Friday, March 24, 2006

Any large, shuttered building always inspires daydreams in me of what the place used to be, of the life that might have hummed inside the thing, and also daydreams of restoring the place, of if I had a couple million dollars lying around, how I would rehabilitate the place, what I would convert it into. And more often that not, the dream is always the same, converting it into an old time, grimy roller rink that played bubblegum pop. I don't know why I have this dream. I imagine that the day to day running of a roller rink would probably become really tiring really fast, dealing with bratty tweens and hearing the same pop songs over and over. But maybe I could just own it and have someone else run it and skate there. These are the paths my thoughts wander down when I am walking past abandoned buildings, when I walk past one especially, the old building on the corner of Broadway and Marcy, only a few blocks from my house and which I walk by just about every time I ride the JMZ.

Today, doing some research, I have found out quite a lot about this building which has a really interesting history and which has shed light on histories of my neighborhood I was unaware of. The building is the Commodore Theater, and even though now it looks like it has been abandoned for many years, it apparently was an operating movie theater right up until 2002.

If you read the thread in that link, there have been lots of failed efforts by movie buffs to reopen the theater or to get it declared a landmark, so that the current owners can't demolish it or gut it anymore than some believe they already have. Scenes from Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway were shot inside the theater. The theater is the last one remaining of the many that apparently used to run up and down Broadway (not the B'way of Manhattan, but the one that runs through South Williamsburg). Even though I would imagine the roar of the elevated JMZ tracks running down Broadway would make it a bad place for theaters, there used to be quite a few movie houses and vaudeville stages on this street now dotted with nothing but fried food shops, check cashing places, and 99 cent stores.

The Commodore is a really beautiful building and one that even though I have passed it countless times, it has always sparked my imagination each time I've seen it, wondering why such a gorgeous space has remained shuttered for so long. I have a thing for old movie houses.

This lead to reading about multiplexes making their way to Williamsburg, which surely will happen soon enough when the waterfront is developed and a new 40,000 residents call this place home, making catching a train at the already overcrowded Bedford stop a nightmare. There are all these changes that are thrilling to observe and then to read how this neighborhood has been constantly shifting from one thing to another; the story of this movie house puts the current changes on some continuum at least, rather than a massive blip.

Rumor has it that Loews was set to build a multiplex on the vacant lot at the bottom of McCarren Park on N. 12th and Bedford, another prime piece of land that has been vacant for a really long time. What used to occupy that lot, however, was a paint factory which left a toxic imprint on that land, thus its disuse and its being fenced off. The clean-up is going to have a big bill and there is a fight about who should be responsible for the paying of this large bill. Isn't that really nice to know that the land right next to the park where people sit for hours on the grass breathing in the air is a toxic dump? Lovely! This, of course, though - the toxic land - the heated speculation of various message boards, so take it with a grain of salt.

In other interesting news, "qi" is apparently now an acceptable word in Scrabble. So is "zzz" and lots of other nonwords. And "za" means pizza? In what world? I know if I play these words with people that aren't Scrabble zealots, they would totally think I was out of mind and trying to cheat. There is also debate on message boards about "qi" and "za" and whether their introductions makes it too easy to play those letters, and that their value should no longer be at ten points. Message boards are awesome is today's lesson.

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