In its earliest days, Woodhaven was a town rich with movie theaters, but today there are none. In fact, come back in another 25 years and there might not be anyone left in Woodhaven who ever went to a movie theater here.
Woodhaven’s very first movie theater was the Parkway Open Air Theater, which opened in March of 1908 and showed “nothing but the better grade photo plays.”
The Parkway showed movies outdoors when the weather was good, and moved inside when it rained. “Cool on warm nights, Dry on rainy nights!” was their slogan.
Woodhaven’s second movie theater was The Manor, which opened in August 1912 and boasted 500 seats upholstered with Spanish leather and ivory-and-tan decorations throughout. The Manor featured columns outside and advertised that it had the same ventilating system as the famed Shubert Theater in Manhattan.
Both of Woodhaven’s first two movie theaters had short lives. The Parkway shut its doors in 1914 when the modern Forest Park Theater opened a block away. We’ll revisit the Forest Park Theater before this article ends.
In later years, the location of the Parkway Open Air Theater would become the Elmwood Garage, before being converted into a large storage warehouse for Lewis’ of Woodhaven. Today it is a Duane Reade right off the intersection of 85th Street and Jamaica Avenue.
Fun little fact: next time you’re in front of Duane Reade, take note of the two driveways built into their sidewalk. Those are for a garage that’s been out of business for more than a half-century!
Like the Parkway, the Manor Theater also fell victim to the opening of a modern theater nearby, closing its doors in the early 1920s. Today, there is no sign of the building that housed the theater, it was destroyed long ago. In recent years, a Rent-A-Center occupied the location.
The modern theater that caused the Manor Theater to close was The Willard, which quadrupled the Manor’s capacity, with over 2,200 seats and an “air cooling” system to make patrons comfortable on warm and humid evenings.
Around that time, a second large theater opened in Woodhaven, The Roosevelt, which also had a capacity approaching 2,000. One of the unique things about the Roosevelt Theater was the marquee out front, which was wrapped around one of the stanchions of the elevated subway tracks.
The Roosevelt lasted until the late 1950s before being purchased by St. Thomas the Apostle and converted into a gymnasium, today known as Monsignor Mulz Hall, at 88th Street and Jamaica Avenue.
And the Willard lasted into the early 1960s, when it was converted into the catering hall Le Cordon Bleu, currently known as The Woodhaven Manor, at the corner of 96th Street and Jamaica Avenue.
So for around 40 years, Woodhaven residents had the luxury of three theaters, each changing their offerings every two or three days. On any given day you could choose between seeing a film (a double feature!) at the Willard, the Roosevelt or the Forest Park Theater.
Wait a minute, you’ve never heard of the Forest Park Theater?
Remember, The Forest Park Theater was the one that caused Woodhaven’s very first theater (The Parkway Open Air Theater) to close.
The Forest Park Theater was quite the elegant playhouse, which originally featured live performances, as well as motion pictures.
This classic theater had an orchestra pit, dressing rooms for the men and ladies, and hat racks and foot rests on every seat. Unfortunately, the Forest Park Theater only sat 600 people and soon hit financial trouble and closed in 1936.
However, it would reopen two years later in 1938 as the Haven Theater, and it ended up being Woodhaven’s last standing theater, operating into the 1980s. According to Cinema Treasures, a blog devoted to lost movie theaters, the last film shown at the Haven was 1985’s The Last Dragon.
Once upon a time, Woodhaven was overflowing with theaters. But 35 years after the last show, it’s become apparent that our chances of ever seeing a theater here in Woodhaven have faded to black.