United Palace is one of five “Wonder Theatres” built by visionary Marcus Loew. Located at 176th Street and Broadway, no single word can describe its grandeur.
Mike Fitelson, Executive Producer of the theatre, escorted us through the orchestra, mezzanine, foyer, balcony, and men’s smoking lounge – peppering his talk with spicy stories.
We learned about Marcus Loew, a poor New York Jewish boy whose family was originally from Austria and Germany. At the turn of the twentieth century, Loew bought a penny arcade, a vaudeville theatre, and finally he created what would eventually become an empire of Loew’s Movie Theatres.
There was no TV or radio at the time, so movies were a fantastical and affordable escape from reality – especially the reality of The Depression. The theatre opened on February 22, 1930; it took only 13 months to build since there were few city regulations. In 2016, it earned Landmark Status.
The interior is an exuberant mixture of styles: Byzantine-Romanesque-Indo-Hindu-Sino-Moorish-Persian-Eclectic-Rococo-Deco – which is why it’s called “The Kitchen Sink Masterpiece.”
In the 1950s, America fell in love with what Mike called “The idiot box: television.” This led to the end of single screen movie theatres and by the 1960s, the United Palace was in financial trouble. 1969 saw the divine intervention of the New York City minister Reverend Ike. His United Christian Evangelistic Association bought the building for their church for half a million dollars. He started renovations and basically saved the theatre.
Today the United Palace is a church and a non-profit performing arts center. From spiritual and religious programs to classic movie screenings (My Fair Lady and Rear Window) to concerts (Bob Dylan and Adele), there is something for everyone to love.
The theatre also is rented out for filming TV programs and movies, magazine photography and fashion shows. In 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who grew up in the neighborhood, helped raise $100,000.00 to benefit the theatre.
Because it’s been given meticulous care, the Palace looks today as it did in 1930. And the Robert Morton- designed “Wonder Organ” is the only one of five that’s still in its original “Wonder Theatre.”
See the wonder of it all. Go to unitedpalace.org or call 212-568-6700.