Staying Cool for a Nickel

The summer heat is here in full force! If you’ve been reading our blog lately you’ll know we’ve come up with some great ways to beat the heat like a Lower East Side local this summer, and here is our next tip – head to your local movie theater for an afternoon of much-deserved relaxation and air conditioning! The movies have been the staple of summer amusement for over a century, and here on the Lower East Side, we have a rich history of theaters and the patrons who loved them.

Moving pictures projected onto a screen have been around since the 1890s with owners of saloons and arcades charging a few cents to see a film. By 1905, little theaters in storefronts all over Manhattan were cropping up, especially in neighborhoods comprised mostly of tenement housing.

One of the many movie theaters (or “nickelodeons”, as they were called colloquially) built in 1927 in our neighborhood still stands just a few blocks from us. The original Loew’s Canal Street movie theater can be found on Canal Street between Ludlow and Essex. One could stop in to this beautiful building with its artfully carved terra cotta façade for a double feature for a total of five cents! Gone with the Wind, Meet Me in St. Louis, or Shirley Temple in Curly Top would have been screened at the beloved neighborhood spot.

And another perk of going to the movies at Loew’s on Canal? This theater sported an early model of air conditioning, called an air cooling system. If you walk by the building you can still see the enormous fan system on the roof to this day. While the theater is no longer operational, the building still stands and is in the process of being investigated for landmark designation status.

So whether it’s 1911 or 2011 New Yorkers have always found the movies a great way to relax and stay cool during the long summer months, even if it no longer costs 5 cents.

Seen any great movies this summer? Know of any other vintage theaters still around today? Please leave us a note in the comments. Until next week, stay cool, readers!

PS. You know where else is air conditioned? Our museum! Join us in the coming heat wave for a cool tour!

Categories: Blog, History, Immigration, Lower East Side

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