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Huge, Ornate Washington Heights Cinema Returns To Its Roots

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A 3,400-seat theater at Broadway and 175th Street, originally built in 1930 to host giant screenings of blockbuster films, will return to its roots as a cinema after stints as a mega-church for passionate preacher with large followings and a live music venue where Arcade Fire and Bloc Party once graced the state. According to the Journal, the United Palace Theater was one of five Leow's Wonder Theaters built across the city during those early Depression years, and was designed to be as grand as the movies screened there. Says one documentarian of the eclectic outpost: "It's sort of Neo-Classical Cambodian, with influences of Hindu, Mayan, and Moorish architecture. Gilded and covered in red velvet." Yup, sounds about right.

Turns out that Washington Heights didn't always provide a turnout in the thousands for films, so the Palace shuttered after a 1969 showing of "2001: A Space Odyssey." Like several other Loew's Wonder Theaters, it was taken over by a religious institution for massive services. But since 2012, community members have worked to bring back cultural works, performances and other arts to the beguiling, over-the-top space, with the hopes that the neighborhood has gentrified enough to provide an audience to fill the seats. Why is this place special? Oh look, a video tour, which offers a much-needed history lesson about the unique space designed by theater architect extraordinaire Thomas W. Lamb:

The United Palace is a fantasy, an architect's dream of excess, embellishment, and more and more gold paint: a Greek goddess presides over a hall lined with meditating Buddhas, Indian ascetics share the wall with fat Renaissance cherubs. Nothing really makes sense here, but it all comes together completely. Other uptown theaters, like the Coliseum, have shuttered, and despite the general predilection for multiplexes over the last several decades, the Palace's champions aim to develop programming for that will draw area residents and beyond to their precious gilded Cambodian-Oriental-Moorish mish-mash. Will it work?
· Manhattan Theater Readies Silver Screen Return [WSJ]
· Video Tour: United Palace Theater [The City Concealed]
· United Palace [Cinema Treasures]