2/10/2018 6 Comments
Going to the Movies
As the Massapequas became heavily populated in the years after World War II, stores, churches, schools and entertainment centers developed to meet the needs of new homeowners. It’s revealing to notice that for many years any resident wishing to go to indoor movies would need to travel outside Massapequa (as they need to do today)! The Massapequa Post in 1955 advertised movies showing in Amityville, Merrick and Farmingdale, but none in the Massapequas. The first indoor theater was created in September 1960 on the second floor of the newly-opened Bar Harbour Shopping Center (today Southgate Shopping Center). The first feature was “The Mouse That Roared,” shown on a wide screen with air conditioning. That theater lasted until 1980, when the Southgate Apartments were built and the shopping center was redesigned with fewer stores. The theater was subdivided into several businesses, which continue to occupy the space today.
The Pequa Theater opened about the same time and was designed as a modern, high-ceilinged theater on Sunrise Highway (see image). It featured an all-glass lobby and exposed ceiling joists and showed adult themed first run movies. Long-time residents remember that it was a very comfortable theater with good sight lines and acoustics. It closed later than the Bar Harbour Theater, lasting until 1988, when it was purchased by a car dealership. The Datsun Motor Company (later changed to Nissan) bought the site and it is today a Nissan and Infiniti dealership.
One of the most unique theaters built in the entire Long Island area was the Jerry Lewis Theater, opened in December 1972, on the site of a former drive-in. Love At First Bite was the first showing. Jerry Lewis was an enormously popular entertainer, in the 1950s with his partner Dean Martin, in the 1960s as a star in many comedy films, and from the 1970s as director of the Labor Day weekend telethon to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy research and treatment. He combined with the Network Cinema Corporation to open a chain of theaters across the country. These would be small, with about 200 seats, technologically sophisticated so they could be run by as few as two people, showing second run family run movies and charging low admission prices to attract families. Three others were located on Long Island, in East Meadow, Lake Ronkonkoma and Center Moriches. There was, however, little advertising or oversight of each theater, so it was left to the franchisee to sink or swim. Most sank very quickly, including Massapequa’s theater, which closed in 1980. The building subsequently housed several businesses and is today a Staples store in the rear of the Phillips Shopping Center. Of the 130 theaters in the Jerry Lewis chain, 12 are still open, under different names. There are none in the New York area.
The Jerry Lewis Theater replaced the first theater in the Massapequas, the Massapequa Drive-In, which opened in 1952 to the rear of what was Frank Buck’s Zoo and became the much smaller Grimaldi’s Kiddie World. The theater was one of many drive-ins that opened after the war across the country. Several others on Long Island included those in Valley Stream, Bay Shore, Westbury and Huntington. They were very popular with families and with teenagers (for reasons that won’t be discussed here).The Massapequa Drive-In showed double features, such as From Here to Eternity and The Solid Gold Cadillac in June 1960. It was usually opened in the warmer months, but there are advertisements in the Massapequa Post about shows in the winter (Quo Vadis in January 1965, for example). The Massapequa site felt the same pressure as other drive – in locations as the population grew and demands for houses and stores increased. It lasted until 1972, when it was replaced by the Jerry Lewis Theater and several other stores in the Phillips Shopping Center.
All theaters listed above were small, most with one screen, but the 1970s saw the growth of cinemas with many screens, typically five to ten, offering a wide variety of choices. One of these was the Multiplex at Sunrise Mall. The Mall opened in 1973 and the theater in 1976, operated by United Artists. There were originally five screens. Two were added in 1979. Entry was originally on the first floor, but the box office was moved in the early 90s to the second floor, in the center of the mall. Although very popular in the beginning, the site suffered declining attendance through a combination of vandalism and the development of the Farmingdale Tenplex, a few miles north on Route 110. The theaters closed at the end of their lease in 1999 and are now the sites of several stores.
Last and possibly least, there was a small theater in North Massapequa, housed in the shopping center located today at the northwest corner of Jerusalem Avenue and Hicksville Road. It opened in October 1960 and closed in the late 1970s. It was located on the first floor of a two-story building, with a Fred Astaire Dance Studio on the second floor. Patrons remembered being distracted by the dancing, especially the tap classes. Little else is known about the theater except that the Marshall’s Store now occupies the site. Anybody who remembers its name or other features is welcome to comment on the website.