Strand Sold; Being Renovated For New Owners
By Miriam Rosenberg
For many lifelong Far Rockaway residents, the fact that the old theatre building was sold could come as sad news, but for its new owner, Barry Knobel of Unlimited Export, Inc., purchasing the property seemed like the right move for his business and the community.
Knobel added that he is happy to be rehabilitating the once glorious building that had become “an eyesore.”
The plan is for a warehouse – stocking foodservice paper products such as plates, cups and napkins – in the back and possibly a retail shop in the front and office space on the upper floors.
The inside of the building, located at 714 Beach 20th Street, has been completely gutted and looks like a warehouse, as this reporter found out when workers allowed me to enter the once grand theater.
The only clues suggesting that it was once a premier entertainment venue are broken orange and brown tiles on the floor of what was probably once the lobby; a fireplace in what may have been a restroom or an office; the narrow steps leading to the projection room and the wall openings for the projector from which numerous films – such as the academy award winner “The Robe” (1953) – were projected onto the silver screen.
Unlike the multiplexes of today, the Strand was a single screen theatre with 1,730 seats according to the website, Cinema Treasures (www.Cinema Treasures.org). It closed in the 1970s, but, for a time, reopened during the summer months to show Disney movies.
Until recently, the Strand’s sign had hung as a last reminder of the old theatre.
“It had been in danger of falling. The buildings department had written [numerous] violations,” said Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska, explaining why it was removed. “We tried to get a movie theater in there, but there was no interest. Movie theaters are closing all over.”
Gaska said he hoped, with the revitalization in Rockaway, some kind of multiplex would come to the area in the future.
Forgotten New York Neighborhoods’ Far Rockaway webpage (http:// www. forgotten-ny.com/STREET%20SCENES/ border linefarrock/farrock. html) says the Strand opened in 1919 as a vaudeville house. In the 1920s, it played host to such stars of the era as Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker.
The Strand later became one of three movie theaters in Far Rockaway located just blocks apart from one another. The others were the Columbia, and the last to close – the Pix (originally known as the Gem).