Fourteen months before the 1929 stock market crash, a 1,516-seat theater struck someone as a good investment. Most of a century later, Park Slope is a good investment once more. Nitehawk Prospect Park Cinema will open a refurbished version of the theater in March.
Yesterday, Matthew Viragh, founder of Nitehawk, gave Bedford + Bowery a tour of the construction site.
The former Pavilion has been divided into seven smaller theaters with a total of 650 seats. Two kitchens will accommodate in-theater dining. There’ll be a bar immediately in front of the box office and another overlooking Prospect Park from the two–story windows built into the early theater, before the crash.
A bar to be.
This cinema-dine-drink trifecta is a staple of the Nitehawk brand. Asked about the new cinema’s programming, Viragh confirmed it would be Nitehawk’s signature blend of art-house fare, midnight movies, and shorts by local filmmakers, with one caveat: “The larger theater will show bigger releases, which we couldn’t do in Williamsburg,” he said, referring to the largest of the screening rooms, which will have 160 seats. “We will be able to pick and choose bigger stuff, like Star Wars.”
This latest overhaul is consistent with the cinema’s history. The building was constructed in 1928, replacing the smaller “Marathon Theater,” built in 1908. It was named after Rudolf Sanders, who also owned the Pavilion. The original theater hosted live performances in order to fill those 1,516 seats, according to Sanders’s New York Times obituary. In 1915, he pled guilty to allowing minors to perform there, but his sentence was suspended. The theater continued to evolve after Sanders‘s death in 1959.
“In the 1970s, we heard that it was a porn theater,” said Viragh, describing a low point for the venue, and the city’s economy. “We couldn’t find any chandeliers.”
The theater shut down in 1978 and remained unoccupied for over a decade. It came under new ownership in the mid-1990s and remained in operation until 2017. However, it wasn’t exactly restored to its former glory. The Pavilion’s Yelp score was a ⅖, which seems somewhat high when you look at the photos of the bed bug bites endured by the patrons.
Throughout the tour, Viragh mentioned how little of the facility was left. The hunt for pieces of it– as well as details about its history– is ongoing. Nitehawk has yet to delve into the basement of an adjacent brownstone also owned by Sanders.
However, the venue still retains some of its flavor. Once those piles of marble are used to dress up the stairwell, Park Slope will get a nice, new boutique film-going experience. Let’s just hope there isn’t another market adjustment.