86th Street Grande Theatre
160 E. 86th Street,
160 E. 86th Street,New York, NY 10128
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When AMC took over the Century chain on Long Island all the unique signage, particularly on the Meadows in Fresh Meadows, just became the red AMC which is very similar to the AMF bowling alleys. The names of the theaters are not even displayed anymore.
There are barely any theatre marquees to speak of. Whatever signage exists is bland and nondescript. There are recognizable logos such as AMC, but would any of these identifiers lure me into that particular movie house? Theatrefan made a valuable suggestion of the applications of LED as a replacement for neon. That could be quite exciting.
Thanks for the detailed description TonyV, I really liked the RKO Zig-Zag style with all of the chaser bulbs in yellow & white. The Kenmore Theatre in Brooklyn used those type of letters you described on it’s marquee until it closed in 1999, wonder if it was the last one in the city to still have that style.
The neon signage was the accent for the marquee but there were loads of incandescent bulbs. The Grande marque is small compared to, for instance, the one on RKO 58th where I worked in the late forties and fifties. The underside was a blaze of light. They also used the chasing flashing lights to frame areas and edges. I used to help the house electrician in changing the signs on the marquees when the movie changed (we had two). Behind the lettering were literally hundreds of incandescent bulbs. Relamping was a several hour job. You would try to unscrew a lamp and the glass bulb would separate from the metal base and the fine wires would short with sparks. The he heat coming off all those lamps were incredible. Those signs had to be changed despite any weather, rain or snow or wind. Fifteen years old and helped erect the scaffolding and then move it around to each side of the marquee, climb up there and slide the metal plates with the letter cot-out in and out The sign layout was approved by the manager, RKO had black metal panels with the letter cut-out and a white porcelain letter fastened in it. There were blank panels, full size, quarter and half sized for spacing. The signs had to arranged so everything was balanced. The Grande marquee though small is quite well done.
The vertical on the E-Walk was a great example of an LED simulation that was supposed to resemble the old neon style of days gone by.
Neon is expensive and noisy, breaks too easily, and takes time to replace. All we can expect is LED simulations.
Along Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal there is a workshop that gives lessons in glassblowing and creating neon signs. I hear that the signage involves quite an intricate process. Could we possibly hope for a neon sign comeback?
Neon signage is a vanishing art form, I hope eventually they will be a new renewed interest in it before it'a too late. Most vintage movie theatre marquee’s were spectacular in using it to draw patrons from the sidewalk in.
Always fascinating insights into street life of over a century ago. Neon signage played a major roll in illuminating the urban streets-capes whether through bright retail signs or movie marquees. Promoting a particular brand, and developing immediate recognition was achieved through lighting. It seems that East 86th St. was never dark. Can’t imagine the sight from any of the elevated subway lines as you pulled into the station.
granddaughter-my great grandfather ran the schwarzer adler. Would love to know how we are related
In August 1963 it was still open.
In 1942 it went from Garden to Grande.
Big low Little low, how low can you go?Cool history.
Lived right up the block from the Grande at 150 E 86th St which was torn down in 2007. if you missed a movie at “Big Loew’s”, the (Orpheum) and at Little Loew’s (Loews 86th St). you could catch it some months later at the Grande. One thing I noticed as a kid, the Grande was not cooled by an air-conditioning unit, instead a big ice truck (was it Consolidated Ice??)would show up in the AM on summer days and they would unload and slide big blocks of ice down into the theatre’s basement. Tons of it actually. Must have blown the air over the ice to cool the house. It was something to grow up on a block with three movie houses on it, plus another on the next block west (RKO 86th) or still another 1 block east (the Schwartze Adler: spelling). I could sleep through all the traffic noises, the Salvation Army singing outside Martin’s Bar across the street but when they turned off the big Howard Clothes sign outside my window, it would wake me up. Go figure.
My grandfather, J. Louis Geller, operated this theatre from around 1917 when he took it over from his father. (When my great-grandfather owned it, it was a caberet, the Schwarzer Adler, which had Viennese Operetta.) There were several theatres on the street, but I’m told it was the first one with a marquee. The theatre was owned by my grandfather and his siblings, but he ran it. I found an obituary from the publication “Boxoffice” of May 26, 1958 which calls it the 86th Street Garden Theatre.
The American Motion Picture Directory 1914 – 1915 listed the address of the Winter Garden Theatre as 158-160 East 86th Street. The 86th Street Theatre is listed in the same publication as having an address at 162 East 86th Street.
The co-feature translates to “Promise Me Nothing”
Listed as the Winter Garden Theatre in the American Motion Picture Directory 1914 – 1915. In the Film Daily Yearbook 1926 edition it is still the Winter Garden Theatre with a seating capacity of 450 and by the 1941 edition of F.D.Y. it is the 86th Street Gar. with 492 seats. Listed as the 86th Street Gardens Theatre with 525 seats in the 1943 edition of F.D.Y.