Don't let the squat little Rite Aid storefront on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint fool you...
It has a long history. A movie theater for most of its life, you can see it below in 1928 when it was known as the Fox Meserole showing silent films (the advertised Baby Mine was made in 1928 - more info here).
Later, the Meserole was purchased by Randforce/United Artists and showed first run movies, competing with the nearby RKO Greenpoint (long gone, sadly). Below, a picture from the 1960's:
Though it looks small from the front, the theater was actually quite large, accommodating 2,000 people on ground level and balcony seating. Here, a bird's eye view from above shows its full size - the main entrance is beside the white truck in the upper right corner, which leads to the theater building on Lorimer.
The theater was named after the Meserole family, who were among the first settlers in the area. In fact, the original farmhouse may have been torn down to accommodate the theater, which is built on former Meserole land - Forgotten-NY speculates that this may explain the inclusion of cattle skulls in the exterior design work.
Originally known as the Garden Theater, it became the Fox Meserole in the 1920's showing silent films, and later talkies. It continued as a theater owned by United Artists into the 1970's, ultimately closing down in the early '80's. The space was then converted into a roller rink known as Laces for the first half of the '80's, and later a Liquidator's Arena (a huge 99-cent shop).
It's been an Eckard Drug for the entire time I've known it, only recently being converted into a Rite-Aid. Incredibly, despite all the renovations, much of the old theater still remains. In fact, this could be the weirdest and frankly most amazing Rite Aid you ever visit.
As you come in the doors, you pass through what would have been the original lobby.
After a short distance (where I imagine the ticket booth would have been located), the floor begins to slant downward for about 20 feet as you descend into the theater.
Here, where the floor levels out, is where you would have passed into the theater.
And incredibly, rather than raising the floor to one level, the entire main floor of the Rite-Aid exists on the footprint of the old theater - meaning you have to walk down the original theater ramps to get to the merchandise! Awesome!
As you're walking down the ramp, you'll immediately notice the tremendous black ceiling, featuring a huge white dome in the center.
The dome still has a ton of great detailing left on it...
...with the disco ball from its years as a Roller Rink still hanging! At least 25 years old, could this be the oldest disco ball in Greenpoint?
The movie screen was originally situated on this wall - you can see arches which probably once featured a ton of sick detailing, big red curtains, and who knows what else.
I've always wondered if the two side arches originally housed box seats:
Turn to face the opposite direction, and you'll see the balcony seating area, still in place but obstructed by a black wall. The manager told me the balcony is now used for storage space, and that it has been completely gutted (nope, she wouldn't let me take a look, sadly).
Detail work still exists along the perimeter. It amazes me that this hasn't been painted to accentuate its beauty. Seriously, would you NOT want to shop in a store that proudly identifies itself as a former movie theater?
Head up the far aisle to the rear of the theater...
And you'll find yourself in the current pharmacy department/upper-level rear of the theater. A concession stand once stood to the left.
This door takes you up to the balcony level (note that even here the ceiling has detailing):
Another small dome over the pharmacy...
With additional detailing on either side:
And more as you head out.
I challenge you to find a more interesting Rite Aid.
Neighborhoods in New York seem to have all gone through the same basic phase: a golden age of building and craftsmanship, a degradation in standards, decline, severe neglect, neighborhood rejuvenations, and finally appreciation of what has somehow managed to survive.
I don't know Greenpoint's history all that well, so I can't say how it fits in to this cycle. However, I can say that Manhattan Ave is one of the more enjoyable and yet depressing thoroughfares in Brooklyn to me. At the same time lined from end to end with insanely beautiful buildings, the amount of ground-level gutting, aluminum-siding, thoughtless additions, and lack of care has reduced so many of them to shells of their former glory.
Call it gentrification or whatever you want, but it seems like people are starting to care again, and I'm really hoping we see buildings of the past get a facelift. Don't be the Rite Aid that tries to be as generic as every other Rite Aid out there - be the Rite Aid that is proudly located in a freakin' movie theater that dates back to the silent era of films; hell, to a time when there were farms all over the area. People LOVE this sort of history, because you can't recreate or fake it. It's why people pay big bucks to live in Soho, the Meatpacking District, Tribeca, and every other historical neighborhood in Manhattan.
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate what has survived despite all the opposition against it - but why not show it off a bit?
More articles: www.scoutingny.com.
PS - Huge thanks to Brooklynpix.com for allowing me to post the above pictures. If you've never visited, check it out now - their pictures of Brooklyn spanning over a century are incredible, and you're sure to find something in your neighborhood.
PPS - I'm also really appreciative of CinemaTreasures.com, a site dedicated to preserving the memory of current and defunct theaters. Each page is a permanent message board of history and memories, and it is from numerous postings there that I was able to put together the Meserole's history - check out its specific page for a lot of great reminisces.
PPPS - Finally, a great article on the Meserole from the Brooklyn Standard Union published June 5, 1928:
Because she thought her cousin was being impersonated in the leading role of a western motion picture shown at the Meserole Theater, between Norman and Meserole ave., Mrs. Stella Skaozazciniski 34 years old, of 185 Huron st., rushed from her seat in the orchestra to the manager's office and demanded that the film be stopped. Sidney Larschan, manager of the theater, helped the woman's husband take her to the Greenpoint police station, where an ambulance was called. Dr. Drainick of Greenpoint Hospital treated the woman for hysterics after which she was allowed to go home with her husband.
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