I’ve spent the last few days at the New York Public Library Performing Arts Collection which is located at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. All of my research here has been going through their vast collection of playbills, photographs, architectural plans, newspaper clippings about the various theaters that I’ve determined will be the focus of my study. I’m not a stranger to research libraries, but I had never before used an actual card catalog before – of the analog sort where one has to pull out a drawer and search for related information. I was a little shocked when the librarian suggested this was the easiest way to find all materials related to theaters in Brooklyn, but I ended up really enjoying the process and it made my research feel more like a fun scavenger hunt. I also got to use microfilm for the first time when I was looking at old vaudeville programs from 1912-13 from the Bushwick Theater and the Greenpoint Theater.
Thus far I’ve done two major steps in my archival retrieval. The first being the research at the New York Public Library that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Second is, although it isn’t technically archival, I’ve logged and mapped the various sites of theaters that I’ve found and taken photographs of their current condition (or if the theater doesn’t exist – which almost none of them do, I’ve taken photos of the current buildings that are situated on the former theater sites. These photographs will provide the last point in the timeline that I’m creating and more importantly, help to address some of the major questions have arisen since starting this project: With such a plethora of former theaters in the area, how were these entertainment sites repurposed? Why did almost all of the movie theaters close in the 1970’s (as my research seems to suggest)? Was this due to some sort of radical shift going on in the neighborhood or in cinema itself?
There are three more phases of research left to do that include going to the Brooklyn Public Library and looking for more photographs of the theaters. I also need to look at the deeds for each property to get a bigger picture for just how use has changed over the years. The deeds are located at the Municipal Records Office. And lastly I think it would be interesting to see how the demographics of the neighborhood shifted over the course of time and thus altered the need and availability of theaters. This can be done by looking at old census data.