Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Paradise Lost

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Paradise Lost

Article excerpt

In a recent piece on movie houses old and new, the New York Times published a photo of the interior of Loews Paradise Theater in the Bronx. The only adequate response to the photo mixed disbelief, laughter, and regret in just about equal measure. The Paradise is one of those architecturally giddy American movie palaces of the l920s and 1930s--rococo, barocco, and perhaps just plain loco--that once prospered in downtowns across the country. In New York City, these extravagant confections rose even in neighborhoods far from Manhattan, the city's official entertainment heart. In the midst of the drab and the everyday, a space was cleared for the fantastic. Up the walls of the Paradise, for example, an astonishing floor-to-ceiling assemblage of arches, portals, nooks, crannies, statues, busts, pedestals, and sense-be-damned ornamentation grows like jungle vegetation.

The grand lobbies of these old theaters--some even had fountains and goldfish pools--guided you to broad staircases, at the top of which lay the loge, that exclusive first-level expanse of seats shielded behind red velvet curtains. The seats were a little more expensive than the rest, and springing for the difference was by no means automatic. Above the loge rose the balcony, where height thinned the air and cigarette smoke curled upward to the projector's stream of light. (Was it a knowing cruelty to exile smokers to the balcony and test their wounded lungs on the long ascent?)

The outsized theaters began to lose their audiences and their purpose by the l950s, and though some of them survive in New York and elsewhere, they rarely show movies. …

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