A thing of beauty is a joy forever… — Keats
(quoted in opening night program, B. S. Moss’ Coliseum Theatre, 1920)
The end of 2011 also brought the quiet demise of the last movie theater in Washington Heights, Coliseum Cinemas. Known to most residents as the RKO Coliseum, the large theater, occupying the entire corner of 181st and Broadway, has been a fixture of the neighborhood for over 90 years. As the community now debates the future of the Coliseum and nostalgia starts to kick in, let’s open this theater’s historical file, found among the rich collections of the Billy Rose Theatre Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
On its opening day on September 24, 1920, B. S. Moss Coliseum Theatre featured live Vaudeville acts while Harold Lloyd entertained onscreen in the latest Pathé comedy.
Imagine the impression this enormous brand new theater must have given, the third largest in the city (second only to the Hippodrome and the Capitol), its lobby and corridors festooned with flowers from well wishers: Vaudevillians, movie stars, as well as the grateful neighborhood community itself — all milling around, smiling mouths agape in awe at the splendor. The interior was ornately decorated in gray, ivory, French gold, and American Beauty Rose red. Even the bathrooms were richly furnished and included statuary and paintings on the walls. Like its neighbor, Audubon Theatre, the Coliseum’s purpose was to present a mixed program of Vaudeville and motion pictures, and was considered primarily as an “amusement center destined to play a large part in the neighborhood community life.”
Click here for the Save the Coliseum FB page.