In the 1950s, Kenny Owens, now 70 years old, remembers pooling money with his friends to buy one ticket to a movie at the now-shuttered Meserole Theater. After one child entered the theater, he or she would crack open the back door and everyone else would run in, hiding from a particularly severe usher who would throw out any scofflaws.
Owens, who was born and raised in Greenpoint but now lives in Madison, Wisconsin, looks back fondly on these escapades as well as the theater’s stale popcorn, the “majestic” red carpet and the rumble of the G train as it passed underground during showings.
“It was a real refuge from the neighborhood,” he said in an interview over the phone.
That same nostalgia is motivating more than 700 current and former Greenpoint residents to organize on Facebook to preserve the vacant building at 723-725 Manhattan Ave., after Greenpointers published an article detailing the owner’s plans to partially demolish the former theater and construct a five-story development in its place.
While the effort to preserve the building is in its early stages, 63-year-old John Altyn, one of the organizers of the group, has already sought help from the office of Assemblymember Emily Gallagher.
“Everything in Greenpoint is being erased, torn down or changed into something else,” said Altyn, who grew up in Greenpoint. He now lives in Ridgewood.
Constructed in 1921 on where one of the founding families of Greenpoint had originally built a home, the former theater was eventually repurposed as a roller rink in 1979. After less than a decade, a pharmacy that eventually became known as Rite Aid moved in and decided to preserve the roller rink’s disco ball.
The former Meserole Theater has an approximately 100-year history, but the prospects of its achieving landmark status are tenuous, according to Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the historic preservation nonprofit Historic Districts Council.
“It’s not an obvious slam dunk,” Bankoff said.
The prior owners have altered the former theater’s interior and exterior. Moreover, the facade, isn’t “something that wows you and pronounces that it’s a theater,” he commented.
While there have been recent examples of historical movie theaters that have continued operating as movie theaters—most notably the new Nitehawk cinema in Park Slope—these stories are few and far between, he said in a phone interview.
Ultimately, though Bankoff wasn’t the most hopeful for the theater’s future, he does believe in preserving the former Meserole Theater in some way. “It’s still very important. It’s got the proper scale. It reminds people of what that section of Greenpoint was, whereas a tall featureless building does not.'”
Joanna Zdziaszek, a 54-year-old Greenpoint resident agrees. She remembers watching movies with her babysitter at the Meserole Theater when she was growing up.
“To hear that it’s going to be demolished, it’s really sad,” Zdziaszek said. “I hope they can save it.”