Monday, June 6, 2011

Old and New


I vaguely remember as a boy seeing a movie in the New Marble Hill theater in the old neighborhood. I’d hazard a guess it was sometime in the late 1960s, not too long before this historic movie house closed for good. My father, on the other hand, recalled numerous visits to the RKO Marble Hill—the old Marble Hill theater, as it were—in his new neighborhood during the late 1940s and 1950s. The place first opened its doors on the Bronx’s Broadway in 1917, when the area was positively pastoral, albeit with an elevated subway line running through it.

For the most part, my memories of this celebrated theater, with its ornate interior, are from the years after it had shut its doors. You see, its New Marble Hill theater marquee remained, looking increasingly old as the days and months passed. As a matter of fact, it hung for decades as a decomposing relic and reminder of both the old and new having seen better days and, too, having run out of time.

Actually, a daily Bingo game breathed new life—if you wish to call it that—back into the New Marble Hill theater for a spell. But it was almost sacrilege hearing people screaming “Bingo” in a crowded theater, especially one with such a rich history and magnificent tapestry. But then again, no grand theater—old or new—could make a go of it in that geographic locale anymore. So, I suppose a regular Bingo game was better than nothing at all there, for it at the very least permitted people to behold both the old and new Marble Hill theaters in one fell swoop. For Bingo players, it was also an opportunity to bathe in a bit of history, although I suspect that checking out the lavish ceiling above them took a back seat to listening for the cries of B-3, G-9, and O-17.

Fast forward to the present and the Bingo game is gone as well from this hallowed location. The old Marble Hill theater that became the new Marble Hill theater currently accommodates a series of retail businesses on street level. The marquee, which had become hideously dilapidated after the place’s closure and lengthy passage of time, is also gone with the wind in what is now known, in recognition of all that was, as Marble Hill Plaza. At last report, the interior theater and its distinctive architecture endure—unseen now by the public but survivors of years and years of outright neglect and, too, Bingo.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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