Accordingly, we ran a soft-porn double feature, Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS and Women Behind Bars (this last from the director of the famed 99 Women and Sadomania). We were riding on the theory that Staten Island’s only existing porn house, the Empire, was already covering the XXX market, and that people who wanted a little titillation without having to endure the dubious hygiene of the Empire’s filthy seats and floors would come to us. We hadn’t thought about the possibility that hygiene problems might come (no pun intended) along with the crowd attracted to the she-wolf and imprisoned women, another lesson to be learned.
Soft (or any kind of porn) turned out not to be the solution to our empty auditorium anyhow. A disappointing crowd of seedy-looking characters who, with their suspicious brown bags, avoided the concession stand and bought even fewer tickets than the (mostly-white suburban) watchers of mainstream movies (The Man Who Would Be King, etc.) proved the point. I was relieved. Our theater was an aging beauty with a lot of class; why subject her to streetwalking?
As for the Empire, our downtrodden sister theater just a few miles away in Port Richmond, curiosity finally got the better of a few of us. A mixed crowd of management staffers, boys and girls, piled into somebody’s car and caught the next XXX double feature they were showing. We stayed halfway through the first movie, Slippery When Wet, but left before Box Lunch began. I will never forget the sad figures in the dark, paper bags in their laps.
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After the Fact: What became of The Empire?
In 1978, a year after the St. George closed as a movie house, the Empire suffered the same fate. It is rumored that after we left the St. George, the Empire went straight and, for a brief encore before closing, ran such movies as A Star Is Born, starring Barbra Streisand, but if so, I was unaware. The theater, with its two castle spires, had had its grand opening (1916) in the then-thriving community of Port Richmond, Staten Island. This community, whose oldest cemetery dates to the late 1600‘s, housed (until 1945) the St. James Hotel, where Aaron Burr died. Port Richmond resident, James Whitford, who designed the Empire Theatre, would have been saddened to see his small fine neighborhood house brought low by porn. Perhaps he would have found its recent use — until recently the headquarters and storage facility for Farrell Lumber — a better fate. Such is the life of aging theaters.