THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY
America: The Jewish Experience
Celebrating Hope, Hard Work, Tolerance and the Triumph of
the Human Spirit By Sylvia Siegel Schildt
Celebrating Hope, Hard Work, Tolerance and
the Triumph of the Human Spirit
By Sylvia Siegel Schildt
These excerpts of Ms. Schildt's memoirs are reproduced with the permission of the author.
In its almost four-decade existence as a movie theater it played the top tier movies immediately after their New York movie house runs.
In addition to
5-act vaudeville shows, the programs also included the ever-present
Henrietta Kamern at the organ, a Robert Morton classic pipe organ which
was raised and lowered as needed. Henrietta accompanied the Follow the
Bouncing Ball singalongs, and served up rollicking music at the beginning
and end of major features.
theater featured Beauty Contests and eager younger movie crazed girls
would submit their photos which were displayed in the lobby. The
concession stand served up drinks, large sized candy (including jumbo
Tootsie Rolls, huge boxes of Nonpareils chocolate topped with white sugar
pellets, and of course, freshly made popcorn.
elegantly dressed good-looking young males and reportedly used this
opportunity to meet and date young ladies of the neighborhood.
The building, with
its Mayan inspired exterior was ringed on its Pitkin Avenue side with fine
retail establishments. Today, the inside has collapsed but retail
establishments of a lesser order still do business on the outer side of a
These are the nuts
and bolts. But in its heyday, in its glory, it was a whole lot more than
the sum of its parts. The Loew’s Pitkin was a pleasure palace, an escape
from the struggles and humdrum existence of this working class
neighborhood, its luxurious appointments and décor alone a sharp contrast
to the squalor in which many lived.
Our mother went to the movies by herself, either to the Pitkin or the Palace, usually on Tuesday nights, which were less crowded and management gave every lady a free dish. She loved the tearjerkers, especially the ones with Bette Davis most of all, and had found that having a good cry in the theater was very cathartic We developed a rating system for her. A really good one was a five-hankie picture. Two or one hankie pictures were disappointments. She would get dressed up, earrings and all, and put on a fancy hat for the occasion. It was normal
to see our
hard-working mother “all dolled up” for an evening at the movies by
Saturday night was
date night for young adults and teens. Unlike today, it was a time for
dressing up, making up and showing off. Males wore shirts, ties and suits,
adding dress coats with white silk scarves in winter. And it was cocktail
dresses and fancy hairdos, jewelry and the whole nine yards for young
Couples in love spend the whole evening “making out” except for interruptions by the ushers. Couples not really in relationship spend the evening in a choreographed wrestling match. It goes something like this. He buys their first round of treats and they find their seat. He holds her seat for her, “like a gentleman”. They settle in, make light conversation, nibble on sweets or popcorn and sip some Coke or Pepsi. The lights dim and the program begins. As the theater darkens and all eyes are on the screen, a male hand reaches for one or another part of the
She knows what’s happening and has three options. She can push the hand
firmly away, leave it there passively but not respond, or jump right in
there with him and “make out.” If the hand is rejected, he tries blowing
in her ear and looking soulfully into her eyes, especially in conjunction
with a romantic portion of the movie.
The balconies were
the places of choice for serious ”making out” or heavy petting.
During breaks or
scheduled intermissions, you went to the lavish restrooms, and combed your
hair to be ready for the next round. Girls would re-do their makeup
sitting at mirrors, surrounded by flattering lighting.
If a girl came by
herself, and sat next to an empty seat, she would be easy prey for any
unattached male who would sit down next to her. And the games would begin.
Same choreography. The response was up to the girl. And if she really
disliked the fellow and he didn’t get the message, she would call the
usher, to make him either vacate the seat or leave the theater.
section was popular for this sort of activity - in general the loges were
too expensive, and the main section too out in the open.
matinees on weekends were a whole different matter. If the main film was
not considered appropriate for young eyes, or a hot kid movie was just
released, that would be part of the double bill. A special section was
roped off for kids and the aisles were heavily patrolled by
searchlight-bearing ushers and matrons.
Kids would come in beginning with the opening of the doors around noon. They came with sandwiches, fruit and treats from home or enough money for the treats from the concession stand in the lobby.
Not only would the youngsters see a double feature and news, but also an array of short subjects, cartoons and that most popular kiddie favorite - the 12-part serial. Evolving from the Perils of Pauline type serial, they would pit a witless hero against equally witless villains. We called them, in Brownsville vernacular, the “chapters.” There was a new chapter every weekend, ending in a cliffhanger, literally. Sets were unconvincing to any but young eyes. Kids cheered and booed and had a great time. The hero, The Phantom, or the heroine, Perils of Nyoka,
would have found a secret entrance to a room on the way down the cliff, or a way to disarm the bomb that was about to go off. The intrepid Nyoka and her friends would be pitted against Vultura, Queen of the Desert, on a quest for the Golden Tablets of Hippocrates or some such treasure. And so on, to the 12th and final chapter. And then a new one would begin. The chapters kept the kids coming on a regular basis - no one wanted to miss finding out how the hero/heroine was rescued. On kiddie matinee days, there were huge signs at the movie house doors promoting the chapter and serial of the day. Each chapter had a dynamic name, presaging Indiana Jones, names not unlike The Temple of
Doom, or Flaming
Inferno, or Railway of Death.
I am an incurable filmaholic and I watch Turner Classic Movies very often. So many of the films I see there or on other channels of that type, I first saw at the Pitkin, most of the 100 top films of all time. Casablanca, Best Years of Our Lives, Gone with the Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Mrs. Miniver, Lost Horizon, all the MGM musicals. The Robert Mitchum film noir adventures. All the great comedies. The Pitkin was our eye on the world. Its newsreels shaped and ignited our patriotism in wartime.
Even to this day,
those who once lived in Brownsville speak with deep affection for this
movie theater. I feel it is a shame that it has been allowed to
deteriorate this far.
And I would
suggest if anyone reading these pages has the money or the means or both
to do something truly meaningful with it before there is any further
deterioration. I would imagine, in the light of the gentrification of
Brownsville, that the building could be restored and converted into a
museum of Brownsville’s colorful turbulent history as a way station for
different waves of immigration, while honoring the films that shaped two
fates of the lesser movie theaters in Brownsville and adjacent East New
York. The Hopkinson Theatre, originally a live Yiddish theater and at one
time a foreign film theater, was subsequently razed and is now a lot. The
Stadium, where B mysteries like Charlie Chan were shown, met a similar
fate and is now a small park. Loew’s Palace, the Supreme, the Ambassador,
the People’s Cinema (nee Bluebird), the Livonia, The Lyric (Hendrix),
Elite (Euclid), Kinema, Biltmore, Premier, Embassy, Warwick, Adelphi
(Gem), Gotham, have ALL been demolished. Those that remain as churches
include The Parkway, New Prospect (Ralph Ave.), the Montauk Arcade
(Montauk) and Brair’s Theatre (Powell) both on Pitkin Ave, the Penn,
Sutter, Miller (Jehovah’s Witness on site) all on Sutter Avenue.
2007 by Sylvia Siegel Schildt.
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