Many of us have known for some time that the former theater at 98 Avenue A would be facing the wrecking ball. In June of last year, a demolition application was filed at the Department of Buildings (DOB), but it was unclear what development would take its place. Last week, GVSHP learned that a new building application was filed for an eight-story apartment building on this site. While we don’t know exactly what it will look like, the application reveals the structure will be 80 feet high and will house 43 residential units.
If demolition begins this year, the existing building will fall just short of its 90th birthday in 2015. Originally known as the Avenue A Theatre (operated by RKO) and later the Hollywood Theatre (Loew’s), the building was constructed in 1925 and opened in 1926. While the theater has lost its marquee (visible in these two photos from 1941), I think it still gives some great character to the street. There’s no denying that a theater once existed here.
As you can just make out in this 1941 photo to the left, the theater is a stone’s throw away from Tompkins Square Park. It is also more or less across the street from the diner 7A, a neighborhood favorite unfortunately set to close at the end of this month.
The theater at 98 Avenue A was originally proposed to seat 1,244 people, but based on building permits we have on file it may have later increased to 1,300 seats. As anyone versed in East Village history is aware, this neighborhood once boasted countless theaters, both for film and vaudeville. The Hollywood was designed by Harrison G. Wiseman, who is better known as the architect of the Yiddish Art Theater, a designated landmark and interior landmark at the corner of Second Avenue and 12th Street. Louis Schneider was the original owner of the building.
The Hollywood closed in 1959 and has since served as storage space for local retail businesses. A grocery store once operated on the ground floor. I like the fact it’s retained its fire escape stairway (such a great staple of old theaters). Even without its marquee you can still see where the main entrance once was, and the brick facade features an intricate diaper pattern (bricks laid to form diamond shapes). Not everyone may feel the same way, but I think the building as it exists today holds its own as a wonderful backdrop as you walk down the street, and it will be missed.
GVSHP and a coalition of community groups, the Community Board, and elected officials successfully advocated for the rezoning of the East Village in 2008 so that buildings taller than 80 feet could not be constructed here (read more here, particularly page 7). So while the neighborhood is losing some history, incredibly tall towers (like this East 12th Street NYU dorm behind the former St. Ann’s Church) which could have been built prior to 2008 are no longer possible.