By the time we took over the St. George, in 1976, its — and the Paramount’s — babysitting days were over. The Paramount had slipped to showing occasional porn, and our theater survived — if you could call selling only a few hundred tickets surviving — on second- or third-run action films, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Cartoons were unthinkable: they were expensive to rent (fifty bucks per) and the tough crowd we serviced would have scoffed at them.
And yet, the kids who came through our doors, mostly teenagers or a little younger, needed a safe place to come no less than Maria, a generation before, had needed the Paramount. The mothers of our urban teens may not have known exactly where they were, but these kids were safe, the theater had become their sanctuary. That is, once we got a handle on crowd control, and hired men from the community--who knew the families of these kids well enough to say, “Get. down from there! Would you walk on yo‘ mama’s sofa?”
We featured “Pong” — the hot, in fact the only, video game in those days — in the lobby, and the best concession stand in the five boroughs, with fresh-popped corn and ballpark hotdogs. Still we dreamed of more: in the cavernous old downstairs lounge, almost twenty years before Hoop Dreams (how I wish we’d stayed in business long enough to show that!), we even talked about installing a form of basketball! On the mezzanine, we wanted to open a restaurant. While I haven’t heard of any recent movie palace renovations featuring hoops, the model for the future includes mezzanine dining and all manner of activities, in other words, a community center once again. We really were just a little ahead of our time, thirty-nine years, to be exact.