My neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn is full of old movie theaters that have been repurposed into other important community centers, be it a bank, pharmacy, or even a church. While I’ve bemoaned the lack of a proper cinema in north Brooklyn, new, ultra indie movie theaters are starting to pop up in storefronts, apartment buildings and other non traditional spaces in the neighborhood.
I’m assuming that it was a lack of profitability, due to a shift to a vertical production and distribution method by Hollywood that led to the shuttering of the neighborhood’s original theaters, whose ornately decorated ceilings and walls allow for a glimpse into the past. North Brooklyn’s new population of working creatives, who desire more venues of entertainment within the neighborhood, are clearly what are driving the current surge in boutique film venues today.
By analyzing the history of both the neighborhood (in terms of demographics) and film production within the United States, I believe that I’ll be able to quantify just how the two waves of movie theater existence came to happen. My research will begin by looking at the locations of the old theaters as well as their specific neighborhood’s demographic at the time of establishment. I’ll gather not only the data, but also images from the archives of the interior and exterior of the buildings at (hopefully) the time of their establishment and time of closing. I’ll juxtapose those images with ones of what the buildings look like now. This will in turn show if they had been torn down or repurposed. It is possible to do this with today’s theaters, showing what they were originally and what they are today while also studying the current demographic of the specific area within north Brooklyn in which they are located.
Even with some preliminary investigation that included looking at maps of my neighborhood on the New York Public Library’s digital archive site, I learned that several places I frequent, including my grocery store, were, in 1916, theaters. So why study these two waves of theaters in the neighborhood? Entertainment’s, and the various buildings that house centers of entertainment, use in society can be seen as a marker for the healthiness of the economy and also can help to pinpoint major changes within the demographics of a city (or within a city, a specific neighborhood). It is also important to chart how the failing of Hollywood to achieve the monetary success that it once had in the 1980’s and 90’s has contributed, on a more localized level, to the development of a stronger independent movement within cinema.
Besides for having archival and recent images, the interactive map should also be able to convey the changing demographics of the neighborhood. Perhaps the best way to show this would be with some sort of color overlay that could represent the amount of recent immigrants or median income or even what job sector residents resided in, with a different color for a different decade. And when placed with the other maps from class, a portrait of New York City should emerge; one that traces nearly every element of urban life since, let’s assume, the era of industrialization.
Dunn, Angela Fox. “William Fox: Cinema Czar.” Westways. 73.11 (1981): 35. Print.
Hiler, Mary Louise.  The Beginnings of the Cinema in Brooklyn: the Vitagraph Company of America, 1898-2925. Thesis (BA) St. Joseph’s College. USA.
Levy, Emanual. Cinema of Outsiders: The rise of American independent film. New York, NY: New York University Press, 1999.
Musser, Charles. “American Vitagraph: 1897-1901.” Cinema Journal. 22.3 (1983): 4-46
Newman, Michael. “Indie Culture: In pursuit of the Authentic Autonomous Alternative.” Cinema Journal. 48.3 (2009): 16-34.
Perera, L.A.D. The rise, decline, and fall of Hollywood’s mighty empires. 1st. New York, NY: Vantage Press, 1992.
Torrence, Bruce. Hollywood, the fist hundred years. New York, NY: Zoetrope, 1979.
The NYC Department of Records – Municipal Archives’ Collection includes original census documents from 1905 and 1915. These are organized by Ward. It also has assessed values of real estate from 1789 – 1979. This could be an interesting marker for inflation and the changing value of property within neighborhoods. The collection also includes the archives of the WPA FEDERAL WRITERS’ PROJECT (NYC UNIT) which lasted from 1936-1943.
Brooklyn College has one specific archive that could be of use called Brooklyniana. This includes photographs and maps.
BrooklynPix.com has a collection of photographs of old theaters.