and amusement park impresario had this theater built.
It’s a deceptive building, at least the entrance is. The narrow lot on Manhattan Avenue would lead one to believe that this is a very small building. It’s only got a 25 foot width on the Manhattan side, in what looks like a one story building scarcely big enough for any kind of theater. But walk down the length of the lobby, and the building opens up to a huge theater space, all of which faces out onto Lorimer Street. When the Meserole Theater opened in 1921, it had seating for two thousand people.
The theater was designed by Eugene DeRosa, one of the busiest theater builders in the metropolitan area. His most famous theaters are in Manhattan, and include the Times Square Theater, now a church, and the Broadway Theater, long-time home to the Broadway legend, “Les Miz.” He designed several theaters in Brooklyn that have also been turned into retail stores.
Some theaters become churches; many of DeRosa’s theaters have become stores. That phenomenon might be due in part because his theaters were more like refined classic concert halls, not fantasy escapist Hollywood palaces. The Meserole Theater had an elegant Georgian-style plaster ceiling with a center dome, and delicate swags and garlands as ornament. A large chandelier hung from the center of the dome, and the stage area had a series of arched entryways and false wings. It was quite elegant.
The Meserole Theater was a vital part of life in Greenpoint for many years. In addition to showing motion pictures, the theater also hosted many events for the community, including several charity events over the course of the years. They had a food drive here in 1927, gathering food baskets to be donated to 700 needy Greenpoint families. Much later, in the 1950s, they sponsored free movie parties for 2,000 Greenpoint children, where refreshments were served, and the kids were entertained by movies and other entertainments.
But, like most of Brooklyn’s movie theaters, the 1970s was the end of all that. The theater closed in 1978, and in 1979 was turned into a roller rink called the Greenpoint Roller Palace. The elegant domed ceiling now sported a mirror ball instead of an elegant chandelier. The roller disco became a new Greenpoint fixture for a new generation. That lasted until at least 1986, when the building was sold and the property leased to the drug store chain that is now called Rite Aid.
Amazingly, the drug store did not close up the great ceiling with a horrible dropped ceiling. You can still see the original ceiling details in all of their glory. They painted most of the ceiling black, which actually highlights the details. Several great pictures can be seen on the Cinema Treasures website here. I love it that they kept the mirror ball up there, too. Curbed recently announced that the property is for sale, and could easily be replaced by a much taller and larger building. Sigh.
(Photograph:Christopher Bride for PropertyShark)