Astoria’s Oldest Theater Closes After 80 Yrs. Of Movie Magic

If you were an Astorian in 1965 and saw the (then) new hit movie “The Sound of Music,” chances are you saw it at the United Artists Theatre at the corner of Steinway Street and 30th Avenue.

The cinema served the community from 1920 throughout the rest of the 20th century, projecting new generations of movies to new generations of audiences until it closed down for good two weeks ago on December 26th.

United Artists started its plans to close the old Steinway theater last spring, when it bought the enormous Regal Cineplex at 35-01 37th Street just blocks away. That two-year-old, modern-day movie palace is more than ten times the size of the old 1920s site.

“For us it was either get this theater or upgrade our theater,” United Artists president and CEO of the company, Kurt Hall said at the time of the Regal purchase.

Back in the early years, the old Steinway Street cinema had a single screen, on which it would often show double features.

Specialty nights were also the norm, as were childrens’ daytime Saturday matinees.

Julie Wager, a lifelong Astorian and president of the Steinway Street Business Improvement District, remembers watching detective movies at the theater as a child, when his father owned a corset shop on Steinway Street.

“I loved cops and robbers stuff. If you went on a Saturday you’d see eight cartoons and a Tom Mix Western serial or something. That cost you 75 cents or a buck, including a box of candy.”

Bob Singleton, president of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, remembers the cinema during the 1970s and 1980s, when as a young adult he saw “Escape from New York” and the cult gang flick “The Warriors” there.

“Everybody has a theater when they’re growing up. For me, that’s my theater.”

Over the decades, the old cinema kept up with new technological innovations and trends as best it could. At the time of its closure in December, the space had been cut up into six tiny screening theaters in order to compete with multi-screen venues.

United Artists would not give a clear time table for the closing of the old cinema, but did post the dates of its service once the theater shut down the day after Christmas.

On the marquee that recently advertised “Moulin Rouge” is now posted: November 1920—December 2001.

Wager said United Artists has been rather uncommunicative about what will become of its site.

“There are so many rumors,” he said. “The latest is that Duane Reade’s going to take the ground floor and have offices on top.”

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