About five blocks away, an ancient wreck of a neighborhood movie house had closed in the previous decade. Its Vaudeville origins lay in the mists of time. I remembered it as The Victory, a place of modest pretensions, just big enough to hold around eight hundred people. Sans marquee (which the new owners of the building had had removed) “Tompkinsville Theater,” incised in the stone entablature above the door, gave a hint of its past as a live house.
“Why’d you take down the marquee?” Dean wondered, as the building owner was showing us around.
“Costs money — there’s a tax on marquees,” he observed. We knew about this, having already coughed up $385 of our own, to pay the City of New York for the leaky St. George marquee that also hung over a public sidewalk.
The Tompkinsville’s marquee wasn’t the only thing missing: there were no seats, no screen, curtains or concession stand. There was, however, a projection booth, equipment missing. Photographs of what must have been the staff in around 1940, clung crookedly to the wall next to the port.
But if it had had impeccable velvet seats and state-of-the-art xenon projectors, we couldn’t have cobbled together a down-payment. What were we thinking? Ostensibly, we imagined we’d show the action pictures our audience craved in this more modestly-sized house, and save the art flicks and live shows for the grand dame, the palace we couldn’t begin to fill on a regular basis. Hadn’t we, after all, been running the trailer for Gone With the Wind, a movie we knew we couldn’t afford to lose money on, for months?
So does a gambler who’s just lost the deed to her house at the blackjack table, prepare to double down with what’s left on her Visa card, for a last play. We were saved by the fact that we had nothing, not even credit, we could lay our hands on.
We were in love with a past we had no inkling of, which was why we were touring this defunct theater, an old sister of the St. George, in the first place. Almost forty years later, I wish I’d taken pictures, especially of the staff in that yellowing photograph, the proud ushers in their matching brown uniforms.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
After the Fact: What Became of the Victory/Tomkinsville Theater?
To look at the theater building as it exists today is to understand why it could never have succeeded from the 1960’s forward. There is absolutely no parking. When I stopped to take pictures, I was forced to occupy a crosswalk. People attended Vaudeville and early to mid-century movies on foot or via bus.
Designed by a local, James Whitford, who also designed the Empire Theatre featured in last week’s blog post, the Tompkinsville Theater, these days, serves three different purposes, none of them theatrical, but all laudable and two downright commendable. The main entrance serves as a sports apparel shop, but the the side doors facing Victory Boulevard belong to On Your Mark, a non-profit organization which employs disabled people in store-front businesses. Two of those businesses are a chocolatier and a florist. Wouldn’t it be terrific if the candy shop happened to occupy the former space of the theater’s concession stand?
It is interesting to note that the blocks surrounding the former theater, include a diverse list of businesses. Dembner’s Hardware, established in the 1920’s, where we, as managers of the St. George Theatre, had an account, still survives, largely untouched, in its third generation, under Harry Dembner. On the same side of the street are The African Homeland Store and Cinderella Restaurant: Rio Pan Mexican. Across the street, Tacqueria Gallo Azteca, serves some of the finest tacos to be had in the neighborhood, and TurnKey (used) Furniture is planning a Black Friday sale. New residents of the block include thinkDESIGN, with a wild green snake-like facade. Who knows what’s next in St. George and Staten Island’s North Shore?
Meanwhile, whatever you do, be sure to check out this link on The Victory Theatre, including a series of “recent comments,” — reminiscences — beginning with one by Vito.